That Time This Fanboy Had His Dream Come True
I always need to remind myself that I am the sum of all the people who have influenced me. Not just family and friends, but all the content I consume from people miles away from me, all because of the internet.
It’s not because I want to stay humble — not entirely true— it’s because there are lessons I learn from people that hit me so hard, I feel my brain rewriting its code.
And boy do I have a lot of rewriting to do.
Up until recently, I thought I had figured out who I was but after conversations with my therapist, I arrived at the conclusion that what I thought was my identity was mostly the product of me getting feedback from the world and adapting my core to making sure the feedback stayed the same.
I was never really myself.
I hid from the world, a shell of myself; floating through my teenage years and early twenties without a sense of self, or purpose.
There’s one particular period in 2016 after I had finally graduated from Journalism School, where I got so much support from one digital mentor. I had started writing online in 2012, and the feedback expressed my budding skill as a writer and poet.
However, discussions with my parents about me heading back home to focus on blogging for a year didn’t end well. I was advised to get a job.
That search in itself is another story.
I got an internship at a prestigious media house in the country. I arrived as an English News intern but ended up doing both French and English News. I wasn’t able to provide any creative support — which is crucial to my sense of fulfillment. It was unpaid, mundane (I hate the News). Traffic to and from the heat laced city of Douala was never a pleasure.
I was sad. Distraught. No matter how many times I tried to express this to my parents, they urged me to try; to hold on until the end of the 3 month period and then make a decision.
What they (my parents) didn’t know was that I had found The Unmistakable Creative Podcast during that period. They didn’t know that the only thing that kept me from drowning in the cesspool of the failure I thought I was, was listening to people, who looked nothing like me; people who spoke to my soul.
I didn’t even need to see them because their voices carried their history in a manner that was unmistakably honest. They held no punches as the host created space for them to be themselves. It wasn’t censored. Truth.
At the core of the Unmistakable Creative was the truth of someone who had spent years, feeling the way I felt each night when I returned from ‘work’. Someone the system has failed. Someone who knew where he wanted to be, but had to take the scenic route to get there.
That someone was Srinivas Rao, and his podcast saved me.
I thought I’d one day get to meet him and thank him for giving me the courage to pack my stuff and leave. For heading back to Buea where after going through a harsh bout with the reality of having nothing left, I re-discovered my love for poetry and the power of being an introverted event host.
It was just a thought, an idea, a dream.
But when I moved to the US, that dream suddenly seemed a tiny bit more possible.
Don’t meet your hero, they said.
There have been articles written trying to get people to not try to meet their mentors in real life. One in particular that I found interesting (yes, I Google strange things because I’m paranoid), was this:
4. He will be nice to you. Even worse than finding out your hero is mean is finding out he’s overly nice — like, eager to hear what you have to say. What, this guy doesn’t have friends? He cares what some know-nothing 20-something has to say about his seminal work of genius? How needy is this guy?!
I have never really considered this. The odds of me meeting Gary Vaynerchuk or Srini weren’t exactly near crumbs.
I mean — I know I had a chance in millions, but who was I kidding?
Why would any one of them want to meet me?
Who am I?
However, from the moment I came across The Unmistakable Creative, I became a fanboy of all what Srini did. I found his self-published books, eventually bought all his traditionally published books. I watched his 2013 interview with Glenn Beck.
I even went as far as going through Mars Dorian’s Instagram to see what else he’d done after hearing he was the one behind the epic cover art they made for each podcast episode.
All that I needed at that point was an Unmistakable Creative T-Shirt hand-signed by Srini that I wore all day, every day
But the dream started taking shape after Srini followed me on Instagram.
I was stoked! My hero follows me? I panicked.
Showed my wife. She gave me the most basic advice — so basic, I don’t understand how I never thought about it in the first place.
“Well, you seem to like this guy a lot. Why don’t you message him and tell him that?”
Hell no! He’s my hero. He cannot be disturbed by a mere human like me! What do I tell him?
She rolled her eyes. Then said:
“Just be yourself. If you were a dumbass, I would not have agreed to marry you”.
That’s not exactly what she said. But I got her point.
I messaged him.
And he replied.
That was July 2018. A month after I had moved to the US.
Before I continue, I’d like to express gratitude to Iva Ursano, who has no idea that a random conversation inside the Medium Notes section would give me the answer I needed to make an important decision.
I once reached out to Iva to request that she be on my podcast (still in the works, but you can buy my audio collection and get a feel of my voice here).
I told her I had been scared to start a conversation with her because I had nothing worthwhile to say. To which she replied:
Hey, if you never ask, the answer is always ‘no’!
I believe she winked and dropped an emoji in her ever warm self.
That sentence stuck with me.
If you never ask, the answer will always be ‘no’.
Thank you, Iva.
How the dream came true.
Around the end of January this year, I felt extremely overwhelmed by life in general. I had been writing daily on Medium all month, I had just spent my first Christmas and New Year in the US, my wife and I had been going through a lot of adjustments both with each other and the immigration system.
We had no source of income, I couldn’t work or drive.
It was hard.
I felt I needed a break and I decided to take the month of February away from the internet. It was my birthday month as well, so I thought it would be a good period to take inventory of everything a 29-year-old has to offer, you know…since I’m so wise.
Before I deleted my Facebook app, I checked my timeline ‘one last time’.
That’s when I saw it!
Call it serendipity, call it stalking, but Srini had just been tagged by a friend in a picture of them both.
Guess where that picture was taken?
Somewhere in Colorado.
Now, mind you, I don’t know who this friend is. I’m not even friends on Facebook with this friend! But I know Srini loves to snowboard ( because who doesn’t know what their hero does every time of the year?) and I had heard that Colorado’s mountains attracted many snowboarders each year.
Therefore, my hero is a few hours away, and he’s here for a short while.
What do I do?
If you never ask, the answer will always be no.
I know Srini has been off the internet for a break ( who doesn’t know what when their hero takes time off?) which is why it was his friend who shared the picture.
As the respectable stalker fanboy that I am, I send a heartfelt message to a complete stranger, giving an out in case it feels too weird. I express my admiration, I request advice on how to reach my hero, I describe how awkward this all is and how much I won’t mind if it didn’t work out.
I really didn’t.
Like they say in Molyko, I was shooting my shot.
I get a reply.
And email him I did.
Guess what happened the next day?
This was when I told my wife because I was overwhelmed with emotions and I needed to tell someone:
Srini will be in our town and he’s agreed to meet me for coffee.
I went to the meetup worried about wasting his time. I felt extremely honored (I even asked my wife how I looked. I never ask how I look!)
Each minute that got me closer to the location was surreal: I felt at any point, something would happen and he’d have to cancel.
At that moment, all that mattered to me was that he’d said yes. Even if we never met, he’d agreed to meet with me and that was enough.
Or that’s what I thought until we met.
The Most Epic Casual Chat
Remember the article about not wanting to meet your heroes? Well, most of them are right about one thing: expectations.
When you go into that meeting with expectations, you’re going to be disappointed. It doesn’t matter if you lower or raise them. And we both know it’s hard not to have them. But what I learned to replace my expectations with was this: curiosity.
I wanted to ask Srini why he said yes.
I wanted to ask him why Mars Dorian didn’t design the book cover for An Audience of One.
I wanted to ask him about some guests.
I just wanted to find out things that had popped in my mind when I consumed his content, things I could not ask in a podcast.
And I wanted to express my gratitude.
Then — er — get some autographs if we had the time to. I am a fanboy after all!
We met in the lobby. My wife found a place to hang out and allowed us to get some privacy (mostly for me because I didn’t want my excitement to be so palpable that my wife would start comparing with our wedding day. Which, by the way, she still did anyway).
We found a table, sat and talked.
That was it.
A casual conversation with a genuine human, authentic and true to the voice I had read and listened to for years; full of stories and strong opinions pouring out without fear of retaliation.
And there I was, having to pinch myself that my dream had come to life, that across me sat the person who had impacted my view of education, creativity, and making mistakes.
So, I told him my truth. I shot my shot. He shared his point of view.
But there was one question nagging. Something I really needed to know.
“Why did you agree for us to meet?”
“Well, when my friend said someone wanted us to meet, I asked who it was and was shown the messages. I said I knew you, that you’d been a longtime supporter of my work. The least I could do was meet with you.”
“Weren’t you worried about me being a stalker?”
“Of course not. My friend mentioned that actually. And it’s true that there are many people like that. I have met a few. But we were playing video games and when I saw the picture I knew who you were. Plus, I didn’t even have to drive to meet with you, so, perfect.”
“No, thank you.”
He told me to keep in touch. I didn’t.
I mean…this happened in February and this is the first time I feel slightly comfortable even talking about it.
It was such a private win for me that after it happened, I still thought it was a dream.
Thanks to the internet, I have met incredible people. They’re not hosts of podcasts, they’ve not written things that changed my life in a majestic way, but for each of these people, meeting offline has been an extraordinary moment in my lifetime.
I chose to write this today because yesterday was Srini’s birthday. I decided that I needed to capture this whole experience for myself, and you, dear reader, to realize what happens when you ask.
I want the world to know that not all heroes are assholes. Not all the people you love online think you’re weird. Not all the authors of books you love would disappoint you.
Some would have coffee with you, tell you about their family, ask you to keep in touch and give you a lot more than you bargained for: their authentic, loving selves.
So, never forget…
If you never ask, the answer will always be ‘no’.
Some dreams do come true.
Thank you, Srinivas Rao, and happy belated birthday!
You can read his most recent book for free here. And yes, Mars Dorian designed the cover.
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