Pay Attention

J. DakarLife0 Comments

Pay Attention: How We Find Our Way

During my hiatus, I read, studied, traveled, and wrote. This came at the expense of lost connections and missed opportunities. But it was worth it. I needed that time to reflect and figure out some things. I learned so much about myself. I also needed a reminder: God’s been guiding me on this path.

J. Dakar's When I Grow Up Essay

Page 1 of my five-page essay on “When I Grow Up”

I didn’t choose this life. It chose me.

I thought I had it all planned: my childhood dream was to become a lawyer when I grew up. I wrote a five-page essay on the subject in sixth grade.

I can’t recall from where that aspiration derived. But I remember watching Johnnie Cochran during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. I read an article about him where he said, “People think lawyers only do things for money. It’s not about being paid. It’s about doing the right thing.” To this day, that quote has stuck with me.

Life doesn’t always go as planned.

I wanted to study international relations at Georgetown University after high school. I would then earn a J.D./M.B.A. and begin practicing law. But despite gaining admission to dozens of schools, Georgetown wasn’t one.

In retrospect, I know why I didn’t get into Georgetown. That’s easy to admit now. Plus, my mom told me later that she prayed Georgetown wouldn’t admit me. She didn’t want me going far away to college. I can understand that. All the amazing things I’ve done blow Georgetown out of the water for me. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

Let’s briefly go back down blogging memory lane.

Do you remember LiveJournal? That was my first foray into blogging in 1999. It amazes me that I’ve been sharing my thoughts online in some form for almost twenty years! Granted, it’s been a bit intermittent, but it’s still amazing.

I created my first blog in May 2001 as an experiment in personal publishing using Greymatter, the original open-source blogging software. Greymatter relied upon customized HTML templates hosted on one’s own web space. With some coding knowledge, those templates could‌ alter a site’s look. I often redesigned my site on a whim.

Soon I found other young, gifted people who were doing the same. We were kids, so we could constantly change things whenever the urge to do so hit. We linked our websites creating natural extensions of ourselves into the burgeoning blogosphere.

We blogged our musings on mundane minutiae. We reviewed books, films, and music we enjoyed (or didn’t). We expressed ourselves on whatever was going on in our lives.

These blogs were digital journals that allowed us to share our words with the world. They also showcased our technical and design skills.

We created online communities for ourselves that helped find others who were like us. It was on one of these community sites, the seventhirty.net forums, to be exact, where I met Angel Laws. In 2005, Angel created Concrete Loop, the now defunct urban entertainment blog.

What do I do after graduation?

By the time I graduated high school in 2002, I still had dreams of pursuing law. I hadn’t yet decided where I’d attend college, though. I had applied to many, which was a good thing considering my top choice, Georgetown, denied me. Most offered me scholarships to attend. But that didn’t make selecting a school any easier. It should have, I suppose, especially for those offering full-rides.

I spent much of the summer after my high school graduation trying to decide on a college. I remember even telling my grandmother that I would love to travel the world before college. She and I both laughed at the idea, knowing my parents would have objected. Times have changed.

I decided to attend Birmingham-Southern College, which was an hour and a half away from home. It was also one of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges. I majored in political science and pursued a minor in business administration.

My grades during my first semester of college were in stark contrast to those from my high school career. D+ in The Public Policy Process. B- in Introduction to American Government and Politics. C+ in Literature and the Social Experience: Gender, Race & Class. B in Introduction to Writing. Unlike while in high school, I earned only five As during college. Talk about an eye-opening experience! I had to work hard to revive my GPA.

I withdrew from school in 2005 following pancreatitis attacks. I wish pancreatitis on no one. But withdrawing from school was a blessing. I used it to write more and figure out the rest of my college career. The grades in my political science courses were less than stellar (I earned a B when I later retook The Public Policy Process). But the grades in my business courses were much better. When I returned to school, I switched my major and minor. I also earned a Distinction in Leadership Studies before graduating in May 2008.

During my senior year, Angel emailed and asked me to join Concrete Loop. It had become one of the most popular entertainment blogs. It was also during that time that I decided I no longer wanted to pursue law.

What would I do after graduation?

I considered going to law school since I knew it could be beneficial in whatever I chose to do. But why waste the time, energy, and money on something that was no longer a dream of mine?

Pursuing an MBA was also an option.

I had spent a lot of time volunteering and working with kids. I considered earning a master’s degree in education. I thought I wanted to become a teacher. But after having spent six years in college, I wasn’t ready for more schooling.

Concrete Loop

Concrete Loop came along right on time. I had spent almost a decade writing online but never considered it as a career possibility. Imagine that: doing something I loved and being paid to do so! Before I graduated college, I was a professional blogger.

In January 2008, I became Concrete Loop’s political contributor. I wrote with special emphasis on the historic 2008 presidential election. My initial posts stuck to that theme. Time magazine listed Concrete Loop among the best websites of 2008. This helped me understand that more than the site’s audience was paying attention.

I began covering different topics. I compiled the lauded history spotlight features and conducted album and book reviews. My greatest pleasure came from introducing relevant news items that affected our audience.

I insisted on creating Facebook and Twitter accounts for Concrete Loop. I explained that this would help us connect with and expand the site’s audience. We could interact with and update followers on the latest content. We began utilizing social media to conduct exclusive contests, giveaways, and celebrity interviews. This lead to me taking on more of a managing editor type role until my departure in August 2012.

I am forever indebted to Angel, and I’m blessed and honored to have been a part of Concrete Loop!

My writing has helped raise awareness for various causes and concerns. I’ll never forget an email I received from the executive director of The Lambi Fund of Haiti. I had posted “[Haiti’s] Poorest Forced to Eat Dirt” and included a link to the organization. That post generated 15 times as many emails and donations the organization normally received.

I’ve had opportunities to meet and interview some of my favorite celebrities. I’ve visited The White House by invitation. I shook hands with President Barack Obama, ‌ something I still have a hard time believing!

God will guide you with a better plan.

Following my departure from Concrete Loop, I was finally ready for more schooling. I earned a graduate degree in organization leadership in 2015. One of its emphases was strategic planning.

It’s unreal how much I tried planning my life once upon a time only to have it not go as planned. I had to realize that my plans, which paled in comparison, will not supersede God’s plans for me.

What if I hadn’t started writing online so many years ago?

If I had gone to Georgetown, who knows where I’d be?

I intended to seek public office after practicing law for a few years. I wanted a seat in the House or Senate and to become the youngest member of Congress. At least I thought I did. After the first year writing about politics, I realized it was no longer something I wanted to pursue.

It’s funny: I got nothing that I once wanted.

I have no regrets. I’ve learned that everything happens for a reason. God is in control.

Paying attention is how we find our way.

When I shared my story with Dana and Eso of Cheers Creative, they replied that I’m making my case and educating others when I write, ‌like I once wanted to do as a lawyer and teacher. I had never considered that, but it makes sense.

It took almost ten years for me to recognize writing as a career.

I’ve sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had focused on blogging and writing without going to college. But that wasn’t a part of my journey. Again, everything happens for a reason. We might not always know what that reason is, but if we believe that God will lead us to where we belong, that faith will always sustain us.

The signs that God gives to guide us may present themselves in many ways. But we must first be open and willing to receive them. That means we might have to make some hard choices and change directions. Be willing to do what’s needed to, as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, receive God’s expected end.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.Jeremiah 29:11‬

It doesn’t matter from whom or how our signs may arrive. God can use anyone ‌(or anything, for that matter) for his purpose. We should consider the message. That’s what’s important and will guide us on the paths God has for us.

Post Title Soundtrack: 'Pay Attention' by Big K.R.I.T. (ft. Rico Love)

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