Tuesday, 30 January 2018

SEEKING VALIDATION OUTSIDE MYSELF

Picture of Ramatu Ada Ochekliye

It has been a little over 40 days since I last put up any content on my blog, podcast or video log. In reality, it has been longer than 40 days since I wrote anything for my blog and even longer since I had a new video on my YouTube channel.

So what was the problem? Why did I abandon my babies for more than 40 days?

The answer is quite simple…but very complicated.

I fell into a rut.

You see, I started blogging in 2014 after a friend urged me to go beyond writing on Facebook. I was green-eyed, eager to get my work in front of new audiences and burning with a need to carve a niche for myself. I came at blogging like a child with a piƱata; I was excited at the possibilities!

As I put out content, the statistics started to excite me. Every day, new people were reading my work! And beyond that, they were liking, commenting, sharing and exposing my thoughts to audiences I didn’t even know existed. I began to receive emails from people in the United States of America, France, Netherland, Japan and more. It didn’t matter that my blog views were minimal (usually around 500 per month). All I cared about was that my work was being read by people around the world.

I was elated!

I looked at what other bloggers were doing and read stories of how people made money off their blog. I was piqued…but not overly so. I imagined that my content was not ‘worthy’ enough to make any money. Quite frankly, I didn’t even know what to do to make money. I was just happy to be putting out a little bit of me and getting major feedback.

As 2015 began to wind down, I thought of diversifying the platforms with which I disseminated my stories. I thought of doing something radio- and television-like. At this point, I was a radio and television presenter in Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria, and I had decided I was going to leave because I didn’t feel appreciated there. So I wanted to do something that kept me doing the things I loved the most and on platforms that appealed to me. But beyond that, I knew that while many people can adapt to all formats of information, some people just wanted to hear you and others, see you. So I conceived the idea of doing something along these lines to further widen my reach.

At the beginning of 2016, I started my podcast which originally was an audio version of my posts on the blog. By April, I shot my first video log. I was beyond excited because I was doing something new, expanding the number of my skills and gearing for that big gig that would change my life; literally.

By this point, my blog had begun to do badly. The number of people reading my pieces dropped. I began to wonder. Was I doing something wrong? Were my posts no longer interesting? Was it too much? But then I rationalized; I didn’t write often; I didn’t have a defined posting schedule; I talked mostly about feminism (which many of my audiences found repulsive); I am a long-winded writer and many people’s attention span wasn’t more than 30 seconds; my posts were serious and about issues that ‘mattered’ etc.

While this explained what was happening to my blog, I couldn’t for the life of me explain what was happening to my podcast. The short story…people were just not listening. I could spend hours on end recording, editing and putting it out there and not get a single listen.

I was running mad. What could possibly be wrong?!

And even though I could rationalize – many Nigerians were not into podcasts yet, there was no mobile data for the heavy files, many had already read the posts I converted to podcast episodes – I didn’t. Instead, I saw it as a failure on my path.

The video log was doing really well at this point; for someone just starting on YouTube. Each new video view sent me to cloud nine and left me smiling like a fool all day. But…I couldn’t keep up. It took hours on end to record each episode and editing was the absolute worst.

As with everything that has no consistency, my views began to drop.

So I was at a place where my blog, podcast and video log were all doing poorly. The irony was that, my blog views kept going up. I say it was doing poorly because the engagements – likes, comments, shares, feedback – were no longer flowing in. Any blogger knows that beyond views, engagements says a lot about your site.

When I got to the middle of 2016, I had walked away from a job I originally loved for something I thought was my big break. The offer was juicy, the package was to die for and the opportunities were what I had been waiting for. I was so ready to start a new phase of my life until…I discovered it was a scam.

I was hurt. I asked myself questions that I couldn’t answer. I wondered if I had been cursed to remain poor all my life.

In that time frame however, I put out my best work on my blog. Pain is my biggest inspiration and so, to drown the contracting walls of my lack of a paying job, I worked harder than ever on my blog. I kept churning out content, putting out stuff, getting my voice out there. The views starting going up again. I was hitting a regular 2000 views per month with great interaction.

Then the ‘high’ faded away.

I was getting burned out. I didn’t have money. I could barely survive and if I wasn’t living in my father’s house, I would be starving. And because I am a bit of a worrier, I began to long for my days on radio. Did I overestimate myself? What gave me the right to think I was worth a better pay? Should I tuck my tail in and go back to the shitty salary and poor living conditions I had endured in Yola?

And then the depression set in.

I sent out application after application and each was either not responded to or I got a resounding ‘no’. Oh…I got a couple of interviews and even got a couple of offers but I imagined that the pay was just too small or the working condition not suitable for me. So for months, I didn’t have any work.

And so I slumped further into the depression.

The more depressed I was, the more my desire to put out content began to wane. ‘What was I doing all this for? It is not like anyone was reading’ I would tell myself. You see, at this point, even though the views were consistently going up, engagement was at an all-time low. I cared about the views but I was more interested in engagement. I wanted my engagements to grow. No; scratch that. I needed my engagement to go up!

It was much worse on the podcast. I would spend between four and five hours to get one episode up and I wouldn’t get such much as one view, talk more of one download. I was pulling out my hair trying to figure out what the hell it was I was doing wrong. I switched up my style, made the topics more engaging, chose better pictures, shortened the time and what not but it just wasn’t catching on.

As 2016 pulled closer to an end, I knew I couldn’t keep putting in all that work, especially on my podcast, when I was barely getting any interaction. And because my podcast was something I paid for to host, I began to slip in payment. First, because the work wasn’t commensurate to the feedback, but most especially because I was at that point too poor to continue paying for my monthly subscription. It is funny because that subscription was about ₦2000 per month and it was so bad that I couldn’t afford that!

So my podcast failed.

I lost all the data I put up because I totally forgot to download them for keeps. For a minute there, I was mad at discovering I had lost the only copy of my interview with a woman who had been living with HIV for more than 20 years. That one nearly broke me.

It was at this point that two people asked me if I was monetizing my blog. Of course my response was no. It wasn’t a business. It was me being passionate about what I do. The first person, Muyiwa Destiny Ahmed, urged me to look at the business side of things; especially because I was creating original content. He told me he would be there to help when I was ready. Just like that. I was surprised. Did he think my work was that good? Should I dare to believe in this one person when I could see what was happening at the backend of my blog?

And then it dawned on me; I was seeking validation outside of myself again.

Let me backtrack a bit.

When I started blogging, it was all about me channeling my truth. I believed in the things I wrote about and I was content with saying my bit on whatever issue I decided to tackle. As the likes, comments and shares began to come in, I didn’t immediately notice it but I gradually began to get validation from other people that my work mattered. As more engagement came in, I became even more convinced that my voice mattered, that what I was doing was affecting lives and people believed in me.

So when this pointer began to dip, I predictably started to panic. Typical junkie withdrawal symptom. And the more it dipped, the deeper into depression I fell.

I began to compare myself to other people. Why were they getting fame and all that money? What made their work good? Why couldn’t I break even? It didn’t matter that I hadn’t done anything to push my work beyond social media shares. It didn’t matter that growing a blog organically is quite a difficult process if you aren’t into the big crowd pleasers; fashion, beauty, lifestyle, sports, entertainment or salacious gossip. It didn’t matter that I was taking a stance that many viewed controversial or at best, abnormal. It didn’t matter that I had not created a trusted schedule of posts so people know they can depend on me. All these didn’t matter because I was lost trying to find validation outside of myself.

2017 was the hardest. I got an 8-5 that felt like a 25 hour job. I had deliverables for the person who signed my checks but then I had a brand to build for myself. Trust me, trying to build a brand while working for a fast-paced organization is akin to walking a tightrope when you have acrophobia. I knew something had to give so I started staying up later and sleeping poorly. I would do my 8-5 and then focus on my brand at night or early morning. I knew I needed to work but I also knew that I could not afford to let my blog slip one more time.

I decided that I would start my podcast over again but this time, focus on music and movie reviews. It wasn’t much easier to do but I had resolved to stay true to this one. It was my experiment on learning consistency. I mean, I couldn’t aspire to manage a business if I wasn’t disciplined enough to be consistent. I knew I needed to wise up and act my age.

You see, I am 29 this year and the closer I got to 30, the more I questioned the first third of my life. I felt like a total failure because I had not achieved much. I wanted to be able to get the basics at least but it seemed like there was a collusive force to keep me on a plateau.

It was frustrating because I put in the work; I worked HARD! But the reward for all that work was a whole pile of nothing.

And so I became despondent. I came to need that friend’s approval, that stranger’s acknowledgement. It became my drug, my essence, my beat. And when it didn’t come, I wilted; one self-worthy trait at a time, until the once vivacious Ramat, became a shadow of herself. I retreated into a shell I built for myself and hoped that someone, somewhere, would see my final clutch at straws that couldn’t hold me and save me from myself.

Then it occurred to me that there was no one who could save me because the battle I was fighting was with myself. This happened towards the end of 2017. And even though I was surrounded by friends and family, I was totally alone. And for a little over 40 days, I didn’t feel the urge to put out any content.

I slipped into a state of nothingness. I was in limbo. Nothing excited me. Nothing inspired me. Absolutely nothing pushed me. I slept long hours, binge watched movies, ate and just…existed. I was just another human being with no purpose, no drive, and no reason to give anything of myself to anyone. I was high on just coasting.

And on my many strolls through social media, I found a video that got a lint out. It was one where Oprah – my biggest role model and inspiration – talked about her future when there was absolutely nothing to guarantee she was getting there.



This video hit me; hard. It was my glimmer of hope, the lint that would restart a fire I thought had died, the air I needed to stop drowning.

And so I looked at myself in the mirror, naked, as empty as I felt…and asked myself a salient question. ‘If you didn’t get any more likes, any more comments, any more shares, would you still be Ramat and do the things you do?’. And from there I went 21 questions on myself. Each question was more hurtful than the last and each emotion more abrasive. It was about pulling the layers of protection I had built to numb myself. It was about accepting that there was a gaping hole of need and pain when my creativity used to be and saying, ‘Okay….how are we going to solve this?’ It was blowing that wind on the lint so it didn’t go out and envelop me in the darkness again. So I let myself go through the process and spoke to my sisters and some friends to help me get through it.

I came to this conclusion after my self-rediscovery journey. My work matters. But even beyond that, my work matters even when no one sees it, reads it, listens to me, watches my videos, likes, comments, shares or even know that I (and by extension, it) exists.

So…I am Ramatu Ada Ochekliye, first of my name, angry black woman, queen my world, Khaleesi of melanin storytelling, breaker of stereotypes, Lady Regnant of my 10 dissemination platforms, mother of sass, and protector of Shades of Us.

And guess what?!

A girl – and her multiple personalities – is back!

So starting tomorrow (January 31, 2018), I will be announcing some new changes to Shades of Us. This will run all week to Sunday and while I want to dish out everything right now, I will reign myself in. What I can say is that, Shades of Us is expanding and this process is going to be so much more work…but so much more fun too!

I can’t wait!

XOXO.

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