You’re not supposed to do that.
Is there a more powerful statement in our society?
From classrooms to boardrooms, it’s a statement sung by choirs that are comprised of defenders of “the system”. Far too often, they drown out the voices of the visionaries: the people who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and take steps to achieve a better future.
If you want to endure and achieve greatness, you can’t just be better than the next guy/girl. In a time where our senses are bombarded by advertising, technology, and our own personal struggles (insert movie trailer voice here), we’re in need of Trouble. That’s what shakes us out of the status quo and catalyzes true change. And even though it’s an uncertain path, it is still a journey that we need to embark on when there is so much in this world that needs to be fixed.
Trouble is challenging systems of inequity, even if success seems impossible. Trouble is confronting enemies who are galvanized by complacency and apathy.
Trouble is taking a stand for what’s right for many, not just what’s beneficial for yourself.
Taking a cue from my comic book roots, consider the story of Batman. Sure, we’re captivated by his battles with enemies like the Joker. However, Batman always stood for more than just the fight in front of him. As said in Batman Begins,
“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal and if they can’t stop you, you become something else entirely — legend.”
Let’s examine some examples of leaders and companies initiating Trouble. Look at John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile. Legere’s critics are uncomfortable with his brash demeanor, his disregard for the norms in the wireless industry, and his confrontational disposition. But here’s the big question: what’s the real problem? In a 2014 customer satisfaction survey by BrandIndex, the wireless industry was second to last. This is an industry that is begging for change, and Legere is introducing radical Trouble through a variety of innovations that have grown T-Mobile into a reputable player in this space. Even though the average person recognizes that the wireless industry is a fundamentally broken system, the naysayers are still wielding pitchforks and casting Legere as an outcast or villain.
You could also consider Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign, led by CEO Howard Schultz. They recognized the country’s call for positive change with regards to race relations — a call that was echoed by thousands of his employees. Schultz launched a campaign that is intended to spark dialogue and improve the status quo.
The counteroffensive arrived in full force. Starbucks is a coffee company, why are they dealing with race? How dare Schultz impose race relations on us? This is a marketing campaign, it’ll never work. They don’t know anything about race, leave that discussion for a different place.
Howard Schultz understands what it means to become a “legend”. In a recent shareholder’s meeting, he reaffirmed the company’s support of same sex marriage, even though it is a hot button political topic and has even scared away some shareholders. Has Starbucks plummeted as a company? Quite the contrary: they are the 5th most admired company in the world (according to Forbes), they delivered 38% shareholder return in the past year, and they are an example for other companies and leaders who want to represent more than a transaction.
The Always “Like a Girl” campaign is another powerful example of Trouble. Income inequality, limited opportunities, and institutional stereotypes are undeniable barriers for girls around the country. Like a Girl fought back with a campaign that emboldens girls by building their self esteem.
Again, the enemies responded in full force. Always / Procter & Gamble is a consumer goods company, they just want to make money. Why are they exploiting girls? Like a Girl is a corny phrase, it just embarrasses girls instead of strengthening them.
These criticisms force people to focus on the wrong things.
Instead of discussing the societal issues that confront girls and working together to solve them, we’re engaging in petty conversations and dismissing Like a Girl as just another corporate marketing campaign. At its core, Like a Girl has the potential to inspire countless girls. Instead of tearing it down, we should recognize that this is the type of Trouble we need. In the months that have followed Like a Girl, we’ve seen “Lean In Together”, “Inspire Her Mind”, and more. This is proof that Like a Girl represented more than a money-making campaign; it was a bold statement that woke up legions of people and made them take a stand.
As a hip hop artist, I constantly challenge myself to think about what could be, and not just what is. Far too often, hip-hop has two storylines: I’m a ghetto hustler, or I’m rich and you aren’t. The reality is the majority of people don’t fit into those buckets.
We need music that speaks to the everyday people: the kid who is fighting oppression, the student who is struggling to obtain a quality education, and the office employee who is tired of feeling like a number.
I know it’s a difficult message, and I’m tempted by the music industry’s tried-and-true formulas. However, those formulas don’t create legends and movements; Trouble does. That’s why we revere artists like Michael Jackson and 2pac, because they did more than offer contrasts versus their contemporaries / enemies. They were willing to take a stand for the issues that mattered most to the general public, and even when the criticism came rolling in, they were defiant.
Trouble is uncertain. It takes courage and an unwavering belief that we can be better.
You have to commit to an ideal, not an advertising budget.
From race relations to gender inequality, it’s clear that we have much to do in our lifetime. We can live with the status quo and impose artificial ceilings that inhibit our potential…or we can take a stand, rally for Trouble, and become legendary.