The Butterfly Effect: How a now-dead internet celebrity changed the course of my life.
We might never imagine the impact our smallest actions might have on the course of someone else’s life, but they do all the same.
Here’s the story of how a small-time Youtuber and online DJ led to my moving halfway across the world, living in two foreign countries, and living a life I could have never imagined for myself.
I’ve always been nerdy as hell, but back in the early summer of 2008, during the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was in especially fine geeky form.
A video game I’d anticipated for some time had just been released, and I dove in whole-heartedly, ready to spend my entire upcoming summer vacation in maximum nerd overdrive.
But this story isn’t actually about that game, nor the related popular-at-the-time-but-now-kind-of-embarrassing blog I spent a lot of my time operating near its release, instead this is about another member of the game’s community, known to many as “DJ Morfar.”
Real name Richard Schepp, Morfar himself was from Sweden (humorously enough, “morfar” means “grandpa” in Swedish), and ran an online radio station that streamed music and ran contests for gamers to listen to and participate in while they played games.
I began to listen to his show regularly, and eventually would start talking with him over MSN messenger and eventually Facebook about games, broadcasting, etc. He had an outgoing, infectious personality — one that no doubt helped him perform his duties as an entertainer. Above all, he was generous, and when I showed an interest in creating content and building a brand, he was never too short on time to offer a word of wisdom or help me out.
Several months later, however, when we were no longer playing the same game, I didn’t talk to Morfar as much as I had before, and for the most part our interactions dropped to a comment and reply or two every few months when his videos would pop up in my Youtube news feed.
“After several years of high school Spanish, I wanted to try something different.”
Fast-forward more than four years, and I’d just transferred to attend the University of Oregon, pursuing a BA in advertising. As I registered for classes, it came to my attention that all Bachelor of Arts students need to take two years of a foreign language.
After several years of high school Spanish, I wanted to try something different. Something unique.
“Where was that Youtuber from I used to listen to while playing videogames?” I thought to myself, as I browsed through the school’s course catalog.
“SWEDEN! — that was it!”
It clicks into place as I mouse over“SWEDISH 101.”
I click register, begin the school year, and start learning Swedish. Det var skitkul.
“I tried more than a few new things, and I sang songs with lyrics I only half understood…”
While some setup is necessary, the purpose of this article is not to convey my entire life story (I promise), so all you need to know about this year of college is that I had decided that nerdy, shy Brandon was going to take a page from Jim Carry’s Yes Man character and take advantage of every new opportunity as it presented itself.
So, when the Scandinavian studies department announced there would be a summer study abroad program for six weeks in Uppsala, Sweden, I decided it was time for me to finally explore the world beyond the US for the first time.
The adventures and stories contained in those six weeks put the exploits of my previous six years to shame.
I tried more than a few new things, I sang songs with lyrics I only half understood, I danced to music that wasn’t popular back in my own corner of the world, I made friends, I fell in love, and most importantly, I knew almost immediately that I would be restless and unsatisfied the moment I landed back home in Seattle.
Sure enough, I was gone nearly as soon as I’d arrived.
Just a few days outside of landing back home in America, I’d already settled on a handful on universities in England where I could finish the advertising degree I was studying at the time, and within 30 days of arriving from my summer trip, I had applied for schools, applied for a student visa, charged a plane ticket to my only credit card (one I’m still paying off — totally worth it), and landed in Cheltenham, UK.
This adventure would last longer than the first, and I would spend the next two years studying, making lifelong friends, and getting made fun of for the first time for having an accent.
Of particular note during my time in England was that I moved in with a group of music students, one of which would become my bandmate and nudge me onstage to perform music for the very first time.
But, within two short years, it was time to move again.
In my final months as a student in England, it became apparent that British visa laws weren’t going to make changing from a student to a work visa very feasible in the time I had before my student stay expired, so I turned my attention to the country I’d fallen for two years prior on my first visit to Europe: Sweden.
I sent about 300 job applications & emails that summer.
Almost all of them were unsuccessful, but a few weeks before I would have had to leave Sweden, I received two job offers stemming from a startup conference in Stockholm, accepted one, and — wouldn’t you know it — I’ve lived and worked here ever since.
As of writing this in June of 2017, I’ve been living in Stockholm for two years, am moving in with my wonderful girlfriend, and will work toward gaining dual citizenship in the years to come.
Bringing it all together (I promise)…
I hardly resemble the introverted teenager who uncharacteristically left home to chase adventure just a few years ago, but in this case the “why” is more interesting than the “what.”
If nearly a decade ago, I hadn’t happened across and befriended a Swedish Youtuber creating his own special, goofy brand of content online, it’s pretty unlikely ‘Swedish 101’ would have made it onto my course list.
And without Swedish 101, it’s pretty unlikely I would have moved to Europe in the first place.
And if I hadn’t moved to Europe in the first place, it’s pretty unlikely (or at least it would have taken a lot longer) that I would have been pushed into getting over my stage fright and forged full-speed ahead in music.
And then it would be unlikely I’d be working on the album/mixtape I am now.
And it’s unlikely I’d be here in Sweden at all.
And, well, you get the picture.
Interactions with one random human being, 6,000 miles away, during my formative years, set off a chain reaction that’s taken me places I never dreamed I’d be.
“OK, but why start there? What was before that? And before that? And before that? (etc.)”
Of course, every action leading up to the events of this story contributed to this chain of causation/butterfly effect/whatever you want to call it just as much as my meeting Richard and following his online radio station so many years ago, but I decided to focus on this specific interaction for a reason: It was an overwhelmingly positive one.
Had he given me the impression all those years ago that Sweden was a horrible place filled with angry horrible people I should never meet, maybe I would have just stuck with Spanish for my college language class, or checked the box next to Danish, or maybe Portuguese. Who knows.
The point is that every single time we interact with someone, we have a chance to influence them and their lives in ways we will likely never see or know.
You can probably think of a few key conversations you’ve had with people in your life that entirely changed or shaped your perspective, which in turn led to different decisions, opportunities, and outcomes.
It’s an incredible power we don’t think much about, but it’s real nonetheless.
That means taking a few seconds to help someone who asks you for help with something you “don’t have time for” (and let’s be real, we all waste time on plenty of BS and can carve out a few minutes for others) could be the difference between restoring their faith in others, and sending them into a spiral as their last cry for help is ignored.
Taking a moment to message a friend and tell them how much you like some personal project he/she’s been sharing on Facebook could be just the tiny mental boost they need to continue down the path they’re destined for. Again, you never know.
Above all, thinking about and writing this piece has made me realize how damn easy it is to make a huge difference for someone else even through your smallest efforts. And that’s pretty damn cool.
It’s too bad Richard “Morfar” Schepp isn’t alive today, or I’d have a chance to reach out and let him know just how thankful I am for his time and counsel all those years ago, but he did make that difference for me (and probably many others), and that’s what counts.
Petravita is a poet & hiphop artist currently based in Stockholm, Sweden. He makes music and wishes every single one of his friends spent at least some time following their dreams instead of whatever boring job they’re stuck with. 🎤💚