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30 For 30: How Writing Changed the Gameplan

Pencil writing on paper

When I was seventeen, I already had a plan for the next twenty years of my life. There were goals I’d set for myself and being focused was mandatory in order to succeed in those objectives. Though I was young and mostly in the beginning stages of my knowledge, I had a strong sense of black pride and a passion to see my people freed from the oppressive systems of American society. Law school, at the time, seemed like the most appropriate avenue to realize that vision so I sought to change this system by working within it. “I have to learn the rules of the game if I want to change the way that it’s played” was a phrase I’d oft repeated to myself to keep me focused on the long road ahead.

Today, December 14th, 2015, is the last day of my twenties. In a moment of reflection, I contemplated who I wanted to be at seventeen in comparison to who I am now. At seventeen, I surmised the most effective way I’d be able to effect change was to go to school to become a lawyer, later become a judge, then open up a community service program, focusing its efforts on working with underprivileged kids to show them that someone gave a damn about their success.

So much of my identity was tied into that path, I never gave myself room to explore other avenues. While that sort of singular focus can be credited for how I was able to push through even the most daunting periods of my journey, an unfortunate side effect was that it closed me off from other opportunities which might have been more to my ever evolving tastes. Writing, was one of those tastes.

“I have to learn the rules of the game if I want to change the way that it’s played…”

Writing has been a part of me for almost the entirety of my life, albeit in wildly different forms. In its earliest stages, I was a rapper. To be sure, I wasn’t anything even remotely close to competent in that respect. What I was good at, however, was the actual act of putting words on page. My lack of rap skills later evolved into a foray with spoken word poetry in which, if we can be honest, might not have been a great use of my talents. The catalyst for my path to longer form writing, besides the love affair with words I was unconsciously nurturing via rap and poetry, was a soul crushing heartbreak I’d suffered after my freshman year of college.

Like any other emotionally volatile eighteen year old (or perhaps, just me), I was pregnant with feelings and had no suitable method of catharsis. My friends, patient as they were, had grown tired of my random outbursts of tears and pain and, having exhausted their willingness to listen, I began to write. Unbeknownst to me, writing suited me in a way talking about my feelings never did. For starters, it was always available and gave me something to do during the wee hours of the morning when it felt like my emotional state was most vulnerable. I poured my heart out on my Myspace blog (complete with awful yellow font) and it worked on two separate levels. I was permitted an uninterrupted vent session and later able to make sense of what I was going through on my own terms.

This time period, the one where my Myspace blog transformed from a blog of heartbreak into a daily exercise in giving my head a vacation from my thoughts, carried me right into the best feature Facebook has ever invented. Facebook’s “Note” feature. This would turn out to be a pivotal moment, as I was able to write and engage with people on topics I wrote about. It was through that medium a close friend of mine encouraged me to start my own blog. “You have an audience. You have the talent. You shouldn’t be doing this work for free.”

Writing has been a part of me for almost the entirety of my life, but has taken wildly different forms.

Though I had some success as an online writer (and before I knew people got paid to write for a living), I stuck with my original plan of going to law school to “fight the good fight.” Unfortunately, I found the entire law school experience a painful one and by the time I was scheduled to take the bar in 2012, whatever taste I had for the law had been thoroughly rinsed out of my mouth by its bitter drink. It was a terrifying realization. I spent a couple hundred thousand dollars in pursuit of this goal and found myself completely lost as to what I should do next.

Once I decided I no longer wanted to pursue the law, it took a Herculean amount of soul searching to discover what I wanted for my life at that time was, in part, a combination of outside influences and my own stubbornness. I had yet to form my own identity, instead looking toward what other people thought I should be or what they thought I’d excel in. This was undoubtedly the reason for my bout with depression and subsequent quarter-life crisis immediately after I’d taken the bar. The crisis informed me I hadn’t truly examined what I wanted and forced me to think about what would make me the most happy. I asked myself, “what do YOU want to do?” The answer, was “write.”

In 2013, I publically announced to the “universe,” and more importantly to myself, that I was a writer. The universe has responded in kind, giving me opportunities to have my writing published in a number of magazines and publications. The grand culmination of my assertion is my current my role as Editor-In-Chief for Abernathy. It’s an amazing feeling, when you’ve finally aligned yourself with what you want to do and being given the opportunity to do just that.

Unbeknownst to me, writing suited me in a way talking about my feelings never did.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my twenties is to not be afraid to change the plan. I thought I’d be a lawyer and work within the system to fight it. As it turns out, writing about these injustices and educating others brings a similar satisfaction. In effect, this is exactly what the seventeen year old version of myself wanted. What I’m doing is not only self-fulfilling, but has opened minds and changed perspectives of people who’ve read my work. Once I let go of who I thought I’d be in my twenties, I became a superior version of the person I’d originally intended to be. Learning to keep myself open to new possibilities and not feel guilty about changing the plan, is a lesson that’s worth more than its weight in gold.

So without further ado, I bid adieu to my twenties. They’ve done an amazing job in transforming me into the person I am today. It wasn’t always smooth sailing but those heavenly highs and hellacious lows have solidified the person I am and the person I’m capable of being. I can only hope my thirties are as impactful as the years I’ve spent in your stead. And to my thirties?

You’ve got a hard act to follow.

I can’t wait to see what you can do.

By Garfield Hylton

Garfield Hylton, J.D., is a dark-humored, self-deprecating misanthropist whose only hope of redemption is turning blank Google Word documents into piles of well-executed thoughts. He likes to add the suffix "J.D." on everything he writes because he understands that everything sounds better when coming from a doctor. You can listen to his podcast here: @NWAPcast.