Today Issa Rae is set to host Rihanna’s Diamond Ball to help raise awareness for the GRAMMY-Award winning singer / entrepreneur’s non-profit Clara Lionel Foundation. But, before Rae entertains a room of lucky attendees, we wanted to take some time to highlight some of the lessons we learned from her during a speaker series Shirley Ju attended.
Issa Rae needs no introduction, but we’ll give you one anyway. Rae first garnered attention from her YouTube web series titled Awkward Black Girl in 2011, but it was with the launch of HBO’s Insecure in 2016 that pushed the Los Angeles native to the mainstream light. The show, which follows the realities of racism and social awkwardness from the perspective of a modern-day African-American female, was unsurprisingly similar to Issa Rae’s real life.
So when Rae sat down with Instagram comedian Khadi Done to share her story of being a successful young creator at AT&T Shape Expo, it was understandable why her 50-minute conversation was met with much laughter, applause, and admiration. At 33 years old, real name Jo-Issa Rae Diop admited if she could go back in time, she would tell her younger self to stop comparing her success to her peers.
With Rae being in the position she is now — a television star, a content creator, and a voice of the people — she still faces struggles and setbacks, just like the rest of us.
“There’s definitely challenges, but I feel like most of the challenges are just the challenge of opportunity. Taking the right thing on. I have said ‘yes’ a lot in the past. And then you realize ‘Aw, I got to do this?’ I have to get it done and they want it on a deadline, and I have all these other projects too. In that way, it has been a [challenge] with finding the work/life balance. Especially this past couple of years, I’ve realized that I don’t have a life outside of work. Maintaining that balance is important to me. But I also think these opportunities are slim and may not exist in the future. So that fear is always driving me too. It just feels like everyone is so ready to listen right now and give you a shot. Because people are clamoring for new voices. You just don’t want to say ‘yes’ just to say yes. And I don’t want to let anybody down in that way, or let myself down most importantly.”
If there’s one thing that does keep her motivated, it’s reminiscing on what her life consisted of before pursuing her dreams.
“I think about my old job… I hated waking up to go to that job,” she states. “It felt like I was just wasting time, like ‘Why am I not doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I get there?’ I tell the story about waking up at 8am to get to my job by 9am, and thinking “this is so early!” Just struggling and dragging my feet. Now, I happily wake up at 5am to do something I love. Even just seeing the difference there of wanting to do something. I always think about that whenever I do get frustrated. Like “Girl, you could still be in Koreatown.’”
And she’s just getting started. When asking if she still had dreams, Issa belts out a quick “Hell yes!”
“There’s just so much I want to do, and I don’t want to be limited at all. Even with the entertainment industry, I don’t want to just be limited to just doing film and TV. I want to help other careers for sure, but there’s other areas that I aspire to make a change in. I just really also want to find out what else I’m supposed to do beyond this. Because we get these platforms in a way and people are listening. It’s just like, what else do I want to say of importance or who else do I want to support that’s saying what I want to say? Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m articulate enough to be able to voice what it is I want to say for the change I want to make, so how can we use our platforms to empower other people who are saying what we want to say?”