Step Into The Circle (to See The Magic Happening Inside)
A key takeaway from Jay-Z's 2010 autobiography
In the lead-up to Christmas 2010, I bought Jay-Z’s book ‘Decoded’ for my cousin (in a failed attempt to get him to read more). Thirteen years later, I still remember standing in the bookstore holding the hardcover, being hooked by the opening line:
“I saw the circle before I saw the kid in the middle.”
From there unravels the story of a nine-year-old boy who discovered a fascination with “rhyming” by watching older kids perform in his public housing complex in Brooklyn back in 1978—when the borough was hipster-free and full of gangs. As you read on, you can’t help but marvel at his path from poverty to billionaire businessman and music mogul married to Beyoncé.
But my biggest takeaway from Jay-Z’s meteoric rise is how it all started with one simple action at the tender age of nine. Reflecting on that day he saw “the circle” and “the kid in the middle,” Jay-Z writes:
“That night I started writing rhymes in my spiral notebook.”
A decades-long career marked by fame, fortune, world tours, and unprecedented artistic success all traced back to a child, a circle, and a spiral notebook. Wild, right?
Often you see a circle before you see the magic happening inside it. Jay-Z is exhibit A, but I’ve experienced this myself (as I’m sure you have too). Take, for example, the writing course I’m working on at the moment.
Before I signed on as a mentor and editor, I was a student myself. And before that, I “saw the circle” in the form of a robust online community. Curious about what was going on inside, I attended a free information session and spoke to a few people who had taken the course one-on-one.
I approached both with skepticism. I thought “Surely, these people must be drinking the Kool-Aid,” based on the cult-like endorsements they posted on social media. But upon hearing these former students recount their transformations—from never having published an article to launching and scaling a newsletter, not having a voice to owning a unique one, making bold career changes, and so on—I realized their testimonials were sincere.
I was captivated by what they described as “hearts on fire” energy, and a supportive peer network in which people “bled on the page together” as they shared their most heartfelt lessons through personal essays. There was an emphasis on “writing from conversation” as a means to spark ideas and generate rapid feedback, rather than sitting alone at your desk overthinking what to write about and getting stuck pouring over first drafts (both of which had plagued me in the past).
Eventually, my desire to be part of the circle and benefit from the online writing fuel at the centre of it won me over. I signed up for the course and nervously hit ‘publish’ on my first few assignments. In the two years since, I’ve hit ‘publish’ over a hundred times, accelerated my professional development, and made incredible friends who share my love of writing.
As I’ve shared in the past, joining the course in September 2021 and sticking with my weekly writing ritual ever since have been “magic beans” that catapulted my growth like Jack’s beanstalk. Add in the wonderful people I’ve connected with along the way (including readers like you), and man am I grateful I stepped into “the circle.”
So next time you feel a buzz around a group or community you’re interested in joining, consider how you can push through the circle for an unobstructed view of what’s happening inside. Sure, you might just stumble upon people drinking Kool-Aid. But if you’re lucky, you’ll discover something that could change your life.
Thanks for reading and have a wonder-full week,
P.S. If you enjoyed this edition, please like, comment, or reply to let me know.
P.P.S. Thank you to my writer pals and fellow Write of Passage crewand Cam Houser for helping me think through today’s edition. Appreciate you both.
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