Words are one of the strongest tools we have. They can be used to destroy someone from the inside, or used to bring them up and help them change the world.
I have a lot of respect for people who have spent their time mastering language and really harnessing the power and art behind it.
Lately there has been a large movement in spoken word poetry. It’s been growing in popularity, and influencing the lives of people all over the world.
As you know, I’m someone who aims to make an impact in this world, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’m a big fan of this movement.
On today’s episode of The School of Greatness, I’ve brought someone who has been on the forefront of this movement and making an impact for nearly a decade: Humble the Poet.
If you don’t know Humble, he’s a Canadian spoken word artist and music video creator. His poetry is so powerful, even Apple used it on their commercials.
He opened up with me on this episode about how being from s Sikh background, and the racism he’s faced, has both hurt and helped him in life.
He also discusses some of the problems artists today face and how they they can overcome them.
I really have to say that this is a powerful episode. You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate it. His knowledge and insights are important to anyone who is on the road to greatness, and anyone who wants to be a leader.
So get ready to learn all about the power of words, on Episode 682.
Lewis Howes: This is episode number 682, Poetry, Art, Music and a Thriving Life, with Humble the Poet.
Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.
A couple of quotes I wanted to share with you. One is by Robert Frost, who said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found words.”
Another one from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who said, “Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.”
I’m curious, what is the message you’re sharing with other people that is written in the heart of them? What are you saying? What are you sharing? What are you creating? How are you living your life? And how are you contributing to the hearts of others?
A powerful episode today, with my friend, Humble the Poet, former elementary school teacher turned MC Spoken Word Artist, who has created some amazing work, done a commercial with Apple, come out with multiple books, self-published, that’s now, traditionally published and created inspiriting videos that have reached millions of people.
He went from being a struggling, starving artist, to figuring out his way and how to make a full time living and abundance of income through poetry, art, music, and ideas; shaping ideas into reality. And I think you’re going to get a lot out of this one, whether you’re a freelancer, an entrepreneur, a business owner, an employee, if you’re unemployed, if you’re an artist, an actor; you’re going to find so much wisdom in the words of Humble the Poet.
If you enjoy it, make sure you share it with a friend, lewishowes.com/682, as I know there will be many moments for you where you might gasp, take a breath and reflect on your life and how you can take it to another level to make sure that you write pure, powerful words on the the hearts of everyone.
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And without further ado, let’s dive into this one with Humble the Poet.
Welcome, everyone, to The School of Greatness Podcast. My friend, Humble the Poet is in the house! Good to see you, man!
Humble the Poet: Yes, sir! Yes!
Lewis Howes: Glad you’re here.
Humble the Poet: Thank you for having me, man!
Lewis Howes: Of course! You are a former elementary school teacher with a different name. What’s your original name?
Humble the Poet: My name is Kanwer Singh.
Lewis Howes: Kanwer Singh.
Humble the Poet: Yes.
Lewis Howes: And then you changed it to Humble the Poet in 2010?
Humble the Poet: Yeah, 2009, I was flirting with different art names, because, back then, I was way too scared to show my face and share my worth.
Lewis Howes: With your real name?
Humble the Poet: Yeah. So then I was like, “Hey, I’ll put it out,” and then I was in the studio with a bunch of guys and I was thinking, like, “Hey, what if I use the name, ‘Humble the Poet’,” and everyone was like, “That name is horrible! That name is too long, it’s not going to work on social media, it’s just a bad name!”
Nobody in the room had anything nice to say, and my attitude towards that was like, “Alright, cool! You guys don’t like it? Let me show you what I can do with it!” I’ve always had that problem growing up.
Lewis Howes: Prove them wrong.
Humble the Poet: Proving people wrong, yeah. I’m trying to grow out of that now.
Lewis Howes: You know, it’s funny you say that, because that was my entire upbringing was to prove people wrong about what I was capable or not capable of doing. And that fire is the second most powerful fuel in the world. Proving other people wrong, proving your parents wrong, or whatever it may be.
But, for some reason, about four years ago, I learned to shift that energy into, “Let me prove people right, or lift others up.”
Humble the Poet: Exactly!
Lewis Howes: And do it from a place of love and inspiration.
Humble the Poet: That’s way more sustainable.
Lewis Howes: Way more sustainable, because I was getting burned out from that mentality. It took me to a certain place, and I’m sure it drove you.
Humble the Poet: It does drive you, but then, at the same time you start to realise, many of these people who you’re trying to prove wrong, they don’t even exist.
Lewis Howes: They don’t matter.
Humble the Poet: They don’t matter or don’t exist.
Lewis Howes: It’s twenty years ago or something.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, they grew up, they’re not that same person no more, and it’s that voice that stuck with you, connected with something that you believed in your own head. And you’re like, “Well, okay, nobody can make you feel ugly unless you feel it yourself in the first place, so words hold hands with something that you say inside yourself.”
And I realised that it’s not sustainable to prove many of these people wrong, when many of these people, they weren’t even that bad when they said certain things. So, even when these guys are saying my name, there’s still some constructive criticism there.
They’re still, like, “Hey, this might be too difficult to work with,” but yeah, throughout my journey, people have given me couches to sleep on, people have put money in my pocket, and I feel like people have let me stay in their homes, just like Lily, and I was like, “Proving these people right will always keep my flame alive.”
And I think it’s a healthier energy, and it’s way more sustainable.
Lewis Howes: Yeah. How have you transitioned from being a school teacher to a full time artist? Because you do music, you do poetry, what else do you do?
Humble the Poet: I design clothes.
Lewis Howes: You design clothes, ‘create love, don’t find it’. How do you make money as an artist, and as a poet.
Humble the Poet: It’s an interesting thing that you ask, because not every art will make you money. I think one of my favourite quotes is, “Some art will feed your kids, some art will feed your soul. So make sure you know the difference.” And rarely are they going to be the same thing.
Lewis Howes: And if they can be the same thing, that’s beautiful, right?
Humble the Poet: Oh! Fantastic!
Lewis Howes: Then you’ve hit it!
Humble the Poet: Then you’ve hit it, but you still have to be mindful that we don’t live in this ‘happily ever after’ world. So, if you find that balance, balance isn’t one time achieved and you’re good. It’s always going to be a constant thing that we’ve got to focus on.
So, if you are passionate and enthusiastic about something and then you find a way to earn money doing it, that’s great! But at some point it may still turn into a job. At some point you may start focusing more on the process instead of the content.
I think we’ve seen that in history quite a few times. I’m trying to be very cognisant of that as well. For me, specifically, in terms of making money, it was hand to fist journey for me. In the beginning I quit my job, thinking I had a record deal.
So, I was working as a teacher, making good money, it was a government job. In Canada they pay them pretty well. I told myself art was just a hobby, art was a way to impress girls and art was a good thing to do after work. And somebody came to me with a writing deal that would have been worth twice what I was making as a teacher.
I was, like, “This is perfect,” quit the job immediately, didn’t know anything about lawyers, paperwork, nothing. Left my job, moved into a condo that I had as a rental property. So I was a responsible adult before all of this.
I moved into that, started working on this music, and then, a year later, everything fell through. No money came, nothing happened. A lot of it was my wishful thinking, me having my blinders on, not seeing the warning signs, not realising how shady the people I was working with actually were.
And that’s when I hit the point, like, “Well, okay, it’s been a year, you are $80,000 in debt, you don’t have any money, and you don’t know how to make any money. All your credit cards, line of credit, everything’s maxed out. Are you going to go back to work? What are you going to do?”
And that point is when my real journey began.
Lewis Howes: What year was this?
Humble the Poet: This was at the end of 2011.
Lewis Howes: And that’s when it began, the journey of what?
Humble the Poet: I guess, my relationship with reality. So, no longer was I insulated. I think, being a student and going straight into a school, I was living and working in a very safe environment as a school teacher.
All your colleagues are on your team, there’s no competition, you’re not being paid in comparison to anybody else, you’re on a pay grade for your years and experience. Everybody had my back, because the priority was the kids, so if I showed up late after lunch or something, somebody would be watching my students.
So, I felt very safe, you felt like everybody had your back, and then you jump into entertainment, and the first people to recognise your talents are the people who are like, “How can I benefit off of his talent?” So, I had never been exploited up until then. I was a little bit sheltered in terms of mindset and in terms of trusting people.
So, after I got that first burn, I felt like I was suffocating on fresh air for the first time. My bubble burst and I didn’t know what to do. And there was a lot of self pity for a couple of months. I turned to, my best friends were Nyquil and muscle relaxers and I literally thought sleeping it off, it would all fix itself.
When we have problems, we pretty much have three ways to address it. I think we can, A, most realistically, humble ourselves, take a step back and figure out the problem; B, ignore it and deal with the consequences; or C, we pray for a miracle. Whether that’s winning the lottery, I think, in terms of our environment, that’s hoping science fixes it all up.
So, I think, for me, I was hoping for the miracle to come. What was really happening, I was doing nothing and I was digging myself deeper in a hole.
Lewis Howes: Why is it that a lot of people hope that something or someone will solve the problems for us?
Humble the Poet: I think it’s what we grew up seeing on TV. I think everything was neatly wrapped up in a bow after 22 minutes. Everything always had a happy ending or was resolved.
Lewis Howes: This is my challenge, and I hope I’m not going to piss anybody off by saying this, but this is, I see people saying this sometimes, using either religion or God as a scapegoat, saying, “I’m going to pray that God is going to solve all my problems.”
And I’m all for prayer, and I’m all for connecting to God or gods or whatever you believe in. But you also have to take action. You also have to do the work. You can’t just say, “Well, God’s going to give me the lottery ticket,” or, “God’s going to place the right person in front of me.”
God might, or the universe might, but if you don’t get off the couch, and if you don’t start working towards something, then, probably, nothing’s going to unfold to you. Am I right?
Humble the Poet: Yeah, it’s a popular notion where it’s like, give God the credit when things go well, but then take the responsibility when things don’t. And I think that seems to be a popular notion.
I recently tweeted, I said, “Hey, those of you who believe, what if you believe that you’ve been given the tools, you’ve been given the gifts, now you’ve got to use them? Maybe you’ve got the hammer in your hand, praying isn’t going to get you to use it.”
Lewis Howes: “The treasure is already right in front of us, or it’s within us,” I heard Paulo Coehlo say that in The Alchemist. Like, all the things we have is right here, and we just have to learn how to cultivate it and use it. That’s the challenge that I feel like so many people are waiting for their parents, or God, or whatever, to put something in their lap.
Humble the Poet: And I think it has a lot to do with having these entitlements and these comforts, and I think that one quote about, “You’re like teabag, you don’t know how strong you are until you are in hot water.”
And, for me, I think I had to hit that rock bottom, and I know that one of the key points for me is that I used to sleep with music playing, and then I heard, while the music was playing, one morning J Cole’s Dollar and a Dream Part 3 came on and he says, “What are you going to do? Are you going to grow bitter and grow cold? Or are you going to rise out of this?”
And that immediately got me out of bed, and I remember printing all these messages on paper and sticking them all over my walls. And none of them were fluffy Tumbler quotes. They were all, like, “Sink or swim!”
“You don’t make any of the shots you don’t take.”
“You want a vacation, go back to your day job.”
“You can do this!”
“Show me what you’re made of!”
And it really was, for me, a talk to myself to, “Suck it up, no one’s going to solve your problems. Even if you didn’t put yourself in this situation, it’s still your responsibility to address it.” And I think that’s the big one people need to understand. It’s, our problems may not be our fault, but they are our responsibility. And, I think, once I own that responsibility, and say, “Look, here are your options.”
And a lot of the options, none of them were groundbreaking thoughts, it was, “You need to sell this place. You need to get out of debt. You’ll have to move back home with Mommy and Daddy for a bit. You’re going to have to lick your wounds and figure this out.”
And the journey of 2012 to about 2015/2016 that’s what that journey was, of figuring it all out. And I’m so glad I went through that. It taught me what was really important for myself. It taught me how to live much more minimally, I realised most of that stuff I didn’t need.
Even now, things are going really well, I’m still living my struggling artist budget. You live that because you realise, “I really don’t need half of those things.” And things start to find you anyway. You start to get free clothes, you start to get free things as an influencer.
Lewis Howes: Trips and all that.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, trips and everything as well, and you start to realise, “Wow! I don’t need a closet full of clothes, I don’t need 18 pairs of shoes,” me specifically. If other people enjoy it, by all means, but it taught me a lot about what was important.
And I think the big thing it taught me was the value of my time. How I spend my time is more important than anything else in the world. I think that’s the most important. Because you can’t make time back. We can always make our money back.
And from that point, it was sucking it up, lacing up my bootstraps, or whatever the sayings are, and I pretty much first identified the problems, which was, I had a lot of bills that I couldn’t afford to pay. I didn’t even have the option of going deeper in debt. Everything was maxed out. I needed to liquidate.
So I went on Craigslist and sold everything that I could. At that point, once I liquidated all that, then I sold my place, I paid back all my personal loans first. There were a lot of people who believed in me.
Lewis Howes: Gave you a few hundred here, a couple of thousand there.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, exactly, and my big thing was, I didn’t want to be that guy who borrowed money from people and avoided them. So once I realised the situation, I called everybody and said, “Listen, I don’t have your money right now, but I will get you your money. I am not going to avoid you, I am letting you know this is my situation,” and I owned up to it.
Lewis Howes: Wow! That’s the hardest thing to do, for people. It’s to confront the people who loaned them money when they’ve passed the due date of paying it back, right? It’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to talk to this person, because I can’t [pay them back right now].”
Humble the Poet: Because it gets a little awkward, but the truth was, I didn’t have any options. It wasn’t that I could have done anything, I had to still figure it out. I’m proud to say, I did pay everybody back and then eventually the bank got their money, too, they were last. And I think I got out of debt end of 2014, so it took about 3/4 years to get out.
And then I fuelled myself for those three, four years, I was like, “Oh, it’s going to feel so good when you have a zero bank account! It’s going to feel so good!”
Lewis Howes: And then what?
Humble the Poet: It felt good for, like, three days, and then, you know, like, “What’s next?”
Lewis Howes: “Now I got to make money.”
Humble the Poet: Yeah, now I’ve got to make money.
Lewis Howes: I’m at zero.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, I’m at zero, now what do I got to do? But I think, whatever I did to get to zero, I kind of maintained that. I didn’t start spending money and buying jewellery and stuff like that, I maintained that lifestyle.
But, to be honest, by the end of 2015, I had a pretty juice bank account, from just small pieces of work. But what I also realised is that all of these years, I’d been planting seeds. I had written my first book independently. I crowdfunded it and I put it out to my followers, I had about 60,000 followers on Facebook back then. And, back then, when you had 60,000 followers…
Lewis Howes: They all saw it!
Humble the Poet: They all saw it! It’s not like Facebook now, where you can have a million followers, and only eight people see what you post, but they all saw it, and I raised about 25 grand off of doing the first book, and that really taught me a lot about putting myself out there, making myself vulnerable. Asking for help. Connecting with people.
And I think that was the pivotal moment where things started to spiral upwards. From there, different opportunities came, meeting different people. And you start to realise, hey, we don’t need everything immediately, like, people may not… Like, we’ve been friends for a while, and this is my first time on the show. But we’ve been hanging out.
And I think that’s the important thing, where you start focusing a lot more on the rainbow and not thinking about the pot of gold. And really thinking that, “Hey, I need to enjoy this journey now, while I’m on it.” And go back to what made me excited about it, since I was a kid, spending hours in front of my computer editing videos, with no audience, with no idea of even if I was going to share it with the world.
Really, I was just trying to reconnect with that person, because that keeps things as authentic as they need to be.
Lewis Howes: What are the biggest mistakes you see that poets, or artists and creators in general, do?
Humble the Poet: I think the number one thing is, I think we have to be a lot more honest with ourselves. We can’t start acting a little bit high and mighty and be, like, “Hey, this is all about helping other people.” Sometimes it is about us, it’s about getting attention.
There is a business involved in this, we’re trying to get our followers. We live in an attention economy, and there are different tricks and tools that you can [use] to get attention. And I think, I’m not here to judge people for what they do to get attention, but I think it’s important that they understand why they’re making the decisions that they’re making.
So, if I got a cool poem, but I’m still putting some girl’s cleavage in my thumbnail, to get people to watch it, I have to at least be honest with myself about that. Because it isn’t, I’m in L.A. I understand that. You’ve got to do what you have to do to get attention, and I think, often, people reach out to me, like, “Well, I need to make a difference, I need to change people, I need you to help me reach a larger audience.”
And I think to myself, “If you really wanted to make a change, you can join somebody’s movement. The fact that you want to lead a movement makes it about something more.” And Tony Robbins talks about, all of us have that need for significance. So I have compassion towards them for wanting that significance, we all want it, but there’s just healthier ways of getting it.
Because I feel like, if you’re chasing fame, just like when I was chasing being debt free, I wasn’t simply visualising it, I was emotionalising it. I was promising myself a certain feeling when I hit it, and I can promise you, and I know you’ve experienced this, too, we rarely accurately can predict the emotions we’re going to feel when we hit a certain milestone, and how long it’s going to last.
So, getting out of bed felt great for a couple of days, and then I was back to the next thing, hitting certain other things in my bank account felt good. I just signed a major publishing deal, it felt great for a couple of days. I was in an Apple commercial, you know, there were a whole bunch of things that happened, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh! This is going to be the greatest thing ever!” And it only lasts for a short amount of time.
And I think that’s really important for people to recognise.
Lewis Howes: If you put all your hopes and dreams in these big moments, that last little bits of time, then you’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to feel depressed, because you’ll be like, “Oh, I thought this was the end-all-be-all. It was the pot of gold.” But really, as the saying goes, it’s all about enjoying the journey.
And I think that’s what I’ve learned to appreciate over time. Like, I’m in the middle of a talk show that just came out.
Humble the Poet: Yeah! Congratulations, man! It’s really good!
Lewis Howes: Thank you! And it’s been, like, a year and a half, two years in the making. So, it’s like, you think, when it launches, it’s going to be this unbelievable feeling, like, “I did it! It happened!” And yes, but also, now’s the time to work even harder.
It’s out, now there’s a whole, that’s when it begins, the journey, the promotion, the marketing, the working to get it picked up. All those things.
Humble the Poet: Completely, yeah. And the thing you’ve got to also realise is that your reward in the game of entrepreneurship, or in the game of living a life on your own terms, the real reward is more opportunities. It’s not a juicy check, it’s not going to be a private jet. It’s going to be more opportunities to do the things that excite you.
Lewis Howes: Freedom, flexibility, all those things.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, freedom, flexibility.
Lewis Howes: And the real reward, for me, has been stories of people who are impacted by the work. And I’m sure you get that a lot, too, when you come out with a song or a book or a video, and it resonates so deeply with someone’s struggles or challenges, and they feel either relief, or they feel a sense of power moving forward. Or it helps them overcome something.
For me, that’s where I get the reward, like, that’s more than the pay check.
Humble the Poet: It’s interesting you brought that up, because, I think, what you actually cased me to do is have a little bit of an existential crisis, because, after hanging out with you and realising…
Lewis Howes: What happened!
Humble the Poet: I remember once we were talking about metrics in terms of success and you said, “I want to see how many people I can impact.” I think a lot of the content that I created around self help actually came from me needing to figure it out for myself.
So, when I was in the dumps, I couldn’t afford a fluffy Tumbler quote. I couldn’t afford some empty affirmation. I can only afford to consume the realness and pragmatic advice. And, as a student, and as a lifelong learner, I loved sharing my notes with the world, and that’s kind of where these books and my Instagram posts came from.
They came from that space more so than a space of, “I need to help certain people, I need to do certain things,” and when you made that mention, I was like, “Wow! I need people to know, Lewis really cares about you guys! He cares about you guys! You guys get him up in the morning!”
And, I think, for me, I had to be honest with myself, and I said, “I do care about people, I want to help people,” but as I had to do, as you had to do, and as most people that we know who are excelling at a higher level, there is only so much we can help and people have to…
Lewis Howes: Absolutely!
Humble the Poet: Show them the door, they’ve got to walk through it.
Lewis Howes: That’s it!
Humble the Poet: And, I think, for me, I started to realise, when I started getting these messages of, “Oh, you’ve helped me do so-and-so,” I’d already prepped myself as an artist, to have thicker skin for the negativity, and that thick skin keeps out the positivity as well.
Lewis Howes: Interesting! Really? So you don’t see the positivity?
Humble the Poet: Well, I kind of look at the opinions of other people a little bit more as white noise. Whether it’s negative or positive, because I grew up with racism, I grew up getting comments, like, “Why is Osama rapping? What’s happening?” And having thick skin in the neighbourhood I grew up in as well, you need a little bit thicker skin.
My friends, we all tease each other a lot and what have you, so I think I always used to measure, even when hate came my way, I used to measure it through the wit, like, “Was this a witty joke? Was I worthy of something funny for them to say?”
So, I think, even when the positivity came, and when I was struggling, a lot of it had to do with reading a positive comment and knowing that I was struggling thinking, “Well, your love and affection and kind words aren’t paying my bills right now,” and really kind of being in that pragmatic space.
And now that things are better, kind of realising that a lot of it is a little bit more white noise than I want it to be. And, specifically, talking to you and Jay Shetty, and seeing it in your eyes, how much connecting with people has been fantastic, and I was like, “Wow! There’s so much more sincere and authentic in it,” and that made me really question myself in what I wanted to do and why I was doing it.
And, I think it was healthy for me to be honest with myself about that, and be, like, “Look, what keeps me going is the creativity of it. The reason my content has this feel of self help or of self improvement is because those are timeless ideas.”
The same way Bob Marley, or Lauren Hill, or even the Beatles wrote certain type of content, that it will stand the test of time because it’s talking about the human condition. And when I first started, I was heavy into activism, and then you start digging deeper. And you’re like, “Okay, instead of talking about this greedy country or this greedy government, let’s talk about greed. And now, let’s talk about the greed inside of me.
And I think I took that journey a little bit more. And I think I also kind of understood the idea that as an artist, once you put your work out there, it’s no longer yours. Some people interpret your work as they interpret it.
Lewis Howes: It becomes theirs.
Humble the Poet: It becomes theirs, and that has a lot to do with their context. I mean, comedians talk about it. If a comedian has a joke about rape or murder, for example, if somebody in the audience has experienced that, they’re not going to enjoy that conversation as much as other people.
So you realise that, “I’m only half the conversation. Once my words are out there, I can’t take them back, and I can’t control this.” I think I’ve kind of had a little bit of a divorce from my work and the audience in that context. And I was, like, “Hey, you know what? Let me continue to learn and continue to share,” but I don’t think think the messages that I get – and I’m grateful for them.
I do, I just got a message yesterday, saying, “I wanted to harm myself and your words stopped me from doing so.” When I was younger I wanted to harm myself, too, and it was somebody else’s words that did it.
So I guess I feel like I’m just part of a grander system and I want to help people. But, I think, on a selfish level, it’s really about the creativity, learning new things, the access to really cool people that this life affords me, and adding value.
And, I think, adding value, whether people see it today or not. Because for a long time, nobody was seeing what I was doing, and I had to keep going. And I think I’m trying to maintain that mindset.
Lewis Howes: That’s great! Do you face a lot of challenges and struggles with racism, or based on the way you look, or anything, your appearance, from people?
Humble the Poet: Overall, I want to say yes, but it’s been such a double edged sword. Growing up it was a lot more difficult, but I think it definitely built character and I’m glad it happened.
Lewis Howes: And for those who aren’t watching the YouTube video…
Humble the Poet: Oh! I have a very juicy beard and I wear a turban, and I am Punjabi, which is North Indian, and a lot of people think that I’m Middle Eastern or Muslim, which I’m not. So, I’m part of the Sikh heritage, Sikh means…
Lewis Howes: Sikh?
Humble the Poet: A lot of people say, ‘Seekh’. It’s S.I.K.H. So, Sikh in Pujabi means ‘to learn’. So, a Sikh is a student. We represent 2% of India and we’re a martial group of people, we have a philosophy of chasing the truth, understanding yourself, understanding everybody as one, and pretty much, we’re considered Singh Soldiers, so we’re not the most passive people, we have to learn martial arts, we’re not the most passive aggressive individuals, but it’s been a cool journey.
So, coming out to L.A., learning words like safe space, I grew up where we thrive in the opposite. We’ve always been that. So I’m the minority in my home country, where my parents [come from] – I was born in Canada – but I’m a minority in Toronto, I’m a minority where my parents were born in Punjab, I’m a minority everywhere I go.
So, that’s been my reality. I couldn’t even imagine being in a world where I was part of the majority.
Lewis Howes: How does it feel, or how are you affected by it?
Humble the Poet: I see the benefits of it, I think when your identity is challenged regularly, you actually have to own it, so I’m not who I am because somebody told me to be this way, I am who I am because I had to think about it, people challenged me.
They were, like, “Why are you looking like that? You’re not going to get any girls if you look like that! You’re not going to get any opportunities if you look like that!” And for me to be like, “Well, no, this is who I feel most comfortable being. This is my heritage, this is how I understand masculinity to be, growing up.”
And Will Smith said, “You give racism power when you acknowledge it, sometimes.” So, work through it, work around it, smash a hole in it. Do whatever you have to do, and I think, as well, the story played out long enough to where I saw the benefits.
As a teacher, being a visible minority really helped me out, especially as an elementary school teacher.
Lewis Howes: Why is that?
Humble the Poet: They needed the numbers. Elementary schools don’t have a lot of males, even less males of different ethnicities. So I definitely got preference.
Lewis Howes: So it was an advantage for you?
Humble the Poet: It was an advantage. I think in the Trump world, it’s an advantage. I think what a lot of people need to acknowledge is that Trump encouraged a lot of under-represented people to find a backbone and stand up for themselves.
Lewis Howes: And now minorities have more of a voice than ever.
Humble the Poet: They’ve had to find that voice, and I think that’s an important thing that, maybe we should send him a fruit basket for that, because he created conditions where we had to find our voice and say, “Hey, no one else is going to take care of us, we have to do it on our own.”
Lewis Howes: “Let’s stand up, let’s shout it out on social media, let’s form groups, let’s collectively come up with ideas on how we can combat this.”
Humble the Poet: Completely! And so, for me, I’ve received opportunities because of that.
Lewis Howes: You got an Apple commercial.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, I starred in an Apple commercial. And the first iPhone commercial in Canada, that was shot just for Canada, yeah. Celebrating the 150th Birthday
Lewis Howes: Yeah, because, I feel like, more than ever, we’re celebrating diversity, or inclusion of diversity, in general in our society, wouldn’t you say?
Humble the Poet: I think definitely, and I think, being from Toronto, which is one of the most diverse places on the planet. Even when I did the Apple commercial, it was very interesting.
One of the things they said to me was, “We have three restraints that we kind of want you to work around. You’re celebrating Canada, so we don’t want you to get stereotypical, so no Poutine and no Mounties.”
Lewis Howes: Loonies and Toonies. Maple syrup.
Humble the Poet: Loonies and Toonies. “Don’t get stereotypical…” And maple syrup. The second one was, “Don’t take a dump on the US. You know, many Canadians define themselves as being ‘not American’, we dont’ want any of that in your work.”
And the third one, which I thought was the most interesting was, don’t lean on diversity.”
Lewis Howes: Don’t lean on it?
Humble the Poet: Yeah, “Don’t lean on multiculturalism. We’ve already had that. We’ve had it for twenty, thirty years now.”
Lewis Howes: Because we are multicultural.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, “We are multicultural, so don’t lean on that. Now, write a poem and celebrate Canada.” And I was, like, “Damn! They took out all the good stuff!” And I remember going to a party, and I was at this party, and I realised that the diversity extended beyond ethnicity.
So I saw an East Asian guy who looked like a punk rocker, and then I saw another East Asian guy who looked like he was a young professional. And then you see another East Asian guy who was a hipster. And you realise that, once people are allowed to be how they were born, their ethnicity, now they also have the freedom to be what they want, the archetype.
And, I think, L.A. Is a really good example of that. You walk down the street…
Lewis Howes: Everyone. Everyone’s a different character.
Humble the Poet: I know my father, he always gets worried about me coming to the States, because he thinks it’s all Trump country and I’m going to get a hate crime. I was, like, “Listen, Dad, I can walk down the street right now, with a bright blue turban, wearing a bikini, no one’s looking at me.”
Because there’s always seven other people who are much louder than me, on these streets. And I love that. I love the archetype, I love when people get to decide how they’re going to be diverse, and I think that’s where we need to be heading now. And I think the City of Toronto is like that right now.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, I think this is your quote, where you said, “Don’t be realistic, don’t play the popularity game, and don’t chase trends. Today belongs to the creatives, the weirdos, the introverts, the beardos, and everyone else who doesn’t fit it.”
That seems to be the opposite of most popular branding advice. Why do you believe this?
Humble the Poet: I think it’s also – we were talking about it a little earlier – you can ride a wave, or you can start a wave and, as an artist, who is now working on slow cooked work, that takes a lot longer…
Lewis Howes: Deeper work.
Humble the Poet: Deeper work, I’m not focused as much on my process. I’m not trying to release something once a week, I’m not trying to release something on a schedule. I’m trying to get stuff to a point that I’m proud of it and getting it done, and that’s when, as an artist, I have the ability to bring something new to the world.
I think, one of the main challenges, and the importance of artists is, we’re here to create new ideas that the world hasn’t experienced yet. And those ideas influence the entire planet. You watch a movie from the 70’s and 80’s that depicts the future, we pick up off of that, whether it’s video phones, whether it’s architecture, whether it’s a style of cars. I feel like Elon Musk…
Lewis Howes: Flying cars…
Humble the Poet: Yeah, Elon Musk, flying cars, I feel like, is completely influenced by whatever movies he watched as a kid, when he’s designing these Tesla cars. Even their features, and what have you.
And I think, as artists, it’s really important that we understand that we’re here to contribute something, not just to add to the noise. So, if there’s a current trend and we’re just riding these trends, we’re not really contributing.
And our biggest resistance comes from people who value the past. These people are called fundamentalists. But fundamentalism isn’t just religion. There’s fundamentalists in sports, people arguing should soccer have instant replays, should hockey have a thicker blue line, should basketball allow seventeen-year-olds to play?
And people are like, “Hey! It wasn’t like that before, don’t change it!” People who value the past. They are the biggest source of resistance to an artist who’s trying to bring a new idea. And that’s why I think it’s so important for us to have these guys like Kanye West, because he is the guinea pig for the ultimate artist.
He’s, like, “Look, this guy is saying anything he feels at any given moment in time. Nobody’s saying he’s always right, but everybody can say that he’s free to say it and think it.” And he’s kind of showing the world, “Hey, look, I’m doing it, and what are the real consequences of me doing it? I still have a business, I still have my family. I may not be on everybody’s Christmas list,” but you’re kind of signing up for that when you’re an artist.
When you plug yourself into society, and you stick to the template, your biggest challenge is going to be boredom. And I think consumerism gives us a lot of things to occupy ourselves. When you unplug yourself and you take the entrepreneurial ship, you live by your own terms, your biggest challenge is isolation. You’re going to feel a little bit lonely.
Lewis Howes: Do you think that artists can be truly happy?
Humble the Poet: I don’t think happiness should be anybody’s goal. I don’t think there’s any value that actually comes from happiness.
Lewis Howes: What should be the goal?
Humble the Poet: Stimulation, experience, growth, contribution. We grow when we learn, and as Bill Gates said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” So, we learn from everything that is the opposite of happiness, and when we learn and we grow, that’s when we’re able to contribute and add back.
And, I think, for me, personally, I want to give this world more than I took from it before I leave, and I’m not going to get that being happy. Happiness isn’t a sustainable idea.
Lewis Howes: Because you’ve got to be in some type of challenge, or trying something that you fail at, in order to grow, because that’s where you can give back.
Humble the Poet: Exactly, you’ve got to rip the muscles for them to grow back stronger. And that’s the same with your artistic muscles, that’s the same with your life. I think, in the beginning, a lot, including your story and my story, in the beginning it is, we are living an uncomfortable situation that was not by choice, and we slowly crawled, fought and dug to find light at the end of the tunnel. And then we made it out.
And I think the difference is that, did we go and start searching for more uncomfortable situations to be in? Because they may never find us any more, we’ve got to find them ourselves. Some people get comfortable, take a lifelong vacation and their story rides out.
I think, for folks like you and I, we’re like, “Well, what’s the new challenge?” It may not find us, we have to find it. How do I empty my bank account and put it into something and invest into something? Invest into myself? How do I take risks? How do I get that feeling that I used to get on a rollercoaster? In life, how do I create that for myself?
“How do I find problems that I’m excited to solve?” So I think that’s the other thing, there’s no such thing as a life without problems.
Lewis Howes: Unless you’re just playing it safe, and not trying anything.
Humble the Poet: Even then, problems come from that. Atrophy. Our life can have atrophy. So, I feel like, instead, let’s find problems that we want to solve. And I think most of our conversations, I recently hit you up about marketing and investing and stuff like that, and learning, “Where can I spend my money? How can I do these things?”
I could just leave it, and I was afraid of going broke for the longest time after I made money, that I had just a very simple savings account.
Lewis Howes: You just saved it all. Put it all in one account. Isn’t that funny? The challenge is, “Okay, I’m in debt, I need to go to even.” Then you get to that, you solve one problem. Then you’re like ,”Okay, now I don’t want to be broke any more, I need to make money.”
And then you get good at making money, but then it’s just in a savings account, and then you’re like, “Well, this is just sitting here, and not making me any money, so how do I invest it?” And you have to learn a whole new game.
And then you’re like, “Okay, I’m making all this money, now there’s all these taxes. How do I save it from all that structure?” So, there’s always a new challenge, when you grow up.
Humble the Poet: Completely, yeah. And I think we need to look forward to those challenges. I think those challenges in themselves need to be our marker for success. And I personally am not trying to be goal oriented any more, I’m trying to be habit oriented. So, what direction do I want to head?
I want to have a business that continues to earn. I don’t care if I hit a million or ten million, I just want to be earning. So, if I’m making more this year than I made last year, then I’m on the right path, and let’s maintain that as a sustainable model, moving forward, versus kind of propping up the idea, like, “Oh, when I hit my first million!”
Because I already did that with the debt, you know, “Oh, when I get out of debt I’m going to feel a certain way.” So, hitting other markers, I know they’re going to feel a certain way. I think last year they had a study that came out, they said, I think, for a major city, if you make over $75,000 your wellbeing and happiness is no different from $75,000 to, like, 5 billion, because, at the end of the day, once your basic needs are met, and you’re out of the struggle phase, what’s next?
I challenge my followers, I have a post coming up soon, where I challenge them to say, “Hey, you want ten million in the bank? After you won the ten million, a year has gone by. So let’s take that, ‘I’m going to buy my mamma a house! I’m going to buy this car! I’m going to travel the world!’ Let’s get that out of your system, a year’s gone by, what does your day look like?
“What does your life look like? How are you spending your time now? Now that you’ve gotten all that out of your system, that’s the life that you should be wanting to live.” And most of that doesn’t really take a lot of money, on a daily basis. What is your day to day going to look like? What are you going to be eating? What are you going to be spending your time [on]? Who are you going to be spending your time with?
And a lot of that, I don’t feel, has a lot to do with money, it’s going to have a lot to do with how we spend our time, and what we think is really important.
Lewis Howes: Yeah. How often are you writing poems? Poetry in general?
Humble the Poet: Poetry in general, is not happening as much as I want it to happen. I’m working on a book right now. My deadline is the end of October, but it has made me realise that before I got into the literary world, when I was just rapping and writing spoken word poetry, that was my only mode of communication.
So, if something frustrated me in the world and I wanted to write about it, it had to be written in rhyme, it had to be! Which is a lot more work than writing in prose. But once I got into writing books and finding success with it, I realised I’m doing less work, but getting more success, and it really almost got me into this corner of being a little bit lazier, and I’ve become more aware of that now, so now I’ve had to set it.
So, I have a daily goal right now of 1,000 words per day and, actually, on my Instagram, I mark it down, I have a little calendar printed off the internet, and every day on my Instagram story I put the X. If I get it and if I don’t do it, I put a little sad face, so it’s my accountability with the audience.
A lot of people have hit me up saying they’re doing it for healthy eating, they’re doing it for the gym, now. So my goal is, once I’ve hit the deadline and I submit my manuscript, that’s also when, you know, you published a book, that’s when the second payment comes in. So, I’m like, “Okay, after that, I’m going to maintain it, just the same way I was saving to get out of debt, I didn’t change my spending habits after I got out of debt, I have a lifestyle that’s allowing me to write this book.
Once I’m done with the book, I’m going to convert that into 16 bars, and write poetry, write rhymes every day, because, I think, creating that from an artistic level, is some of the most exciting stuff that I’ve done.
Lewis Howes: What’s your favourite line or paragraph from a poem that you’ve written?
Humble the Poet: Most recently, the one that’s been sticking with me is actually the one I wrote for Apple, which is:
We see ourselves in the stories of others
But free ourselves writing our own
And I feel like storytelling is this thread that we can all have to connect with each other and also connect with ourselves. And I think the second we have a healthier way of connecting with ourselves, we can have a better relationship with the rest of the world, because once we start to see ourselves, and be forgiving of some of the things that the word has told us isn’t cool, “It’s not cool if you’re not productive. It’s not cool if you didn’t hustle hard today.
If you give yourself a little bit of compassion for that, then it’ll allow you to have compassion for the rest of the world, the same way. And, I think, most recently learning the idea that all humans need to feel connection and the fast food, potato chip version of connection is social media, but also, self pity.
Feeling sorry for ourselves is the easiest way we can feel connected, because what I’ll do is, “Nobody understands me. Nobody understands what I’m going through. Lewis doesn’t understand, she doesn’t understand.”
I’ve isolated myself from you guys but, at the same time, strengthened my connection with myself. But, just like eating a lot of MacDonalds, it’s not sustainable. And eventually there will be negative impacts of having that.
And kind of challenging people to say, “Look,” as you’ve said, and it stuck in my head, “Good things happen when we delay gratification.”
Lewis Howes: It’s true.
Humble the Poet: Self-pity is instant gratification for connection. Social media is instant gratification for connection. And if we say, “Hey, let me limit my social media, let me limit my self-pity, and focus on more long term ways to feel connection. Connection with human beings, connection with people in the world, connection with strangers, connections with our families, which are a lot more work, but are a lot more sustainable in the long run.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, yeah. Do you have a thirty second, one minute poem you can share, that you’ve memorised?
Humble the Poet: A thirty second, one minute poem that I have memorised? Okay, yeah! I have one. So this one was written for my father. My father had a master’s degree in economics at a university in India, but when he came to Canada in the 70’s, he didn’t have the option of using that education, so he became a cab driver.
So I wrote a poem called ‘Life of an Immigrant’.
They told him the grass was greener
With an endless flood of possibilities
Watched him drown in debt
Land confiscated by the local government
So he flies high in a jet plane
Just exposed him
To the harsh winters of life
But his wife won’t know
About the sweat soaked in the bank notes
Boy getting grown
He starts to groan
Hungry for a better life
Now he’s stumbling
Over foreign phonetics and those verb tenses
They’re laughing at his accent
It’s not an accident
Though, that his masters in economics isn’t honoured
Most economic forefather
To hob his ass in a cab
And never bother
That car or his dreams
Memorise the route and collect the fare
It isn’t fair
When they say you don’t belong here
With that long beard
And the towel around your head
Hear what was said
Soak in the hate
Can you relate?
Life of an immigrant
Lewis Howes: Mm! I love it! Love it, my man!
Humble the Poet: Thank you, brother.
Lewis Howes: We’ve got two final questions for you, before we ask those, where can we connect with you online? How can we get your books? Where can we follow you?
Humble the Poet: So, it’s @humblethepoet on all social media, most active on Instagram, trying to add value to the world and make people smile. Everything I do is on my website, humblethepoet.com. So many cool projects working out.
Lewis Howes: YouTube channel as well, right?
Humble the Poet: YouTube channel, so I also am a film-maker, and I make music videos that take me a long time! They’re my babies, and that’s where, all the money I make, I kind of pour into them, and I kind of create these.
And the goal, I say again, make new ideas and bring things to the space that haven’t existed yet. And I grew up on a lot of amazing rappers, but a lot of beautiful visuals, so if you remember all the Hype Williams stuff, every Missy Elliot video you’ve ever seen, every Buster Rimes video you’ve ever seen, they’re always larger than life, and I’m really trying to bring that back.
So, I’ve been self funding my own music videos and really shooting some cool stuff.
Lewis Howes: That’s great, man! And the next book comes out?
Humble the Poet: Oh! Depending on where you are in the world. It’s very different. So, my book, Unlearn, has just become a bestseller in Canada, and I just got picked up by Harper here, and we’re doing a redesign for that, so that’s probably coming out in the Spring.
And the book I’m writing right now, which I don’t have a title for, should be coming out at the end of next year. So that’s going to be my major publication debut. But you can find my stuff right now on Amazon, before I signed a contract, then they make me take it off.
Lewis Howes: Exactly! This is called, The Three Truths Question we ask everyone at the end. If this was the last day for you, and you’d achieved everything you wanted in your life, let’s say it’s a hundred years from now, but you’ve got to go on. Your body’s got to leave the Earth, it’s time to pass on.
But it’s a celebration, you’ve got everything you want, you’ve done everything you want to do, but for whatever reason, you’ve got to take all your work with you. So nobody has access to the videos, the poetry, the books, it all goes with you.
And you can share three finals lessons with the world, and this is what they would have to remember you by, three truths or lessons. What would you say are your truths?
Humble the Poet: The first truth is, everyone tells us to be ourselves, but we can’t be ourselves if we don’t know ourselves, so really spend time, put it in your calendar, half an hour a day, just to figure out who you are.
And if you consider that sitting quietly in a room, and meditating, by all means. If it’s going for a long walk, do that. If it’s going into the middle of the desert and taking some funny drug and figuring it out that way, whatever you consider self exploration is, please do it, it will help you understand yourself and be yourself, and connect with the rest of the world.
Never run away from discomfort. Never run away from discomfort. Discomfort is your friend, all good things happen outside your comfort zone. So, leave it, slowly, but surely, but never run away from discomfort or uncomfortable situations.
And I think last is, I think the quote is, “We overestimate what we can do in a day, and we underestimate what we can do in a year.” So, I think, it’s focus on the baby steps, focus on the rainbow, don’t even think about the pot of gold. It’s the rainbow that’s really made out of diamonds.
Enjoy it, dance on it! Tomorrow isn’t promised. We are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. That is not depressing, that is liberating. You get to live on your own terms and enjoy that. It’ll feel good if you add value to other’s lives.
It’s not simply a moral thing, it’s really, you will feel good if you can contribute, and you will find that significance that you are searching for, by contributing to other people.
Lewis Howes: Those are good! It think it was about fifty truths, but I like that! I like it! The run-on!
I acknowledge you, Humble, for finding yourself and speaking your truth into the world, because I think it’s really hard for people to stand up and be who they want to be. And you’re physically showing it, you’re showing it emotionally, you’re showing it verbally.
You’re constantly being true to what you want to do and the message you want to share with the world, so I acknowledge you for all the work you do, man, and for your constant progress, constant growth, constant learning. You’re being the example of what we should all be doing.
Humble the Poet: Man, I’m learning from you, and I’m not saying that to gas you, but, again, we hang out a lot, off camera, and you are that guy. And, again, you are so that guy, you made me question who I was. It was, like, “Wow, his energy, his enthusiasm, it’s there, it’s there all the time.” You don’t even consume caffeine, so it’s just, like…
Lewis Howes: I have coffee every now and then.
Humble the Poet: Every now and then.
Lewis Howes: But I don’t drink alcohol at all.
Humble the Poet: Yeah, so I’m a little bit more rough around the edges with my lifestyle decisions, so when I see you do these things, it feels like, “The only way he can do this, on a sustainable level,” as far as you’ve done it, “is he has to actually care.”
And I think that’s important. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there. There are a lot of people selling dreams and pretending to have a great life in order to prey on people who are desperate.
And I know this, because I was in a hole, and I was desperate, and there were a lot of people trying to take advantage of me. And I think the world is a better place for great guys like you, that actually exist, doing this for the right reasons.
Lewis Howes: Thank you, brother. Appreciate it, man. Final question for you: What’s your definition of greatness?
Humble the Poet: My definition of greatness is being in constant competition with yourself, and focusing on getting better every single day. And one of my favourite quotes is, “When you’re good, you’ve got to tell people. When you’re great, they tell you.”
Lewis Howes: Humble the Poet! Appreciate you, brother!
* * *
Lewis Howes: I hope you enjoyed this one, my friends. If you did, shout it out on Twitter, on Instagram, tag both @humblethepoet and @LewisHowes; lewishowes.com/682, make sure to follow Humble, check out all of his work and art and poetry and music, all the good stuff that he’s up to. He’s leading an inspiring life.
And I want you to be inspired by all the stories we bring to you by all the individuals, what they’re creating, what they’re up to, how they’re making an impact in their own life so that you can apply this to your life.
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Go there right now, designcrowd.com/greatness, get the VIP offer and sign up for your design.
Also, if you haven’t got your ticket, guys, it is coming, October 4 through 6, this is going to be a weekend experience that you will always remember, I can promise you that. You’re going to meet lifelong friends, passionate individuals, conscious-minded achievers who are expanding their mindset, and taking massive action in their lives and achieving incredible things.
The community alone blows my mind! And I want you to be a part of the community in person.You’re listening to this episode right now, you are part of it online and all around the world, but coming together, there’s nothing more powerful than being in person with a group of like-minded individuals, who are looking to step up in their life.
Go to summitofgreatness.com right now and get a few tickets for yourself and friends and I’ll see you there, October 4 through 6.
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Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry is eternal graffiti written in the heart of everyone.”
What is the art you are putting out in the world? You may not think you are an artist, but you are. How are you impacting the hearts of everyone else? What is landing on them? What is sticking to someone’s heart because of what you say and who you’re being, and how you show up?
That is what you should think about. What is the thing that people feel the most when they think about you, or your message, or your work?
I love you so very much! And you know what time it is: It’s time to go out there and do something great!