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  • Safiya

where have we been?

Hi. I know that some of you might be upset or annoyed at me for going AWOL for the last couple of months, which I totally understand. To be honest, I’ve been really reticent to share how I’ve been feeling or that I haven’t been doing well for a couple of reasons - 1) that I know a lot of people are going through a tough time right now (and probably for even more concrete or logical reasons than I am!) and I didn’t want to come across like I thought my problems were worse than anyone else’s or that they were more important - 2) that a lot of you have expressed that you watch our videos to relax, escape, or relieve your own stress and anxiety, and I didn’t want to export my stress onto you all by talking about it - and 3) on the whole, I feel ashamed communicating with you all, the viewers, when I don’t have a video ready to be posted soon. All that said, I still don’t want to come across like I think my problems are any worse than what people around the world are experiencing right now, and I tried my best to write this in a way where it didn’t feel like it was just a list of complaints - but, it felt like a list would be an effective way to organize & communicate the things that I’ve been dealing with, so… it is *kind of* a list of complaints, and for that I apologize. But, I will lay out our plans for the future at the end, so it hopefully doesn’t feel just like me throwing a pity party for myself. Also, once again, no pressure if you don’t want to read this - in some ways, it’s cathartic for me just to write these things out.

1. Growing sense of failure

This first one is probably the most pervasive thing I’ve been feeling for a while and something that I think has gradually taken its toll on my productivity and ability to execute.

We are chronically behind schedule on the channel, and we have been since pretty much day 1. Everything always takes at least a day longer than I planned it would, we always post videos at least a day later than we said we would - and then we’re at least a day behind starting the next video, which means we have to move our entire schedule back 1 day - and this happens time and time again. Now, to be honest, this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, and to start it wasn’t - but no matter what I’ve tried - giving us more time, leaving our schedule flexible, adding in buffer days, taking things off our plate, planning on posting less - we still can’t ever fully reset and get on a schedule - any schedule. And so whenever we miss our mark and I have to, once again, push everything back, I feel defeated, more and more each time. Now, I’m not saying I’ve never experienced failure or rejection before, but this kind of ongoing mini-failure after mini-failure for 3 years straight has definitely affected my confidence in my own abilities. And each subsequent stumble has made me more unsteady - until finally, this year, I fell flat on my face.

Now, part of the reason that this has been *allowed* to continue, in a sense, is because, for a long time, we were sort of ~failing upwards~ - as our workflow remained an untamed mess, the channel was growing, and people were watching and on the whole, enjoying our videos. And to be honest, I was also still enjoying and feeling proud about the videos that we were producing - that’s always been our true north while doing this channel. But, this masked the problems that were going on behind the scenes. While I felt like a failure for not being able to get it together and figure out why things were taking so long - outwardly, I was succeeding. This turned into both a serious mindf*ck for me, and a reason not to change what we were doing.

From the very beginning, I sort of felt like the channel was a wild horse that was dragging me behind it, along for the ride. Or like a cartoon car slowly falling apart beneath me while driving until all that was left was the steering wheel. And while I’m so thankful to all of you who have watched and supported us, I think part of the reason why I was never able to get ahold of it and reign it in - is because since it started growing quickly from the beginning, I was too scared to stop and figure out how to build something sustainable underneath me, for fear of losing momentum. And so instead, I’ve just been finals-week-blitzing my way from posting 3x a week, to 2x a week, to 4 videos a month, to 2-3 videos a month, to 1, and now, to none. And the funny thing is, even through quarantine, Tyler & I have been working nearly every single day - just at this point, I’m incredibly unproductive, and basically a truck stuck in a ditch, revving my engine but getting nowhere.

I understand why people would say things like “why don’t you care about youtube anymore?” And “what do you even do all day?”. I do. I ask myself the latter question all the time. What I’ll say beyond that is - I do care about youtube, and the channel we’ve built, and making videos. I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to fail. But because I’ve been so ashamed of myself, I’m ashamed to talk to you all about it.

2. Listening to third-party negativity

Something else that’s been slowly chipping away at my confidence has been taking on and overly internalizing third-party opinions and criticisms. Now I want to preface this by saying that I think, on the whole, you guys as viewers and we as a community are a pretty positive bunch. I have enjoyed my time talking and joking with so many of you, and you’re good eggs. I think that’s part of the reason why criticism has hit me so hard - because my guard is down, I get blindsided by negative comments and remarks sometimes. I don’t mean to say that I think I’m above criticism, or that I have never deserved criticism in my time on the internet - but there are certain things that have worked their way into my psyche and have come to directly affect my ability to work on the channel. Critical comments about my voice and speech - “you talk too slow”, “you over-enunciate”, “your voice is monotone and boring”, “you can’t pronounce ‘clothes’”, “you sound too scripted”, “you sound pretentious” - have caused me to second-guess myself when doing things that used to be easy for me. There have been numerous occasions over the last few months where I’ve turned on the camera, or the microphone, to record - and little voices start creeping in: “talk faster” “don’t sound so pretentious” “people criticize the way you say that word, start over and say it again but correctly this time” - and my mouth gets dry, my throat closes up, I start stuttering - and I have to walk away and essentially, try again the next day and see if I can overcome those thoughts then. This has happened as well with comments about my behavior - “you boss your husband around too much”, “stop interrupting Tyler”, “you didn’t seem grateful enough for that present you received”, “you’re almost 30, act your age”, “your facial expressions are irritating”, - as well as with my appearance - “every time I see her she gets bigger”, “your face is puffy”, “your stomach sticks out”, “your fingers are so bloated”, “you got chubby”, “did she expect us not to notice how much weight she gained?”. These things that have started to creep in my head, that make me self-edit and second guess myself as I film, and make me over analyze my appearance, especially as I watch myself on screen while I edit. “Are people going to think my shirt is a pregnancy belly?” “Do I have a double chin there?” “Are people going to say my face looks too annoying here?” “Even though Tyler and I are both talking over each other here, and neither of us were upset about it, will people say I’m bossing him around and I’m interrupting him?”

3. Growing feeling of isolation/separation from friends & family

Now, this is one that I think a lot of people can relate to at the current time since a lot of people are stuck at home, sometimes far away from family - traveling is discouraged, and zoom meetings are not quite the same - but I think that, for me, this feeling is something that really manifested itself after Tyler & I got married last November.

Tyler & I have both been living in California for 12 & 10 years respectively, and in LA for 8 & 6 years respectively - but neither of us are from here. I’m from Chicago and Tyler is from Philadelphia - and besides business contacts, we have very few friends or family members who live in LA, so we don’t really have an extended support network out here. We have friends and family in Northern California, but it’s not really like the east coast where a lot of different cities are just a couple hours drive away from each other - and with how nervous I am about taking time off, we almost never made it up there. I think maybe being close to loved ones was something that I didn’t think I needed, having lived so far away from family for so long - you know, we were working all the time, we were super busy, and we needed to be in LA because I guess that’s the default place that people who want to do entertainment go. But then, when our wedding happened, and all our friends and family descended into LA for just a few days - I was so happy, and excited to see everyone, and when they all left afterwards, I felt lower than I had felt in a long time. Of course Tyler & I are always there for each other, and so we aren’t truly alone or truly isolated - but we both felt this sadness when everyone left - like hey, that was actually fun, I liked seeing all these people who mean a lot to us, why do we never get to see those people? I think that we were able to relive some of those happy feelings through editing and posting our wedding videos last winter, but once those were up, I think we experienced not only some serious post-wedding blues (now it makes sense why people go on honeymoons), but also some serious questioning feelings of “wait why do we *have* to live so far away from everyone we know and care about?”

And once quarantine started, the feeling just got worse. I became incredibly homesick but nervous to travel home because LA is a hotspot and my dad is over 70, our plans to travel to the east coast and visit Tyler’s family like we usually do in the spring were squashed, and we started intensely questioning what we were doing here at all. Why had we stayed in LA so long when we don’t *need* to be in LA to have a YouTube channel? Why had we felt the need to stay in a place where we felt so isolated, and traded that for somewhere where we could be near people who supported us? It made no sense, especially as we had started to falter and needed emotional support. It made me feel dumb, honestly.

4. General quarantine blues

I don’t know if it’s just the feelings of isolation or the growing sense of failure or what, but pretty much since quarantine started, and we’ve been separated not only from our families but also business contacts, employees, and general daily routine - I feel like I’ve fallen into my own thoughts and emotions, and it’s taken me months to figure out how to get myself out of that hole. I’ve had such a hard time waking up in the morning, getting out of bed, getting my day started, and feeling productive. It feels like what little structure and routine I had just flew out the window, and the days started melting away.

And I think right when quarantine began, there was an increased demand for digital content, and the fact that I wasn’t being productive or posting when people were asking for or wanting to watch videos made me feel even worse about myself, like my stumble couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

Now, I do understand why this quarantine is in place and I’m not trying to advocate opening things up faster than what is safe - but it’s just been a weird time, and it’s been a weird time to try and “get back on the horse”. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to that, but I felt like it was worth mentioning.

Whew. That was a lot.

So I guess after all that, the question remaining is: what’s our plan to get back on track, pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep going?

First off, I’m not sure that we know the answer to our workflow and scheduling issues just yet. We are trying to prototype a “season”-ish method, where we take a month or so to film content to release over the following 3-4 months. That wouldn’t solve all our issues, but it would certainly help if we could make it work. My plan is also to be more transparent with you all about where in the process we are every day, or every few days - both so you guys can see what we’re up to (graphics! Audio finessing! Bears! Oh my!), and also to try and mitigate my feelings of shame that come with communicating and not having a video ready to post.

So, to start with the transparency - we filmed about 10 videos in July, and the first one of them will be up tomorrow. We hoped to start posting them sooner, but we’ve been trying to really get to the root of our workflow issues so we can get all of these videos up before the end of the year. That said, this first video is not a “magnum opus” by any means, and is supposed to just be a fun, lighthearted video. I hope you guys enjoy it :).

In terms of trying to drown out third-party criticisms - I know that asking the internet to “go easy on me” is not a thing - and honestly saying so is more or less just asking for more criticism - so I will probably have to take a step back from certain platforms and features where I can get blindsided by these kinds of comments. It’s unfortunate, but it’s probably necessary at this point. At least for a while.

Solving our third issue is something I’m actually very excited about - we’ve started to make plans to leave LA and move back East - obviously, with quarantine still in place and COVID still affecting so many things, it’s not going to be fast or easy, but right now, that is our plan.

As for our fourth problem - the routine and productivity issue is something that I’m working on. I think the best I’ve got right now is that I know I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to quit. This is a creatively fulfilling job for me and I enjoy making videos. I think I just have to keep that as my mantra and try and move forward.

Anyway. I wanted to say thank you to you guys for your patience, and understanding - even if you didn’t read it this far. I’m going to try and do a better job. I hope you guys will stick with me :)

Love, Safiya

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