“Hi there. I’m Ryan.”
“Nice to meet you. What do you do here in the city?”
“I’m the Editor of an online creative culture magazine called BLEEP.”
For eight years, most of my introductions in New York have played out in nearly identical fashion. Each time I’ve met someone new—be it at a bar, party, Seder, or on a date—my position as editor and creator of BLEEP Magazine has served as my calling card. It’s the thing I do. It’s how I contribute. It’s my stake at a place at the table. It’s who I am.
After eight years—eight life-altering, mind-blowing, soul-stirring years—that will no longer be my title. After eight years, I’ve made the decision that the BLEEP chapter of my life should come to a close.
It wasn’t a decision made in haste. This is something that’s been percolating just under the surface for the better part of a year, but when I made the concrete decision that 2018 would mark the end of BLEEP’s run, I felt an immediate rush of FOMO in a way I’ve never experienced before.
I won’t be a part of the flow anymore!
I’ll miss interviewing people too much!
There are new shows coming to Broadway and I won’t be able to talk to the cast!
There were people I never got to interview!
What if the day I close up shop is the day Chris Hemsworth’s people get back to me for an interview!?
But those questions felt like natural reactions to the end of something good. Something really good. Rather, there was a larger question that hovered over me like the spaceships in Independence Day. That was a question of identity. Who am I if I’m not the editor of this magical thing I created from nothing? When introduced to people, who am I? In a culture so acutely focused on what someone does for a living as an indicator of their worth, their ambition, and their standing, who am I when my lofty-sounding title isn’t there to warrant my seat at the table? This is Zoolander’s crisis of confidence; peering into the water puddle and asking, “Who am I?”
Okay, well I know I’m a writer—I have a book on Amazon and a website where I publish essays every week—but introducing yourself as a writer in New York City seemingly begs the follow-up question of, “Cool. What do you write?” Uh…I have a website where I post long essays that my parents and some but not all of my friends read. That’s not quite the same thing as, “I interviewed someone from Scandal last week and had a photoshoot with the cast of Cats the week before that.”
When I was new to the city and didn’t know many people, that title served as an effective ice-breaker, bolstering my first impression and telling people, I’m someone who’s doing something. So what happens when that title dissolves and I’m left with only my name? As it turned out, I found some clarity in an unlikely place.
Over the past year, I’ve noticed a weird trend in which some of the people I follow on Instagram have morphed into validation-hungry Instagrammers. Some I follow because we were friends in college and some because I’ve interviewed them in the past, but I’ve witnessed a noticeable shift in the way they present themselves online. The posed “candid” photos, the questions in the captions intended to encourage interaction, the tagging of every piece of their clothing in hopes for earning an endorsement—it’s all become increasingly frequent and increasingly transparent.
This trend of equating more followers to more validation is a harmful one—it’s crippling our ability to see the forest for the trees in terms of what actually matters —but we live in a culture that tells us that digital validation is the key to success. It’s a culture that equates our worth and our self-esteem with the number of “likes” on a photo. It’s a culture that places little importance on who we are, only on the persona we project.
It was during a conversation with a friend about this very topic that I realized I was grappling with the very thing for which I chided these people on Instagram: my title of Editor and Creator of BLEEP has served as the metaphorical little blue checkmark next to my name. As much as it frustrated me to admit, I’d become just as mired in the “Like me! Like me!” culture as those transparent Instagrammers. And that didn’t work for me anymore.
So I made the decision on the last day of April to allow this chapter to come to a close and though my brain knew it was time to let go and my heart did as well, I also knew it meant I had to let go of that security blanket of title-based validation. I had to invite the unknown into my life and lean into the knowledge that who I am—this lumpy bag of bones who lives in Harlem with his dog and who writes about his life mostly through the lens of Jurassic Park—is enough. More than enough actually.
I have big plans for myself post-BLEEP—I have books to write and new dreams to chase—but to be frank, I could be doing those things at the same time as running the magazine. After all, I’ve been holding down a job, running the magazine, and writing my own stuff simultaneously for the past eight years. But I’ve realized the main reason this chapter must come to a close is that I need that sense of validation to wither. I need to be liberated from it. I need to step outside my apartment in my person-suit each day knowing that I’m enough. No matter what my title may or may not be, no matter how many people follow me for my pictures of my dog or the New York City skyline on Instagram, and no matter if I ever get invited backstage at another Broadway show again, I’m enough.
So I’m stepping out.
BLEEP changed everything in my life for the better. It’s been eight years of unparalleled adventure and reaching over a million readers in 150 countries is beyond any dream I could’ve dreamt for myself. But I’m checking that off as a dream fulfilled. It’s time to chase a new dream.