No more poker face
Today, I cried.
So many emotions blew in all at once like the whipping wind around the monumental skyscrapers dotting Chicago’s lakefront.
The tears began in the midst of me dealing with a very challenging personal situation that has been a thorn in my side for 8 years.
For those 8 years I have largely kept the ordeal to myself. (I’m 100% healthy BTW)
I kept it to myself largely because of pride, shame, and embarrassment. Then, instead of going away, the problem got worse, and it eventually blew up in my face.
I thought I had no one to talk to about it until I NEEDED to talk to someone about it with my back against the wall.
I wound up talking to an elder statesman in business and in life.
It was embarrassing to have someone who I only desired to have respect for me and my accomplishments see me in a space of tremendous weakness.
“Risk Entire Legal Education for $2000 Alex”
I used to be ashamed of my background as a former foster kid.
My foster mom died when I was 14.
In order to survive, I made up stories about how I came up.
In high school I would forge my foster mother’s name on my report card so my high school would not know I did not have any parents.
In college, I told flights of fancy of who my parents were to girls I dated and friends I accumulated.
One familiar refrain was my mother lived in San Diego and my father in Miami (turns out this actually was true).
I certainly looked, talked, and acted the part.
All of this came to a screeching halt during law school when I was a visiting student during my last year of law school at Pepperdine Law in their Entertainment Law Externship Program.
I was the only visiting student from another law school in the program. Because of that, I didn’t pay tuition to my home law school Rutgers in Jersey during the year I was there.
At Rutgers I had become a New Jersey resident and was a Resident Assistant in the school’s graduate apartments housing.
My apartment and food were taken care of. I had scholarships up until that time.
An apartment, food, and just legal education is not why I went to law school however.
I went to law school to make my mark in the entertainment and sports industries.
So after two years of laying the general legal framework, I took the leap of faith to work in in legal departments of Hollywood’s most influential organizations and take entertainment law courses for my final year of legal education.
I wanted real world experience that would propel me to the next level.
For that, I had obtain special permission from the the president of Rutgers, something no one enrolled at the school had EVER done.
The challenging part about stretching my faith was I couldn’t carry any scholarships with me. I had to pay Pepperdine’s tuition.
I was able to finagle some of my tuition being taken care of, but not all of it.
I enrolled and started classes and two jobs approved by the program; one, at Warner Music Group; also, a second, reality TV production company GRB Entertainment.
Essentially I was paying to work so my jobs would give me credits toward graduation.
Eventually I started getting statements about the thousands of dollars I owed to the school.
I continued to shake it off.
Finally, the school notified me I would be forced to withdraw if I didn’t pay.
Now my entire rounding third to home legal education was in jeopardy.
“I dropped to my knees”
Around the time I began facing an uncertain academic future, I stumbled upon an airing of the syndicated daytime program “The Dr. Phil Show.”
On that day host Dr. Phillip McGraw welcomed to his set actress Victoria Rowell. Victoria is best known for her iconic character Druscilla from CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
Victoria discussed her journey on a show called “Beating the Odds” helping to encourage a foster kid named John on the show who had been in 15 placements.
She also discussed her Rowell Foster Child Positive Plan, an organization that at the time gave arts scholarships to youth.
I watched the interview with my then girlfriend and now wife Dana at the time. “You should write to her about giving you a scholarship! You’re in the arts,” she cajoled.
I must love making history for a living.
Victoria up to that point had never awarded a scholarship to a law school student.
I hesitated. I wasn’t a fan of asking for help, and my background was largely still an unknown except for a few friends.
After sweating over it for a few days, I decided to write her a long letter, and told her all about me, not knowing whether she would even see what I wrote.
It was honest and raw.
I had no idea at the time, but Victoria adored communicating with her closest friends via letter, considering it a lost art.
Victoria wrote of her love of letter correspondence in her phenomenal memoir “The Women Who Raised Me.”
One day I received a call, and it was someone who wanted to verify it was me.
That person, once I gave a few confirming pieces of my biography, patched me into Victoria.
She was, and is, one of the sweetest people I have ever met.
After talking with her for a considerable amount of time, she let me know the organization would review my letter and application, which I would then have to submit.
I carried on with work and school with the date I would be forced to withdraw looming large over my days.
I began staying up nights thinking of it.
One night, I prayed and resolved within myself everything would be okay, and I went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning feeling like a million bucks.
I pranced through my day.
My keyboard at GRB Entertainment felt like playing playing a piano, not one of drafting international television licensing contracts from term sheets.
As I worked joyously into the late morning hour, my cell phone rang.
It was Victoria’s assistant telling me I received the scholarship.
I dropped to my knees in tears thanking God.
The school was going to make me withdraw the very next day.
Victoria would go on to also help me secure a scholarship from The Casey Foundation the following semester.
The Casey Foundation does a variety of amazing things for wards of the state and foster youth through the generosity of the Casey family, an exceptional bloodline of wonderful people.
At the end of the year I, as part of the scholarship Victoria awarded me, had to attend her organization’s 3rd Annual High Tea at Noon in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza Hotel and Spa.
It was a star studded event.
Actress Regina King emceed and introduced us to a packed house.
It was probably five of us on that stage. The rest were either teens or young college students.
I felt like the dream where you’re naked in front of class standing up, having to thank the organization for my scholarship and acknowledged openly I was an “underprivileged” kid growing up.
It felt awkward.
Victoria surprising us by giving us envelopes with more money made me feel better. (I really need the coin too)
Afterward, politicians, journalists, and celebrities came up to me to tell me I “inspired” them.
I thought to myself, “You’re (insert blank)! You inspire me!”
From that point on, I vowed to never hide or lie about my backstory ever again.
“You’re not alone”
Over the years it has become a badge of honor being an orphan.
I’ve spoken all over describing my background.
My career and public presence has skyrocketed.
I’m respected around the world.
However, in the background rose another personal situation.
One that could derail everything I worked hard for.
So I hid from it, like I hid from my seemingly embarrassing background of being an orphan.
And finally, just like when I faced a moment a truth like I did in Malibu at Pepperdine Law, I had to face the inevitable.
So today, I went to this elder statesman and confidante to strategize on what to do next.
As I described intimate personal details only a handful of others knew, I began to sob uncontrollably, covering my face in shame.
My confidante would tell me something Victoria once told me, “You’re not alone.”
With those words we discussed next steps, and eventually ways on how ultimately what was my burden could be a inspiration for others.
Just like that stage in Los Angeles.
Playing with a different set of cards
Author, serial entrepreneur, and speaker Seth Godin said recently on a podcast hosted by “The Four Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferris, “Most people spend most of their lives on defense in reactive mode handling the cards they’ve been dealt, instead of on offense moving to another table and playing with a different set of cards.”
I have come to realize asking for help and being of mutual benefit to others is me moving to another table and playing with a different set of cards.
I cannot do anything to change what has brought me to this challenge, but I can choose to shift my awareness to one to dictate and take control of this area of my life.
I am not a victim, subject to the whims of the wind.
I m a victor, harnessing the power of the divine to shape the atmospheric pressure for my elevation and advancement.
So yes, today I cried.
However, my tears are now accompanied by an escort to a new table.
I look forward to holding a royal flush.
Exavier B. Pope I, Esq. is an award winning attorney, on air legal analyst, media personality, Fortune 500 speaker, content creator, writer, tastemaker, thought leader, and yogi. Mr. Pope is the host of #SuitUP Podcast for his production company 528 Media Group, and a contributing writer and host of the Radical Inspiration Podcast distributed through Wanderlust/Yoganonymous. Mr. Pope has over 200+ appearances on air, including: international television on BBC and Al Jazeera English; national television on Fox News Channel, HLN, NBC Nightly News, Al Jazeera America, WGN Morning News, Fox Business Channel, and Huff Post Live; Top 3 Local Media Markets on Fox, CBS, and NBC; international radio on BBC Radio; national radio on ESPN Radio, Clear Channel Radio, NBC Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio; written and contributed digitally to The Hollywood Reporter, CNBC, Huffington Post, Jet, and Black Enterprise; and has appeared in other media outlets nationally and internationally. Mr. Pope is represented by top media and literary agency RLR Associates.
© 2016, Exavier B. Pope I, Esq., 528 Media Group.