Issa Rae issa Lesson in Success

Issa Rae is now on everyone’s radar. This year she released season two of her popular HBO show Insecure, earned a Golden Globe nomination, appeared on several magazine covers, became a Covergirl and secured a role on the upcoming book to film adaptation The Hate U Give (THUG). Issa’s star continues to shine, and S+E has been a long time fan of her and her work so it’s only natural that as Issa’s success has grown we could take a few lessons from her.

Start Where You Are

Issa Rae didn’t magically appear on HBO, she built up a body of work that led her to her current success. Her YouTube channel consisted of several web series she created, produced and/or starred in such as Dorm Diaries, Fly Guys, How Men Become Dogs, and the infamous The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (Fun Fact: Tracy Oliver, one of the writers behind Girls’ Trip was an actor and producer on Awkward Black Girl). All of her old content still lives on YouTube channel and you can see the progression of Issa’s work. The first episode of Awkward Black Girl was filmed with help from Issa’s friends, not a large crew. Yes, quality matters, but so does the message you want to tell. Initially Issa wanted Awkward Black Girl to be animated but funds wouldn’t allow for the vision to manifest, instead she made it live action. By starting somewhere Issa was able to work on her craft, build her body of work and then gain the attention that would lead to her HBO deal. Start with what you have and improve over time- don’t delay. If you build it people will, eventually, come.

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Your Work Can Stand by Itself

When you look at the old content on Issa’s YouTube channel it’s not HBO quality. But, Issa’s voice is still present in the work. Your work can stand by itself. As mentioned above the message you tell matters. Start where you are and do the best with what you have, if the content is good it can stand by itself. Awkward Black Girl was a bootstrap production but it did not stay that way. The show connected with its audience and was so entertaining Issa was able to run a successful fundraising campaign and the final season of the show was picked up by Pharrell's I Am Other network. Your work should be able to stand on it’s own without smoke and mirrors. Strive to do or create work that speaks for itself.

Be Authentically You

Issa stays true to herself, and that is what has endeared many to her (because we are always rooting for everybody black). Issa is hella awkward, hella black, and hella funny. By always presenting her true self- not an image of what she thinks we would like to see- she continues to win. When creating content, working or just navigating relationships we should strive to be authentic. Bring your whole self to the work people will be able to see if it’s you or a facade. We tend to respond most positively to creators that we relate to and find most authentic- Cardi B ring a bell anyone?

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Lift as You Climb

As Issa’s success has risen she has also intentionally supported other actors and creators of color. From her production company, to YouTube channel featuring webseries such as Giants and short films, to her subtle placements in Insecure (books, tees, pillows, etc.) she continues to support and highlight other creatives. Fans of Awkward Black Girl probably recognized several appearances from actors in Insecure as well cameos from fellow YouTubers Dormtainment. Also, the Insecure writer's room consists of women and people of color. As her career grows Issa continues to provide opportunities to her peers. Basically, Issa is for the people and we should be too. By working together we allow ourselves and others to be more visible for opportunities, keep our networks strong and help to ensure your own future success. There is room enough for everyone to succeed and Issa’s “lift as you climb” attitude has shown that.

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There is No Box

Issa writes, produces, and stars in her own show. Up next, she is developing a new show with author Angela Flournoy and will be seen in THUG next year. When it comes to Issa there is no box, she has not relegated herself to being only a writer or only a producer. Instead, Issa has created her own lane for her career. Do not limit yourself or your skills. If you have something you’ve been itching to do, try it and see how you perform. Do not eliminate yourself before you even start.

Even with all of her success Issa is just getting started and we cannot wait to see what the future has in store. Issa has shown you can start with what you have and not just do well but excel.  


Photos from IMDB and HBO, respectively.