Life lessons can come from anywhere at anytime. Whenever you can draw insight and inspiration from a moment in your life and learn something new, you create life lesson! Congratulations, you can start blogging!

Sometimes life lessons come from obvious situations, other times, they strike you when you least expect it. Once such experience occurred for me during the last concert I attended.

I was fortunate enough to attend J. Cole’s most recent concert tour at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA (Shout out to the Bay Area, “Yee!”). I attended the show with a great friend who happens to be equally as passionate about Cole’s music.

Cole has been my favorite Rapper and artist since 2009, when I first discovered him perusing hip hop forums in college in search for new music. Then he released his critically acclaimed 2010 mixtape, “Friday Night Lights.” The lyrics, the poetry, his flow, and most of all, his hunger on that mixtape inspired me through some dark times in college.

I listened to this mixtape on repeat as I struggled to turn my academic career around. I was one quarter away from getting kicked out of Cal Poly for poor grades. Whoops. Thankfully I refocused and graduated. Sorry for the scare, Mom and Dad!

It’s easy to draw inspiration from an individual like J. Cole.

He grew up without a prominent father figure in his life.

He experienced poverty growing up.

He used an academic scholarship to St. John’s university to get to NYC to better position himself for a record deal.

Cole boldly approached Jay-Z outside of his own studio, burnt CD in hand.  During his first interaction with the hip hop mogul, Jay-Z blatantly rejected the aspiring artist. 

Cole’s dream was to actually produce beats for the legendary emcee. He viewed working with Jay-Z as a launch pad for his rap career. Instead, he became the first artist signed on Jay-Z’s record label, Roc Nation. 

Since then, he’s released 4 platinum (selling more than 1,000,000 units) albums.

In 2014, he became the first rapper in 25 years to release a platinum album without any features. He was the only rapper on every song on that album. 

He hasn’t stopped working to be the best MC he can and is now regarded as one of the top rappers of this generation.

Yet, he keeps working.

I’ll admit that I’m a little biased, but it’s easy to see why J. Cole can be a source of inspiration.

However, while at the concert, I observed a few different lessons from his performance and my experience. Without fail, J. Cole was able to open my mind and teach me something new about life.

Vulnerability

The most terrifying part about blogging is your vulnerability. The internet is equal parts magical and equal parts unforgiving. There’s an old saying that goes “Everyone’s a critic.” This is much truer today. The internet is a massive medium for people to voice their opinions and critiques. It can be a great resource for feedback if you can sift through the noise.

I’ve been to a variety of rap concerts in my life and almost all of them had the same stage layout. The band, the DJ, and the rapper were face to face with the audience. Most rappers performed facing the crowd with their backs was facing the band. Even J. Cole’s last concert tour, “2014 Forest Hills Drive”, had J. Cole facing the audience with his back towards the rest of the stage, band and crew.

This time was different. The square-stage was dead center of the stadium. There were no walls, no band or props to hide from. For the duration of his two-hour set, J. Cole was accompanied by a stool, a mic stand, and some water.

J. Cole’s stage for this concert was dead center of the stadium. He was fully exposed as an artist. Source: YouTube

He faced different areas of the audience at varying times of the show. Because he was alone on the stage, his back would be exposed to fans on the opposite side of the arena.  

He never flinched, or worried about what was happening behind his back.

He kept the show going. He rapped his heart out for almost two full hours.

He simply accepted his vulnerability and kept performing.

This observation definitely struck a chord. I thought to myself, “If J. Cole is okay with his vulnerability on stage with thousands of people watching his every move, then I should have no problem being vulnerable.”

Whatever you’re doing in life, you’re going to be vulnerable in some way shape or form. It’s virtually out of your control. Trying to anticipate every point of vulnerability is impossible. Why even worry about it?

At some point, you have to consciously accept that you are vulnerable and be okay with it. One way to mitigate the anxiety of your vulnerability, is to have a plan.

With a plan, you could anticipate the most likely vulnerabilities and get familiar with these situations. Or you could have contingency plans in place for them. The structure gives you a sense of hope that things will work out. Ride that optimism and trust your plan.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Ultimately, it means you’re putting yourself out there. It’s a sign that you’re taking action. This already puts you ahead of a majority of people. Take the risk. Be vulnerable.

Grow and evolve

What do J. Cole and Amazon both have in common?

They both needed to grow and evolve to attain their current levels of success.

Amazon started out as a means to sell books online. Now you can buy pretty much anything on Amazon.com. You can even stream movies and TV shows on the website! On top of that, it’s a massive enterprise with footholds in a variety of verticals.

Source: Businessinsider

Like Amazon, J. Cole has evolved and grown.

Cole’s early content highlighted how hungry he was for the metaphorical rap throne. He was obsessed with claiming his rightful place as the King of rap. He even went as far as donning the persona of Simba from the Disney Movie, the Lion King.

A few mixtapes and 2 platinum-selling albums later, he’s a braggadocios man enjoying the fast lifestyle he earned from his success. He also reflects on the darkness surrounding his vices.

However, Cole’s last two albums, “2014 Forrest Hills Drive” and “4 Your Eyez Only,” tackle deeper subject matter. He raps about the struggles of fame and emphasizes how money will never buy you true happiness. He tackles the systemic racism that still exists in the United States and the struggles of being black in America.

Source: Waka Flocka Flame Facebook Page

As Cole has grown from a young, wild rapper to a wise, political voice in his community, he’s evolved his sound and content. Cole’s maturity as a rapper and artist are a huge reason why he’s attained his current level of success.

Technically, success has an exact definition. However, there’s a level of subjectivity involved for each person trying to attain it. While I do not know Cole’s exact definition of success, to attain new levels of success and accolades, he’s had to grow and evolve as an artist, rapper and person.

Success itself grows and evolves. As you progress through life, your goals should change with it. The goals you set for yourself at 25 should not be the same for when you’re 30, 35, 40, or 45. Life will happen, your priorities will shift, and hopefully, your goals will change because you have achieved your previous goals and strive to want more things! Don’t let success outgrow you.

You can’t please everyone

This last lesson was is one that resonated the most with me. I’ll admit, I’m a “people-pleaser.” If I can find a way to make people happy, I will. Sometimes it will come at my own expense. It’s a trait that I’m trying to grow out of because I know it will hurt me in the long run.

After 4 studio albums, J. Cole has roughly 32 radio hit singles. These singles are hugely popular and are the songs people always want to see Cole Perform. These key songs helped Cole garner his level of stardom and influenced album sales.

While Cole performed some of those singles, he was on a mission. He decided to perform his “4 Your Eyez Only” album all the way through. In between a few songs, he interspersed some of his lovable hits.

Personally, despite the stratosphere of success J. Cole has reached, I wanted him to perform his classic hits. I wanted to see the current, more mature and calmer J. Cole tap into the energy and fire of mixtape Cole.

I’m sure that everyone in attendance had a specific list and order of J.Cole’s songs that they wanted to hear, myself included. Despite the fans’ hypothetical wants and fantasies of an ideal J. Cole performance, he executed his mission.

This current album contained songs that I didn’t want to see performed. Their melodies are too slow, and the subject matter was less than ideal for a sold-out arena. As the saying goes, “Everyone’s a critic.”

I’m confident that J. Cole understands this about some the songs he has. However, he doesn’t care what we think. He proceeded to passionately perform the album cover-to-cover.

The man was determined to tell the story he recorded on his album. He knows he cannot, and will not, please everyone.

During the last song of the night, J. Cole performed an 8-minute long song. Before he dove into the lyrics, he calls out that this song is not a club hit. He recognizes that this song is not a radio single. It was never intended to be. 

He had the arena staff turn the lights on and mentioned to his fans that there are no hard feelings for people that leave early. He completely gets it. He even jokes by pointing out where the exits are. He guessed it correctly, because people started exiting the arena in the middle of his performance.

He wasn’t mad. He couldn’t care less. He desired to finish performing his album and telling his story for those that wanted to stay and listen.

Regardless of whatever you do in life, you will never please everyone, so why even try? Even when you do everything right, there will be something someone will be upset about. It’s inevitable. Continue making the best choice according to your criteria, experiences and knowledge.

Remember, while you have full control of your own actions and decisions, you cannot control how people react to your decisions. So don’t even worry about pleasing everyone. Learn to live with people being upset with you.

J. Cole during on stage performing in Orlando. Source: @dreamville

Conclusion

As I mentioned, a life lesson or lessons can come to you at any time, in any place, with or without someone there. It’s your own experience, interacting with your own thoughts. The product of those two things will hopefully create something you will always remember.

I’ve looked to J. Cole for inspiration since college. As he’s grown as an artist, I’ve grown as an adult. His music and message continues to resonate with me.

What inspires me the most, is that J. Cole has not stopped. He’s arguably reached the pinnacle of rap success. He’s sold out arenas and produced multiple platinum albums. He’s actively using his fame and influence  as a platform to speak out against racial injustices. He’s regarded as one of the greatest rappers of our generation. Only time will tell how Cole’s rap legacy measures up with the greats.

One thing I know for certain is that his insatiable hunger coupled with his music, energy and willingness to give back to the community are the exact reasons he inspires people like me.

Readers, when or where did you come across life lessons in an unlikely situation? Who are artists that you look up to?