“I am an amazing person.” It was one of the most striking things that author, app developer and entrepreneur Vaughn Dabney said to me during our conversation. It was assured, confident, and rolled off the tongue. Not in any way arrogant, but inspiring for someone that so often is her own worst critic. I wanted to repeat it. I wanted to remind myself. Filled with many more gems during our talk, I appreciated his candidness, his sense of adventure, and his simple yet targeted approach to releasing his first book, “Finding One.”
Vaughn has been sharing his thoughts, opinions, and mantras for some time through social media. So much so that he developed an app alongside popular writer and creator Alex Elle, called Social Note, which I have used on multiple occasions. The app gives writers a clean, attractive way to share their text on Instagram. At the urging of Vaughn’s fan base on social media, he decided he was going to write a book. His disdain for writing aside.
The end result has been well received by readers and quickly climbed the Amazon charts. We talked the about the development process, his no-nonsense approach to self-help and his upcoming adventure across the United States to connect face to face about concepts in his book and to help teach young people about entrepreneurship.
WLD: What made you want to dive into writing a book?
VD: I was always into sharing my observations, my thoughts, and being an entrepreneur, you know I talk about this when I give my books signings, and book talks and seminars, being an entrepreneur is such a lonely place right? And it’s not for everybody. But, being alone you are able to reflect, observe, you know introspection is my best friend so, I am able to have a viewpoint or vantage point that not many other people have. And you know I would share things on social media and I think around the end of, I started writing March of 2016, so around the end of 2015, I saw this influx of people saying that I should write a book. Or I should do something with what I was sharing. Honestly, I don’t like writing. I tried to find ways around the process. And I’m like maybe I’ll do an audiobook or maybe like a video series. But I realize the importance of, I come from a generation where I enjoy the tangible books, I enjoy the smell of books, I enjoy going into bookstores, so I realized the importance of me actually publishing a tangible body of work. So it was March of last year that I was like alright, I’m going to sit down, go through some of my posts on Instagram and kind of expand upon those things and then also I went to my blog and pulled a couple posts from there and I sat down and kind of grew my work from those previous posts. And I had around maybe like fifty pages. And I was like well, this is good but I want something substantial like I want something more. So, I started to brainstorm about how I operate, the things that I’ve seen. And even along the same veins of some of my previous content and I just took another direction. So I ended up taking the next nine months and I guess coming up with about, I think the book is 120 pages right now, around there, and I also put in some places for people to write after each section because people like to reflect especially with personal growth. People like to reflect. So, long answer shortened for you. People were telling me to write a book. I would even tease on posts. I’d write something, I’d put it up and I’d say book coming soon. Even though it wasn’t coming soon at all. I would just put that there and see how people would respond. And everybody was like “Yo, let me know when the book is out, I’ll support, I’ll buy it.” So that kinda let me know, you know I tested the waters and people kind of affirmed that they wanted a book from me.
So tell me about the book. It’s called “Finding One.” So the posts were where the concept came from?
Around November people found out that I was finishing a book, people close to me and they’d be like, “what’s it about?” I didn’t know what to say because there’s observations in here, there’s lessons, there’s mantras, there’s, you know, just things that I operate from. And I didn’t know how to kind of succinctly say that this is what the book is about. It wasn’t until it was about two weeks before I decided to hit the go button and I printed out every page in the book and I laid it out on the floor. And I categorized, cause I didn’t have chapters right? I had an idea of things here and there but no definitive chapters. So I laid out every sheet on the floor and I’m in my studio and I just start placing papers in piles based on their content and I ended up with like eight or nine piles. And you know I saw ego and self on my left and right in front of me I had communication and then the right side of me I had energy and then between there, I had the happiness factor. So I had all these things and I’m like well, every one of these topics has to do with self. It has to do with growth and who we are. And how we can’t control anything but what we do. And so I was like well, this is about one’s self. This is about finding one’s self. So the book title came, “Finding One.” And the book is about how we can get back to self. How we can get centered again. Because there’s so many distractions with media, with social media, with societal standards. You know we’re all trying to pursue our dreams, we’re all trying to live comfortably, we all want to be happy whatever that means for you. We’re all trying to do these things but we have these distractions just poking us. We’re comparing our lives to other people on Instagram. We see that they have 200,000 followers, and they got the houses, the cars, the friends, the life whatever. And for somebody looking in on the outside, you don’t know where that person came from. You don’t know if they have a rich uncle. You don’t know if they struggled every day of their life and they got a big break. You just don’t know what happened. You don’t know if they’ve been fortunate. So I felt like this book was necessary because we’re just, I feel like a lot of us are lost. And I explain this to people all the time, this book is not just for everybody else. This is for me too. I lose my ways sometimes. Or I forget things that I know I should be doing. Or I know I should be calling the people that I love or telling the people that I love that I love them. Or just reaching out to people just because and not because I need something. Which is the Emotional Banking section in my book. So, yeah the book is about finding yourself amidst societal norms, dealing with digital and trying to pursue your goals and dreams and making it happen. But the only way that you can do that is if you know who you are first.
CLICK TO TWEET /// The only way that you can do that (find yourself) is if you know who you are first. - Vaughn Dabney
What do you feel differentiates your book from anything else out there?
The number one thumbs up or just mark of, I’m doing something right from people is the fact that I don’t sugarcoat anything. I wrote the book in a manner in which I speak to people. So it’s very conversational. So most people say it’s like they’re talking with me or talking with another person. Or listening to another person rather. But I am a firm believer in tough love. There is a section in my book where it says “stop complaining, nobody cares.” If you’re not doing anything to change your situation, nobody cares what you have to say about it. Because you’re wasting your energy, you’re wasting your time, like do something about it. So when people come to me with problems and they know this, or people come to me for solutions rather because they know I’m not going to want to hear about what you’re complaining about. I’m going to ask you what you’re doing about it. I wrote the book in that manner in which it’s just straightforward. You know I have about 4 or 5 expletives in there but it’s strictly to get the point home that you know, own your shit, the good and the bad, everything that comes with you. Embrace that. So yeah I think that’s what separates me from the rest of the personal growth, self-help books.
You know, like everybody has been gravitating lately towards like Gary V. Gary V is an amazing guy because he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’s probably more left than I am as far as like his verbiage that he uses. But He gets the point home. He’s very blunt about it. And that’s what people need. We don’t need to coddle people. We don’t need to hold their hands. This is you. You need to be the best person you can be so you can be the best for everybody else in your life. If you sugarcoat things like people don’t really respond to that. You have to hit it home. And I especially got this response from a lot of women. Because again, there is this perception that you need to, but when you’re talking to a woman that you need to be gentle or that you need to sugarcoat it. And that’s not the case. Like, yes you be respectful to anybody you’re talking to. But women just like men are doing the same things, they’re achieving the same goals, so they need the same tone as you’re giving a man, a woman, whatever, it’s fair game. So a lot of women have said: “I really love that it’s not a bunch of sissy bullshit.” It’s straight to the point and I can follow it. And you know like it’s checking me. It’s putting me in line. And that’s a good feeling to have because that’s how I am. That’s me. So essentially you’re getting me in this book.
CLICK TO TWEET /// Own your sh*t, the good and the bad, everything that comes with you. Embrace that. - Vaughn Dabney
Why did you make the decision to self-publish?
My decision to self-publish vs. going to a major distributor or publisher, I had just been reading up on the different processes and at the end of the day, honestly, I didn’t want a publisher to control my message. I didn’t want them to control my imagery, like anything that involved with the book, I didn’t want to give up that control for some lump sum publishing deal whatever. Like I’m not doing this, obviously, I want to get paid, but I’m not doing that for the money. Like I’m not going to sell out my message for some money. So, I ended up going the self-publishing route and honestly, Createspace is amazing. Amazon does a great job getting the book out there, I mean they don’t do major marketing, but just handling all the logistics. I don’t do anything. All I did was write, upload and sit back. And so, I can like obviously order books and sell them myself. You know, my book is, it fluctuates between anywhere between number 10 and number 30 in the business, work/life balance category. You know I have 20 reviews and I’m next to books that have 600, 500 reviews and these authors have 10, 20 books. This is my first book and I’m up there with them. So like it feels good to be able to say that and I self-published. And they [Amazon] also have a partnership with Barnes & Noble as well which puts the book in brick & mortar stores. So I’m extremely happy with the process.
Tell me about the trip that you’re taking.
In July, I will be taking a journey. I’ll be converting a van and living in there for at least 6 months to a year. I want to drive across all 48 states. And in the cities that I stop in, I will have book signings connecting with people, book signings, and meetups. I also want to stop at different schools, both middle schools and high schools, I mean even higher ed. If it was higher ed I would share the book but also talk about entrepreneurship, tech, and just being happy. So kind of surrounding the ideas in the book. And if I were at a high school or middle school, maybe some after school help just being there. So ultimately I want to be a math teacher. So If I could be a math tutor for a day while I was there. Or teach these kids how to do computer programming. Or building things and like tech ed. So just kind of volunteering my time to connect with some of these schools while I’m on the road. And then the main goals of this journey are to promote the book, connect with these schools, and to challenge people to look inward. I think an underlying theme with that is you know, I follow a lot of dope photographers and videographers online and you know they’re traveling the world with their girlfriends. And they're dope, they put out great content but they don’t look like me. And we don’t see enough of that. We don’t see enough of people of color doing things like that. We don’t see them camping, skiing, fishing, living in a van, taking road trips. Like we just don’t see enough of that. And I want to change that. So I’ll be living in this van, working in this van. I want to set up some Go Pros in there. I'm going to do live broadcasts. I’ll have my drone, I’ll be doing drone footage across the country and creating weekly episodes on Youtube. It’ll be dope. I want you guys to connect with me while I’m in the forest and I’m doing a live broadcast camping.
What do you think is unique about writers of color and their perspective?
I think that’s a glaring answer as far as what writers of color bring. And it’s just simply the experiences that we have. First of all, we don’t have the privilege. So our experiences on a day to day have always been different. They’ve always been different. And I’m half black, half white so I haven’t even experienced half of what my peers have experienced. You know I grew up with a white mom. And I recently talked about her acknowledgment of her privilege and if that affected how she brought us up. But, I mean, my mom was always around black folks. She always dated black men. And we’ve been in all types of situations, living environments. I come from humble beginnings. So, I didn’t necessarily have it easy but there was some kind of privilege there because I had my mom. But still, like the experiences are totally different than a white American. So I think, not summarizing, but collecting those day to days, the going to the grocery store, the going shopping, the notorious convenient store and being watched and being followed, that’s happened to me. Being called derogatory names that cut deep because of the history in America. Those things shape how we communicate with people. They shape how we judge people. They shape how we react to certain words or actions against us and as writers, we have so much power to put pen to paper and make it eternal. You know like my book is going to live on forever. Even when I’m dead, it’s going to be here so is the power of writers of color, it’s so important that we put our experiences on paper or digital or whatever but put it out there because we only have one side right now. Or it’s dominated by another side and we need more like you said, we need to change the perception that writers of color only stick to novels or fiction, there should be more non-fiction about our experiences.
CLICK TO TWEET /// It's so important that we put our experiences on paper or digital or whatever, but put it out there because we only have one side right now. - Vaughn Dabney
What really has surprised you in this journey of writing your book if anything?
I think the one thing that has surprised me the most is the comments or messages that people have sent me about my book. I knew I was going to get some positive feedback. But the type of feedback I got. You know people telling me that the book changed their lives. Or you know I had somebody tell me that they read for the third time in a week. And that they were so grateful for me putting it out there because it was on time for them. I’ve heard that so many times that this book was “on time” for somebody. I believe in energy and I believe in things happening as they should when they should. So for me, when somebody says that to me, that it’s on time, that kind of resonates and hits home because that’s exactly how I want to change people’s lives. I want to be on time. I want to come through when they need me. It’s just, I can’t even explain the feeling, but I wasn’t expecting that response. I was expecting you know like “This book is good, I’m going to recommend it, blah, blah, blah” which I have gotten, but just the level of people’s relationship with my book and it’s only been out 4 months, 5 months, is just amazing.
Tell me about your favorite passage from the book.
My favorite passage hands down is the section in goals and achievement and it’s titled “No Regrets.” And basically, like I mentioned earlier, it’s about embracing your journey. It’s about understanding that everything happens as it should and if you had changed one thing in the past or one decision in that past that you made that you feel you could have done better, you don’t know if you’d be worse off or better off. You just have no idea. So to embrace any regret is disrespectful to your journey. You have to understand that you are where you’re supposed to be and you can only move forward. Anyway, in this section you know, I talk about regret a little bit and then I have an empty box, it’s an outline box underneath the passage and on the next page there’s five steps. And basically what I tell the reader to do is to, this is in the Actions & Reflections section for this passage, I tell the reader to write all the regrets in the box. The box is about an inch by an inch square and I tell them to write all the regrets in the box, even if they overlap, that’s okay. And I tell them to focus on the boundary in which the box confines their regrets. And step three would be to visualize themselves inside the box. So you’re inside this box with all these regrets and they’re overlapping you and they’re crowding you. And number four I tell the reader like this is what having regrets does to your mind. It introduces limitations and lack of clarity. So the last step is to take a black marker and to fill in the box. And I say, “Don’t allow your light to shine on anything that inhibits your growth in greatness.” So kind of an interactive and visual way to see what regrets do to us. Because they’re pointless. We are here, we are now, we are in the present, and you are where you’re supposed to be. I think for me, I’ve come from so much and I’ve seen so much and I’ve been through so much that I wouldn’t change anything that happened in my past. And I tell my mom this all the time that I’m grateful for her because some of the things that she’s gone through to see me where get to where I’m at, I wouldn’t change anything. If she had changed anything I might not even be here, I might not have a book, I might not be in the position that I am so I thank her for everything we went though and I thank the universe for everything that I’ve experienced because it made me who I am. I am an amazing person and I have so much to offer the world and I wouldn’t be like that if I had regretted or still regretted anything that happened in the past.
What advice do you feel like you would give to an aspiring writer?
So my little tip for aspiring writers is straight out of a page from my book and it’s titled “Stop Procrastinating.” Put the pen to paper regardless if it’s a paragraph, five pages, whatever it is, just start. Just start writing because there will never be a perfect time. You’ll never get started until you start. You just have to do it. You just have to start writing even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it’s not coherent. Put the pen to paper and watch what happens because you just have to do it. Everybody has a book in them. And everybody should write a book. You just can’t wait, you just got to do it right now.