Go All the Way

My head was in a dreamlike fog as my wife, Rebecca and I, followed Hxouse cofounder and CEO, Ahmed Ismail, into the green room after Monday night’s panel discussion with Bella Hadid, La La Anthony, Jennifer Rubio, Morgan DeBaun and Olivia Perez. He was already discussing the next big thing, and as we listened intently, there was a quiet moment when we exchanged a knowing smile.

While this was just the beginning, it took six months to get to that moment, and it took a great deal longer to get to six months ago.

All great things take time.

All the way back to the very beginning.

Five years earlier, I had walked into a pawnshop with $40,000 worth of jewelry. A few minutes later, I walked out with much less cash, booked a flight to England, and flew across the Atlantic to go see about a girl I’d only known for a few weeks. That girl was, Rebecca. Two years later, we were married. 

How far are you willing to go in life for the things you love?

You should ask yourself this question every day. If the answer is anything less than, “All the way,” you’ll never get anywhere meaningful. Life is difficult at the best of times, and the most rewarding things in it, are typically the hardest to get to. I went all the way for the love of my life. 

I like to tell people that, “Rebecca saved my life.” Oftentimes, people think I’m being hyperbolic, especially those who’ve only known me since we’ve been together, except, I’m not. The streets I came up on in my twenties are littered with the broken dreams and shattered wings of kids who dared to claim the sky. I was on my way to join them.

On one of the last nights right before she left for England, she looked up at me, and said, “I don’t think I should go anymore.”

Without hesitation, I said, “You have to go.”

She wasn’t expecting that response, and after a few quiet moments, asked, “But what if we lose this?”

I pulled her in tightly, looked into her eyes, and said, “You need to trust me.”

Initially, her eyes fought back, but she saw something in mine that helped hers soften, and she said, “Ok, I trust you.”

In that moment, I was aware that I was risking what she feared most, however, it was that very fear that was causing her to regress back into her cage.

In my lifetime, I’d witnessed far too many beautiful winged beings who were unable to escape the confines of their cages. I wouldn’t allow her to be another one, so I courageously opened the door to her cage, and said, “It’s your time to fly now.” 

At the time, I was so weak and broken, that I didn’t know if my wings would ever be able to carry me back to her, yet I gathered up everything I had left, and told myself, “You have to fly one last time.” I took flight, and somehow, closed the distance.  

She reached out, caught me, and held me in her embrace. I struggled like any flightless bird would, but she was gentle, and in time, my heart settled. I realized she wasn’t trying to stifle my flight, she was giving me the opportunity to heal, so that I might fly once more. 

Love, good love, is like this. It’s fearless. In the absence of fear, you find freedom. Freedom is everything. 

This kind of love is a privilege. We’re not entitled to it. It was the first thing our love taught us and it’s something we’ll never forget. As such, we endeavour to earn it, every day, by going all the way for it. We apply this to everything we do, which has helped us tremendously in every facet of life.

It allows us to fly together in everything that we do.

All the way back to the beginning.

Six months ago, we were out for dinner when I handed Rebecca my phone, and said, “You need to get Microsoft involved with this.” It was one of the first Instagram posts from Hxouse.

It’s like, “No Years Lost,” she said.

“Its exactly like, No Years Lost,” I said. No Years Lost was a company I’d spent three years building, which would eventually become Dopesite.

“But it has nothing to do with my role. I don’t know how I’d go about it,” she told me.

“It doesn’t matter, we’re going to make it happen,” I told her. That night, I introduced her to my friend, Iva Zelic.

For a variety of reasons, confidentiality notwithstanding, I can’t share what it took to bring this vision to life. I can, however, share that everyone involved went all the way for it. Especially, Rebecca and Iva.

On our end, Rebecca risked her career for it, and I risked Dopesite for it. Both were things we loved and had gone all the way for, but what we loved more than anything else was our freedom. It was our freedom that allowed us to do those things in the first place and all we’ve ever wanted to do for others was help to set them free.

In some small way, Hxouse was our opportunity to help Ahmed Ismail, La Mar Taylor, Iva Zelic, Joachim Johnson and Abel Tesfaye open up the doors to freedom on more cages than we could’ve ever imagined opening on our own.

That being said, the thing I’d like everyone to take away from this story is that Hxouse didn’t need us. The five aforementioned people go all the way for what they love every day, which is why I’m certain that, with or without us, Monday was an inevitability.

Rebecca and I were just thankful to play a small part in their dream, especially, because it had always been our own. Coincidentally, collaborating with likeminded individuals, as well as, sharing ideas and resources is what Hxouse is all about. 

There was a moment during the discussion when I looked up at the five remarkable women on stage as they freely shared the kind of wisdom you can only obtain from years spent at the upper echelons of their respective fields.

I then looked back at all the fearless kids in the audience who dared to claim the sky and had been given the freedom to do so.

And finally, I looked over at the all the smiling faces of the team from Hxouse who’d opened up all the doors on the cages in the first place. 

I almost cried as I took Rebecca’s hand in mine, she squeezed it, and I knew I wasn’t dreaming anymore. There was finally a place where all the beautiful winged beings could fly freely together.

This was our Hxouse.  

It’s all sad but it’s not bad,


Advice from women who have gone all the way.

You have to say yes 100 times before you get to say no.

Bella Hadid

If it was easy everybody would be doing it.

La La Anthony

Use success as a platform for others, not just for yourself.

Jennifer Rubio

If you’re winning all the time you’re not taking risks.

Morgan DeBaun

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, Caged Bird

Author avatar
Stephen Shaw
I've worked with artists like Janet Jackson and Sammy Adams, I've helped with causes like HXOUSE and Fashion Cares, and I've consulted for brands like Adidas and Budweiser. These days I make things like Dopesite, Artful Record® and It’s All Sad™ 🌎🌍🌏

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