Janice McDaniel sat down in front of her camera. The lens stared back at her as she thought of how to start her YouTube video.
The preview monitor showed her from the waist-up in front of a slightly out-of-focus, bright background. The yellow wall, blue couch, and pink flowers on the end table all coupled together to create a perfect balance of color and context. Fun, but not too distracting. Bright, but not overwhelming. Through all the variations of backgrounds over the years, this was her favorite.
“30 million subscribers,” she muttered to herself, watching her lips move in the monitor. Gathering her energy, she straightened her back and grinned, “Let’s do this!”
She clapped, marking the beginning of the video.
“Hi, everyone! My name’s JayDee and today we’re celebrating 30 million subscribers!” She waved her hands in the air, “Yea! It’s so crazy, I can hardly believe it! I know I say this with every milestone. Heck, most YouTubers do, but this channel never would have gotten here without you guys. This community is so amazing, and I’m so proud of all of you. It’s been eight amazing years of talking with you guys, interacting with you, and having the privilege of hosting Operation: Wild Legion. What we’re doing is important, it’s world-changing, and you’re all a part of that.”
She paused, brushed a lock of dark red hair behind her ear, and adjusted her denim vest, “Now, I don’t think I’ve ever told you guys why I decided to start doing YouTube. Obviously, I mentioned before how OWL got started, so I’m not going to go into that. There are links in the description if you’d like to familiarize yourself with this,” her grin and eyes widened with excitement, “30 million people community.”
“When I was a teenager I auditioned for Belle in my school’s musical, “Beauty and the Beast”. In my dedication, I made my parents read lines back to me every night for over a month. I researched the character, the playwright, the music, and all of the adaptations. I attended singing lessons and I even made my mom dye my hair brown so I’d look more like her. My confidence went through the roof! Everyone told me, ‘Hard work is rewarded’, ‘Nothing worth having comes easy’, and other quips meant to encourage me into putting all of my effort into this thing I wanted.
“Well, I didn’t get it. Instead of even offering me a different part, or backstage work, they handed me a sign-up sheet for snack duty. I made them oreo fudge.
“I didn’t take getting hit by life like that very well. I decided I would be happier leading a mediocre life. I know, that might sound weird, but the idea of working a desk job every day, maybe getting married, maybe having kids, and never really striving to be more than a good person sounded a lot safer. I never wanted to feel like that again. I never wanted to waste my time into a project just to have it blow up in my face, leaving me with no one to blame but myself.
“I settled on that and went forward expecting nothing of myself. And I was happy. Having so little expectations makes everything seem nicer, less-stressful. Everything happened exactly as I expected it to. I had ultimate control, I never got hit, and I was never disappointed.
“A few years later, college threw a lot of different perspectives my way. Professors would tell me that I wasn’t reaching my potential, I felt bombarded with student organizations trying to recruit people, and I avoided building into relationships despite others’ attempts of friendship. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t even dislike them, but at the time I was so set on being in control that relationships would be too much risk.
“Mathematics For The Liberal Arts met on Tuesdays and Thursdays the first half of my Sophomore year. In that class I met a girl named Levy. She sat next to me and we talked a little. I would at least be cordial as she’d go on and on about the homework, her family, current events, and the weather.
“A couple months into the class I got a test back that I nearly failed. She saw the grade when I laid it on my desk.
“She said something to me, and it was so sincere that it took me by surprise. She said, ‘You’re not in control, Janice. You’re not because you’re letting something that happened years ago make you afraid. That grade, not having friends, your lack of passion, it’s because you’re scared. Hiding in a hole isn’t freedom. Fear is a chain, and you’ve come to love being enslaved. Eventually, you’ll realize what you think is a mediocre life isn’t possible for you. There’s risk in going to school, there’s risk in starting a career, there’s risk in getting married, there’s risk in having kids. Hell, there’s risk walking out your front door. Eventually, you’ll go insane. Disappointment is everywhere, but what frees you from it is hope. Remember why you want to do the things you love, remember why you want to have friends, remember why you are here, because the thing that builds character isn’t how hard you are hit or how hard you fall, but how fast you stand back up’.
“Then she stood up from her desk, slung her backpack over her shoulder, and looked me straight in my eyes and said, ‘You need to stand back up, because you’ve been on the ground for far too long.’ Then she walked away.
“In the previous months, Levy talked about her mother passing away when she was very young, and she mentioned her sister in prison during a current events conversation. She spoke so openly about herself, but I never told her about the play. I never mentioned the extent I went to avoid disappointment.
“As I continued throughout that day, I remembered I wanted to play the part of Belle because I loved the way the character saw good in people. She was brave. It turns out I was nothing like her, but I still felt that hope. My grades had been slipping, I had no friends, my parents were states away, and in my freetime I just watched T.V. or browsed the Internet. I thought, ‘What will my life look like if this is all I amount to?’.
“Belle is kind, smart, and good. She sees the best in people and faces challenges with the support of her friends. I figured I could give that a shot. I needed to recognize the places in my life where fear of disappointment held me back and tackle them one by one.
“I desperately wanted to talk to Levy about her insight, but she didn’t come back to class after that day and I never found out what happened to her.
“So far, this origin story hasn’t mentioned YouTube at all,” Janice laughed, “Well, YouTube existed for maybe a year before this happened. I’d avidly watch a few channels while avoiding life. One of those channels had created a huge community surrounding it. Mostly young adults, the users on the forums often helped each other with advice. I decided to make a post about what I was going through. Among other advice, they encouraged me to start my own channel so that I could share my thoughts and experiences, which was a popular recommendation back in the day. I bought a crappy webcam, figured out my computers free editing software, and made my first video. You can still see it. I talked about how disappointment affected me and my plan to overcome my fear. And that video eventually led to this, an amazing community all on its own.
“I was heading down a dark path, I didn’t even see it then, but I see it now. If it wasn’t for Levy I don’t believe I would have ever thought to start a YouTube channel. And now we’re helping people, even saving lives, thanks to her.”
“Well, congratulations again on 30 million, everyone! I can’t wait to see you at the next milestone! If you’ve watched this entire video, thank you so much for listening to my story. Leave a like if you like, ring my bell if you want notifications, I upload every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and once again thanks for everything! You guys are the best. Peace out!”
She paused in place where she would cut the video in editing, then reached to turn off the camera, letting out a happy sigh.
The Presidential Inauguration of Erich Von Hoffenberg,
“… I encourage you to look outside of yourselves. See the community around you, make it home. See the people you walk by, and make them friends. You never know the impact your acts of kindness will make on others.
For me, it was communities like Janice McDaniel’s ‘Operation: White Legion’ that brought me out of dark places and gave me hope. I hope to influence this country in the same way she influenced me. We, as a country, have been in a dark place for too long. We’ve been hit hard from all angles. But we are strong, and we will stand back up.”