Badge of Honor: A Letter by Humble The Poet

Humble The Poet, a rapper, spoken word artist, YouTuber, and author from Toronto, helps others find meaning in the struggle. He creates art to make people feel like they aren't alone in the battle against depression, anxiety, financial trouble, finding an identity, and other conflicts in life. Before Humble exposed his art to the world, he needed to resolve his own demons. In this letter, Humble opens up about crawling out of massive debt, battling anxiety, and how support from fans helped him regain control.

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Blind Trust

I have been hurt plenty of times.

I had gotten used to it.

I stopped trying to super glue the pieces together, and instead wore the cracks as badges of honor. I thought this made me stone cold, some sort of enlightened stoic.

Then, my world shattered.

I had a business falling out with someone that I considered a brother. I entered into an agreement with a friend who had a decent resume as a producer. He told me about the artists he worked with and explained his vision. He offered me a sizable amount to write 12 songs. At the time, I was struggling as a school teacher and wanted to get into music. With no experience negotiating contracts, I agreed to the deal.

This friend, who I believed wanted the best for me, forged documents and continued to delay payment. I found out through another business partner that the deal was bullshit. He had lied about where he was getting the money and lead me on for a year.

Then, he disappeared.

I never saw a dime.

During this time, I had no other job and racked up nearly six figures worth of credit card debt. I spent money I didn’t have in hopes of a check that never came.

An elementary school teacher by trade, I had never handled this type of contract negotiation. Much of the fallout stemmed from my own naïveté.

I trusted partners blindly.

I didn’t ask the important questions up front.

I didn’t dig through the bullshit.

I was ashamed of my decisions.


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Before digging myself into debt, I always wanted to get into a creative industry. I just never had the confidence. The life of a teacher always seemed more socially acceptable. Growing up, I knew a local rapper who asked for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage. The girlfriend’s parents said “no” because he made a living making music. To them, music was not a legitimate career. That image of rejection had always stuck with me. As a teacher, I felt safe. I knew the rules. I taught children the ideals of fairness, safety, and justice. My colleagues did not compete against me. Pay was based on seniority, not performance. Everyone had my back and cared about the children first. Fast forward to the entertainment industry; people wanted to use my skills for their benefit. I had never dealt with that dynamic and my irresponsibility cost me a lot of money. I am not a victim. I simply believed the lies that I wanted to be true. I propped up these lies and let others capitalize off of my willful ignorance. I lost everything.

The damage to my bank account paled in comparison to the trust issues I developed. I grew isolated and cold. For most of my life, I've encountered amazing people, but this outlier ordeal spawned demons that consumed by outlook. I no longer wanted to trust anyone. I didn’t realize until later how I was making things worse.

I reflected and played the possibilities over in my mind of how I dug myself into this hole. I saw how responsibility and power went hand in hand.

Let me take responsibility so I can regain power.

I’m The Man

I started walking outside and listening to audiobooks. The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent changed my perspective. The book deals with expectations, and molding horrible situations into positives. 50 Cent was shot nine times and capitalized off of bullets ripping apart his body.

I needed to harness that mentality.

I had to get off my ass,  make something happen, and unlearn harmful patterns of thinking.

Self-pity needed to evolve into self-compassion.



I had friends and family that loaned me a lot of money.

I felt like an embarrassment.

After hitting rock bottom, the first thing I needed to do was have uncomfortable conversations. I had to say “I can’t pay you back soon, but I will pay you back...I don’t know when, but I will.” I couldn’t keep my lips above water.

I had to open up to a lot of people, friends and financial institutions, and tell them the truth. Voicing the truth out loud was cathartic. Most people understood and even offered to give me more money. Others said, “I told you so.” I couldn’t blame them for feeling that way.

I didn’t want to lose the most important people in my life over not being able to pay them back. Now, I’m in a position to loan other people money. I know what it feels like to have your world come crashing down over debt.

Can’t Breathe

In the aftermath of the deal falling apart, my anxiety resurfaced sharply. Growing up, I swept aside the severity of anxiety and mental health issues until I experienced a breakdown. I suffered my first panic attack while studying for exams at university. Once I went into debt, I started to have daily attacks.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

My heartbeat rattled my body. Irrational fears flooded my thoughts.

I stood paralyzed.

I thought I was going to die.

Physically, I felt like I was on rollercoaster when in reality I was standing still.

Even when I wasn’t suffering an attack, my anxiety became a shade of glasses I couldn’t remove. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat.

I had harmful thoughts about the people I most cared about. I thought “What if people find out I’m feeling like this, that I’m having these types of thoughts?” Anxiety impaired my ability to trust. I didn’t want my connection with others to become a casualty of my mental health.

Control slipped away.

I couldn’t make decisions.

I didn’t make music for a very long time.

Anxiety has no physical symptoms like a broken leg, but healing still takes time. And even when the attacks subsided, I needed to be mindful of the things that stressed me out.

Simple Truths

I spent three years paying people back. I published books, performed shows, and launched crowdfunding campaigns. Many people, who I thought were not paying attention, made massive contributions. I made lifelong friends over crowdfunding and connecting with fans.

When I had nothing, my fans supported my art. My fans maintained an unspoken contract with me: if you make dope art, we’ll support how we can. They spent money, time, and energy on me. At the time, all I had was a daily blog. People reached out and told me that I should write a book. They supported my message and wanted a more comprehensive body of work. I started writing.

Lilly Singh and Humble The Poet at Youtube FanFest

Lilly Singh and Humble The Poet at Youtube FanFest

Soon after, I published a book titled Unlearn: 101 Simple Truths For A Better Life. The book reached number one on the best-seller list for business mentoring and coaching. It also opened me up to a much older crowd. The whole experience shook me. I was having conversations with adults about literature, while also taking selfies with 13-year-olds who watch my YouTube videos. For the first time, I saw how my art could reach across the spectrum of age and experience.

After climbing out of debt, I still hit uncomfortable situations. Shit hits the fan in the creative industry every day. But I don’t fuel the fires of my anxiety anymore.

I don’t let fear chip away at me.

I don’t let it spread.

I embrace these painful feelings and use them to create.


Looking back, the more I tried to avoid getting hurt the more I suffered. Work relationships fell apart. Business partners were not living up to my unrealistic expectations, and I was not living up to theirs. This pattern continued not only in my creative endeavors but also in my personal life. I needed to address my expectations. I could not control the actions of others, but I could control my expectations of those actions.

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Over the years, I’ve learned to navigate the relationships in the entertainment world and my personal life more carefully. I smile but prepare for the worst. I leave myself open to others, but never again will I trust blindly. I scrutinize every deal and have built a smart team around me. I stay open to others while also looking out for myself. In certain situations, paranoia is a good thing. If something seems sketchy, I back out and don’t worry about how others will perceive it. Most of the trust I have now is in myself. Even when I trust others, evidence shows that most people are good people. Once in a while, I meet the polar opposite and that’s a price I’m willing to pay. No longer do I seek strength by avoiding meaningful, human connection. Strength does not come from isolation or false fronts. Strength builds from the courage to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the only currency we have to connect with others. With vulnerability comes the need for protection. In this business, I turned pro and hired a lawyer. Lawyers are the best bodyguards in creative industries. They see the angles that you can’t. They advocate on your behalf. I learn from lawyers and how they are essential to the success of my movement.

Thank You

As I reach different levels of the game, I discover deeper sides to myself. The more I am in this world, the more it feels natural, like this is how I am supposed to exist. I’ve learned that good things happen when you leave the house and you are honest. I take every opportunity to express gratitude to those who support me. If happiness is the goal, then gratitude should be the religion. A simple “thank you” is a healthy way to connect with others and breed happiness within yourself.

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Since the start, I’ve wanted to look back on my path and feel glad how everything happened. I’m still healing, but I’ve reached a point where I’m grateful for the missteps. If my life was a movie, the darkest times would be the most interesting. I’ve learned to maintain an open, curious, and enthusiastic mind. I have so much to learn and unlearn.

Whether I get my way or I don’t, learning takes priority. I frame situations more positively to better impact my mental health. Things that I would’ve lost my shit over a few years back don’t affect me as strongly today.

I don’t let damaging thoughts occupy real estate in my brain.

I plan with patience.

Not a lot of good comes from trying to speed things up.




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Watch the music video for Humble The Poet - I Will (Prod. Sickick)

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