30x30 BIPOC Podcast

Mission Critical E21 Donté Colley: How Can We Protect Our Joy?

A black and white photo of Donté Colley, Content Creator, with his chin resting on his hand and his eyes closed. Bay St. Bull and Mission Critical branding.

Finding and harnessing happiness was an effort that many tasked people themselves with throughout 2020. At the forefront of this campaign? Influencer and social media’s unofficial Chief Joy Officer, Donté Colley. Known for his infectious TiKTok videos full of encouragement and signature dance moves, Donté established his platform (which now boasts over one million followers) to bring more positivity to people’s lives.

While he may count celebrities like Ariana Grande and Beyonce as fans, his true power is his ability to put his audience at ease while tackling topics like mental health and self-love. It is this journey of affirmation that he invites his followers on daily that has made Colley a beacon of joy for those in need of a positive boost. 

On today’s episode, I chat with Donté, who is featured in our Bay Street Bull 30X30 guide, about cultivating and protecting your joy.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

[9:26] Donté Colley’s first memories with music and dance were through cartoons.

[15:58] Participating in online community and handling judgement.

[17:31] How honesty and transparency help build and nurture online communities.

[19:06] Unlearning the ways we’ve used social media in the past.

[22:56]: Donté Colley reflects on what joy means.

Listen to the episode below or your platform (Apple, Spotify, etc.) of choice.

INTERVIEW

Donté Colley: Society has made us feel that our joy is not worth sharing because it’s not good enough for other people, but for me, joy is the realest part of you and the realest part of yourself. It’s the part where you’re most vulnerable. 

[INTRO]

Welcome to Mission Critical, a podcast about the big picture, the purpose, and the values that drive today’s most game-changing companies, entrepreneurs, and leaders. I’m your host Lance Chung, Editor-in-Chief of Bay Street Bull, and I’ll be introducing you to a group of brilliant minds who are making an impact on the world and forging the path ahead. While they may all be very different from one another, the question remains the same: What’s your mission?

According to the Global Happiness survey conducted by Ipsos, the prevalence of happiness (measured by factors like health, purpose, relationships, and more) across 27 countries remained largely unchanged from 2019 to 2020, dipping by just one percentage point from 64% to 63%. It is a surprising finding that showcases the resilience of people, despite a year mired by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Finding and harnessing happiness was an effort that many tasked people themselves with throughout 2020. At the forefront of this campaign? Influencer and social media’s unofficial Chief Joy Officer, Donté Colley. Known for his infectious TikTok videos full of encouragement and signature dance moves, Donté established his platform (which now boasts over one million followers) to bring more positivity to people’s lives.

While he may count celebrities like Ariana Grande and Beyonce as fans, his true power is his ability to put his audience at ease while tackling topics like mental health and self-love. It is this journey of affirmation that he invites his followers on daily that has made Colley a beacon of joy for those in need of a positive boost. 

On today’s episode, I chat with Donté, who is featured in our Bay Street Bull 30X30 guide, about cultivating and protecting your joy. Enjoy and if you’d like to read his feature, head to the link in the episode description. 

Lance Chung: Hi Donté, how are you today? So nice to be chatting finally.

Donté Colley: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for having me. I am doing okay. You know, day by day, but we’re trying to just keep pushing forward in this crazy era of a time. How about you?

Lance Chung: Same as well. Everything kind of feels a little bit like Groundhog Day, but, you gotta do the best you can and just put one foot forward. I’m so thrilled to be able to sit down and have our chat. What I really wanted to focus on is really an important topic today and that’s joy and you know, how we harness it, how we manifest it, share it and protect it. And really for me, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about you and one of the many things that you represent in the community. So I feel like that’s a great thing for us to explore. And also just something that we need to talk more about in general in society and kind of the tough times that we’re going through right now.

Donté Colley: Absolutely. Oh my Gosh. That means a lot.

Lance Chung: Let’s start with what it means to you. How do you define joy? Is it as straightforward as equating it with happiness or is it more complex than that. Are there more layers to it?

Donté Colley: To me, joy means you are living 100 percent authentically and unapologetically yourself. That could mean being 100 percent yourself behind four walls or showing up outside of your comfort zone and just enjoying you. That’s a question I get all the time and I think it means so many different things to so many different people—there are so many definitions for it. 

To me joy means you are living 100 percent authentically and unapologetically yourself

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Lance Chung: Do you think that positivity and optimism are the same things as joy? Certainly, they are a part of it, but would you consider them equivalents?

Donté Colley: I think they all can fall under the same umbrella, but I think each has its own definition. Positivity doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a great day all the time. It means that I know that better days are coming, even though I may not be in the best mental situation or physical situation [at the time]. I think we are all living our own lives and we’re all experiencing a time like this in our own way but somehow in the same realm. There are so many things that we’re familiar with with each other, especially in this time and our experience with it, but I think how we deal with it is up to us and how we move forward is up to us as well. It’s nobody else’s job to make you feel better. I think at the end of the day, we’re all going to have our low points and our low moments, but in order to go high, you have got to go low and you have to understand and self manage what happiness means to you and how you’re going to source that.

Lance Chung: What brings you joy and how do you go about searching for it? Obviously, dance is a big part of that, but what are some of the big moments and little moments that really fill up your cup so to speak?

Donté Colley: Like you said, dance for me is number one. It’s always helped me get through the hardest points of my life. With that, it’s a simultaneous thing with music. I think music is such a big part of all of this as well. And for me, music and dance is my recipe for my unique joy. I think people are able to tap into their own joy in different ways, but that’s my formula. Whenever I’m feeling not so grounded or kind of confused or any kind of emotion that I don’t feel like I am being 100 percent planted and rooted, I’ve usually turned to those to put me back on my track.

Lance Chung: Is there a song or something that is a regular go-to for you that will always put you in the right mood or, or make you feel better?

Donté Colley: I am actually making my own playlist right now that I’m pretty excited about, but I think there are so many songs that bring me joy. I feel like I live in so many different eras when I’m listening to certain generations of music. I love the seventies, I love the eighties. I love the deepness of what the musicality is in all of that. And then I also love what’s happening today. There are so many things that bring me joy today too. I would say Nelly Furtado Do It, on her Loose album, is definitely something that I listen to daily just to set the intention for sure.

Lance Chung: Is that the album she did with Timbaland?

Donté Colley: Yes. The album that I’m pretty sure every single person had at one point—we all have the CD. 

Lance Chung: I remember that record and that album being played everywhere when it came out, but it’s very nostalgic for me as well.

Donté Colley: It’s a part of our DNA I’m sure, especially with what happened in this time, especially with music.

RELATED: Meik Wiking (Happiness Research Institute CEO) On How to Harness Joy

Lance Chung: We’ve had interviews with people who are involved in food culture and use food as a medium to speak about larger conversations and dialogues. In a similar sense with you and music and dance Is there a first memory or moment that is that moment that spoke to you and really resonated with you in terms of your first childhood memory with music or dance or anything that was almost like a turning point for you?

Donté Colley: It might sound crazy, but my experience with getting introduced to dance and knowing that it was something that I always wanted to do was watching cartoons on YTV, especially just before school. I feel like at 7:00 AM every day, Sailor Moon would come on—I talk about Sailor Moon all the time because it’s such a big part of what has inspired me to be myself and transform and grow as a person—and I loved and was always inspired by the transformation segments. I wanted to learn how to do 20 pirouettes in a row. I’m not there yet [laughs], but just to see that movement and see the elegance was something that I was always inspired by. I guess from that point, I turned to the internet for help. 

My mom tried to put me in dance class when I was young and it was the most traumatic experience I’ve probably ever had. I’ll always live with that and be like, “No. You don’t have to be cookie-cutter.” I know dance and technique is something that is super particular, but movement is something that we can all explore and it’s in all of us, in whatever way makes us all feel good. 

I don’t think we need to be so hard on ourselves to try and master or be amazing at specific things. I think it’s just about enjoying moving through space. And that’s something that I always try to bring to the table. Everybody can move. Everybody can dance. I think we just have to leave the judgment at the door and be raw and be real because it’s an energy release and it honestly recharges you at the same time. 

Lance Chung: You’ve built up a community of over a million people across your social media platforms who come to you seeking joy, optimism, and just want to be able to put a smile on their faces. Messages around positivity have been particularly resounding in a year like we’ve just come out of in 2020. Looking at your career, is there a moment that defined the person that you are today or the values that you hold and that you emphasize in your work and your content that you create?

Donté Colley: I think I am most proud of where I’ve come to come to at this point. I’m still ever-changing and growing in the ways that I see fit. And I think that’s just like all of us too. I think we’re never going to have everything figured out and an experience like this, nobody was prepared for. Nobody would have expected a time like this in our own lifetime so that it just goes to show you that things are gonna happen and there’s going to be tons of obstacles, but we’re in this together. And I think the power of social media and being able to connect with so many amazing people all across the globe is super helpful, especially really thinking about how it was a hundred years ago. It was so different. And to even think back on that, and I always question, how did they do that? How did they get through? Because even though we are so isolated, there’s still a sense of connectivity just with the power of the internet. 

I think what is really going to get us through is just being honest and transparent on our platforms. And that’s something that I try to do because I’m not always happy—none of us are. We are human beings. We live life. We all go and experience things and our own unique journeys. So, I think it’s just about understanding that it’s actually about human connection and trying to still have that, even though it’s cyber.

“Positivity doesn't mean that it's going to be a great day all the time. It means that I know that better days are coming."

Lance Chung: Building on that note around human connection, I was looking through your Instagram feed and in one post it said, “It was never about an audience or a platform. It was about bringing people together and challenging myself to make things I was excited about and potentially making other people smile.” So, what have you learned about the human connection and what people desire in terms of forging these bonds with other people? Is there a simple way of distilling it and again, in a time like this, is a bond defined by physical attraction or is it bonding through virtual spaces as well?

Donté Colley: I think it’s both. And I think it’s also just about coming to the table as who you are and all that you are. I definitely have learned that over the course of the past few years, but I think for me, it was always something that I wanted and always wanted to see myself do, even if it wasn’t something that I was thinking about when I was 10 years old. I always knew that I wanted to show up in this world a hundred percent myself, regardless of what people thought of me or what opinions they had of me, I was always going to just be me because nobody can take that away from me. And I think being a content creator, but primarily an artist, we’re all artists in this life in all the different things that we do.

For me, gratefully, “establishing a platform” is more of a community versus me talking down to people. It’s more like, “Hey, let’s hang.” I always wanted that real connection because I don’t see anything else. I mean, I’ve grown from literally not having anything to having the most valuable things, which is my own personal joy and happiness, as well as a group of people who support me for just being me and me reciprocating that and supporting them for being who they are and finding who they are along this journey.

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Lance Chung: Who would you say is your community? What is your community comprised of and is there a common denominator or common thread that links all of you together?

Donté Colley: I don’t know if there’s a specific title for it because it can be anything. There are people in our own lives and our own relationships that come and go. And I think that’s what happens on the internet too. People are here temporarily and people leave. Some things are going to be digested by people and some things people don’t want to digest at all. That’s what happens, especially on the internet. Especially when you’re trying to encourage others or spread a little bit more light and be like what I’m technically doing and tapping into both the feminine and masculine side of myself and putting myself out there. It kind of leads to the systemic judgment that people have, where you have to think, I really wish you all the best and I hope you figure all of this out, but I’m literally just sending you love right now. And if you can’t accept that, it’s totally fine. I’m still gonna send it regardless, but I hope you find out soon that you don’t need to be this way. It’s okay. If I can be that person for somebody to kind of switch their mind, that’s all that I could ask for.

Lance Chung: Even though you said it was never about building an audience, you’ve still managed to create a significant one. What do you think is the key to establishing the foundation for a passionate and loyal community? Maybe for someone that is also looking to create their own tribe and their own community and people that they can bond with and engage with.

Donté Colley: Honesty, it’s candidness, it’s transparency. All that you would do in a personal relationship that you would have with somebody. Somebody that’s closest to you. And I think the reason why I am so transparent is because, at the end of the day, it’s just me and my phone. There’s nobody else around. And I think that’s what feels the most safe, it’s kind of like a diary entry. It’s kind of like a journal. All of the content that I usually create is for me first, because as an artist, you shouldn’t be trying to create art for others. You’re creating your art for yourself. And my art helps me as well. I would hope that it would help other people too, especially with what I’ve kind of gone through on this ride in my life. It’s just being 100 percent you because nobody else can replicate what you do, as hard as they try. There’s only one you in this life. Show up as that. 

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Lance Chung: It is interesting. It is almost like treating it like a relationship with an individual, but I guess a community of individuals. Going back to the basics and being transparent and honest and forging those bonds and being you and your authentic self, in a sense.

[INTERLUDE]

Lance Chung: So, in one of your other social posts, you state, “We are in a time of unlearning and relearning.” What are some of the things that you’ve had to unlearn and relearn about yourself in this past year?

Donté Colley: I think something that I’ve unlearned is the way that we use social media. And I think unlearning comes with being informed versus affirmed. I think it’s so easy to absorb all these different kinds of information from so many different people who are real people as well and have their own voice. But I think at the same time it’s so important to do your own research on certain topics and make sure that you know, for yourself, what it is that you’re reading because everything is fast these days. We get a headline, that’s the story that we got and we move forward. Whereas there are more details in everything. And I think for me going to school and learning about digital media across all different varieties of it is something that’s kind of helped me come to this point of unlearning the way that we were doing things before.

And I try to share that with my audience as well because it’s true, there’s a lot of misinformation being spread around, especially with the pandemic and especially with being productive and getting things done. You just gotta do what’s best for you in this time. It all varies, but I think it can be super overwhelming and challenging sometimes to just be flooded with information making you feel like you’re not doing enough. But what’s ultimately important is, what am I doing for myself and is this the best thing for me right now? And the majority of the time it is. You just have to stay in your own lane.

Lance Chung: Speaking of doing what’s best for you, and we’re talking about joy, how do you protect your joy and make sure that even while you’re trying to make other people happy, and you’re trying to spread that joy and put a smile on peoples faces. How do you make sure that the integrity of your own joy doesn’t become threatened or get vulnerable?

Donté Colley: I think it’s about setting boundaries. And again, going back to the art side of it, my joy is an extension of me. My art and dance, music, design are all things that I’m passionate about and all align with who I am. And that’s not necessarily for everybody. Even though I share that, and that’s something that people have gravitated towards. I think it’s so important to know that my art is my art at the end of the day and if I’m not in a position or a mental space to provide light for you. Which it should never be. I think we have to find our own light and realize that we are the light that’s in the tunnel. And we’re walking through this dark tunnel even though the sky’s over there. It’s gonna take a long time to get over there in some periods of our lives.

I definitely set a lot of boundaries, in regards to social media to let people know that, “Hey, I don’t need to do anything for you, but we’re in this together. And I would hope that you would understand where I’m coming from.” Especially knowing that it could be toxic at times to be super positive all the time because that’s not human. It’s an everlasting and ever-growing process. 

Lance Chung: Do you think that pursuing joy is a courageous act or an act of bravery? Why do you think it can seem scary for some people to really pursue that joy and embody that joy and be happy? It sounds simple, but, do you think that it is an act of bravery in a sense?

Donté Colley: You could say so for sure. And I think that’s exactly it, that society has made us feel that our joy is not worth sharing because it’s not good enough for other people, but for me, joy is the realest part of you and the realest part of yourself. It’s the part where you’re the most vulnerable and not everybody deserves to witness or be experiencing that joy with you. However, for me, I share because I have nothing to hide. I just hope that you are able to figure out that there’s nothing to hide—you can be yourself. You have to understand that not everybody is going to like you. That’s a thing that I’ve learned as well, especially on these platforms. Not everybody is going to like you and for totally different things: for being black, for being a part of the LGTBQ community, for so many different things. So I think it’s important to know that you’re not for everybody, but as long as you’re standing on your two feet, you are for you.

Lance Chung: I think that’s very true in that if your goal is to make other people happy, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. At the end of the day, you just have to look after yourself and make sure that you yourself are happy and have the understanding that you also can’t make everyone happy. It’s not possible. Last summer we were in the middle of a global pandemic and also at the height of civil rights protests around the world around racial injustice; it was a heavy time for a lot of people. Was it important for you to stay consistent with your content or to shift the tone? How did your manifestation and definition of joy change in that time?

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Donté Colley: It’s hard to even talk about because it’s just draining. As a Black person, I’m desensitized, and I have always been desensitized, because we experience things on the daily in microaggressions across so many different things that we’re used to it. In terms of changing my tone and stuff. No, because that’s a part of who I am. My art at that time wasn’t important. What was more important was what was happening in the world. And I think my own experience of what’s happened in my life, especially within my family and things that have happened racially, I think that I really just wanted to let people know that this is an issue and we really need to fix it. We need to be paying attention because it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

“For me, music and dance is my recipe for my unique joy. I think people are able to tap into their own joy in different ways, but that's my formula."

Lance Chung: Now we’re in 2021, we’re already in the first quarter of the year. What excites you about the road ahead and applying the lessons that you’ve learned in 2020 and growing from there?

Donté Colley: What I’m most excited for is to just continue to learn and be open to whatever is to come. I think trying to set a specific expectation, setting expectations at all, is a recipe to lead you to disappointment when things don’t go the way that you think or plan. 

I think planning is super important to create structure. I’m a very spontaneous person and I kind of float around and just figure things out on the go, but at the same time, I like to structure myself too. I don’t think there’s anything in particular that I’m super excited for. I think I’m just excited to continue to hopefully wake up again tomorrow and see another day.

Lance Chung: So, at the end of the day, what would you say is your mission and your purpose? What guides the decisions you make from a micro and a macro standpoint and is the driving force in everything that you do?

Donté Colley: My purpose is to just do what I’m doing right now, whatever that may look like. I still don’t necessarily know how to explain a lot of things, especially when people ask me, “What do you do?” I don’t know how to explain it. I do a lot of things and I’m passionate about a lot of things. At the end of the day, I just do me. And I think that’s my purpose, just showing up 100 percent myself and doing the things that I’m most passionate about and enjoying those things, because it’s not for everybody, it’s for me. I keep saying that because it’s so important. Everything that I’m doing, I am doing it with everyone, but I’m doing it for myself. 

Lance Chung: Well thank you so much for our chat today. It was a great interview. A lot of good insight and good reminders. Sometimes these are things that we know about ourselves, but we need to be constantly reminded to take care of ourselves, even though we know we have to take care of ourselves and to listen to ourselves and show up as our authentic selves. The reminders are just as important as the revelations. So thank you so much for that chat. I really appreciate the discussion and taking your time to speak with us, 

Donté Colley: Thank you! I’m super excited and I’m super grateful to, again, I don’t even know what to say because I’m so thankful honestly.

Lance Chung: Well thank you so much and hopefully you and I will have a chat again soon. Until then, I hope you stay well and are safe and happy and well. 

Donté Colley: You too.

[OUTTRO]

This is a moment of transformation that we’re going through right now and as you’ve heard, reinvention can manifest within an individual, as well as entire industries and communities as we are bearing witness to now. So, how can we create a semblance of stability when everything around us is undergoing such a radical change? The key is to reevaluate ourselves as leaders. To step out, as Arlene puts it, and remind ourselves to lead with our values, with empathy, compassion, and agility in a way that is sustainable in the big picture. A touch of optimism doesn’t hurt, either.

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