June 15, 2018

Are you following your dreams?

It’s a tough question to answer, but that’s what Karamo Brown’s son asked him a few years ago—and the question inspired him to actually go after his goal of becoming a TV star.

Now, as the culture expert on ‘Queer Eye,’ Netflix’s makeover show, Karamo helps everyday people see their worth—and brings viewers to tears as we watch it all unfold. But when it comes to his own confidence, Karamo wasn’t born with it. It’s something he built through his experiences as an openly gay black man, fathering two sons, working as a social worker, and more.

Here, to celebrate the launch of 'Queer Eye' Season 2, he shares his wisdom exclusively with Shine. (Pro tip: Have your notes app at the ready.)

As Told to Shine—Listen to the Audio Version

You might know me as the culture expert on Netflix’s Queer Eye. Or, you might remember me from 2004’s The Real World: Philadelphia. That was my first time on screen—and I made history as the first openly gay black reality star.

On Queer Eye, I help other people know their worth and reclaim their confidence. I’m a former social worker, so the job marries my love of personal development and TV. It’s a legit dream come true—but it’s one that I almost slip by.

After The Real World, I decided to step out of the spotlight. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be on TV—I actually dreamed of working in entertainment. But in my family and friend circle, being on TV wasn’t seen as a “real job.” It was like, “Oh you were on a reality show, but you can’t really turn that into a career.”

And I internalized that. I found myself embarrassed to tell people that I wanted something more—so, I made myself believe that I didn’t.

"I found myself embarrassed to tell people that I wanted something more—so, I made myself believe that I didn’t."
-Karamo BrownTweet

At that time in my life, I’d just recently found out I was a dad to a 10-year-old son—an incredible boy—so I decided to just focus on raising him. I later adopted his younger brother, too. I went into full dad mode, and I decided to let my original dream just pass by.

Dad, Are You Living Your Dreams?

But about five years later, my youngest son Chris asked me something that changed everything.

He was working on a paper for school about fulfillment, and he innocently asked me: “Dad, are you living your dreams?”

It was a pivotal moment as a parent. I thought to myself: “Either I lie and say 'yes,' and maybe teach him the wrong lesson. Or, I tell the hard truth and hold myself accountable to the words I say.”

So, with a heavy sign, I just came out and said it: “No, I’m not living my dream.”

I remember him looking up at me and asking:

“Why?”

And I couldn’t think of an answer.

In that moment, I decided it was time to go after my big dream. And through that process, I’ve learned a couple of important lessons:

1. Know Your Dream—And Why You Deserve It

So often we have these dreams—be an engineer! be a baker!—but we don’t believe that we’re worthy of them. That’s why you need to know not just what you want, but also why you deserve it.

After that real talk with my son, I created a folder—one I still have to this day. In it, I wrote my dream and also wrote why I deserve it.

"You need to know not just what you want, but also why you deserve it."
- Karamo BrownTweet

I still remember what I wrote:

“I want to be a successful television host with several shows inspiring others while entertaining them. And I deserve it because I’m honest, because I don’t mind sharing my faults, I don’t mind sharing my triumphs, because I’m human, because I’m worth it, and because I know that through this medium I will be able to help others.”

From then on, I started to repeat this to myself every day. I knew if I said it enough, I’d start to believe it as a fact.

Your turn: My dream is ---, and I deserve it because ---. Tweet

Once I realized I was worthy of my dream, it helped me start taking action. I obsessed over what it meant to be a TV host. I’d come home from work and watch E! News on mute, reading the captions out loud like a teleprompter.

My kids would be like, “What are you doing?” But in my mind, I knew that I needed the training.

Happy 21st Birthday to my son Jason! I am so proud of the man you are Prince! I love watching you fully walk into your destiny and greatness! #HappyBirthday #ProudDad

A post shared by Karamo (@karamobrown) on

And once I felt I learned all I could from mimicking E! News, I kept acquiring knowledge through community college classes. I found myself following my grandma’s advice: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

2. Don’t Be Scared of ‘No’

The second big lesson I learned: Don’t be scared of "no."

To me, a "no" just means that I’m one step closer to getting a "yes." To protect my self-esteem, I always tell myself there is going to be a yes—there is an opportunity for me. Because it’s true for all of us: If you do the work, if you’re a good person, if you show up, an opportunity will come.

"If you do the work, if you’re a good person, if you show up, an opportunity will come."
- Karamo BrownTweet

My first big audition was in 2014 for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)—yes, Queen Oprah herself. They needed hosts for a new show, and they were looking for two women of color and a white man—but I still showed up to audition, thinking, “They just haven’t met me yet!”

My lack of seeing myself—an openly gay black man—represented is a big part of what pushed me to be on TV. The dream and the seed were always there, but the lack of visibility watered that seed and made it bloom into something bigger.

So, I went to the audition—and I got a “no” the first time I went. I went a second time, and I got another no.

That third time, because I was kind and sweet and I was diligent, the person at OWN said, “Fine, I’m going to give you the opportunity.” And I got the hosting gig.

It doesn’t always work out like that, so I try to not present this fairy tale. But you can always use a “no” to propel you towards another opportunity.

A post shared by Shine (@shinetext) on

Get a sneak peek of Karamo's Shine Story above, and check out the full version here.

Show Up to Your Dream

I wouldn’t be where I am today—living my dream—without knowing my why and seeing a "no" as a gateway to a yes.

Every job I’ve had since that talk with my son has always had an element of, “I’m going to entertain you, and I’m going to inspire you to be better.”

And I keep showing up to that dream, knowing that I deserve it.

Through Queer Eye, I’ve seen the impact that showing up for myself can have on others.

We had to get in #formation seconds after seeing how Bobby transformed Neal’s house in episode 2! @bobbyberk is a design genius and secretly Beyoncé! 💁🏼‍♀️ #Fab5

A post shared by Karamo (@karamobrown) on

On the first day of shooting with the Fab 5, I told the guys: “There’s a young man or woman out there that’s going to see something in us that’ll help them feel less lonely. This moment of you showing up is going to help somebody else believe that they can show up for themselves.”

Just like I do, just like the rest of the Fab 5 does—you can show up for yourself, too.

"Just like I do, just like the rest of the Fab 5 does—you can show up for yourself, too."
- Karamo BrownTweet

Know what your dream is.

Know why you deserve it.

Believe that you deserve it.

And know you can push past the rejections.

And if people tell you “that sounds arrogant”? Know it’s not. It’s you applauding yourself and saying, "You know what? I’m good enough, and I believe in myself."

Want more from Karamo? Download the free Shine iOS app to hear his pep talk IRL.
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Main photo: Storm Santos, photographer; Lisa Cameron, stylist.


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