Typically, I would write an introduction for my interviewee. Something like, “This writer is inspiring, and here’s why she’s inspiring.”
Maybe it was my questions (probably not), or maybe it was her responses, but once you read this interview, you’ll see why Alison Sher doesn’t need much of an introduction – she speaks for herself.
So here she is folks. Alison Sher – the co-founder of BeYouBeSure.org, the Be You Be Sure Project and an entirely new post-college philosophy that your parents are going to hate.
BL (Bits A Life): What exactly is Be You Be Sure?
AS: Well, that’s an excellent question, and one I’ve been asked hundreds of times, mainly by Alexa, my co-founder. For a while, Be You Be Sure was just two sentences and a feeling we wanted to spread around.
We started as a non-punctuated slogan to promote an upcoming book. When Alexa and I decided to do this project, we had no idea what we were doing (being 23 and 24 respectively). We just knew we had a message for our generation. Everything we read about writing a book said we needed to start a blog, so we did. I wrote and researched articles about issues affecting millennials, featured interviews and guest writers. The three or so people who actually read it, said they liked it. It was the first time I had to write and proofread my own work for print. I almost always missed a typo.
Since then, we’ve made some major investments. We bought an RV, launched a new website (sans blog), gathered a few more teammates, and have been traveling around the country interviewing people about the secrets of a happy life. Now we call Be You Be Sure, BYBS (think FUBU), and The Be You Be Sure Project – which is basically an underground wellness campaign tagging up America.
This is the most audacious thing I’ve ever done, and I have a history of being pretty wild. Sometimes it makes me want to throw up in my mouth a bit, thinking about bringing this idea to the public. I think damn, how absurd is this? Our goal is to create a book on how to rise toward your potential in your twenties. It’s going to be a crash course for young people entering the ‘real world.’ It’s filled with stories from interviews, statistics, psych research, history lessons, and inspiration from wisdom traditions.
I could have never predicted the way this whole thing has unfolded. But I think it might actually work.
BL: How long have you been on this road trip?
AS: Three months now. It took over a year to save for and plan.
BL: What were your goals when you pulled out of the driveway in Moby (the RV)?
AS: We wanted to write a book that people actually needed to function as a democratization tool. We wanted to share an unconventional voice with the world to help represent our generation, while learning from others and books and our own self-reflection. I know I wanted to enjoy every last drop of the freedom I’ll have in my youth, while doing something productive. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was a little girl, and have spent the past four years slugging away as a freelance journalist in a time when print media is dying, and a large amount of online content producers remain unpaid. I believe in the positive power of the fourth estate.
Ultimately, we all wanted to test our dreams, to take a calculated risk and see if we could trust our intuition. If we followed our heart, would good things come? It’s a been a pursuit to believe in ourselves. It would be nice to prove all the people who’ve doubted our decisions over the years wrong.
BL: Where the heck did you buy Moby anyway?
AS: In Long Beach Island, on Craigslist, from another millennial who also lived with his parents. Josh Van Dyke. He’s an audio producer inventing a post-production software to help artists in the indie film industry. Look out for him. He’s a man with big dreams as well. He gutted Moby and put in all new parts, lived in the RV around the LA area, drove it back to the east coast and sold it to us.
I’ve learned it’s a lot easier for the dreams of young people to come true when they have supportive parents. I couldn’t have done this if mine had not let me live with them for a year to save money, while I worked 5 jobs, saved, and wrote that blog no one read.
BL: How did you choose your route?
AS: At first, we started choosing the route through our social network. We’d go to cities where there were millennials we knew through friends who seemed to represent a wide cross section of social groups. We started to realize, however, that this was fucking stressful and the best interviews seemed to keep happening at random. We had one destination we had to be at – a psych conference in Chicago on emerging adulthood in early November. Now, that that’s over, we just cruise, avoiding snow and steep dirt roads, showering at friend’s houses and truck stops, smattered across the country. I barely know what I’m going to do tomorrow. It takes some getting used to.
BL: How many people do you have stuffed in there?
AS: We’ve had anywhere from 3-5 women on board since September. BYBS has a mostly female cast. You know it takes women to be this heartfelt! We’re some of the only ladies who’ve attempted to do a road trip like this. The Goddess Project is the only other that I know of, which makes this whole mission a bit feminist, I guess. We’re bringing you a hefty dose of girl power. Young women should feel safe to travel. It’s our birthright to explore.
BL: How many times has Moby broken down so far?
AS: Too many to count. This has been a really good week. I don’t want to jinx it. Moby’s all good. Moby, I love you, baby.
BL: Do you believe the statements that millennials expect everything handed to them, and they’re lazier than previous generations?
AS: For sure! But whose fault is that?
Workers have been exploited throughout history. I guess when you’re young and have the cushion of your middle class parents, the higher education system, plus books like the “Four Hour Work Week,” you miss out on that reality. Then, one day you’re plopped into the formal economy, and you don’t know how to appropriately react.
I think it’s ultimately idealism that creates the sense of entitlement everyone says millennials display. We’re young and we think, “No way, will I let work run my entire life,” the way we’ve seen it do to many of our parents, yet we still want a/c and furniture and all those creature comforts.
It’s easy to feel like the world owes you something when you first enter it. It takes a few hard hits to realize how much is expected of you to create a decent life in this society, and how long it takes. College curriculums don’t teach you how to work like your food and shelter depend on it. There’s a huge feeling of scarcity very present in our culture that industry is fueled by, and with it, the notion that in a meritocracy (if that’s what America is), dues should be paid and positions hard fought for.
It’s not that we’re lazier. It’s just that our hopes for life are romantic.
BL: How is the morale inside the vehicle? Any fights?
AS: Living in this RV has made me realize how important it is to keep peace in your personal environment. I want world peace, of course I do, but do I even have the capability to get along with the people closest to me? That’s where humanity starts.
Of course there have been fights. Stuffing this many people inside Moby makes me feel like I’m part of a family in a third world country. We’ve got a lot of egos in this tiny shaky, house on wheels and a lot of passion and a lot on the line.
The good news is we’re really learning: how to separate business and pleasure, when to speak your mind, and when to internalize your thoughts for the greater good of the group. We’re super team oriented and endlessly work to support one another. Remember, we’re women. Women like to talk about our feelings, so of course, there are tears. Visions clash. Planes crash. So it goes.
It all boils down to staying sensitive. We’re all just sensitive people, with senses that fail us. Lots is lost in translation. Consensual reality is certainly a myth. Communication is an art.
Everyone on this trip has good intentions. It’s just stressful living in such close quarters, making every decision together, as we fix piece by piece of this automotive as it falls apart. But we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe in what we’re doing. Not to mention it’s such a good feeling knowing where you’re sleeping when you’re traveling. I’m grateful we have Moby.
BL: What’s your favorite story from the road?
AS: Oh man. I’ve loved the conversations with vivacious old people the most because they always affirm my suspicions about what’s important in life and why we’re doing this. Learn to love yourself first. Express. Don’t rush the craft of living. Know that you’re beautiful.
I also am blown away when I meet millennials who have conviction, because it’s a rare attribute. My favorite interview with someone my age thus far happened in Burlington,V.T., with a 22-year-old lab scientist named Emily. She wrote her college thesis on social media use during Occupy, and joined the protests during the second semester senior year to complete it. She traveled so much to follow the uprising that her grades slipped.
She told me about being arrested in Zuchotti Park with her friend by some insane police officers for chalking. When she got to the NYC prison, she said they were the only two white women in there. She opened my eyes to a whole element of segregation hidden in society, and the importance of those protests, because they proved how quickly our constitutional rights are slipping away from the citizens of the country. Thousands of people lost their jobs, and they took the streets, to be met by brutality.
She was probably one of the sharpest millennials I’ve talked to. She really helped re-energize my faith in the path of resistance. She lived with a 70-something-year-old woman who’d spearheaded multiple rape crisis service centers in Burlington during her lifetime. Emily was fully convinced activism makes a difference, which not many people are these days. It was really inspiring to witness.
BL: What music have you been rocking on this trip?
AS: Lord Huron. Jimmy Cliff. Cat Power. The Dead. There is a lot of time to listen to music. I really get juiced off that Foreigner song “I want to know what love is.”
BL: What location has been the most rewarding?
AS: Moab, Utah. That place is so amazing, it’s otherworldly. I ran into three friends I used to live in the same house as in college there. I hadn’t seen these guys for years, and here we were in the middle of a national park – a desert nonetheless – reunited! They chased down our RV for 10 minutes after they saw us pass by them.
We also got onto Moab community radio that day and were able to talk about our mission for an entire hour. One serendipitous moment happened after the other. It was one of those days when you feeling like there might actually be some sort of higher power that is pulling strings for you – that we could go out into the world with this idea and be embraced.
BL: Where are you headed next?
AS: Who knows. Day by day. Wax on wax off. This is the jedi way. We’re spending Thanksgiving in Oakland.
BL: What’s the best comment someone has made about Moby?
AS: We had a hoard of drunk people outside an R&B club in Providence, R.I., cheer and clap as we drove by. That felt cool. There’s a giant periwinkle whale painted on the front of the RV, so sometimes kids think we’re an ice cream truck.
BL: What’s the biggest message you want to send millennials through Be You Be Sure?
AS: Celebrate your uniqueness, dream, and do. It’s hard to escape the opinions of others. Your life is up to you.
BL: Can we expect a book out of this adventure?
AS: With bated breath. In an ideal world, it would be ready to publish by early Summer. You may see a few other projects arise from this adventure too.