Britt East is an inspirational writer and public speaker. He is the best-selling author of A Gay Man’s Guide to Life, a personal growth and development manual that combines memoir with practical and pragmatic advice to challenge and inspire gay men to live their best lives. Britt is also a digital marketing and e-commerce leader who is passionate about helping organizations craft their best online presence through elegant and effective design, development, production, and promotion.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in 1980s Nashville, which was rough. I suspect that my hometown had a vibrant local gay culture, but as a child, that culture was inaccessible to me. I was left to fend for myself, but that’s not where it ended. Not only did I have to wrestle with straight supremacy, but also the impact that the AIDS epidemic had on my nascent sexuality and the resulting deaths of any would-be role models.
To make matters worse, the abuse I experienced at the hands of my family increased my desolation. It meant there was no safe place for me to land in the world, and that I had to manufacture my own wisdom and experience. The template of my life went unwritten, and I moved through the world like a ghost.
I could never “pass” as straight, and endured much homophobia from teachers, coaches, and classmates. But I officially started coming out in my late teens, and have found that the process has never stopped. I come out each day to all sorts of people, on all sorts of topics and facets of my life. I’ve learned to approach each conversation with joy and care, because you can never be sure of the costs or consequences, no matter what you think you know about the other person. But the freedom on the other ends of those conversations is like a tonic to the soul and increases my fortitude each time.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Despite the sacredness of each moment, there’s no need to take things so seriously. In fact, the moment often requires certain silliness or lightheartedness. I spent my formative years fighting one battle after another until I forgot how to set down my sword and take off my armor altogether.
I was just so desperate to garner a sense of safety by solving life’s mysteries, rather than simply basking in its mysteriousness, and learning to laugh at myself. Had I understood then the fleeting nature of life and the relentless procession of time, I might have fought less and had more fun along the way. It’s only life, after all.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
As a personal growth and development writer, the recommendation I like least is, “Forgive and Forget.” These little sayings can be so damaging to young psyches. There’s a sticky allure in their simplicity, which can inadvertently hold people, hostage, for years, especially if we lack the capacity to delve into their deeper meanings.
I prefer recommendations that help us experience what our mind and body require. Dwelling in the space between stimulus and response allows us to alchemize our experience into compassion, care, and concern, as we are ready. Forgiveness is an essential letting go that happens on its own accord after we have thoroughly metabolized an experience. Forgetting is a dangerous shorthand for the essential letting go that happens naturally as we contextualize events.
We don’t actually have to “do” so much. In fact, a mantra I prefer is simply, “Create space.”
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
In my mid-twenties, my then partner was arrested for behavior associated with his sex addiction. This experience obliterated everything I thought I knew. I was devasted. I had been completely unprepared for adulthood and had placed excessive emotional reliance on him and our relationship. So what might have been a tragedy was a disaster.
But this is not just a sad story. He joined a 12 Step program and started getting his life back together. I followed suit, by joining Codependents of Sex Addicts Anonymous, the companion program to his. I wanted what he had, or at least was starting to build. What I never could have imagined was the amount of love I would find in those rooms or the thrill of togetherness I would experience in setting down my masks for the very first time, sharing from my heart with benevolent witnesses, and being emotionally joined in the process.
We eventually split up, for unrelated reasons, but remain close friends to this day. In fact, even our husbands are friends. But the point is we can use any experience to open our hearts and learn to love more deeply.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I recommend everyone implement a daily practice of personal inquiry and replenishment, to attend to body, mind, and spirit. This is a sacred commitment to the primacy of our whole health and the essentiality of our being. Over time, it will help us cultivate resilience, as we resist the darker forces in society and create a life worth living. It will give us the strength to stand tall and take up space in the world, which is our birthright.
My personal practice is the secret weapon I have finely honed over the years to help me be of my highest service to the world.
What is your morning routine?
I begin each day at 4 am with a protein shake and my personal yoga practice. For me, everything begins with the body. And after lying still all night, I like to move in the mornings. I then shift into a meditation practice to transition into the day and prepare my mind for the day. I follow that up with a sacred devotional ritual that I created in order to remember my small place in the universe, reconnect with my values, and set my intentions for the day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Doing less and being more. Believe me, I know how that sounds. And I’m actually very logical and linear, so bear with me. In tracking my success and observing my patterns of behavior over the past five years, I came to a stunning realization: I get paid for who I am, not what I do. In fact, the less I do the more success I seem to have.
I’m not claiming this will work for everyone. Some people aren’t currently doing enough, so it’s critical we know ourselves. But I have found that at a certain point in our careers after we’ve built wisdom, experience, and subject matter expertise, we no longer need to run ourselves ragged. In fact, it can be detrimental.
So while I still get a lot done each day, I spend more time focusing on exuding certain character qualities, prior to entering a meeting or beginning a task. I ask myself what I want to experience, and what I want to evoke from others. Then I shift my energy to embodying those aspects of my values and personality that I think will give me the greatest chance of success. The result has been a remarkable increase in my productivity, value, and rewards.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
As a former professional classical musician, intensity, discipline, and structure come second nature to me. I recognize that isn’t true for everyone. But because I invested so much in this part of my personality earlier in life, I no longer need to build those muscles. The key is that we know ourselves, and then shore up our weaknesses either through investment or leverage.
My current practice is learning how to harness and channel my outrage. Outrage is a powerful byproduct that comes from living in our primitive culture and witnessing our myriad imperfections on daily display. It is easily weaponized or manipulated if we don’t learn to cultivate awareness. And those that would use it generally have a profit motive in mind.
I encourage everyone to get real about the world around them, all they have endured, and what they have witnessed. As we step into reality, we can fully experience it, share our stories with loved ones and paid professionals, and finally let it all go as we are ready. Things happen to us for all sorts of reasons, many of which are completely out of our control. What we can control, and are ultimately responsible for, is our response.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The novels of Garth Greenwell and Mary Renault for creating worlds in which I can exist as all of myself. The non-fiction of James Baldwin, Angela Davis, and Ijeoma Oluo for their writing on race, class, and intersectionality, which has been the source of so much inspiration for me and my work in queer liberation.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” – Voltaire
This might seem counterintuitive for a former professional classical musician and poet, but in recent years I have discovered the pragmatism of imperfection action. In my role as a digital marketer, I work iteratively with my team – making mistakes and refining the output along the way. In my role as a speaker, I talk from the heart, rather than scripting performances. And in my role as a writer, I let the words flow and then edit with a soft touch, as necessary.
When I detach from the outcome of my work, I’m able to enjoy the doing of things. My self-esteem is not contingent upon how it is received. I know my value and believe in my voice. This awareness grants me the freedom to try my best, without wringing my hands over reputation or rewards.