Justin Key Shares The Importance Of Duality On His Journey To Success
Justin Key wears many hats — he’s an actor, author, DEI facilitator, entrepreneur, and creative. Over the last 15 years, the Rossville, Tennessee native has been able to weave his passions together in a longevous career that most can only dream of. No stranger to paying it forward, Key has created the Justin Key Scholarship for graduating high school seniors in his hometown, and authored the self-help book, Mind Control: Change The Way You Think So You Can Live A LIMITLESS Life. When the multi-hyphenate isn’t inspiring the next generation to walk in their purpose while sustaining authenticity, he’s consulting Fortune 500 companies on DEI practices. Aside from utilizing his entrepreneurial acumen, Key’s talents as a trained actor have led him to appear on platforms such as Netflix, BET, Amazon Prime, and more.
For(bes) The Culture caught up with Key to discuss his career path, the intersection of creativity and entrepreneurship, and his family’s influence on the man that he is today.
For(bes) The Culture: Thanks for joining me today, Justin. You’re an actor, entrepreneur, DEI facilitator, and author living in Los Angeles. Can you dive in a little bit more into what you do for those who are unfamiliar?
Justin Key: I own my own consulting agency and I consult on things from diversity and inclusion to entrepreneurship and entertainment business. All of those things go hand-in-hand as they relate to being under the umbrella of my company, Black Theorem. I was able to really hone in and focus on that and what works so well is that those are my lanes. I stay in my lane. That’s why for some people it may seem like, “Oh, he does a lot or he’s doing too much.” It’s like, no, I’m in my lane and as matter of fact, I have degrees in all of those areas. I have a degree in mathematics; I have a degree in acting, and I have a degree in entrepreneurship. These are all the areas that I studied, that I’ve mastered so it’s nothing out of my wheelhouse. Even though I’m still learning; growth is uncomfortable. Initially, when I started my consulting firm, I was consulting creatives on how to maneuver through the industry, making sure that you have enough money to stay in the entertainment industry, diversifying your income, and doing all these different things that you’re not necessarily taught in school when you’re majoring in the arts. A lot of times it’s not really about the lack of creativity, it’s really about financials, exposure, and opportunity. I was able to really use those skills that I had to start working with Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies, and now I’m able to give back to the creative community and it’s been a ridiculous blessing to be able to fall into that particular lane.
For(bes) The Culture: Can you talk more about how you blend your creative passions with your entrepreneurial pursuits?
Key: It was not easy. Imposter syndrome was so prevalent. When I was in the corporate space I was afraid to say I was an actor. When I was in the creative space I was afraid to say, “Oh, I own my own company, too” because I didn’t want people to think that I wasn’t serious or I wasn’t focused enough and I received a lot of that. I received a lot of side eyes and the eyebrow raises like, “You do what? Oh no, see you can’t really be successful in Hollywood doing all this other stuff. You need to focus on acting.” I really allowed so many different opinions to dictate my ability, to dictate my drive, to dictate my mindset. Now I realize that I can focus on and hone in on my lanes, not just acting, not just entrepreneurship. Honestly, it’s show business. It’s not show acting, it’s not show singing, it’s not show dancing, it’s show business. When you realize that a lot of creatives then can be able to create their own lanes and really thrive in business and creative arts.
For(bes) The Culture: What advice would you give to fellow creatives who want to do the same?
Key: The advice I would give to my fellow creatives is to understand that there’s no secret formula and that it’s OK if you have to create your own blueprint. It’s going to be more difficult, it may be more stressful, and it may cost you more time, anxiety, and money, but that’s the way to go. Understand that there’s no one formula. I can’t go the path of Jonathan Majors because it was completely different from mine. What you need to do as creatives is to find that formula that works for you and then add in your own personality, add in your own mindset, add in your own way of seeing the world and your art and your creativity. That’s what’s going to really set you apart from other creators, but also for you to be able to create the life that you want.
For(bes) The Culture: When did you give yourself the authority to create the life you want?
Key: When I realized that rest and adventure are part of the equation and not just rewards for the success, that completely changed the way I think, the way I act, the jobs that I take, when I schedule vacations when I schedule mental health days because the life that I want encompasses all of those things. I’m not saying that those things don’t work for other people – they just don’t work for me. I don’t dream of working 24/7 because I understand that experiences and adventures inform my art and my creativity and they also give me the opportunity to network with people who can potentially be a co-star on a television show or even be a client because we were sat next to each other in first class on the way to Paris.
For(bes) The Culture: How do you feel that your upbringing in Rossville, Tennessee, has influenced who you are today?
Key: It is the foundation; I’m a country boy. Most of what I do is centered around service. When I book a job, a percentage is going to service. In my home, we owned our own farm so being with my grandfather, I would deliver food to families who fell on hard times, when people lost loved ones, so that was instilled in me from the very beginning. Being in Rossville and growing up on that farm and being around incredible southerners who love Jesus, but also would rally behind someone if they lost their job taught me a lot. If someone lost their farm, then that means we’re feeding you until you get on your feet and we’re not going to talk about it. That service component is such a huge part of my life and how I get back into the entertainment. I want to be authentic in the roles that I take. I’m working in Hollywood but I don’t want to succumb to certain stereotypes that negatively showcase people and creatives and how the world sees us. Rossville really set the tone for how I see the world and how I live my life.
For(bes) The Culture: You moved to Los Angeles right after college and you’ll be coming up on two decades in a few years. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on your journey to success?
Key: One of the lessons that I learned that has helped me to sustain being in Los Angeles for almost 20 years without going back home is learning myself. Once I learned myself, I started attracting people like me. If I’m around here being fake, if I’m around here trying to be someone else, those are the kind of people that I’m going to attract. It wasn’t until I started being my authentic self, bringing in my country nature, bringing in my love for numbers and being nerdy and mathematical, but also being creative and an artist and also just loving business, like, “Oh, that seems so cool.” I started to attract those people into my life. Those multi-hyphenate, the people who loved acting as much as I do, who are diversified and acting just like myself, those who are an entertainment and business, and then finding out I wasn’t alone. There are people who have the exact same mindset and these are the same people who now feed into my life. These are people who think just like me and act like me, but also bring in their own experiences, their own backgrounds, and their own culture so that I grow and they grow and then we all grow together.
For(bes) The Culture: Longevity is super important in this industry, and you’ve continued to not only sustain your business but continuously flourish as well. Why do you think that is and what would you attribute that to?
Key: I think I have longevity because I know how to pivot and I understand that growth is uncomfortable. Instead of feeling uncomfortable and then shutting down or quitting, I don’t do that, I pivot to what’s next. For example, when I graduated from school, getting my degree in acting, the writer’s strike happened and no one was working, so I pivoted and then started using my degree in mathematics and I started a tutoring company. Once again, I was in my lane. I wasn’t doing something that was stressful, something that was begrudging. I didn’t always know what the outcome would be, but I did what my soul felt was right. We really do have to start embracing that uncomfortable feeling and understanding that’s growth that’s happening, and not running away from it and not shutting down but facing it head-on.
For(bes) The Culture: How do you show yourself grace?
Key: I show myself grace by getting rest. I show myself grace by going and experiencing other creative outlets and not just always focused on my own art, my own talent, my own creativity, but supporting others as well. Also, when I learned how to give other people grace, I then flipped it to learn how to give myself grace. I’m still balancing it and still coming up against some brick walls but I think I’ve gotten a handle on it.
For(bes) The Culture: What is the legacy that you want to leave behind?
Key: The legacy that I want to be behind is a legacy of service, a legacy of building your own blueprint, and a legacy of self-care. I want to leave a legacy of giving, because if people didn’t sacrifice and give for me and to me, I would not be where I am. I want to continue to grab that torch and then pass it on to not only my family members but also my mentees and my friends and my godchildren. The legacy of blueprint, knowing that you create your own blueprint. When you understand that you create your own blueprint doing things that other people may not understand, doing things that no one has ever seen before, it’s OK and honestly, you should expect it. I want when people see me to know that I love myself for who I am. I take care of myself. I want them to understand that it’s okay to take a mental health day, to take a vacation, to travel the world. I want you to really experience as many of God’s creations as possible.