“Just try every day and be willing to sacrifice every day for your happiness.” — Van Lathan, TMZ
Van Lathan may have gotten media hype back in 2018 for famously calling out Kanye West, but his story is so much deeper. The Lousiana native moved to LA with perseverance and a dream. And he hasn’t stopped since.
This year, Lathan hit the RealTalks stage with host Matte Babel to discuss his perspective on racism in America, his struggle with weight, and career obstacles.
After the show, we sat down with Van to dive deeper into his incredible story.
Here’s what he had to say:
What would you say has been your most difficult struggle and how did you overcome it?
“The most difficult struggle I’ve gone through in my career is trying to cut through and figure out the use of my platform. To figure out how I was going to tailor what I wanted to say coming from such a big organization.
You have to surround yourself with people who have done this at a higher level than you. You have to surround yourself with people whose voices matter.
They can tell you when you’re awful at something, they can tell you when you’re pandering, they can tell you when you’re being inauthentic, and they also tell you when you just need to shut up. Learning from people and elders in the business, or even people who are younger than me or people who have had more success than me, more freedom than me has been very, very important to see how they’re doing.”
For someone who has dealt with the crippling feeling of depression and anxiety, what is the best piece of advice you would give someone?
“It’s such a specifically personal thing. There are very few general things that work when it comes to your mental health. And I think, and this is gonna sound really weird: but for me, sometimes its hard to connect with people when you’re in those spaces. But it’s easy to connect with nature.
Grounding–which is as simple as taking your shoes off and walking in the grass. Just something that soothes you.
I once had a therapist tell me something that I never forgot: she’s like ‘How much time do you spend actually looking up at the sky?’ and I’d be like ‘Well, never.’ She’s like, ‘When you’re a kid, for a lot of people, peak happiness, all you do is stare at the sky. All you do is look up and take in how much out there that is bigger than you. But the older you get the more the problems in your life seem to be the only things that you conceive.’
Taking a step back and just experiencing things outside the personal norm, training your body, training your mind, it helps you.
But the one thing that helps more than anything else that anyone going through anxiety or depression, trying. You have to try. What happens when you stop trying is you lose the battle with your mind. And trying means a bunch of things. It means the techniques I outlined, it means therapy, which we all should be doing to correct the trauma in our life. It means indulging into things that make other people happy, serving other people, getting out there and making other people smile, making you smile. But you have to try.
Just try every day and be willing to sacrifice every day for your happiness.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
“I was never one to harbour any hate or distaste for anyone. I’ve never been the guy to be homophobic or transphobic or anything like that. It’s just never been in me. Partly because my sister is a lesbian so it’s not a shock to me.
When I got to LA it was different. For the first time, I started to see outside of my own pain. And I started to see how these ideas affected and hurt other people in their daily lives. I had a very passionate heart-to-heart with a coworker at my previous job. He had just come out to his parents and it did not go the way he wanted it to go. It went the bad way.
Just seeing this human being deal with this for what seemed like six months. Every day watching my homie break down over and over and over again and not being able to talk his dad. It humanized it for me. And I’ve been through some things, some struggles in my life, but people are struggling all over.
And a lot of this stuff that we’re doing is about more than lip service, it’s about people’s lives. I think those are experiences you wouldn’t have in Louisiana because people aren’t as forthright about their truths there. And that’s just a fact. Love my home state, love my home city, but that’s just the way it goes.
I think it’s made me into a person that feels more. And the more you feel the better off you are in the long.”
Are there any fads or myths in the diet or fitness industry that you don’t agree with?
“Yeah, Atkins. I was heavy on Atkin’s when people were like, ‘Yeah man, you can eat as much bacon as you want.’ And I tried that. Didn’t work. The Atkin’s thing was a big deal then and I tried it and it didn’t work.
My prescription for weight loss bums a lot of people out–but it’s just diet and exercises man. And the messed-up part about life is that for me, I might have to for the rest of my life be on a specific regiment to be able to control my weight, so I don’t go crazy. For you guys, it just might not be that way.
I have a homeboy Ian Spooner, who’s the same height as me so almost 6’2 and Ian he’s maybe 165-170 pounds. And he would wake up in the morning and would take 3 honey buns, squish ‘em together and put it in the microwave. And he would eat it like a honeybun pie with some milk. And I’m like, ‘If I even look at one of those honey buns, I gain 5 pounds.’ And it’s just we’re different.
The reality is his body reacts one way, and mine reacts another way. There’s no use crying about it. Come to terms with your body type and really attack your health as a much as a priority as anything else.”
What is your greatest concern regarding the political climate today?
“We don’t have an identity anymore. America is built on such a beautiful, pure idea, but there is not a better idea for life than equality for everyone and a fluid changing all-powerful document that allows us to adjust to the times we live in.
The problem is that everyone’s idea of America, not that it’s different, but crosses with one another. We can all have a different idea of America or an equal idea of a just society. The problem begins when your idea of equal and just society isn’t just different than mine but is the enemy of mine. Or for you to have your society, I can’t have mine. And in order for me to have mine, you can’t have yours.
And even further still, in order for you to have yours, I have to be less than. And I don’t know how we fix it. I don’t know how we fix the fundamental issues that we’re separate on. They’re such fundamental issues that we’re fighting about, and everyone’s got this mentality that it’s life or death and them and us.
It’s concerning for a lot of reasons. It seems like rather than finding ways to come together, everybody is just digging in, and trying to be the side that wins.
I think everyone says about how “divisive” things are and I think that’s a buzzword. But the real problem is that there’s a culture war that’s happening.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. All event photos Camila Herrmann.
Don’t forget to check out our exclusive interview with Matte Babel.
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