Jun. 4 2020
Molly Burke and her service dog, Gallop, are leading the way for brighter days. The 26-year-old YouTuber has almost 2 million followers, and regularly uses her platform to educate young women about blindness and ableism… and to film herself skydiving, skiing, and experimenting with makeup. (Because sometimes, purple lipstick feels scarier than jumping out of a plane.)
In addition to her YouTube channel, Molly is an author, model, and speaker who has shared the stage with Demi Lovato and collaborated with Malala Yousafzai. We spoke with her about the challenges of creating visual content without actually seeing it, how she measures success, and what she does after a long day.
How did you get into YouTube?
So I’ve been on YouTube for almost six years. Before that, I was a full-time motivational speaker from the ages of 18 to 20. My passion was education—breaking barriers and stereotypes—and talking about uncomfortable or “taboo” topics like bullying, accessibility, diversity, mental health, and making people feel comfortable as who they are. When I chose to leave that job and start my own public speaking career, I knew I wouldn’t be as busy and I wanted a creative outlet that would let me continue doing what I was passionate about.
What made you choose to leave your job for YouTube?
When I left my job, I told them, “I can only give what I have, and I feel like everything has been taken.” I really felt so drained from everything I had done over those two years. I had been speaking 10 times a week; it was incredibly intense. My record was 8 airplanes in 10 days. When I left, I just needed space and time to separate what I did from who I am. If you look up any article written about me at the time, it’s like, “Blind and Bullied Girl,” and it was like, “Is that who I am?” No. But it felt like that was all people knew of me.
What are the challenges of creating content on a visual platform as a blind person?
At first, everything about it felt challenging because I can’t edit my own videos. I can’t pick out my own thumbnail. I can’t do any of the visual side of content. And that stuff never meant anything to me… I never clicked on a video because of a thumbnail or because of editing transitions. So for me, it took many years to really understand that stuff does matter to people. And to learn how to, as a blind person, have my own creative freedom and create an identity and find my own style, without actually seeing it. And I had to rely on other people to make that come to fruition.
In the beginning, how did you film and edit your videos? Did your family help?
My family was terrified when I said I wanted to start a YouTube channel. Because I had a very successful career and pristine image, and they didn’t want me to ruin my career. I asked them to trust me and my journey. And they said, “We don’t want anything to do with it, but we also can’t stop you because you’re an adult.” So they supported me from a distance and didn’t watch my videos for the first three years. My mom would just come into my room, focus the camera, hit record and walk away. At the time, my boyfriend would edit my videos. He was a college student and so sweet and so dedicated to helping me even though he had nothing to do with social media.
What’s something you wish more people knew about creating content?
I think every creator faces the same barrier of the “it’s not a real job” mentality. I wish people could see how much work it takes. I had to have that very real conversation with my manager [saying], “You don’t understand that a 15-second TikTok can take 5 hours.” And that’s a challenge all creators face… and yes, it’s a really fun job that comes with a lot of perks, but it’s still a job.
You started your channel when you were 20, which is considered “old” in the YouTube world. Do you still feel like you grew up online?
I grew up online in terms of being a viewer. I found YouTube when I was 13 or 14 and it started with the funny cat videos, and then music covers and then the beauty and lifestyle community. But I honestly feel very grateful that although I wanted to start a channel at 16… that I waited until I was almost 21 to actually start my channel because I think a lot of the things I felt and thought when I was 16 aren’t true to who I am at 26. I feel lucky that I did my own growing and maturing offline and started when I was emotionally ready to start.
Do you ever wish you had started your channel earlier?
I’m glad I waited until I was more confident, and whole as an individual, and at peace with myself before I opened up and exposed myself to other people’s opinions. For example, when I first started going blind and people told me I was “faking it,” it devastated me. It broke me. It felt so invalidating to my pain. But once… people accused me of faking it on YouTube, I just laughed. If I had made a channel at 16 when I hadn’t fully grieved my vision loss, it would have kept me in a broken cycle, and kept me feeling jaded and guarded. I always tell people don’t start when you want to, start when you’re ready to.
How has living your life so publicly affected your approach to self-care?
My own mental health is number one. I have done my own growth and self love journey, so I am able to say that I don’t care what others think. I am not validated by other people’s words. I am validated by my own words and affirmations. I tell all my friends, all my family and followers the number one thing to invest your time, money, and energy into is your own health. And that’s mental and physical. If you don’t have your health, you cannot enjoy anything that comes after.
What does that actually look like for you?
So I choose not to look at my numbers. And that’s really crazy in this industry. People are so numbers focused and ultimately you do need to have those views and likes to be successful in a certain way. When I say to creators I don’t look at my view or follower count, they’re always like, “Are you insane? I look at mine constantly.” But that’s exactly why I don’t do it, because it’s addicting and consuming.
So how do you measure success?
I want my worth to be what I give the world. So I let my team worry about my numbers, and they know how to approach me if my numbers are dipping or if something is going wrong. They say to me, “Hey, how can we pivot content?” Or, “Let’s think of thumbnail strategy differently now.” If I hit a milestone, they’ll let me know.
What’s the best part of being online for you?
I found myself online. When my first guide dog Gypsie died, I didn’t know a single person who had lost their guide dog before, because I was the first of all my blind friends to get a guide dog, so I was the first to lose her. And I found a Facebook group, and suddenly had support from all around the world. You can’t trade that.
Quick: what’s your favorite thing to do after a long day?
A bath with a bath bomb and maybe a nice glass of wine (or maybe a cup of tea, depending on where I’m at in life).