“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw
American billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad. shares lessons learned and strategies that made him successful in his six-decade experience of building institutions in the four industries that he had ventured into – Accounting, Real Estate, Retirement Savings and Philanthropy. Eli also narrates his successes and mistakes on his path to greatness and unreasonable which led to building two fortune 500 companies (KB Home and Sun America).
“Over the past six decades, I have had four careers: accounting, homebuilding, retirement savings, and philanthropy. I became the first person to build two Fortune 500 companies from the ground up in two different industries.”
Eli argues that unreasonable thinking can help you achieve goals others may tell you are out of reach, and how to silence the voice of conventional wisdom that too often keeps most of us from attempting to achieve our goals.
“Eli Broad’s life is a great American story, not only because it is a story of hard work and success, but because it’s a story of dreams—of pushing into new frontiers and believing that the impossible can be achieved.” – Michall Bloomberg“Eli Broad’s life is a great American story, not only because it is a story of hard work and success, but because it’s a story of dreams—of pushing into new frontiers and believing that the impossible can be achieved.” – Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City
The inferior man’s reasons for hating knowledge are not hard to discern. He hates it because it is complex— because it puts an unbearable burden on his meager capacity for taking in ideas. Thus his search is always for short cuts. All superstitions are such short cuts. Their aim is to make the unintelligible simple, and even obvious.” – American critic H. L. Mencken
Starting as a college dropout with no family money, Felix created a publishing empire, founded Maxim magazine, and made himself one of the richest people in the UK.
“The bottom line is that if I did it, you can do it. I went from being a pauper—a hippie dropout on welfare living in a crummy room without the proverbial pot to piss in, without even the money to pay the rent, without a clue as to what to do next—to being rich. And I am certainly no business genius, as my rivals will happily and swiftly confirm.” – Felix Dennis
It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life is the story of Armstrong’s journey from inauspicious beginnings through triumph, tragedy, transformation, and transcendence. In 1996, at the prime of his career, Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which later spread to his lungs, abdomen, and brain, and was only given a 40 percent chance of living.
In It’s Not About the Bike, American former professional road racing cyclist, Lance Armstrong reflects on his upbringing, upstart as a triathlete, cycling career, battling and surviving testicular cancer, and coming back to win multiple tour de France competitions.
In Confessions of an Advertising Man, founder of Ogilvy & Mather and “Father of Advertising,” David Ogilvy shares his philosophy, pioneering ideas and strategies for becoming a successful advertising man. Other topics covered include people management, corporate ethics, office politics, and insights for building a successful advertising business.
The confessions of an Advertising Man was first published in 1963, and it is considered as essential reading for advertising students and practitioners.
In The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel, Hungarian-American journalist Kati Marton chronicles the rise and reign of Germany’s first female chancellor, and how this triple outsider—an East German, a scientist, and a woman transformed Germany into the leader of Europe—not just an economic leader but a moral one too—and into an immigrant nation by accepting one million Middle Eastern refugees.
A pastor’s daughter raised in Soviet-controlled East Germany, she spent her twenties working as a research chemist, entering politics only after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And yet within fifteen years, she had become chancellor of Germany and, before long, the unofficial leader of the West.
In Revolution, Emmanuel Macron, the youngest president in the history of France, reveals his personal story and his inspirations and discusses his vision of France and its future in a new world that is undergoing a ‘great transformation’ that has not been known since the Renaissance. He chronicles his journey from his rural upbringing to the role of mentors in his life, key moments and seizing the right opportunities. The book is part biographical and part a manifesto of his vision for a more prosperous and vibrant France.
At the age of 39, Macron became the youngest president in French history.
Emmanuel Macron was born in Amiens on 21 December 1977. He studied philosophy at Paris Nanterre University, a master’s degree in public affairs from Sciences Po ( Paris Institute of Political Studies) and graduated from the École nationale d’administration in 2004.
Macron was elected to a second term in the 2022 presidential election, again defeating Le Pen, thus becoming the first French presidential candidate to win re-election since 2002.
‘Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result’
Barrack and Michelle Obama are one of my favourite living people and couples alive. I love them both for their confidence, journey, inspiration and consistency. I committed to reading their memoirs back to back: A Promise Land (Barrack) and Becoming (Michelle). Reading the former POTUS and FLOTUS biographies made me humanize them, and connect more to their story, struggles, trials and tribulations. Their stories epitomize what it means to dream bigger than their society.
In Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, former Apple employee and co-creator of the iPhone and iPod Tony Fadell shares lessons learned, mistakes made and advice for navigating the roller coaster of creativity. He writes about starting out in business, Joining Phillips as CTO at age 25, failing with General Magic, Joining Apple as a consultant, co-creating the iPhone and iPod, Starting Nest Labs and his life in building life-changing products. Fadell calls the book “An advice encyclopedia. A mentor in a box.”
“I was incredibly lucky to lead the team that made the first eighteen generations of the iPod. Then we got another incredible opportunity—the iPhone. My team created the hardware—the metal and glass that you held in your hand—and the foundational software to run and manufacture the phone. We wrote the software for the touchscreen, the cellular modem, the cell phone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. Then we did it again for the second-generation iPhone. And then again for the third.”
American engineer, designer and entrepreneur Tony Fadell is often referred to as the father of the iPod. He joined Apple in 2001 and served as the Senior Vice President of the iPod and iPhone division. His team was in charge of building the hardware and foundational software for the iPhone and iPod. He left Apple in 2010 to start Nest Labs with Matt Rogers in a garage in Palo Alto.
Career Highlights: Lead software & Hardware Engineer at General Magic, CTO of Phillips at 25, Joined Apple in 2001 as a consultant, his team built the hardware and foundational software for the iPod and iPhone, Started Nest Labs in 2014 with Matt Rogers, Google acquired Nest for 3.2 Billion dollars.
“The day, and it was a day, that writing started to be fun for me, the day things began to really click, was the day I stopped trying to write sentences and started writing stories.”
James Patterson is one of the most prolific writers in the world with over 400 million copies of his books sold. He is also the first person to sell 1 million e-books. In his memoir, he writes about his humble upbringing to becoming the world’s most successful writer. Patterson shares his writing regimen, his life as an advertising professional, golfing with presidents, worldview and thought process. He had always wanted to write the kind of novel that would be read and reread so many times that the binding breaks and the book literally fall apart – so he did.
I wanted to write the kind of novel that was read and reread so many times the binding broke and the book literally fell apart, pages scattered in the wind.
James Patterson by James Patterson is a great book on how one of the most successful writer of a generation does it. Patterson’s strategies include telling stories, outlining and collaborating with co-writers.
I remember where I was on November 4th, 2008, when then-Senator Obama was declared the winner of the 2008 U.S Presidential election, becoming the first African American to become the president of the United States. Obama’s acceptance speech that night made me cry a lot; I had goosebumps hearing him speak and had renewed hope for the future and the power of possibility. The chant of “Yes we can” by those at the Chicago venue made it more inspiring. Obama started the speech with the following lines:
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
I fell in love with Barrack Obama during the 2008 election and I still get goosebumps and teary when I hear him speak. Barrack is one of my favourite living people for his audacity of hope, conviction, sense of purpose and charisma. I took me a while to finish “A promised Land” but it was worth the read.
A Promised Land is Barack Obama’s memoir that focuses on his tenure as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He chronicles his early upbringing, early political campaigns, family life, and his first term as president, and the book ends with the events leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. I love Barrack so much that I bought both the 28-hours audiobook version and the 768 pages paperback version. I bought the book in November 2020 but did not get to reading it till around May-June 2022.
A promised Land is a great book that humanizes Obama and made me respect him more. Barrack writes about the challenges in his personal life, such as trying to deal with his smoking addiction, the rollercoaster challenge of balancing his political career with his marriage and family. He also spoke about how he got into politics as a way to inspire others and make sense of his mixed heritage. Barrack shared insights into the decision-making process of various tough decisions that he had to make as the most powerful man in the world. He describes the highs and lows, joys and frustrations, unpredictability, and tensions and how he navigated it with a sense of calm.
The first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.
A Promised Land – Runaway Bestseller
According to Penguin Random House, the publishers of the memoir: A Promised Land sold more than 3.3 Million units in U.S. and Canada in its first month of publication. International editions have a combined 2.85 million copies in print, bringing the book to 7.55 million copies in print worldwide.
Published on Tuesday, November 17 2020 by Crown, the hardcover U.S. edition of President Obama’s critically acclaimed memoir now has 4.7 million copies in print in the U.S. and Canada, following an initial printing of 3.4 million copies.
Favourite Takeaways from Reading – A Promised Land by Barrack Obama
Seeking Refuge in Books
“Growing up in Indonesia, I’d seen the yawning chasm between the lives of wealthy elites and impoverished masses. I had a nascent awareness of the tribal tensions in my father’s country —the hatred that could exist between those who on the surface might look the same. I bore daily witness to the seemingly cramped lives of my grandparents, the disappointments they filled with TV and liquor and sometimes a new appliance or car. I noticed that my mother paid for her intellectual freedom with chronic financial struggles and occasional personal chaos, and I became attuned to the not-so-subtle hierarchies among my prep school classmates, mostly having to do with how much money their parents had.
And then there was the unsettling fact that, despite whatever my mother might claim, the bullies, cheats, and self-promoters seemed to be doing quite well, while those she considered good and decent people seemed to get screwed an awful lot.
“All of this pulled me in different directions. It was as if, because of the very strangeness of my heritage and the worlds I straddled, I was from everywhere and nowhere at once, a combination of ill-fitting parts, like a platypus or some imaginary beast, confined to a fragile habitat, unsure of where I belonged. And I sensed, without fully understanding why or how, that unless I could stitch my life together and situate myself along some firm axis, I might end up in some basic way living my life alone.”
Mother instilled a reading habit
I didn’t talk to anyone about this, certainly not my friends or family. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings or stand out more than I already did. But I did find refuge in books.
The reading habit was my mother’s doing, instilled early in my childhood—her go-to move anytime I complained of boredom, or when she couldn’t afford to send me to the international school in Indonesia, or when I had to accompany her to the office because she didn’t have a babysitter. Go read a book, she would say. Then come back and tell me something you learned.
Smoking Addiction and quitting
THERE WAS A final stress reliever that I didn’t like to talk about, one that had been a chronic source of tension throughout my marriage: I was still smoking five (or six, or seven) cigarettes a day. It was the lone vice that had carried over from the rebel days of my youth. At Michelle’s insistence, I had quit several times over the years, and I never smoked in the house or in front of the kids. Once elected to the U.S. Senate, I had stopped smoking in public. But a stubborn piece of me resisted the tyranny of reason, and the strains of campaign life—the interminable car rides through cornfields, the solitude of motel rooms—had conspired to keep me reaching for the pack I kept handy in a suitcase or drawer.
After the election, I’d told myself it was as good a time as any to stop—by definition, I was in public just about anytime I was outside the White House residence. But then things got so busy that I found myself delaying my day of reckoning, wandering out to the pool house behind the Oval Office after lunch or up to the third-floor terrace after Michelle and the girls had gone to sleep, taking a deep drag and watching the smoke curl toward the stars, telling myself I’d stop for good as soon as things settled down.
“Sometimes it didn’t matter how good your process was. Sometimes you were just screwed, and the best you could do was have a stiff drink—and light up a cigarette.”
Finally quitting smoking
“Initially, the pool game had also given me an excuse to duck out and have a cigarette on the third-floor landing. Those detours stopped when I quit smoking, right after I signed the Affordable Care Act into law. I’d chosen that day because I liked the symbolism, but I’d made the decision a few weeks earlier, when Malia, smelling a cigarette on my breath, frowned and asked if I’d been smoking. Faced with the prospect of lying to my daughter or setting a bad example, I called the White House doctor and asked him to send me a box of nicotine gum. It did the trick, for I haven’t had a cigarette since. But I did end up replacing one addiction with another: Through the remainder of my time in office, I would chomp on gum ceaselessly, the empty packets constantly spilling out of my pockets and leaving a trail of shiny square bread crumbs for others to find on the floor, under my desk, or wedged between sofa cushions.”
Faced with the prospect of lying to my daughter or setting a bad example, I called the White House doctor and asked him to send me a box of nicotine gum.
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.
success is not what you do on your own; it’s how many people have come along with you to reach higher than their expectations ever were.
In Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, Canadian hotelier Isadore Sharp shared his life experience and the business philosophy that help him build one of the world’s biggest hotel chains: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts,
In Finding Me: A Memoir, American actress Viola Davis chronicles her roller-coaster journey from growing up in abject poverty to Hollywood fame. Viola is deeply personal, vulnerable, reflective, funny and emotional about the path she took from being a scared young girl to becoming one of the most influential actresses of her generation. I am a super fan of How to Get Away with Murder, a legal thriller in which Viola stars as Annalise Keating, a law professor; the series is one of the few television shows that I followed religiously when it was airing. I teared up a lot reading Finding Me by Viola Davis as I could connect to her story of growing up in poverty, dealing with childhood trauma, family drama, struggle, determination and eventual triumph.
Success is absolutely wonderful, but it’s not who you are. Who you are is measured by something way more abstract and emotional, ethereal, than outward success.
Finding Me is one of the most inspiring autobiographies have ever read and I would recommend it to anyone that is feeling broken, doubting their greatness, and trying to find their place in the world. Viola shares her struggles of living in abject poverty as a child, her father’s alcoholism and violence towards her mum, bed wetting till 14, sexual abuse and childhood trauma, her healing journey, finding love, hysterectomy, child adoption, and family drama, Hollywood fame, among others.
When you haven’t had enough to eat, when your electricity and heat are cut off, you’re not afraid when someone says life is going to be hard. The fear factor was minimized for me. I already knew fear. My dreams were bigger than the fear.
Viola Davis is an award-winning actress who is the only African-American to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting – a term used in the American entertainment industry to describe actors who have won a competitive Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award in the acting categories.
I was still that little, terrified, third-grade Black girl. And though I was many years and many miles away from Central.Falls, Rhode Island, I had never stopped running. My feet just stopped moving.
Competitiveness as a tool
“I was being bullied constantly. This was one more piece of trauma I was experiencing—my clothes, my hair, my hunger, too—and my home life being the big daddy of them all. The attitude, anger, and competitiveness were my only weapons. My arsenal. And when I tell you I needed every tool of that arsenal every day, I’m not exaggerating.”
Memories are immortal. They’re deathless and precise. They have the power of giving you joy and perspective in hard times. Or, they can strangle you. Define you in a way that’s based more in other people’s tucked-up perceptions than truth.
At the age of twenty-eight, I woke up to the burning fact that my journey and everything I was doing with my life was about healing that eight-year-old girl. That little third grader Viola who I always felt was left defeated, lying prostrate on the ground. I wanted to go back and scream to the eight-year-old me, “Stop running!”
“I wanted to heal her damage, her isolation. That is, until a therapist a few years ago asked me, “Why are you trying to heal her? I think she was pretty tough. She survived.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was speechless. What? No poor “little chocolate” girl from Central Falls? She’s a survivor?
He leaned forward as if to tell me the biggest secret, or to solve the biggest obstacle of my existence.
“Can you hug her? Can you let her hug YOU?” he asked. “Can you let her be excited about the fifty-three-year-old she is going to become? Can you allow her to squeal with delight at that?”
“ The destination is finding a home for her. A place of peace where the past does not envelop the Viola of NOW, where I have ownership of my story.”
As a child, I felt my call was to become an actress. It wasn’t. It was bigger than that. It was bigger than my successes. Bigger than expectations from the world. It was way bigger than myself, way bigger than anything I could have ever imagined. It was a full embracing of what God made me to be. Even the parts that had cracks and where the molding wasn’t quite right. It was radical acceptance of my existence without apology and with ownership.
As much as I try to chisel into MaMama to get at the core of who she is, I never can. There are decades of suppressed secrets, trauma, lost dreams and hopes. It was easier to live under that veil and put on a mask than to slay them.
My maternal grandparents, Mozell and Henry Logan, like the other sharecroppers, had a one-room house with a big fireplace. Their daughter, MaMama, the oldest of eighteen children, left school after the eighth grade because she got pregnant, but also because she was beaten a lot in school. I mean beaten to where it broke skin and she bled.
My mother pushed on with her life, nonetheless. She was married and had her first child, my brother, John Henry, at age fifteen. She had my sister Dianne when she was eighteen, Anita at nineteen, Deloris at twenty, and me at twenty-two. Years later, at age thirty-four, she had my sister Danielle.
“Unlike my mother, my father was a simpler man. Dan Davis was born in 1936 in St. Matthews, South Carolina. As far as I know, he had two sisters. For the life of me I can’t remember, but he had, I believe, a poor relationship with his stepfather, whose last name was Duckson.
Abuse elicits so many memories of trauma that embed themselves into behavior that is hard to shake. It could be something that happened forty years ago, but it remains alive, present.
“My older sister Dianne retells a story of my mom and dad having a fight outside. My dad was screaming, “Mae Alice! You want me to stay or leave? Tell me? You want me to stay or go?” My sister was sending telepathic messages in her mind, Please tell him to go! Tell him to go, Mama! But MaMama just screamed, “I want you to stay!” It was a choice that had resounding repercussions.
I had two parents who were running away from bad memories. Both had undiscovered dreams and hopes. Neither had tools to approach the world to find peace or joy. MaMama worked sporadically in factories and was a gambler.
My father was an alcoholic and would disappear for months at a time when we were really young. He always came back, but by the time I was five I never remember him leaving for any long periods of time. Only later did I realize he was numbing, which is absolutely without question an understandable solution to dealing with a fucked-up world. Then, he would come back, from who knows where, and beat MaMama. Lashing out instead of lashing in.
He loved me. That I know. But his love and his demons were fighting for space within, and sometimes the demons won.
“I had to stand up to my father, the authority figure. The one who should be taking the glass from ME, teaching ME right from wrong. The most frightening figure in my life and the first man we all ever loved. Frightening?
Without knowing, I had already been imprinted, stamped by their behavior and all that they were. As much as I wanted my life to be better, the only tools I had to navigate the world were given to me by them. How they talked. How they fought. How my mom made concessions. How they loved and who they loved shaped me. If I didn’t bust out of all that, would this exhaustion and depletion be what I would feel after every fight in my life, even the small ones?”
As much as I wanted my life to be better, the only tools I had to navigate the world were given to me by them.
On Poverty – Poor vs Po
“We were “po.” That’s a level lower than poor. I’ve heard some of my friends say, “We were poor, too, but I just didn’t know it until I got older.” We were poor and we knew it. There was absolutely no disputing it. It was reflected in the apartments we lived in, where we shopped for clothes and furniture—the St. Vincent de Paul—the food stamps that were never enough to fully feed us, and the welfare checks. We were “po.” We almost never had a phone. Often, we had no hot water or gas. We had to use a hot plate, which increased the electric bill. The plumbing was shoddy, so the toilets never flushed.
You know, when you’re poor, you live in an alternate reality. It’s not that we have problems different from everyone else, but we don’t have the resources to mask them. We’ve been stripped clean of social protocol. There’s an understanding that everyone is trying to survive and who is going to get in the way of that?
Actually, I don’t ever remember toilets working in our apartments. I became very skilled at filling up a bucket and pouring it into the toilet to flush it. And with our gas constantly being cut off because of nonpayment, we would either go unwashed or would just wipe ourselves down with cold water. And even the wiping down was a chore because we were often without towels, soap, shampoo. . . . I damn sure didn’t know the difference between a washcloth and a bath towel.
“Even on the best days, we never had the right size shoes or clothes. A lot of times, we couldn’t even find socks. We almost never had clothes that were new. Every once in a while, we would go to Zayre’s, a clothing store like J.C. Penney back in the day, and get something on layaway.”
The Paradigm Shift
Viola’s elder sister gave the advice that changed her outlook and sowed the seed for greatness in her. Dianne looked around at the disheveled apartment and said:
“Viola, you don’t want to live like this when you get older, do you?” she asked in a whisper. She didn’t want my mom to hear. “No, Dianne.”
“You need to have a really clear idea of how you’re going to make it out if you don’t want to be poor for the rest of your life. You have to decide what you want to be. Then you have to work really hard,” she whispered.”
“I remember thinking, I just want candy. I couldn’t understand the abstract. I was too young. But something I didn’t have the words for, yet could feel, shifted inside me. “What do I want to be?” The first seed had been planted. Was there a way out?
Achieving, becoming “somebody,” became my idea of being alive. I felt that achievement could detox the bad shit. It would detox the poverty. It would detox the fact that I felt less-than, being the only Black family in Central Falls. I could be reborn a successful person. I wanted to achieve more than what my mother had.
“From age five, because of Dianne, re-creation and reinvention and redefinition became my mission, although I could not have articulated it. She simply was my supernatural ally.”
“We were just ensnared in the trap of abuse. The constantly being beaten down so much makes you begin to feel that you’re wrong. Not that you did wrong, but you were wrong. It makes you so angry at your abuser, the one that you’re too afraid to confront, so you confront the easiest target. Those you can. Until your heart gets tired. No one ever, up until that point, talked to us, asked us what our dreams were, asked us how we were feeling. It was on us to figure it out.”
There is an emotional abandonment that comes with poverty and being Black. The weight of generational trauma and having to fight for your basic needs doesn’t leave room for anything else. You just believe you’re the leftovers.
“In my child’s mind, I was the problem. I would retreat to the bathroom, put something against the door so no one would come in, and I’d sit for an inordinate amount of time staring at my fingers and hands and try to erase everything in my mind. I wished I could elevate out of my body. Leave it.”
Dreaming away their problem
“We dreamed away our problems. When Dad was drunk or there was turmoil, my sister Deloris and I would disappear into the bedroom and become “Jaja” and “Jagi,” rich, white Beverly Hills matrons, with big jewels and little Chihuahuas. We would play this game for hours. “Ooh my, Jaja,” Jagi would say, “I bought this fabulous house and my husband bought me this beautiful diamond ring.” We played with such detail that it became transcendent.”
Childhood Sexual Abuse
“We were left with older boys, neighbors who would “babysit” us and unzip their pants while playing horsey with us. My three sisters and I (Danielle wasn’t born yet) were often left unsupervised with my brother in our apartment—sexual curiosity would cross the line. He would chase us. We would lose. And eventually other inappropriate behavior occurred that had a profound effect. I compartmentalized much of this at the time. I stored it in a place in my psyche that felt safely hidden. By hiding it I could actually pretend it didn’t happen. But it did!”
Once again more secrets. Layers upon layers of deep, dark ones. Trauma, shit, piss, and mortar mixed with memories that have been filtered, edited for survival, and entangled with generational secrets. Somewhere buried underneath all that waste lives me, the me fighting to breathe, the me wanting so badly to feel alive.
Deloris, Anita, Dianne, and I were sexually abused. There was penetration with Anita and Dianne. Me and Deloris were touched.
School as a coping mechanism
School was our salvation. We coped by excelling academically. We loved learning. We didn’t want to end up in the same situation as our parents, worrying where the next meal was coming from. School was also our haven. We stayed late, participating in sports, music, drama, and student government. My sisters and I became overachievers, even in areas that didn’t interest us.
Fathers constant violence
“If I got two hours of full sleep, I was lucky. We’d be awakened by a scream, a screech. The only hope, the only blessing, was the fight that didn’t last long. But sometimes their conflicts would last all night or night after night, for days. If it lasted all night, we did not sleep. Imagine your father beating your mom with a two-by-four piece of wood, slamming it on her back, the screams for help, the screams of anger and rage. That trauma would keep me up at night and make me fall asleep in class.”
We were trained in the art of keeping secrets and we never, ever shared with anyone what went on in our home.
Eventually, I received a full ride to college with the Preparatory Enrollment Program scholarship. PEP, as we called it, was the sister program of Upward Bound. I started in a familiar place, Rhode Island College, and space, housing in the same all-girls dormitory—Browne Hall—where I’d spent summers in high school and visited my sister Deloris during the school year. I went into college at seventeen, and like a lot of kids, I wasn’t mature, but I definitely thought I was.
Even though my mom and dad didn’t go to college—didn’t finish high school—Dianne had driven it into us that We. Were. Going. To. College. She instilled in us that if we did not have a college degree, if we did not find something to do, if we did not focus, if we did not have drive, we were going to be like our parents. I felt if I did not go to college, if I did not get a degree, if I was not excellent, then my parents’ reality would become my own. There was no gray area. Either you achieved or you failed.
Working hard is great when it’s motivated by passion and love and enthusiasm. But working hard when it’s motivated by deprivation is not pleasant.
My last year, I went on national student exchange to California Polytechnic University in Pomona. I went because I wanted to get out of Rhode Island, out of the cold winters. I just wanted a different scene. The greatest surprise of my life is that in one semester, I flourished. I performed in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, a George Bernard Shaw play. I was a part of an improv group. I took a life-changing public speaking class. I did very well academically and made wonderful friends. It was the first time I got a weave, which was a big deal back in the day. At the time, I felt cute; real cute. I kept that damn weave in until string was hanging down my shoulder.
“Manifestation has always been a part of my life. Either getting on my knees physically or praying silently. And God intervened. In my second year, Juilliard was offering a $2,500 scholarship for any student who wanted to do a summer program that opened them up as artists, helped with their growth, unleashed something within. We had to write a five-page essay explaining it. I wrote that I was lost. That there was no way to unleash passion when you were asked to perform material that not only didn’t touch your heart but wasn’t written for you. I told them of the burden and myopic scope of Eurocentric training. I got the scholarship.”
Pride in Africa
“Africa made me giddy with joy. Every smell, sound, color affected my senses in a passionate way. No shade of yellow or green or blue was the same. Fabric artists made the dye themselves. They would then make lapas, kufi (hats), grad boo boos (muumuus). Beautiful dark skin was unapologetically darkened by the sun. Every child had many women who would mother them. The ease in which people served each other. The kinky, curly hair, the complexity of the rituals, the numerous different languages.”
Stop making love to something that’s killing you.
The Vicissitudes of Life
There is absolutely no way whatsoever to get through this life without scars. No way!! It’s a friggin’ emotional boxing ring, and either you go one round, four rounds, or forty rounds, depending on your opponent. And by God, if your opponent is you . . . you will go forty. If it’s God, you’ll barely go one because Big Daddy has rope-a-dope down! He’s a shape-shifter. You think you’re fighting him, screaming, punching, begging him for help. And he leaves you with . . . YOU.
Acting : 95% Unemployment Rate
Here’s the truth. If you have a choice between auditioning for a great role over a bad role, you are privileged. That means not only do you have a top agent who can get you in, you are at a level that you would be considered for it. Our profession at any given time has a 95 percent unemployment rate. Only 1 percent of actors make $50,000 a year or more and only 0.04 percent of actors are famous, and we won’t get into defining famous.
The 0.04 percent are the stories you read about in the media. “Being picky,” “dropping agents,” making far less than male counterparts. Never having any regrets in terms of roles they’ve taken. Yada, yada, yada.
Luck is an elusive monster who chooses when to come out of its cave to strike and who will be its recipient. It’s a business of deprivation.
For every one actor who makes it to fame there are fifty thousand more who did exactly the same things, yet didn’t make it. Most of the actors I went with to Juilliard, Rhode Island College, Circle in the Square Theatre, the Arts Recognition Talent Search competition are not in the business anymore. I think I can name six, and many, you wouldn’t even know. It doesn’t speak to their talent, it speaks to the nature of the business. Trust me when I say most were beautiful and talented, and some had incredible agents. It’s an eenie, meenie, miny, mo game of luck, relationships, chance, how long you’ve been out there, and sometimes talent.
You get auditions based on the level you are at. It’s hard to see when your journey to the top had more ease, but in reality, there is no ease. You do what the lucky person did, you have a 99 percent chance of it not ever happening for you.
When you’re making maybe $600 a week and you’re working more than anyone else in the family, they’ll ask for $20, $25. When you’re on Broadway, they’ll ask for $100 and $200. Family starts counting your money because they always feel like you’re making more than you are. Later, it starts getting into the territory of “Buy me a house. Buy me a car.” If you’re not careful, you will go under, because the need is too great, too consistent.
Lack of Boundaries – Inabilities to say NO
“Their burden became my burden. I didn’t know how to say no to requests for food, money, payment for utilities. The needs were so great and began to escalate. I didn’t know that my brother’s problems were not my problems. I had created a life for myself and I would ask God constantly, When do I get to enjoy it fully? Plus, I simply didn’t have the money.”
An actor’s work is to be an observer of life. My job is not to study other actors, because that is not studying life. As much as I can, I study people. If you’re my audience, it’s not my job to give you a fantasy. It is my job to give you yourself. In people there is an infinite box of different types, different situations, different behaviors. Those types contradict perceptions. They tear down preconceived notions. They are as complicated and vast as the galaxy itself.
Annalise Keating character changing Viola
Annalise Keating released in me the obstacles blocking me from realizing my worth and power as a woman. Before that, I created a story. Sometimes stories are straight-up lies that you make up because you want what you remember to be different. Sometimes a story is simply how YOU saw that event, how you internalized it. And sometimes the truth simply is. Simply straight-up fact. I was erasing that made-up story. I decided it was time to tell my story, as I remember it, my truth.
All I’ve got is me. And that is enough.
Your depth of understanding of yourself is equal to the depth of understanding a character. We are after all observers of life. We are after all a conduit, a channeler of people. What you haven’t resolved in your life can absolutely become an obstacle in the work that you do.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.
Four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion and world record holder Chrissie Wellington OBE chronicles her rise in the triathlon world and the roller coaster of long distance endurance running. Chrissie holds the world record for Ironman distance (8hrs, 18 mins) and she is the only triathlete, male or female, to have won the World Championship less than a year after turning professional.
The Ironman Triathlon.
Every October, the World Championships of the sport are held in Kona on the Island of Hawaii. An ironman is the longest distance of triathlon – a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on the bike, and then you run a marathon.
“In an ironman, even the world’s best face a challenge just to finish.”
Indian-American business executive Indra Nooyi was named PepsiCo CEO in 2006 making her the first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company. In My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future, Indra chronicles her journey from growing up in India, going to America to school, lessons she learned on her way to leading a fortune 500 company, the challenge of being a woman leader in corporate America, managing work-life balance and leading with the heart.
Indra is one of my favorite business leaders, she seems sincere, authentic, and vulnerable.
In 2009, Ursula became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Xerox Corporation. In her memoir, Where You Are Is Not Who You Are, Ursula chronicles her story of growing up in poverty, being an outsider most of her life, her career trajectory, and the lessons learned leading a fortune 500 company as a black woman.
Burns writes about her journey from tenement housing on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to the highest echelons of the corporate world. She credits her success to her poor single Panamanian mother, Olga Racquel Burns—a licensed child-care provider whose highest annual income was $4,400—who set no limits on what her children could achieve. Ursula recounts her own dedication to education and hard work, and how she took advantage of the opportunities and social programs created by the Civil Rights and Women’s movements to pursue engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York.