Turning misfortune into opportunities
“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”
Let’s face it. Most of us have not been born with a silver spoon in our mouths. We don’t have the cash or opportunities that others might have to achieve our goals. It might seem that way, but if you think of it differently, we all have the opportunity, it just doesn’t come in the same package.
The package may not be as pretty, as expensive or flashy, but the package IS THERE! All we need to do is reach out and grab it. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs have clawed their way out of poverty and the most adverse circumstances. The types of circumstances that will bring most of us to our knees.
What sets these giants apart from the rest of us, is that they had their eye firmly on the prize. So much so, that they couldn’t even see their adversity in their periphery vision. Their goal was the only thing in sight, the only thing they were willing to spend their time and emotions on.
Most of these entrepreneurs faced devastating circumstances and failures. Despite risking everything, and sometimes losing everything (many times more than once), they never lost their confidence and unwavering belief that they will succeed, no matter what.
Turning lemons into lemonade
One of my favorite entrepreneurs of all time had faced a hostile society head on, where little to no opportunities existed. Through sheer determination and unwavering faith, she recognized a gap in the market, took a risk without a second thought, and is now known as the first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire in a time where women were not particularly welcomed in the world of business.
For this one we’re going to travel back to Delta, Louisiana, 1867. Hold onto your hats, this is going to be a good one.
Introducing Madam C.J. Walker
Born Sarah Breedlove, on December 23 1867, she was the first child born into freedom to Owen and Minerva Breedlove, who were slaves on the Robert W. Burney’s Madison Parish plantation. By the age of seven she was orphaned when both her parents died. With only 3 months of formal education, by the age of ten she moved on to Mississippi to become a domestic. Later on in life she took on the harrowing job of laundress, which paid less than a dollar a day, so that she could provide her daughter with the formal education she never had.
She was married three times. Her first marriage was at the age of 14, and her last was to Charles Joseph Walker, from whom she adopted her name.
Turning a problem into an opportunity
Sarah regularly attended the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, where she discussed her severe dandruff and scalp ailments with the ladies at the church. Soon she realized that this was a common problem, particularly among African American women, due to harsh ingredients, such as lye, used in the production of soap.
In the 1800’s soap was the sole hygienic cleansing material, used for body, hair and clothes. There were other contributing factors such as poor diets and irregular hair washing and bathing which contributed to baldness, at a time when most African Americans lacked electricity, indoor plumbing, and heating.
Considering this fact, in the 1890’s, she started experimenting with both home-made and store-bought hair care products to combat the problem. And in 1905 she started working with another inspirational character, Annie Turnbo Malone, also an African American hair care entrepreneur, as a commission agent.
By 1907 she was travelling around the South and South East promoting her home-made products under her own name, putting on a show that she describes as ‘The Walker Method’.
Essentially, she was the first known Avon Lady, decades ahead of her time.
The birth of a giant
By 1908, profits had grown so much that she was able to purchase a factory and a beauty school where she also trained sales beauticians in order to create jobs and expand her business. And in 1910 she established Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
Her sales beauticians became well known as ‘Walker Agents’, and promoted her philosophy of ‘cleanliness and loveliness’, as a means to boost the status of African American women.
Smart and savvy, she not only promoted sales through conventions and clubs, but also educational and philanthropic efforts among African Americans.
A smart, brave and courageous pioneer if ever I’ve seen one.
Beating the odds
Madam C.J Walker is a great example of spotting a problem that no one attempted to fix, taking a risk trying new products, and believing so wholeheartedly in her endeavors that she was a solo operation until people started paying attention.
It takes guts and courage to step out of your comfort zone and into an environment that might not be as pleasant as you would like.
To have confidence in yourself and put yourself out there is not something that happens overnight for most of us.
It took Madam C.J. Walker 10 years to develop her product, and another 10 to build her manufacturing company.
Regardless of how unfortunate your circumstances might be, beating the odds is possible when you possess the mindset of an entrepreneur.
Patience, an unwavering belief in yourself, confidence and courage……..that’s all it takes to beat the odds.
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