Nothing starts without a vision. Whether it’s building a house or building a dream, it all starts with a vision. Take a moment to close your eyes for a minute. Think about that vision you have for yourself. Maybe you dream of owning your own business. Maybe you have an idea that will make life easier for you and your Soldiers. Maybe your dream is as simple as earning that degree you’d always promised yourself you’d get.
Now, as you open your eyes, think about what you will have to do to make your vision a reality. What sacrifices will you have to make? Who will you need to surround yourself with? Who might you need to let go?
Now how many of you had a few scary thoughts enter their minds?
Anytime you make the decision to follow your dreams, it’s going to be scary. When I became a published author four years ago, all I knew was that I wanted to write. It had been my dream since I penned my first book at 12 years old. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize all the hard work that went into chasing my dreams. I had no idea how publishing worked, and I knew even less about promoting a book. Yes, I had my book in my hands, but where would I get the money to market it? How was I going to convince bookstores to take a chance on me? Who was I to think I could I compete with the likes of Eric Jerome Dickey, John Gresham and Terry McMillan?
When I did my first book signing for Cheatin’ in the Next Room, I thought I had it made. I was in my hometown of New Orleans, armed with my sister and my best friend. While I sat at the table, they campaigned for me and convinced people to come buy this new novel that they’d never heard of. I signed 14 books that day and sold six extra to the store for them to place on their shelves. I just knew I was on my way!
But soon, reality hit. I began doing signings outside of my hometown. People didn’t know me in some of those cities. I had some great signings and made some invaluable CONTACT, but for as many successes as I had, I also had some disappointments. A few stores wouldn’t let me sign there. Some bookstores let me come out, knowing they didn’t have much business to begin with. And some stores had business, but their customers mistook me for an employee and asked me where the Zane books were!
Yet, I knew I had to keep pushing forward. God had blessed me with a talent and a vision, and I owed it to him and myself to see it through because we know what happens when we bury our talents. I had to continue to remind myself that nothing in life comes easily. If it did, I would have been an author long before 2004! I also had to remind myself of the successes I’d achieved in my short time in the literary world. I had become the first African American author to sign with Jada Press Publishing. Although I’m no longer with that company, I owe them a great deal for getting my foot into the literary door. I’d sold 1,000 books in less than a year. Although that wasn’t near the number other mainstream authors had sold, when I was a single parent Soldier on a shoestring budget having to beg bookstores to shelve my book, I knew I had accomplished something. I’d also attracted the attention of a major publisher after only a few months in the business. I didn’t sign with them right away, but God has a timetable unlike our own. That company, Urban Soul Books, is the publisher who is putting my second novel, A Dead Rose, into the national market this July.
My story isn’t any different from many women following their dreams. I have met so many people who’ve told me they have aspirations to write, or draw, or teach or preach, but something’s stopped them. Maybe it was a lack of funds, a lack of support, or a lack or drive, but take it from one of the biggest procrastinators in the world, if you want it, work toward it. Think about it.
Had Helen Gurley Brown feared what people would think, she would never have revived Cosmopolitan Magazine, one of the most successful publications in the world. Had Alice Walker not seen past her sharecropper roots, it’s very possible that she would not have become one of the greatest voices in feminist fiction.
And maybe you won’t achieve the crazy success those women gained. So what? Are you doing what’s in your heart? If you are, you’ve already succeeded. Ask Zora Neale Hurston, who died penniless despite a privileged education and penning the classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Talk with Suzette La Flesche, the daughter of an Army surgeon who grew up on an Omaha reservation and fought much of her adult life for justice and equal rights for Native Americans, or Joan Baez, who uses her gift of song to promote peace in the Middle East and Latin America.
Think about women like Clara Barton, whose vision led her to begin the American Red Cross, or Susan B. Anthony, whose vision spawned the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.
If you need more recent examples of women who made things happen, think about comedienne Monique, who couldn’t find designer clothes in her size, so she designed her own, and in the process, made it possible for full-figured women to feel beautiful. Have a conversation with Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, who each rose above the stereotype of the model to produce their own television shows that have opened the door for countless models and designers of varying nationalities, shapes and sizes. And who can forget the likes of Condoleezza Rice, the first African American female secretary of state, and Hillary Clinton, the first woman with a real chance of being president? Whether you agree with their views or not, these young girls from the south have turned history upside down! And speaking of young, consider Maya Lin, who at only 21 years old, designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She later went on to design the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. I guess age really is just a number!
There are women across the world from whom we can draw our inspiration. And they all have one thing in common—a vision. I’m sure they each had their share of people who told them they couldn’t do it. Even after they achieved their success, a voice in the backs of their heads probably told them they weren’t good enough. But they followed their visions anyway. And today, I encourage you to do the same thing. It won’t be easy, and there will be times when you’ll question yourself, but just think how rewarding life would be if you can honestly say, “I did it.” And if you stick with it, the good times will far outweigh the bad. I’m living proof of that.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.