As a child, my parents always taught me the importance of self-reinvention. When faced with obstacles, we have two choices on how to react: feel defeated or learn from them and bounce back even stronger. Obviously, the latter is what we should all strive for. The following ‘rags to riches’ stories are about those who chose not to be limited by obstacles and adversities. In the words of Lauryn Hill, they went from ‘Hopeless to Hope Road’.
I really don’t believe in “ranking” folks on their ‘level of inspiration’, so I’ve just created a collection of amazing individuals with great stories: Oprah, J.K. Rowling, Ralph Lauren, John Paul DeJoria, Jay-Z, Chris Gardner, Ursula Burns, Liz Murray and Tyler Perry. Each story may make speak to each person differently, but they all share the same overall message, IT’S NOT HOW YOU START. IT’S HOW YOU FINISH!!! Enjoy.
“The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”
Oprah was born into poverty rural Mississippi. By the age of nine, she had been sexually abused by her cousin, uncle and family friend. At thirteen, she ran away from home, and by fourteen she became pregnant. Her premature child died shortly after childbirth. Shortly thereafter, Oprah was sent to live with her father in Tennessee where she landed her first radio gig. The rest is history. She’s now an all around media mogul, multi-billionaire, philanthropist and cool ass woman! GO O!!!
“Destiny is a name often given in retrospect to choices that had dramatic consequences.”
JK Rowling was born in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. She always shared a passion for writing, but never really pursued it. Unfortunately, after her mother passed in 1990 and a failed marriage in 1993, things really went down hill for JK. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and often contemplated suicide. JK was unemployed and began living on welfare. Ironically, in this time of great hardship, she began pursuing her passion. She was able to write and complete her first Harry Potter novel. Today, J.K. Rowling is worth about $1.1 billion and has sold over 400 million books! (Not to mention the extreme success of the Harry Potter movies!)
“People ask how can a Jewish kid from the Bronx do preppy clothes? Does it have to do with class and money? It has to do with dreams.”
Son of Russian immigrants, Ralph Lifshitz, was born and raised in the Bronx where he shared a bedroom with two of his brothers. By age 12, he worked after school to help pay for his expensive taste in clothes. In school, he was known by his classmates for selling ties to fellow students. He attended a city college for two years, but dropped out to enlist the Army. After his Army service, he worked for Brooks Brothers as a salesman. In 1967, he opened a necktie store with a $50,000 loan and launched Polo Fashions. Ralph Lauren now has a net worth of about $5 billion.
“The Homeless Billionaire”
You may have never heard of John Paul DeJoria, but you’ve definitely heard of his most popular products: Paul Mitchell hair care and Patron tequila. John was born and raised in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. As a child, he sold cards and newspapers to help support his single mother. She later sent him to foster care when she couldn’t support him. After high school and breif service in the navy, DeJoria landed a job at Redken Laborities. There, he learned about the world of hair care. He later joined forces with hair stylist Paul Mitchell to begin John Paul Mitchell Systems with a $700 loan. During the first year of business, he lived mostly in his car, pushing hair care products door-to-door. After a while of gorilla style sales and market, success eventually came. He later pioneered the high-end tequila marketing with Patron distillery. Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at about $4 billion. (Personally, I think he’s even more awesome because he ‘chucks deuces’ in every picture! haha..)
“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”
Raised in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, NY, Jay-Z underwent some tough times after his father abandoned him and his family. Without a man in the house, he turned to the streets for monetary support. Despite these tough times, he always retained a love for music. According to his mother, Gloria Carter, Jay-Z used to wake his siblings up at night banging drum patterns on the kitchen table. Eventually, she bought him a boom box. He began writing lyrics and freestyling. (The rest is history) He later co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records and Rocawear, ran Def Jam Records, gained stakes in the New Jersey Nets, Carol’s Daughter and many other businesses. Forbes estimates his net worth at $450 million.
“Marching to the sound of your own drum is one thing, but I’m talking about having your own band.”
If you’ve ever seen “The Pursuit of Happyness”, you already know Chris’s story! In the early 1980′s, Chris was homeless on the streets of San Francisco with a young son. Determined to make it as a stockbroker, he took a position as a trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds. During his training program, Chris and his son slept in parks and public restrooms. Through hard work and determination, Chris landed a job as a stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds. In 1987, Gardner started his own brokerage firm in Chicago. His estimated net worth is $65 million. …I know that’s right!!
“My perspective comes in part from being a New York Black lady, in part from being an engineer. I know I’m smart and have opinions worth being heard.”
Ursula Burns grew up on New York City’s Lower East Side. As a child, Ursula’s mother constantly motivated her saying things like ”Where you are is not who you are.” Her mother ran an at-home day care center in order to afford to send Ursula to Catholic school. While in school, her teachers told her that she would be a great teacher or nurse. Thankfully, she didn’t take their advice. In the summer of 1980, Ursula took a summer internship at Xerox. She gradually progressed up the corporate ladder to become the CEO. Ursula Burns is first African-American woman to run a Fortune 500 company. Good for her!!
“I knew at that moment I had to make a choice… I could submit to everything and live a life of excuses, or I could push myself… I could push myself and make my life good…”
Liz Murray is definitely not a name you hear everyday, but her story is definitely an incredible one. Liz was born in the Bronx, New York. She was the daughter of two HIV-infected parents. At the age of 15, Liz’s mother lost her battle with AIDS and her father moved into a homeless shelter. Homeless and alone, Liz found herself living on the streets, eating from dumpsters and finding shelter on all-night subway routes. Miraculously, she was accepted by the Humanities Preparatory School in Greenwich Village. She did her homework in subway stations and stairwells. Because she started high school late, at age 17, she doubled her course load and graduated in 2 years. Liz received a New York Times scholarship for needy students and was accepted to Harvard. Today, she is an author an inspirational speaker.
“It doesn’t matter if a million people tell you what you can’t do, or if ten million tell you no. If you get one yes from God that’s all you need.”
Tyler Perry’s childhood was a very troubled one. He faced extreme physical abuse from his father. He was also a victim of sexual abuse by four different people. In 1992, inspired by Oprah Winfrey, Tyler started writing some soul-searching letters to himself as an emotional release. These journal entries ultimately served as the basis for his first play, entitled I Know I’ve Been Changed. In 2009, Forbes rated Tyler the sixth highest paid man in Hollywood.
© 2011, Brandon Wyche. All rights reserved.