Read an Excerpt
When I arrived in this country from Cuba as a little girl, the United States had just come through the women’s movement of the 1960s. Gloria Steinem, the inspirational activist and founder of Ms. magazine, was its iconic leader. Of course, as a child learning how to navigate a new culture, I wasn’t aware of the dramatic societal changes taking place. All I knew was that this country offered my family a safe place to begin our lives again—a land of opportunity and political freedom. We had control over our destiny, the power of self-determination. With hard work and sacrifice, we could build a better life, as generations of immigrants did before us. We could vote and have a voice and be heard. No one was going to come and take our homes and everything we’d worked for away from us. I learned from an early age the importance of self-sufficiency.
As I grew up and got an education, I learned more about the advances and opportunities forged by feminist pioneers like Steinem—politicians and writers and journalists who inspired so many courageous women to break through boundaries and fight for equal rights at home and in the workplace. Despite the strong, traditional values I was raised with as a Latina—and the sometimes old-fashioned ideas of what a young woman should and should not do—the women’s movement resonated with me on an emotional and intellectual level. As an immigrant, I understood that this was the greatest country in the world for women, and I deeply appreciated it and wanted to take full advantage of the opportunities I had.
From a young age, out of necessity, I took on adult responsibilities in the household. My parents arrived in the United States with nothing—we’d left behind our home and all of our possessions—and we started over. As kids do, I adapted much more quickly than the adults, and I understood that it was my duty to help my parents in ways that are familiar to many children of immigrants.
I started working when I was thirteen years old—you’ll hear about my first experience with entrepreneurship in a little while—and learned some tough lessons along the way. Luckily, I had some excellent mentors; some of them may not even realize to this day that I consider them mentors! I studied them closely and emulated the traits and techniques that I saw as instrumental to their success. I learned from my failures too—and trust me, there were plenty of them—and took away many valuable lessons in the process.
I went from unpaid intern to TV news producer to television station management. I started a TV production business that failed for four years before I remade it (with a good hard shove from a mentor) and it took off. I became the first Latina president of a TV network, produced over seven hundred shows in English and Spanish, and appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice. I worked hard every step of the way and made money. The key to my story is that even when I was making money, I sacrificed, I did not live large, and I invested my money in real estate. In time, the income from my real estate business meant that I didn’t have to work anymore; I could live very comfortably off the income from my investments. And that gave me freedom—the freedom to do the work I wanted to do, not work I had to do—and what I wanted was work that would nourish me creatively and intellectually and spiritually.
When I realized I was financially free to pursue whatever I wanted, first I screamed and cried! I couldn’t believe it! And then I realized I had some unfinished business to attend to. So I went back to school, finished my BA, and then spent four years getting a graduate degree in psychology. I worked on my emotional baggage. I cleaned house in my mind. I came to terms with a lot of stuff about my heritage, my culture, my feminine side, everything. These were essential steps in my self-made journey, and they allowed me to become the kind of role model I wanted to be for my son. (Now he can’t complain about school and homework, because he’s seen me powering through it at age forty-five!)
Once I had my degree, I realized that my most meaningful success had come from financial self-reliance, and I wanted to teach that to other women. So in 2012, I started a nonprofit, the Adelante Movement (theadelantemovement.com), a live event and digital learning platform that would empower women and train them in entrepreneurship. In Spanish, adelante is a great word; it means “move it! now! let’s go!” I crossed the country, speaking initially to my community of Latinas, a group I knew well, but in time others started showing up, first women of color and then all women. It became clear to me that women were looking to connect with each other. They were hungry for information and hungry to build bridges to other women in their communities. That’s when I knew that women needed to know that the self-made revolution was well under way and it is only getting stronger.
Self-Made Is a Revolution
Gloria Steinem recently told an interviewer, “I wish I had known then what I know now, which is that the women’s movement was really an entrepreneurial movement.” I think what Steinem means is that without the ability to be whole and financially secure on your own terms, there can be no freedom and no liberation.
I have spent four years crossing the country, and I’ve met over 100,000 women. What I see happening out there is the beginning of a genuine revolutionary shift: We are in the era of fully empowered women in the do-it-yourself economy. There are no barriers to entry. The tools of instant entrepreneurship and self-reliance are all around us, and most of them are simple to use and easy to afford. Technology, social media, and the non-centralized shared economy have made it easier than ever to start a business. A new women’s movement is rising around financial self-reliance and ownership, because there is no true empowerment as a woman until you have your own money.
Four decades after the original women’s movement rocked the culture, the economic crash of 2008 would create a new reality for millions of women who were pushed into becoming the heads of households after their husbands and fathers lost their jobs. These women had to step it up! Out of necessity, Latinas, African Americans, Asians, and Middle Eastern women led the charge as the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs and a tremendous economic force in this country. Among women, Latinas are the number one emerging market in the United States, and along with other multiculturals (African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and women of Middle Eastern descent) they represent the largest growth engine in the U.S. economy. Similarly, around the world, in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and in countries with emerging economies in Africa and the Middle East, in spite of the challenges posed by religious and political obstacles, population sizes, and daunting competition, women are rising up and becoming entrepreneurs for the sake of their children and families. Because of these economic shifts, women today, from many different cultures and backgrounds, are united in a quest for a new financial future, one they can control.
Look around; we have so many role models in public life to inspire us, women who have continued the empowerment conversation started by Steinem and linked it to our financial lives. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has ignited the idea of “leaning in,” coaching women to push aside barriers that keep them out of leadership roles—or as I put it, acting as an owner in your career. Arianna Huffington, who, after a very public divorce and a failed political campaign—two things that might have sidelined a lesser woman—had the idea to create a collective news blog, raised the money, and launched The Huffington Post, which is now, just a little over a decade later, a major, influential media company. Then there is the extraordinary Suze Orman, who woke us up to the fact that our emotional lives and our financial lives are inextricably linked and that only by controlling our money do we have the power to control our destiny.
Forbes magazine recently published a cover story about America’s richest self-made women that features a range of fascinating, accomplished women, including Jin Sook Chang, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea and worked odd jobs before founding, with her husband, the now multibillion-dollar clothing chain Forever 21.
In pop culture too, some of the most successful actors, musicians, and performers are thinking like entrepreneurs. Oprah crushed the glass ceiling for multicultural women first with The Oprah Winfrey Show, a twenty-five-year juggernaut that remade daytime television, and then with her production studio, Harpo, and then with OWN, her network. Taylor Swift took on Apple and the music industry to protect the value of her work. Bethenny Frankel leveraged her reality TV platform to create the Skinnygirl brand. Jessica Alba turned her concerns about the safety of products for her baby into the multimillion-dollar Honest brand of natural products. And the Kardashian matriarch, Kris Jenner, built an empire around her family by monetizing their celebrity via reality TV, social media, and endorsements. Andy Cohen, talk show host and executive producer of the Real Housewives franchise, says, “Nobody just wants to be an actress anymore. Today, every woman I meet wants to be identified as a businesswoman, a mogul.” It’s a sign of the times.
For most women, though, a rich life is not about being famous and wealthy and powerful for its own sake. The higher reward of success for women is being able to bring abundance back to the people they love—their families and their communities. Our mission is about creating a better life for our kids, getting them better schooling, having a house that is paid off, even going back to school ourselves.
Self-Made is a movement that is about being for something, not against it. It is a defining moment for women based on economic empowerment. It is a movement that hits on every level: personal, communal, cultural, political. It is inclusive, supportive, collaborative. It is entrepreneurship for the rest of us.
Self-Made Is the New Ticking Clock
The Self-Made movement speaks to every woman who wants to control her destiny and get out of survival mode. It’s for women who want a backup plan because they know that they could be laid off from their corporate job tomorrow. It’s for women who have devoted their careers to service or to running nonprofits, without a thought for their financial futures. It’s for women who have served their country in government jobs or the military and are looking ahead, uncertain about the next chapter in their lives. It’s for those of us who feel that there is creativity and greatness in us, but we just need a little help getting started. It’s for recent college graduates who are saddled with debt and who can’t believe that their high-cost education barely got them an entry-level job. And it’s for all of us who haven’t been able to follow that traditional, linear career path for one reason or another—maybe because we are immigrants who have had to support our families, or maybe we’ve had to juggle money and career with raising children or taking care of aging parents. Self-made is for women who may not relate to the obstacles and demands of climbing the corporate ladder, because they are too busy trying to make ends meet. And for the women who are climbing that ladder, it is a call to arms for cultivating an entrepreneurial attitude that will help you advance in your career and will also serve you well on the day that your industry is disrupted and you wake up without a job.
I like to tell the women I speak to that “self-made is the new ticking clock.” It’s not about whether you’re going to become self-made; it’s about when you’re going to become self-made. The road to becoming self-made isn’t linear or one-size-fits-all. It will be different for each one of you. Some of you will sprint ahead, and some will take your time. Some of the work will come easily, and some of it will require extra focus and effort. Some changes will happen immediately, and others will take patience to realize. You can’t do everything at once. But you can start right now.
This book is an invitation. Join us—join this movement. If you’re afraid, do it anyway. We were all afraid to take that first step. I’ll do my best to inspire you to embrace the fear, because there is no growth without courage. I’ll tell you stories of women just like you who took the reins in their lives and never looked back, women who ignited their entrepreneurial spirit with life-changing results. Women are banding together to share resources and collaborate in countless brilliant ways, partnering to start businesses together, and lending a hand to the next generation of self-made women who will follow in their footsteps. This is a chance for you to add your story to theirs.
Before you begin, here are a few important questions for you to consider:
•What do you really want out of life?
•What are your goals?
•Who or what in your life has disappointed you?
•Where are you stuck?
•What is your biggest fear about the future?
•What are your greatest dreams? (Dream big!)
•What are you waiting for?
A life-changing journey awaits you. Take my hand. Now. Here. Let’s go! ¡Adelante!
2. If I Knew Then What I Know Now . . . Wait! I Do Know Now!
Lessons I’ve Learned on the Way to Becoming Self-Made
there is no prince charming.
One of my favorite ways to give myself a treat is to spend an hour at Drybar, a franchise founded by the savvy entrepreneur Alli Webb. Drybars are to women what sports bars are to men—a place to unwind, except at Drybar you get your hair blow-dried and you come out looking gorgeous. But like a sports bar, it’s a communal experience; some women even make a party of it and book appointments together. Romantic comedies play silently on a loop on big flat-screen TVs (there are subtitles, but, honestly, the words are hardly necessary), and all the women are getting their hair done and chatting/yelling over the din of the hair dryers. What could be better? So picture me, sitting in the lemon-yellow salon chairs as a stylist works on my hair, with tears streaming down my face, and it’s a good cry. Without fail, as soon as they get to the part in the movie where the guy is running through the airport to catch the girl and declare his undying love for her, I break down. It gets me every time, even without sound. I can’t help it.