Call Her Madam, the First Self-Made American Woman Millionaire

walkerMadame C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in poverty-stricken Louisiana in 1867, went from picking cotton to become the first self-made American woman millionaire.  But it was not a straight line.

“There is no royal flower-strewn path to success,” she once observed. “And if there is, I have not found it – for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”

She married at age 14, gave birth to her only daughter in 1885, and two years later became a widow. Upon her husband’s death she moved to St. Louis where her four brothers were barbers. She saved enough money working as a laundrywoman to educate her daughter.

How she began

During the 1890’s Sarah began to lose her hair due to a damaging scalp ailment. She was so embarrassed by her appearance that she began to experiment with scalp conditioners and healing formulas made by another Black entrepreneur, Annie Malone. She soon became a sales agent for Annie and moved to Denver. There she met and married Charles Joseph Walker.

How she progressed

Sarah changed her name to Madame CJ Walker and founded her own business selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. She conducted an exhausting door-to-door sales campaign throughout the South and Southeast. She even opened a college in 1908 to train her “hair culturists.” Her corporation at one time employed over 3,000 employees.

In fifteen years she amassed a fortune and is the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire. She died at age 52 in 1919.

Learn more

Learn more at her official website,, maintained by her biographer and great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles.

February is Black History Month when we pause to remember, acknowledge, celebrate, and express gratitude for the many black men, women and children who overcame great odds and endured hardships to become successful in their endeavors. The life of Madame C.J. Walker reminds us all that the secret to success is no secret at all. As she once explained, “I got my start by giving myself a start.”

Success: Why Everyone is Not Happy About Yours



We all seek success, whether openly or secretly.

But there is one thing most of us are not ready for when it comes.

The backlash.

When you finally get the job you trained for, the house you dreamed of, the relationship you attracted, you can bet that everyone will not be happy for you. Some will even hate you and speak evil of you.

Others will even go so far as to praise you one week and be a willing party to your crucifixion the next.

What causes this reversal?

1. You had to make choices.

When you make choices, you invariably leave behind the choices not made. Mixed in among those choices are people who are still back there at the crossroads you left behind.

In a television interview Whoopi Goldberg once shared how surprised and saddened she was by the friendships she couldn’t hold onto once she became famous. She remembered when she was a struggling comedian beset with many life challenges, she and her buddies always said they would treat each other to a fantastic dinner and invite each other to their mansions when they became wealthy. Once Whoopi became successful, however, some of her buddies from the old days would not allow themselves to enjoy her success, so they declined her invitations.

2. You took action.

People who are unwilling to take the actions that lead to success often feel betrayed by you.

Many years ago I took a writing class that was offered free as part of a community services program. In one class session the teacher offered us leads to magazines that were looking for writers. The next morning I called the editor and got a writing assignment. As soon as I finished talking to the editor, I got a call from my teacher congratulating me, not for getting the assignment, but for following up on the lead. She indicated that she always followed up on the leads she gave her students. I was the only one in that class who followed the lead.

3. You changed.

Those who want to keep the status quo are afraid of how your changes will affect your relationship with them.

A number of my returning college students shared stories of marital upset brought on by their return to school. One doctoral candidate, for example, indicated that her husband was supportive of her the first semester, but by the second semester began to withdraw his support. He was so threatened by her determination to complete her degree that he threw up as many roadblocks as he could. First he refused to babysit their two children on the evenings she was in class. Increasingly he withdrew more and more support. Eventually he threw out the ultimatum: “It’s either the doctorate or me.” She chose the doctorate, and successfully completed her degree three years later.

The backlash that can follow success is not about you at all. It’s about the inner turmoil of those who wrongly believe that your success in some way diminishes them. It doesn’t, of course.

Even though the weak and fearful will not be able to share your joy, continue to progress toward your goals, make good choices and enjoy your success. Some people you will never meet will be inspired by you, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Have you had something similar happen to you? Share your experience.   Click Leave a Comment right under the title.

Something Bothering You? Maybe You Can Create the Solution

[This video features Startup Connecticut, a program to help new companies launch their innovative ideas.]

Who hasn’t been unnerved by the sudden onset of the hiccups?

If you hiccup for only seven times, you probably move on with your life just mildly annoyed. If they
continue far beyond that or visit you frequently, however, you likely have searched for a cure.

Meet Mallory Kievman, a 13-year-old who has cooked up a cure for hiccups that just may stick:
Hiccupops, a lollipop made up of apple cider vinegar and sugar. (I know what you’re thinking,
your grandma was on to these ingredients. But did she put make them into lollipops?)

Mallory’s invention was first unveiled at an invention convention in Connecticut. Mallory’s idea is not
just child’s play. She wants to be a doctor one day and created this product, not only to solve her
own hiccup problem, but to help give relief to cancer patients often beset with hiccups as a result
of chemotherapy.

Even though she has gained much attention and enlisted the aid of a team of MBA students to help
her create her company, there are still challenges ahead. While angel investors are eager to embrace
projects that promise cures for common ailments, product testing will be one of the first hurdles.

Learn more about Mallory and her lollipops here, and here. The video above shows Mallory as
part of her state’s Startup program.

Have you been bothered by a common ailment or problem and thought of a solution? If so, take
inspiration from Mallory to share your solution with the rest of us. Your state may even have help
for you as part of a state startup effort.

Tell us your idea in the Comments.

Want to Achieve Your Goals? Keep Them to Yourself

Conventional wisdom says that we are pushed to achieve our goals by announcing them to the world.

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, disagrees. In the video above, he points out research that shows that telling someone our goals actually can work against our ever achieving them.

How is this so?

Once we tell our goal and it’s acknowledged by others, the mind is tricked into feeling that the goal is already done. This increases the likelihood that we won’t do the work necessary to reach the goal.

I agree with Derek to some extent. It has to do with who you tell. When we share our goals with someone who will hold us accountable, telling our goals is critical. Let’s say, in the case of hiring a coach.

A good coach is your partner in reaching your goal, and in fact, holds you accountable, may structure steps for you to take, and will kick your butt as necessary to ensure that you make regular progress toward it.

Telling your overweight girlfriend about your weight loss plans, on the other hand, may not work as well. Unless she joins you in going after the same goal for herself, she may consciously or unwittingly sabotage your efforts and support you in falling back on excuses. After all, when it’s not a goal she values there’s the danger that deep down she can’t support you either.

After watching Derek’s video, share what you think on this. What has been your experience in sharing your goal v.s. keeping it to yourself until it was completed? Leave your comments.

Motivation: What is It and How Do You Sustain It?

[This is a news story about Willard Wigan, microsculptor. When you finish the article, watch the video at the end to learn more about this amazing man who turned childhood pain into lifetime triumph.]

Motivation is that energy, drive, and desire that makes us want to pursue a goal. We all have it in some form at different levels of intensity throughout our lives.

It can be as simple such as hunger pangs that drive us to seek a meal or as multifaceted as in going after a college degree in preparation for a given career, or as in the case of the microsculptor, Willard Wigan, to make masterpieces in a microscopic world.

When your motivation is strong, you have a clear picture of what you want to have or experience and you set out with determination, enthusiasm and persistence to go after it until you achieve it.

Since you are human, however, it’s likely that no matter how strong your initial motivation, it may wane as you move toward your goal. As a matter of fact, you may get downright disgusted and even consider giving up.

Zig Ziglar, famous motivational speaker said,

<margin:0;font-size:12″>“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”>

Feeding your mind with those things that stimulate your energy and pump up your determination is the secret to sustaining motivation.

Unfortunately, what motivates one person is not the same as what motivates you, so you’ll have to actively find what bolsters your spirit, renews your determination and sets you enthusiastically back on the road to achieving what it is you want.

One thing that motivates me are stories of people who turn childhood hurt into something grand not only for themselves, but for the rest of us as well.

Here are some ideas that work for me and others to help you get started your own search.

1. Hang out with people who are positive and motivating.

When you are around people who are actively seeking their own goals, it encourages you as well. They will also be able to share workable ways to stay motivated.

2. Fill your mind with stories of people who have plowed through adversity and setbacks to achieve their goals.

This can be in books, movies, or other media. I’m often moved when I discover that the challenges I face pale when compared to what some folks have pushed through to reach success.

I was very moved by the video above, for example, to hear that the micro sculptor was made to feel small when he was in school. He confesses that he can’t read or write, but he took the concept of “small” and made an art of it.

3. Research subjects that interests you.

You’ll discover that your goal has parts and pieces. Making a plan to tackle those pieces one by one is the start of your move toward success.

4. Focus your thoughts on your success

You may do this through affirmations, prayer, meditation, listening to stirring music or motivational recordings. If you commute a lot this is a great way to flood your mind with the positive thoughts that will keep your enthusiasm and determination high.

5. Visualize yourself achieving whatever it is your want.

As a child you had no trouble daydreaming about the things you wanted. Even though you were discouraged from it, you still visualize. It’s just that you were likely made to feel foolish  for dwelling on what you wanted, so you turned your thoughts to what you don’t have. You can change that today.

6. Create physical reminders.

Vision boards are a powerful way to keep before you what you want to achieve, be or do. Post photos clipped from magazines showing those things and experiences you desire. Then keep your board where you can see it daily. This facilitates directing your goals uppermost in your mind.

7. Be kind to yourself.

Avoid beating up on yourself when you discover that you are stalled in your efforts. As you drive your car it will eventually run low on gas. When that happens you probably don’t get mad with your car,  ditch it on the side of the road and start walking. You probably visit a gas station and get a refill.

When you begin to feel discouraged, drained, frustrated, or overwhelmed, go back to those things that can refill, refresh you and renew you.  In addition to things listed above, enjoy things that make you laugh or visit beautiful settings to feast your eyes on wonders of Nature and mankind’s monuments and creations.

Running low on motivation is inevitable. Your job is not to let yourself get empty, but always have a repertoire of ways to nourish your motivation so you will achieve those positive goals for your life that you visualize.

To get more motivation and inspiration, get my Everyday Happiness inspiration cards at