My fifteen year old daughter, Marivi (Maria Victoria) just won Miss New York Junior Teen. She’s also an entrepreneur. Despite my paternal bias, I think you’ll agree, when you read this story, that she is an exceptional young woman for her age, and that her story offers some inspiration to any aspiring entrepreneur creating their own story.
From the time she was three, my daughter knew she wanted to be a doctor like her grandfather. She has not wavered from that dream or that goal, but she has added to it. She also wants to be an entertainer. She is an excellent singer and actor. Because of this, at the age of ten she did her own college research and decided Yale is the best place to achieve both of those dreams together. Since then she has been focused on learning and doing whatever is necessary to get into Yale. When she starts her freshman year there, she’ll also be launching her strategy to get into Yale Medical School.
When she was eleven, she was recruited to audition for the National American Miss pageant. Her parents were very skeptical, and very cautious. But she seemed to know intuitively that this path would help her achieve her goals. She prevailed upon us to allow her to enter the pageant, but only if she could pay for it herself.
She set out to find sponsors from local businesses and within a few days had raised the money necessary to pay for registration, and her pageant career was born.
Keep in mind that while all this was transpiring, she continued to earn honor roll grades, sing, act, start a charity, and run a business.
Like most entrepreneurs she had several false starts before finding something that actually paid off. Her first successful business was actually pageant related. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Her first pageant experience was an eye opener. She went in cold, with no coaching and no knowledge that coaching was the norm for successful competitors. She took charge of organizing herself for the pageant by reading all the materials carefully, and told her parents where to take her and when. She handled the rest. Her singing talent earned her Second Runner Up in the Talent competition the first year, but that was all she won.
Year two, she obtained a coach, worked hard to apply her lessons from the first experience and did her best to adapt to the pageant system. She fared much better. She was a finalist in the speech competition, but also finished in the Top 20.
The third year we had moved back to Buffalo from Illinois and so she had a new state pageant to attend. Rather than continuing with National American Miss, she chose to try the Miss American Co-ed Pageant for New York State. It was a new system, a much smaller field of contestants, and she was convinced going in that she would win it hands down. Instead, she took First Runner Up, and Second Runner Up in Talent.
Concurrently she was running two pageant related businesses. She created her own virtual pageant, with a friend in another state, and made a reasonable profit. She was also coaching younger girls as they prepared for their pageants, and again, for someone her age, made a reasonable profit. That money went toward paying for her expenses as well as continuing to solicit sponsorships.
She decided then that she would return to National American Miss the following year, because she knows the system, and she would focus on winning it all. This became her dream, her goal, and her expectation beginning the day after the previous pageant.
As usual, she took control of every aspect of her preparation. She had two coaches, talked to numerous peers in the system, wrote, re-wrote, threw out and re-wrote her introduction until she had it perfect. She wrote her speech for Spokesmodel. She practiced her walk, her smile, repeating every aspect of her performance over and over and over again with the same passion, commitment and intensity as any concert pianist, dancer, or top level athlete.
Her business career took a new turn. Realizing that she would need to earn more revenue than her two pageant businesses could generate, she set up a Bed & Breakfast business in our house, through AirBnB (currently one of the world’s hottest new startups). She took this very seriously in every aspect from booking rooms to communicating with guests, to cleaning and re-making the rooms between guests. This business has become quite lucrative for her– enough to just barely keep her on budget for her pageant activities, modeling classes, voice lessons, and SAT prep.
Marivi, from a photo-shoot last year.
Yes, SAT Prep, because at the root of all this activity is still her dream and goal of becoming a doctor (OB-Gyn) and an entertainer, and getting to Yale to make both dreams more achievable.
She has maintained an A average at Buffalo Seminary, is active in 7 school clubs, is on the varsity fencing team, is in the school play, interned at Shakespeare in Delaware Park, and does each of these things with equal passion and commitment.
Yet the pageant has been a symbolic parallel quest for her, an opportunity to practice everything she needs to learn and achieve in a parallel universe in order to help her succeed in the real world.
And so she announced to the world on Facebook and in her Yale-bound blog (The Daily Dan: Get This Girl to Yale) that she was focused on the crown this year, and the crown, she just knew, if she did her best and believed in her ability to achieve it, would be hers.
Sure enough all the research, organization, repeated practicing and prepping, writing and re-writing, rehearsing and reviewing paid off. At the pageant in Rochester last weekend every aspect of her performance and comportment from the smallest detail to the largest was done with perfection, elegance, poise, and confidence. And, of course, her “platform” for this year was “Confidence is the Key.” She was convinced that she could achieve this– or anything– if she believed enough to make it so. She knew, though, that belief begins with the knowledge of ability and ends with effort to fulfill the ability. Neither, without the other, will bring success.
And so, Monday night as the winners were announced, after the optionals in Talent, Spokesmodel, Acting, and Casual Wear, after the Introduction competition, the Interview competition, and the Formal Wear competition, the winners were announced.
First the optionals. These competitions had been held the previous day, and the results were kept under wraps until the Finale.
She began by winning the Talent competition with a stirring and professional performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” winning the Acting competition with a passionately humorous bilingual routine in English and Spanish. She took First Runner Up in Spokesmodel for her speech entitled, “The Logic of Dreams,” which began and ended with this quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.” She also took First Runner Up in Volunteer Service.
And then the moment of truth. The Top 20 were announced, and her name was called. And then, as suspense built, and parents heart rates spiked, they called fourth runner up, third runner up, second runner up, first– for the overall pageant competition. And then after a pregnant pause, “And now, the 2012 National American Miss New York, Junior Teen… “Maria Victoria Howell-Arza.”
Her mother and I screamed. She cried. And the crowd roared, because she had won over even this crowd of mostly partisan parents rooting for their own girls, with her grace, her talent, and her performance.
And the lesson for entrepreneurs, if you haven’t caught it yet is this. Success begins with a dream. The dream lives and grows on belief. Belief drives effort to achieve in reality what has already been envisioned in the imagination and confirmed with confidence. Effort driven by belief brings eventual achievement. It is seldom achieved on the first attempt, or even the third. It often takes a few failed attempts to develop the expertise, patience, discipline and perseverance to get everything just right. It also often takes the agony of defeat to motivate one to suffer enough to achieve success- the suffering of practicing and practicing over and over although it seems you have already hit your stride.
Now that Marivi has achieved her pageant goal, there is nothing in the world that can stop her from getting into Yale or becoming a doctor or a famous entertainer because she has learned the power of confidence, and confidence is the key. She has also learned the process of making dreams come true. She has learned that defeat and failure are not the end but rather just another obstacle to overcome on the road to the final destination.
Hopefully all of us who are part of the enterprise world can learn from this young woman and duplicate her success.