Nancy Gale was recently invited to be the Keynote Speaker for The Girls and Boys Club Great Futures Breakfast. Gale has worked with disadvantaged youth for almost a decade and she was delighted to share her story of RESILIENCE to an audience of all ages.
Following is her speech. Watch a short video here.
The ability to spring back into shape after being pulled, bent or stretched.
Flexible, pliable, supple.
The capability to recover quickly from difficulties.
Whether you grew up with a silver spoon or in poverty, resilience is your greatest asset. The beauty is that resilience is not something one is born with: it is a choice. Resilience is what will get you beyond the wall.
I had the great fortune of growing up with two extremely supportive parents; what one might refer to as an abundance of opportunity, a charmed life if you will. The events of my life were my ultimate inspiration.
My life, my story, are proof, however, that "a charmed existence" is not a state-of-mind, but a state of being, a matter of choice.
I have learned with no uncertainty that we are never immune to great challenges, yet we are gifted with the opportunity to choose how we deal with them.
When I was a teenager, my mom became severely ill, spending the greater part of four years in the hospital, in and out of consciousness, fighting for her life. Four years and 13 surgeries later, the doctors credited her strong desire to live as the driving force behind her unexpected and inspired recovery.
There were so many times she could have given up, but she never did. She chose to live a life of perseverance and resilience.
Once a young adult, I set out to conquer my dreams. In an instant, my charmed, rose-colored world was rocked, when in a quaint New England town, I was attacked and raped by a stranger.
Faced with the challenge of this experience, it was up to me to make a choice and I made one ... this one night ... that's ALL he gets.
I chose to NOT let this define me. I chose to focus on all I was so fortunate to have and I committed to stepping through this experience and one day using it to inspire others.
The funny thing about life is that overcoming one challenge does not mean we are given a pass to avoid others.
The day after Thanksgiving of 2011, my amazing mother was murdered. Murder, something I never thought would touch my still rose-colored world. I knew at that point, more than ever, I had to call on my resilience, I had to dig deep and persevere. After seven long years, the murderer had not been caught, the case was not getting the resources it needed and it went cold.
With relentless tenacity and a formidable support system, I was able to get the investigation revived and on October 24, 2018, the man who murdered my mom was finally brought to justice and sent to prison.
It is up to us to make the choice as to how we deal with what is thrown in our path.
My choice, my path, is resilience, something I learned from my mom.
I am the owner and designer of JAMAH, a true American luxury handbag brand, made exclusively in the USA. In fact, right down the street!
I am also the founder of AMBITION, a non-profit entrepreneurial program for disadvantaged youth.
As an entrepreneur, I make many choices.
The most important choice we all get to make is whether we happen to our lives, or if our lives happen to us.
Speaking of choices…
In my heart I was a creator, a designer, but I was vulnerable to how people perceived me. In an effort to prove something to the world, I strayed from my path. Desperate to be recognized for my intellect, I put my creativity and passion aside and sought what I believed would give me the credibility I thought I desired. I became a technical writer, working for Ernst & Young, Transamerica and Fortune 500 companies including Bank of America and so on… Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it?!
Ultimately this choice was everything I was not, and did not yield the results I was seeking. Most importantly, I was not being true to myself. It was clear that my only choice was to follow my passion. From that moment on, my path was crystal clear. I was a designer and it was time to start living like one! Ironically, when I began to share my revelation, I was repeatedly met with the same amused response… all variations of “duh Nancy, of course you’re a designer, everybody has always known that!” (It might have saved me some trouble if someone had mentioned that!!)
So now what?
I grew up in Detroit, during a time of major economic prosperity. The epicenter of iconic American brands and families, I had the opportunity to witness, experience and learn about the benefits derived from manufacturing in the United States and the real value of American craftsmanship.
It saddened me when this began to change and we started to care more about price than quality and outsourcing became the American way.
I was bothered by the lack of true American luxury design houses. With such superior talent in the US, why was the world only enamored with the allure and sophistication of European fashion houses? That’s when I had my epiphany. JAMAH would become the first true American luxury handbag design house. But I wouldn’t stop there. The brand would stand for resilience. The brand would stand for a cause. The brand and the cause would connect so intrinsically that could not function without the other.
Call it capitalism with consciousness. In order to do this well, I knew the cause must be in my DNA.
Knowing that so many grow up without access and exposure to anything beyond their own walls angered me. I knew that the real difference between “the haves” and “the have nots,” was access and exposure; a staircase to the top floor, if you will.
Having grown up with an abundance of support and opportunity, I sat at what I call “the ideal dinner table,” where I was encouraged to ask questions and to challenge the status quo. I was taught the infinite possibilities that life could afford.
I asked myself one day, “What happens if you didn’t grow up at my dinner table? Where do you learn all of this? Who provides you access to information? To experiences? That’s when I realized I wanted to find a way to share my dinner table with those who didn’t have the great fortune that I did. This was the vision upon which I founded AMBITION.
My dinner table provided me with many of the tools I needed to found JAMAH and AMBITION.
My aspirations were big…
I wanted my bags to be seen on the likes of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I wanted to be featured in Vogue. I wanted to start a program that helped disadvantaged teens and integrate it with my business. I wanted to set a precedent for small business that cause is a necessity of commerce. I wanted to build a brand that would be spoken about in the same breath as Chanel, Hermes and the ubiquitous fashion houses.
Enduring symphonies of “Nancy, you can't do that, there will never be another big house. Nancy, you must focus solely on the money and then worry about your cause … not to mention, this AMBITION program you want to launch is impossible. Schools won’t let you in, you don’t understand the red tape … and by the way who cares about product made in the USA! And featured in Vogue? Really?
Well that’s the beauty of pursuing your passion … and for being resilient and perhaps even a little bit insane … every challenge simply becomes an achievable task. Now I smile at the naysayers … although you should hear what’s going on in my head … and oh, by the way… it’s been 20 years and JAMAH is going strong… Brad and Angelina bought nine bags. Jessica Alba, Channing Tatum and countless other celebrities have purchased the brand. In honor of the Chinese New Year, The Bank of China chose JAMAH as the coveted gift for their eight highest net worth account holders. In collaboration with Gunther Werks, I designed a bag for the iconic Porsche 993. I was even commissioned to design a collection for former president Bill Clinton, Hillary and Chelsea, which I presented to Bill himself. A chapter in a book called “The Wanderlust Warrior Project” is dedicated to my life story. We’ve been featured in Vogue Nippon and compared to Hermes! And it’s now fashionable and respectable to be made in the USA!
AMBITION is about to turn 10, we have worked with over 500 dynamic teenagers and have witnessed countless success stories. Our students have had the great privilege of spending time with special guests including Sir Richard Branson and Bill Clinton, while a roster of extraordinary mentors continue to work with our kids.
I knew, that like my dinner table, surrounding myself with the right support system of mentors, believers, change-makers, visionaries would be critical to my success. I decided that if you were not my cheerleader then you were not allowed to play in my sandbox.
As JAMAH emerges as a preeminent American luxury design house and as AMBITION continues to provide access and exposure to youth, I look forward to the day when a young entrepreneur beginning his or her journey hears my story, reflects on my path and is told that Nancy Gale’s way is the only way to do it, only to hear him or her respond with “the hell with Nancy Gale, I’ll do it my way! After all her company slogan is BE WHO YOU ARE.”
So stay impassioned, have fun, be resilient, persevere, and while you’re at it, set an extra place at the dinner table!