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I’ve never interviewed someone like Tyra Banks before. She didn’t work her way up from “entry level” to supermodel. She started at the top.

I wanted to get the “how to” from her. So you can replicate her steps in your own industry (or start over in a new one).

Here’s what she (and her coauthor/mom, Carolyn London) taught me:

1. Make your own decisions

Going with your gut is hard. Especially if someone else is telling you what to do.

But Tyra learned early.

She had two weeks until her life would change forever. Either A) go to college or B) go to Paris to try modeling.

She asked her mom what to do.

“She was like my Yoda,” Tyra said.

And her mom gave her the best answer. She said, “You’re gonna do whatever the hell you want to do. You need to make that decision.”

This is such a classic story. It’s the cause of so many people’s internal struggle. We grow up being told what to do. And then one of two things happen:

We either fly, or fail, on our own. Or go around asking everyone for advice.

Every successful person I’ve ever interviewed does the first.

And that’s what Tyra did, too. She made her own decisions. And left the nest (physically and mentally).

2. Be Better Prepared

Tyra had the freedom to go to Paris. She was scouted. But before she could go, she had to study. That was the one condition her mom put on her.

She said, “If you’re gonna go to Paris, you have to KNOW Paris.”

So she studied the industry the way someone else might study for the SATs.

“What is French fashion? Who are the designers? Who are powers that be?” Tyra said.

In ANY industry, this is critical.

She took notes. She prepped. She planned ahead. And when she showed up for an audition, she was ready.

“I learned what Chanel liked. I learned what Yves Saint Laurent liked. I learned what Dior liked. I had a little arsenal inside of my backpack.”

Then she’d review her notes before each appointment. She was better prepared than any other model.

“And I ended up making history.”

She booked 25 fashion shows her first year being an “unknown.” The trick is to study. She took the ancient saying “knowledge is power,” and turned it into action.

3. YOU = the Commodity

I also wanted advice from Carolyn. Because she raised Tyra. As I read the book, it became clear they had a special relationship.

“I armed her to win that industry,” Carolyn said.

“Before she left, we had a ritual. I told her, ‘You’ve chosen. Rather than go to college, you chose to go into the modeling industry. So, you’re about to start a business. And the commodity is you.”

Back then, this was true for just a few industries. But now, it’s true for every industry. Because the middle men are slowly slipping away.

And every choice becomes a business move: Party or study? Make a call or watch Netflix? Learn to code or sleep in.

“She didn’t go to party,” Carolyn said. “She went to work.”

4. Know what you want

Carolyn had her first baby as a teenager. She left school. And looked for a job.

And she struggled.

She went on disability. But she also made up her mind early. This would be temporary.

“I remember going into the welfare office and telling them, ‘I have a job. So I don’t need you anymore,'” Carolyn said.

It sounded like a movie.

“I remember the social worker telling me that she had been working there for 10 years and that was the first time she had someone come in and say, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.'”

It’s easy to get stuck in a something that’s supposed to be “just temporary.”  I’ve done it before. And I know now that if it ever happens again, I’ll use Carolyn’s words as a test.

I’ll ask myself: “TRUE or FALSE? I don’t want to be here anymore.”

  1. Get back to your roots

TIME Magazine included Tyra on its list of the  “most influential people in the world two years in a row.

And Tyra was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine.. “They had a cover of me and it said, ‘Oprah, Martha, Tyra, Is She the Next Female Branded Self?’

But she wasn’t happy. “I was at the top of my game and at the bottom of my spirit,” Tyra said.

“Why do you think?” I asked her.

“I was working too hard and not understanding balance, not understanding delegation.”

“How do you decide what to say ‘no’ to and what to say ‘yes’ to? Because you probably have opportunities all the time.”

“All the time. So I have a personal brand mantra. It’s fierce, funny, heart.”

She broke it down:

Fierce: Is it aspirational or does it have a glamourous kind of spin to it?

Funny: Does it make you laugh, is it self- deprecating, is it comedic?

Heart: Does it touch your heart? Is it emotional? Does it feel like there’s some type of connection?

Then she said, “The projects that I do have to touch at least two of those.”

A lot people have personal matras. And I’ve heard that rule, too (that it has to cover points). But I’ve never heard “fierce, funny, heart.

She told me more. She told me how laughter fuels the soul and how she uses this mantra to get back to her roots. Because  after she went to Harvard Business School, she got too tied up in operations for her TV shows and beauty line.

Now she’s back to creative.

She’s back to Tyra. And back to her roots.

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