There's an amazing exit sign on an Atlanta highway. It points to Tyler Perry Studios, the massive movie and television complex that celebrated its grand opening this past weekend. The sign next to it points to Sylvan Road, the same street where Perry lived in his car in the late '90s, when he couldn't pay the rent.
Perry's rise from homeless to media mogul is an unlikely success story. His background is marked by poverty and tragedy. "My childhood was a story of discouragement, belittlement, and unthinkable abuse, and yet I rose above," Perry writes in his book, Higher Is Waiting.
One chapter in particular carries a valuable lesson for any entrepreneur whose dreams seem far removed from the world they live in today.
Protect Your Dreams
Perry was creative and liked to write. In his early 20s he wrote a play, but the performance didn't make any money. The people around Perry told him that he should forget about his dream--and get a job with benefits.
Whenever Perry shared his dream with others, they would tell him all the reasons why he'd never succeed. He called the naysayers dream thieves, filled with negativity and fear.
"If your dream is bigger than anything they could imagine, they will try to tear it down," Perry writes. "They do it because your dreams feel as far away to them as the moon and the stars. Your dreams make them feel small."
It's hard for anyone to pursue their dreams with confidence if they're surrounded by negativity. Perry became discouraged himself, so he found a solution: He kept his dreams private.
"After years of ridicule, I learned to treat my dreams as if they were precious gems hidden in a velvet pouch. I kept these dream treasures tucked away in a safe place within my soul, out of reach to those who doubted me."
Entrepreneurs are optimists and dreamers. Unfortunately, their friends and family don't always share their vision. The people you love the most are often the ones who can "infect your dreams with doubt and negativity," according to Perry. They simply don't understand the magnitude of your dreams. "When people have never felt the power of their own wings, they can't imagine taking flight."
Perry Puts Relationships to the 'Tree Test'
If you want to avoid being infected by doubt and negativity, you can do two things. First, take Perry's advice and keep those dreams tucked away in a safe place within your soul. Second, build relationships with people Perry calls Root People.
Perry says he sees relationships with employees, partners, friends, and mentors as a "tree of life." Some people are leaves. You can't count on them. Once they get what they need from you, they drift away. Branch people are more solid--until they are tested. They split when the going gets rough. What you want are Root People--the ones who provide help, support, and, most important, are genuinely happy to see you thrive.
Using Perry's tree metaphor in my own life, I can see that my wife, Vanessa, is a Root Person. When I was writing my first book, colleagues told me that I should give up. After all, I had a six-figure job and the title of vice president at a global PR firm. "How many books could you possibly sell?" they asked skeptically. One person actually said, "It's a pipe dream." I felt discouraged, until I talked to my Root Person.
"Give your two weeks and leave now," my wife said. "You're a good writer and we'll be fine." And with that vote of confidence, I gave up a six-figure salary to write a book. It went on to become an international bestseller.
Entrepreneurs are a special breed. Since most people do not start their own business, what do you expect them to say if you share a dream that's bigger than anything they've thought possible? They don't have your frame of reference. It's OK. Just don't make the mistake of letting them infect the vision you have for your future.