Grace Bonney interviews writer Ashley C. Ford on storytelling, sacrifice, and success.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
As a child, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to be more than an actor. My grandmother loved movies, and for a time, we saw one together every Saturday. She’d pick one, then I’d pick one, then she’d pick one, and so on. I often chose mine based on the poster outside the theater. All the most fabulous black women I saw were in movies, or on my television. That was my measure of success. Would I be Angela Bassett or Oprah? I didn’t stop thinking I’d be an actor until I was seventeen. Now I know my true desire has always been to be a storyteller more than anything else, and there are many ways to be a storyteller. However, to be honest, I often still miss the stage.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
That your first step is just that: the first of many steps. For so long I would stand still, afraid to move in any direction because I wasn’t sure which was the course I wanted to follow for the rest of my life. Finally, someone explained to me that my first steps did not necessarily determine one path for all my tomorrows. There would be more decisions, and more opportunities to make a shift should I need to do so. Nothing has ever made me feel less afraid to simply try something new. It was an assurance of freedom I desperately needed.
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
My workspace is inundated with books. They’re above me, beside me, and right in front of me. I did not grow up owning many books because we couldn’t afford them. All my books came from the library or school, or I won them in reading contests and reading programs. Now I live a life where people send me books for free, my partner works in a bookstore, and if I really want a book, I can usually afford to buy it. For me, my books represent the realization of a big part of my dream life.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?
In my family, nothing was coveted more than financial stability. The epitome of success was knowing you had money showing up regularly, and that money would cover all your expenses. It’s a dream a lot of families have. In choosing to work for myself, I’ve given up access to that kind of stability for the time being. I decided that the chance to build something of my own, especially while I don’t have children or a mortgage, was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Right now, it’s a hustle. But it’s my hustle.
What does success mean to you?
Success to me is always having options. It’s one thing to decide you don’t want to have something, do something, or go somewhere, but it’s quite another to know you can’t.
Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night.
I’m still terrible at asking for help. Don’t get me wrong—I have been helped. Most of the success of my life can be attributed to those who forced their help on me. My friend and mentor, Roxane Gay, doesn’t even really ask to help me anymore. She just does it, and refuses to let me give her crap about it. I have good people in my life, and I try to be good to them. There’s nothing wrong with allowing them to be good to me too.
Name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in running a business.
Keep. Records. Of. Everything.
Excerpted from Grace Bonney’s In the Company of Women, on sale now!
Across the globe, women are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and starting creative businesses. In the Company of Women profiles over 100 of these influential and creative women from all ages, races, backgrounds, and industries. Chock-full of practical, inspirational advice for those looking to forge their own paths, these interviews detail the keys to success (for example, going with your gut; maintaining meaningful and lasting relationships), highlight the importance of everyday rituals (meditating; creating a daily to-do list), and dispense advice for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and makers (stay true to what you believe in; have patience). The book is rounded out with hundreds of lush, original photographs of the women in their work spaces.
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