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Dream BIG!

A Roadmap for Facing Life's Challenges and Creating the Life You Deserve

About The Book


Rising from a difficult and often daunting childhood to become the head of a multimillion-dollar business, Deborah Rosado Shaw is living proof that no matter how humble your beginnings or difficult your circumstances, you can defy the odds and build the life you deserve. In order to do so, you must Dream BIG! and Deborah's book shows you how. Born to a Puerto Rican family living in the poorest congressional district in the country -- New York's South Bronx -- Deborah never allowed the hand she was dealt to dictate the outcome of the game. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves, got to work, and became CEO of her own enterprise.

A gripping testimonial to the stamina of the human spirit, Dream Big! tells you how to:

  • stop fighting fear
  • get focused
  • create something from nothing
  • play beyond the rules and win

and why:
  • quitting is necessary
  • desperation is deadly
  • fighting is essential
  • suffering is optional

Using her own personal stories as well as intimate anecdotes from other women whose energy and courage are contagious, Deborah paints an invigorating and illuminating portrait of how to make life happen for you, instead of just letting it happen to you.


Chapter 1: Claim Your Power

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."

-- Helen Keller

This is it.

Your life.

You'll never pass this way again.

And it's a journey that can be fueled by an infinite source of energy and strength, the same power that pushes a blade of grass through a crack in a concrete slab. This force is readily available, free-flowing, and abundant. And we all need to utilize this power if we are to enjoy the extraordinary life we were intended to have.

But you know what? No one can give you power. Only you can claim what's yours.


Anyone who saw me standing at the podium during the awards ceremony that day would have called me a success. I had beaten the odds! I was living an impossible future.

Without money or contacts, this girl from the South Bronx had built a successful enterprise and enduring relationships with some of the most powerful businesspeople in the world.

But as I stood at the podium of the Waldorf-Astoria, I felt three feet tall again, an imposter, a girl dressed up in a woman's fancy clothes.

No one sitting in the audience had any idea that I'd been forcing myself to get out of bed for months, that I had spent the previous year struggling with depression and self-doubt.

I had lost touch with little Debbie Rosado, the Puerto Rican girl who played the organ pedals with her shoes off, who wouldn't sit still in the church pews, who challenged her Sunday school teachers with endless questions like "If God's fair, how come we've got to do without?"

But in those days and weeks before my experience at the Waldorf, I had begun dreaming of that girl again. As though waking from a drugged sleep, I had started to see my surroundings -- the opulent parties, luxurious homes, and elegant people -- through her eyes, eyes that were piercing and completely honest, as only a child's vision can be.

I could hear her asking me: Is this what it's all about? Is this what we struggled for?

Her questions went unanswered. Something was askew. I was no longer listening to that precious, all-important part of myself. Foolishly, I had begun to think that I had "succeeded" in leaving her behind.

I'd not only moved away from my old neighborhood, I'd also moved away from myself. I'd become lost in the Never-Never Land of Getting and Spending.

I'd been so focused on escaping poverty that I'd lost sight of the defiant, streetwise girl inside who knew what really mattered to her and to me, and who wasn't interested in anyone else's version of success.

She wanted more than a Jacuzzi and a drawer full of jewelry to show for her efforts, her years of sacrifice.

She was reminding me that I needed to align my values with my daily world. But I wasn't sure how to go about it.

In the midst of this, as I was flipping through a magazine, I spotted an announcement about the Women of Enterprise Award sponsored by Avon and the U.S. Small Business Administration. This award was given to female business owners who had overcome significant odds to build a successful enterprise.

arSome instinct (and a bit of prodding from my eldest son, Jason) made me pick up my pen and apply.

The application I received in the mail asked some thought-provoking questions:

What is your personal definition of success?

At what point did you say to yourself, "I've made it"?

What matters most in your life?

As I contemplated these questions, I thought how ironic it would be if a woman mired in depression and self-doubt won such an award.

Yet I did.

A month later I opened the notice from Avon, read the first word -- "Congratulations" -- and whooped out loud. I was going to be honored in front of 1,400 luminaries at the Waldorf-Astoria. I'd been awarded a stay in New York, with theater, dinner, media appearances, a cash gift, and a makeover.

I had reached out to the light, and the universe had conspired to help me. Even through my depression, I managed to float up to the sunlit clouds.

But once I was seated in the Waldorf's grand ballroom the day of the awards luncheon, looking around at the crystal chandeliers and the impeccably dressed crowd, I found myself growing increasingly anxious. The world might have been honoring me, but no one had any idea what I had been going through inside.

Sitting with the audience in the dark, I watched my fragmented self flicker before me in a "this-is-your-life" video Avon had prepared. There I stood, working with Bill Blass in his luxurious office, surrounded by mannequins draped in opulent fabrics, his innovative sketches, chalks and pens -- the tools of a true artist.

Another image flashed across the screen: my parents, heartbreakingly young, cradling me, their firstborn, as if I were the most precious thing in the world. Other pictures quickly followed: Deborah Rosado Shaw as a disgruntled teenager, proud business owner, frazzled mother -- standing on a dirty street in Harlem, on Madison Avenue, and on the lush grounds of Wellesley College's lakeside campus.

Some people say you see your life like this, scene by scene, in one endless shining moment, right before you die. I was humbled by the honor of being able to view my journey before passing on. And that experience altered the rest of my life.

When it was my turn to speak, my ears roared and my legs shook as I made my way up to the podium. When I looked out over the glittering crowd, the old voices I had battled all my life came thundering back at me: You don't belong here. Who do you think you are?

In the audience were assembled all the components of my life, a stew of people I had never dared mix together before.

There was my father, a Methodist minister, and my mother, a caseworker with demons of her own. There were my three sons, each born in a different stage of my evolution; my husband, Steve; my younger brother; and my best friend, Doreen.

There was Flora Davidson, a college professor who had taught me one of life's toughest lessons by pushing me to go farther than I had thought possible.

There were my business associates, whom I had always kept in the cubicle of my business life, and the editor of an important trade publication.

Nearly every person who was responsible in any way for my success, some who knew me intimately and others who barely knew me at all, were together in one room for the first time.

Then I was introduced and, bolstered by the applause, stepped into the spotlight and began speaking: "Today I share with you a very sweet moment. A moment that speaks to the power of the human spirit and what can be accomplished when we dare to dream..."

As I began telling my story, the pieces of my life that had been neatly compartmentalized before began to meld. With every word I recovered another piece of myself. Although I was speaking to the audience, I was speaking even more to myself, relating what I saw so clearly. By integrating the components of my life, by recognizing and embracing all the people I had been and the experiences I had lived, good and bad, I gained access to my own source of power.

That power had always been there, just waiting to be claimed.


When you were growing up, some fool probably told you that you could grow up to be anything you wanted. And, like most kids, you intended to be a doctor, a rock star, an Oscar-winning actress...and president of the United States. Well, now you're a grown-up, and you have to throw out the assumption that you can do anything and be anybody by simply believing it.

This form of positive thinking is a lot of bull. It's a myth and a destructive one, usually promoted by individuals who are selling instructional audiotapes, videos, motivation seminars, and yes...even books. Although there are many wonderful self-help products on the market, beware of those that tell you that you can have and do it all. It just isn't so. This cruel lie encourages us to waste our energy trying to do things we can never succeed at instead of helping us to make choices about where to put our efforts.

In case you missed the news, Superwoman is dead! She had a nervous breakdown and got committed to the crazy house, where she expired. We live in a world of infinite possibilities, but we have only so many days and hours. We can conjure thousands of desires and wishes, but we have the energy and resources to pursue only the few that are crucial to us.

There's a unique, personal form of success that can be yours alone, one that will generate happiness and fulfillment. But you have to make choices, sometimes tough ones, on your way to defining and creating that success.

I know what it's like, trying to do and be everything.

When I was living in California, I had three babies under four years of age and I spent most of my day doing...too much. When I traveled to the East Coast on business, I regularly took my sons along. I wanted to make sure they continued to have contact with both sets of grandparents. I would drop them off at one set of relatives, rush around New York having meetings and eating lunch, hurry back for dinner, and then take them to the next set. I was in a placating mode, a do-it-all-at-once mode, and I was a wreck.

On one trip, as I was struggling out the door with car seats and luggage, a pair of my underpants fell out of a duffel bag. I picked them up and stuck them into the waistband of my slacks until I got into the car. But once I was inside the car something else grabbed my attention and I forgot about them. I walked around -- knickers exposed -- in the airport, during the plane ride, and all the way through the terminal on the other side. It wasn't until we finally reached our destination that I had a moment to catch a breath and relax. I glanced down, and there they latest Victoria's Secret acquisition, hanging out the side of my slacks. Of course, the kids hadn't told me; they were too little to care about such trivialities as modesty, and they were used to their mother's rushing around like a lunatic. Still, I had to laugh. And then I had to take a hard look at what I was doing to myself.

Sometimes you just have to stop and take a deep breath and say, "What am I trying to do? Be all things to all people?"

Well, you know what? You can't.

This clunker you're living in has only so much mileage. By trying to accomplish too much, you spread your resources thin and wind up running on empty...with too little attention paid to the most important things. Family and those closest to your heart suffer. You suffer. And eventually your health -- mental, emotional, and physical -- will suffer.

Realizing these things, the next time I visited I rearranged my schedule. I got a hotel room and asked the grandparents to visit us. I got a friend to baby-sit the kids. I streamlined my schedule so I had no more than two meetings a day.

I turned down the heat so the pot wouldn't boil over. No, I didn't get a prize that year for the most devoted daughter-in-law. There was no award for my homemade banana bread or pumpkin pie. My hairdo didn't receive rave comments -- my hair looked like a disheveled mop most of the time. But I took pleasure from my kids and concentrated on my business. Those were my priorities, and I stuck to them. I had learned to invest my resources wisely. I had realized the importance of spending "me" on the things closest to my heart.


Before you can decide where to "invest" your precious assets -- your time, your energy, your money, even your affections -- get to know what matters most to you. Because this is different for everyone, you must ask your quiet, inner self: What do I really care about?

It might take you a while to answer that question; it did me.

Even at the height of my so-called high life in California, I would stand at the supermarket checkout and leaf through the magazines with a heavy heart.

I already had a lot of good things in my life. According to society, I had "arrived," and I should have been happy. But I still wasn't satisfied.

I used to love reading home magazines, but I eventually stopped subscribing to them because they made me feel so inadequate. I have a nice house, but it doesn't belong in Architectural Digest or Metropolitan Home. I live in a house where kids knock holes into the walls with their hockey sticks.

And forget the beauty magazines -- I'd spent half my youth following diagrams for shading my eyelids and highlighting my cheekbones, but I never looked like the girls on the covers of Seventeen or Vogue.

The next time you're reading one of those magazines, glance up and look at the people around you. You quickly realize what ridiculous fantasies the world encourages. I remember a cartoon I saw once. In it, two old women are standing over the casket of a friend. "Poor Rosie," one says to the other. "She was only twenty pounds from her goal."

Think of all the fruitful ways you could spend the energy you now waste pursuing someone else's fantasy of perfection. You'll probably never be a size 4 or have flawless skin or drive a Jaguar, so why not focus on something concrete, something that's possible and has meaning for you?


What really matters to me?

I could have saved myself plenty of tissues and Prozac if I'd paid more attention to this question.

I used to pull out of the driveway each morning with a sinking heart, looking at all the mothers standing at their front doors in bathrobes and jogging outfits. There they were, holding down the fort all day while I was kissing my kids and heading off to the corporate world.

Mind you, I was always there for the big events in my children's lives. I made it my business to show up for anything important. But I still kicked myself around about other things. Was it really all right to travel so much? What about not being home for a week in a row?

My kids seemed healthy and fine to me and to everyone else, but I began constructing dramatic scenarios in my mind. In these scenarios my children were secretly unhappy, pining for a mother who waited for them in an apron at the door.

Delay and dramatize, this song-and-dance routine was my main act. I delayed action and dramatized everything: I can't take on this project. What are the boys gonna think if I tell them I have to go away again? Can I miss two football games in a row? And what about Andrew's concert?

And on and on with no end in sight. My theatrics grew until I decided I couldn't live through one more curtain call.

I marched into the living room, where my three sons were sitting over their homework, and announced that we were going to have a heart-to-heart.

I put my cards on the table. "There's some stuff I want to get done in the world," I told them. "I love you guys with all my heart, and I also love being in business -- the ups and downs, the challenges, the excitement. Sometimes I wish I could be someone else, but I'm sorry, this is it. I need you guys to accept me for who I am."

Blah, blah, blah, I went on.

When I finally ran out of steam I looked at them. They sat there looking slightly amused.

"What?" I said.

"Why are you telling us this?" Jason, my oldest son, said. "We know already."

"Yeah," the middle one, Andrew, agreed. "You're our mom. You've always been this way. We're fine."

I stood a moment, almost panting. "But there are things you don't have that other kids do," I tried, hoping to kick myself a little more.

"So what? There are lots of things we have that they don't," said Matthew, the youngest.

I had to laugh. They had come to terms with who I was long before. I was the one who had been twisting around to whip myself.

That speech was not a waste of time, however. Far from it. Fessing up gave me a freedom I never had before. I was able to stop concocting imaginary obstacles and fictions.

The good news about living your dream is that you contribute not only to yourself but to everyone around you. And you learn to seek your own counsel instead of casting about for approval from everyone else.

You're the one who has to be clear about what a good life looks like. And you have to be able to hold on to your dream through the dark and painful moments.

That's a lesson Nancy Archuleta discovered for herself.

When Nancy was in high school, a vocational counselor told her that she'd never amount to anything. "You're just a poor Mexican," the counselor said when Nancy expressed her wish to go to college.

But Nancy didn't believe that.

She had another image of herself -- as an educated, successful woman -- and she held on to it through years of discouragement and poverty.

Even when her life was at its lowest, when she was a high school dropout, a battered wife, a mother of three before she was nineteen, Nancy held on to her dream. She told herself that she wasn't just her circumstances and that one day she would find a way to prove it.

Nancy Archuleta kept the flame of her ambition burning inside even when fate and circumstance conspired to blow it out.

After years of struggle, Nancy managed to escape her marriage. She juggled several jobs to support her kids and finish her education. Then she invested every dollar she could scrape together into a systems management company, Mevatec. Eventually she was named president.

When she realized that this was just a token position and that she'd been awarded it so the company could gain minority-woman-owned status, she didn't throw up her hands and surrender. She remained focused and managed to wrestle control of the company from her partner and become its true leader.

Today she is chairman and CEO of Mevatec Corporation, a $62 million integration/software development firm and one of the country's fastest growing Hispanic-owned companies.

Nancy didn't just endure. She didn't just prevail. She triumphed.

This is what you can accomplish when you face your truth.



It's human nature to peek over the fence and note the lush, green grass on the other side. But comparisons aren't only unsatisfying, they're empty.

Compared to others in California, my life looked the spitting image of happy and affluent. But how it stacked up with others meant nothing...because it was unfulfilling to me.

You can't know what someone else's life is really like. Stop comparing! Use the time to cultivate your own garden instead.


As women we're often experts on the fruitless art of justification. Just let me explain! Hear me out a minute! But the only one who needs justifying to! I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to explain why my business was important to me, even to people who weren't central to my life. Then I started being straight with myself and stopped feeling the need. So will you.


The brother of justifying is judging. They're the dynamic duo of time wasting and energy zapping. When they crop up, get out the weed whacker and cut 'em down.

If you're busy rating others, you're probably denigrating yourself. Knock it off, and get focused on living your dream instead.

Accept others' right to choose and don't engage in their judgment of your choices.


Be Still

Self-reflection allows us to gain insights into our dreams and desires. By being quiet, asking ourselves meaningful questions, and remaining open to the answers, we enhance our self-knowledge. Relaxing the mind and finding a place of inner peace helps us tune in to our deepest longings.

Ask Tough Questions

Take a deep breath and relax. Close your eyes and ask yourself:

What are my nonnegotiable values?

Am I acting in ways that reflect my beliefs?

What are the barriers?

Which barriers have I created?

What are my strengths and weaknesses?

What works in my life? What doesn't?

What's missing?


Access to your own power and freedom is available through the experiences that bring you joy and meaning. What brings meaning to your day? What really turns you on?

  • Spiritual devotion

  • Creative expression

  • Career success

  • Health

  • Material prosperity

  • Family harmony

  • Helping others

  • Physical fitness

  • Leisure activities

  • Friendship

  • Romantic love

With these in mind, imagine your own version of a perfect future:

  • What are you doing?

  • Where are you?

  • Who is there with you?

Fast-back in time to the present, right now. What must you do to claim your power, the power you possess to create your life? Many obstacles slow us down or stop us altogether. But the important question is: What's stalling you?

Copyright © 2001 by Dream BIG! Enterprises, LLC.

About The Author

Deborah Rosado Shaw is the founder and CEO of Umbrellas Plus with customers that include Wal-Mart, Costco, and Toy-R-Us. She has been profiled in Business Week, Forbes, USA Today, and on CNN and NBC. An accomplished public speaker, Deborah serves on several corporate and non-profit advisory boards, and has been twice appointed Commissioner on the New Jersey Commission on the Status of Women. She lives in Morris County, New Jersey with her husband and three sons.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Free Press (January 8, 2002)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743219396

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