Five Lessons from ‘Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker’

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On March 20, Netflix premiered a four-part miniseries telling the untold story of hair-care mogul and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker. Based on the biography On Her Own Ground by Madam’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker starred Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Blair Underwood, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Garrett Morris, Kevin Carroll, Carmen Ejogo, and Bill Bellamy.

Each episode of the highly-anticipated project, written by Nicole Jefferson Asher, was about forty-five minutes long, starting at Madam’s rise to fame in the beauty industry and ending at her fall to death at the age of 51. Self Made

After being under the reign of cosmetics pioneer Annie Malone (renamed Addie Monroe in the documentary), Madam, born Sarah Breedlove, took what she learned and formed Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower in the early 1900s. No stranger to damaged hair, she aimed to provide premium products for women of color, enlisting her daughter, Lelia, and her then-husband, C.J., to help her market the iconic brand globally.

The Walker Company (Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company), officially incorporated in 1910 in Indianapolis, Indiana, was celebrated for its number of sales representatives, scalp treatments, salons, and schools.

From clothes washer to hairdresser, it wasn’t long before Madam’s legacy was planted, as she soon became America’s first self-made, African-American female millionaire.

Today, decades upon decades later, her legacy still blooms in many history books and hearts of little Black girls with those same dreams that she once worked so diligently to make come true for herself.

These are five lessons I took from Netflix’s Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker:

  1. Always Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Self Made

Despite the small portion of hope that our elementary-school textbooks gave us, the road to Madam’s success wasn’t an easy one. In Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, we had the opportunity to see the plethora of obstacles she faced throughout her journey to financial freedom.

If Addie Monroe wasn’t busy trying to stop the bag that Madam was chasing, Madam’s husband (portrayed by Blair Underwood) was busy trying to get her to give it a break and chase their marriage instead. Eventually, their union ended, but Madam made sure that her money never would.

She always kept her eyes on the prize. Even through times of sadness and on the brink of giving up, she managed to keep pushing. She never let what she was going through have any type of impact on the empire that she was building. That, alone, is one reason why her hustle is so admirable.


2. It’s Okay If Your Seed Takes a Little Longer to Grow

Self Made

When Octavia Spencer said, “The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit,” that’s the line that resonated with me the most because it’s true.

Too often, we get so caught up in watching everyone else water their garden that we forget to continue watering our own. Greatness is a process. I’ll be first to say that I’m guilty of not being patient enough to wait it out and see it through.

“But so and so did this and theirs turned out like that,” we say. “But so and so did this and theirs didn’t take that long to…” However, truthfully speaking, that so and so who you’re comparing yourself to probably had to bite into four bad apples before they got to a good one.

No one’s route is meant to lead to the same destination; that’s the beautiful thing about crafting your own lane in life!

As we saw, even Madam had to fail a few times before she got to her win. No matter how many times she fell down, she always picked herself back up.


3. Don’t Forget to Smell the Flowers While You Still Can

Self Made

Although Madam’s by-any-means-necessary diligence and resilience were respectable, it hurt her in the long run.

In my opinion, she seemed to have spent most of her ‘better’ wanting ‘bigger’ and didn’t really take a moment to smell the flowers… until it was too late. Though her husband, C.J., may have come off a little overbearing at times, all he truly wanted was for Madam to work smarter, not harder.

I, too, have fallen into this same trap. Of course, not on the same scale, but the narrative that grinding every day is productive has sucked me in on several occasions. Working hard daily isn’t easy! Rest days are just as important and should be appreciated more. It doesn’t make you, or what you do, any less valuable either.

Start basking in the now instead of focusing too much on what’s next.


4. Let Your Haters Motivate You as Much as Those Who Love You

Many will argue that Madam shouldn’t be praised for her accomplishments since she allegedly stole Addie Monroe’s (Annie Malone) formula and made it her own.

But… could we 100% say that she took this woman’s recipe? Could she have just taken what she’d learned and leveled it up? After the horrible, demeaning things that Addie would say to her, Madam even offered to go into business with the woman! We still don’t know what really happened, so I won’t flat out pick sides, but that says a lot.

Granted, it’s debatable, but you can’t fault Madam for making lemonade out of lemons. For so long, she was the underdog and made to feel unworthy for her lack of looks and knowledge to society. She ended up proving them all wrong.

The truth was, Addie couldn’t take it when Madam didn’t need her to feel “important” anymore. Madam was good enough to stand behind her, but she wasn’t good enough to stand with her. When she saw that Madam was actually at the front of the line, that’s when the haterade crept in.

Addie even got some of Madam’s people to join her hate train. They never made it too far in their tracks, though, because those setbacks only seemed to strengthen Madam’s comebacks!


5. Remember Those Who Helped You Up When You Were Down

Although she was self-made, one thing that could never be said about Madam C.J. Walker is that she didn’t open doors for people!

Whether it was making a way for women like her to affordably get their hair cared for, hiring them to do the caring, or educating others who were willing to learn how to, the opportunities that she offered were endless.

Nowadays, there are very few who are all for sharing their platform in that manner.

While it’s true that everybody can’t go with you to the top, it’s vital to never forget those who were with you at the bottom.

I say that because you could very well pass them on your way back down.


What were some of your takeaways after watching Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker? Let us know in the comments!

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