Debra Lee

When I learned that BET Networks CEO Debra Lee had agreed to grant EBONY exclusive access to photograph her recently built home in Washington, D.C., I confess that I assumed it would be some gaudy oversized McMansion. So when the taxi driver pulled up in front of Lee’s sleek home, I asked him if we were in the right place.  It was hardly the house I was expecting and, to be honest, had been prepared not to like. But the minute I entered her contemporary light-filled house, I saw that her taste mirrors my own: lots of huge windows and neutral hues with sophisticated pops of color. I instantly felt welcome in her modern oasis.


I made my way down an art-filled entry hallway onto a glass-walled elevator that looked out over a Jacuzzi nestled into one of the tiers of the multilevel backyard. The doors opened into the master bedroom suite where Lee was getting ready for the photo shoot. Then she led me into a room I didn’t realize was a closet until she pulled open a shiny white door to reveal a shoe collection so amazing, I had to literally catch my breath.  And that’s when I felt it: a sudden twinge of jealousy. I thought: ‘I want this closet and that elevator and those paintings.’ I asked myself: ‘Why don’t I have these things?; I work hard.’ But then I took a step back and thought about how Lee has achieved her success through many years of incredibly hard work, dedication and passion. So instead of allowing unproductive thoughts to continue to flow through my mind, I turned to Lee and said, “Man, if you were a trust-fund baby, this would be annoying, but I know that you have earned every single stiletto in that closet and then some.”


Everyone in the room laughed, and I felt better for having let go of my negative energy and turning that moment around. So often, we are too quick to hate on people we perceive are doing better than we are. We question whether they deserve it and who they think they are—and what they really did to get what they have. This negative attitude holds us back. Instead of focusing on our own dreams and trying to figure out what lessons we can learn from those who have already achieved their goals, we end up hating on the people we should celebrate. Debra Lee is a wonderful role model: She’s had a trailblazing career and helped to build successful company. She’s raised two accomplished children. She gives back to the community. And most important, she’s a kind person thanks to her father’s early advice.


My favorite Lee lessons? Work hard, focus on being the best at what you do, never take your eyes off your dreams, enjoy your success but be thoughtful and generous, take care of the generations coming after you, give back to our community.


The one that resonated the most: Establish your own goals and don’t waste time trying to tear down the achievements of others.
When I look at my friend Debra and all she’s been able to achieve, I know I can take lessons from her success and apply them to my own life. And I know she’ll be just as happy for me and my success as I am for her right now.


Hit me up on e-mail or Twitter to let me know how you’re making your own dreams become reality.