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Alicia Keys: Becoming Limitless

By Alicia Keys • April 3, 2013

A few years ago, I found myself at a crossroads. I had passed that period of being naïve, figuring out how everything worked, and learning how to put it all together. I realized it was time for me to reach out in new directions. I had new ideas and dreams. I didn’t want life to just happen to me—I wanted to be an active participant.

Though people knew me primarily for my music, there were other avenues I wanted to explore. I dreamed of creating an environment – a home, so to speak – for all of my endeavors. My various interests were growing, and I was beginning to discover more opportunities in film, music, television, theatre, the tech world and beyond. I didn’t want to look at all of those possibilities as separate endeavors, but rather as a cohesive package. Additionally, I was heavily involved in philanthropic efforts and wanted that passion to complement all of my creative projects as well. I realized I had a huge palette to draw from and it was important that my projects reflected my hard work.

I knew I needed this “home” to have a purpose. When I was younger, people would approach me to do endorsements and promotions for jeans, perfumes, beauty products… everything you can imagine. But I was hesitant because I knew I didn’t want to just do “things”—I wanted these things to have meaning. As I thought about what I wanted to make of my new “home,” I began to focus on the idea of inspiration and how it could be my guiding force in the world—working solely on things that have the potential to bring light to people and make a real difference.

I saw this most clearly when I was backstage before one of my shows. A woman came up to me during a meet and greet and asked me if I was going to sing “Unbreakable.” I teased her for a moment, saying, “I don’t know, maybe… we’ll have to see.” She responded very seriously. “I hope so. I am five years in remission. I played that song every day during chemo.” Her words left me speechless. In fact, even today when I think about that exchange, I still get the chills as I reflect on her response. That moment alone embodies how I feel about music and all creative endeavors— there’s an incredibly beautiful power that when used appropriately, has the ability to inspire people.

Throughout my life and the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to see what’s possible when women come together to inspire, empower and encourage each other. A large part of my journey as an artist has been influenced and supported by the great women I’ve been surrounded by: my grandmother and mother among them. As I opened a new door in my career, I was driven to honor the power and brilliance of women as leaders and positive forces in making a difference. And so I started AK Worldwide, the company that oversees and manages all of my projects.

It wasn’t easy. People disagreed with me and thought it was a silly idea. Some said it wouldn’t work and that I didn’t know what I was doing. But I soon recognized that many people don’t encourage you to step into your power and reach your true potential. In fact, they may even like it when you have less power or control in life. And so, I decided to keep moving forward—to keep creating a world filled with the opportunities I wanted and believed in so strongly and with women’s empowerment at the forefront.

At times it was definitely a struggle. To restructure a business and bring change to the things that are already known can be daunting and overwhelming. I was determined to rethink the way things should be done and then created a whole new team around my vision.

In spite of my conviction, others continued to feed me with doubt rather than offer support. It was disappointing and scary. I kept thinking, “Maybe I should do this in my personal time. When I have downtime, I can do this.” But as I worked through the process and followed my intuition, I found that my life became fuller—my goals and purpose were greater than any of the negativity I faced.  I was becoming more complete.

Slowly, AK Worldwide began to grow. Opportunities I had only dreamed of before began to come to life. What once seemed unreachable became possible to grasp. And one day, I just knew—I knew my business would succeed because I wanted it to succeed. Because I believed it would succeed. Because I worked hard for it and because I listened to myself and knew what I was capable of achieving.

I find great trust in the women I’ve hired and who I collaborate with every day. We have worked hard to invest in and partner with women-owned businesses, to produce projects that highlight the beauty and strength and diversity of women, and to collaborate on initiatives that place an emphasis on women (often through humanitarian efforts). With inspiration at AK Worldwide’s core, I’ve created a place or “home” that pushes me to do the things I had always imagined and reminds women, my greatest supporters, that we are unstoppable and can all continuously reach for everything we can dream. The results have been mind-blowing. But I know that none of this would have happened had I not found myself at a fork in the road.

As I look to the future, a goal of mine is to change perceptions. I’ve learned that as a culture, we like to box everyone in with short, concise descriptions. We love stereotypes and we love genres— we love feeling like there’s a compartment or space to put things in order. I’d like to break down those preconceptions and allow people to shine as they are and not how we want them to be.

Through my experience, I’ve learned that you can create the world you want, and fill it with the opportunities that are right for you. Do not let others limit your power or step on your integrity. Instead, focus on what matters to you. You can never lose when you’re passionate about your place in the world and believe in the choices you’ve made along the way.

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