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No Need to Be Fearless

PHILADELPHIA: Tonya Comer is the principal of Tonya Comer Interiors, a Philadelphia design firm that last year was named among the top 20 African-American design firms in the country. She has residential and business clients in nine states, yet sitting down with her was like chatting with an old friend, one with a focused and thoughtful approach to life. In our conversation, she described the “breadcrumbs” that have been left for her throughout her life, each one leading her closer to her passion for design.

Here are a few of my main takeaways.

To listen to the complete interview, go to www.women2watch.net and click onpodcast.

No matter what your beginnings, you can overcome. Tonya’s mother was 19 and single when she walked out of the hospital on the day of Tonya’s birth. She had nowhere to go and no one to help her. As she sat on a bench in a park outside the hospital, an “angel” of sorts approached and sat down beside her. She told her mom about a place where she could find immediate shelter, food and safety, and their journey began. Tonya has memories of those early years as a young girl growing up in the projects of Pittsburgh, and moving past them is a struggle. “I concentrate on one word — ‘unstoppable’ — rather than the word ‘fearless’ because there will always be fear, and fear can be a good thing,” she told me. “It keeps us on our toes.”

Having “principles for accomplishment” for your career will keep you moving forward. Tonya lives by “7 principles of accomplishment.” Each one keeps her focused on what she does well and, more importantly, where she struggles. The first one is to forge partnerships because she tends to be “a lone ranger.” If you don’t build a team of people around you that can handle the things you can’t, your business will never grow and innovate. Another principle she lives by is “no means no, for now.” Asking the right questions of a client can often lead to a yes when the time is right. Don’t ever stop at that first no.

We are only as good as we allow ourselves to be. Years ago, Tonya was given the opportunity to design and create hardware for a drapery line. It was a project that did not make it to the manufacturing stage. Years later, Tonya was flipping through a trade magazine and saw her product. She had not been contacted for any licensing or royalty agreements and vowed that she would never go into product development because she would never survive it. Fast forward to 2010, she was again provided with an opportunity to design a product. She decided she would not let that one experience hold her back from doing something she was being called to do, and her design now sits with tilebar.com as a beautiful new line of tile called “Boulevard.”

Connect with Tonya Comer: LinkedIn; Twitter; Facebook

Originally posted on Bizwomen.com. Philly Femfessional Susan Rocco is a weekly columnist for Bizwomen.com, The Business Journals. Sue Rocco is the founder, producer and host of Women to Watch, a live radio program and weekly podcast with a mission to inspire and encourage more women to pursue leadership roles worldwide. Check out her most recent article “Why one of Philly’s top interior designers doesn’t want to be ‘fearless'” here.

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