Wendy fitzwilliam, speaking to the students of Union Claxton Bay School.
Address by Wendy Fitzwilliam
Photo: Tony Howell
I must thank the Trinidad Publishing Company for giving me the opportunity to come and speak with you. This is something Ato, Brian and myself discussed over the years on a few occasions and Im very happy that the publishers of the Trinidad Guardian and Sunday Guardian saw it fit to make it a reality for us.
I was asked to share with you today my experiences in the context of what made a difference in my life. You guys, Im sure, know what led me to some level of celebrity. But then the story behind Wendy as with every other human being has its challenges. I would like to share a little bit of that with you.
Today, I would focus on six guiding principles for me. Believe me, when I was your age in high school I didnt have guiding principles, or rather, I didnt think about them as such. But being a part of this process has caused me to sit and think seriously about the events in my life, at least the ones I hold dear, that have brought me to this point. I certainly didnt do it alone.
One of the most important principles is belief in your human instincts. We all have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. Thats something inherent. The support mechanism to that would be religion, school, parents/guardian, all the structures that are in place to guide you along the right path.
Instinctively, we all know whats right and whats wrong. Thinking back on my life on the few occasions I didnt listen to that instinct, I didnt take the advice that Wendy, the person who I am, was giving me. And every single time I didnt, I lived to regret it. For example, when I was six I encouraged my 5-year-old sister to stick her finger in the socket of one of the plugs for the Christmas lights. There were really some bad decisions I made knowing very well I should be studying for finals and choosing to party up a storm, giving my parents really weak excuses for where I would be. For every occasion I did something silly like that, I have lived to regret it. I would never make it back to my home on time; the partner who was taking the crew got themselves high and couldnt be found. And the repercussions were much worse than if I had just taken stock of myself and postponed the party until after finals.
Today I want to focus a little on some of my failures. Luckily for me, Trinidad hasnt been very much made aware of Wendys failures. But, I promise you, everyone who is very successful or is perceived as very successful has had a series of failures throughout their lives. It is from your failures you gain your greatest lessons or values which take you forward.
What failure does for me is spur me on and encourage me to succeed. Upon failing, success is no longer a desire, it becomes a necessity. I absolutely hate to lose. I enjoychallenges very much , but with that comes serious responsibility and a high risk of failure. You can plan as much as you want but things dont always go your way. I would give you a couple of examples, from failing my drivers licence test the first time (which really annoyed me because that meant that my father had to drop me to intercol matches as opposed to having the opportunity to drive myself) to much more difficult failures that forced me to learn coping skills, real life skills. For example, if you read my resume it looks really good but there was a lot of hard work that went in to getting there. Every stage of my academic career there was some degree of failure. On my first sitting of Common Entrance I passed the exam for St Josephs Convent but getting there, let me tell you, was nightmarish. I think I was the only 10-year-old in Trinidad who was ready to go to the pediatrician to take Valium because I was so nervous for those exams. My academic record at that point was just ok whilst my younger sister was always an A student, and she is only one year younger than I am. So she was in class with me all the way to Common Entrance. Having the pressure of knowing her success and my limitations was really difficult for me to deal with.
When you go to St Josephs Convent almost everyone is number one from whatever school they came from. So I went immediately from being in the top three to five in my class to the bottom half.
CXC was no walk in the park either. On my first attempt I failed mathematics. I didnt even bother with French, which I really regret now. That experience was a little more difficult to bring myself out of because when everyone else was liming or at intercol matches having fun, I had to take extra classes to rewrite mathematics for me to stay in Form Six. That was no fun at all.
Even UWI, which got more difficult again, balancing between academics and wanting to have a good time the academics definitely had to take priority for me to get out that system. Unlike most of my classmates who were scholarship winners etc, I had to work really, really hard to get there and to stay there. I had to work even harder.
I repeated my second year of the undergraduate programme at UWI. That was a serious blow for me because that meant finding an additional $30,000 dollars at that time to go to school. And Im definitely not from a very wealthy family. That was very difficult. I think if I made better choices at UWI, knowing that I was not a number one academic student, I would have done better and saved my family and myself a lot of heartache along the way.The point is, I have learnt from those experiences. I still, as you may be aware, enjoy a good fete or two or ten, but my priorities are definitely in the right place, I think.
What I learnt out of university, partially, was the importance of understanding your passion, knowing your passion and following your passion. Which comes back again to your human instinct. What you enjoy doing most is mainly what you should spend the rest of our life doing, in terms of your career choices etc. Out of the Miss Universe experience, a lot of opportunities opened up to me. Things that I would have never discovered before. Before going to that competition, in my head I was going to be a fashionable lawyer. I just wanted a decent wardrobe and a good legal career. The Miss Universe experience, however, literally opened up windows of opportunities. All of a sudden, out of singing two lines of an old jazz song that my sister and I liked on the night of that competition, I was offered a recording deal. That is very rare in todays world. I told myself at the time, however, that this was a great opportunity and I was going to take advantage of it because I like to sing.
During the four-year period after Miss Universe, I pursued a music career, with success, but not nearly as successful as Mariah (Carey) or Britney (Spears). Coming out of Miss Universe I was able to do certain things in that area, like work with some of the best producers on the planet to develop a sound that was Wendy. I traveled to Africa, Latin America, all over, performing. I never performed in Trinidad and Tobago because I know you guys would kill me if I didnt live up to the very high standards of local audiences. My intentions were to do go outside first and then come home. But, again, if you are not following your passion, it becomes another job. I learnt through that process that my passion is really social work. Its what gets me up on a morning. It really excites me.
But Im also a girlie girl. I like pretty things. I love shoes. I really love shoes and clothing. I couldnt figure out, after identifying that social work was my passion, how to marry both. How do I enjoy a relatively high standard of living and pursue what I really want to?
The music experience really helped me in figuring that out because when you are on the road traveling as a musician, what the audience sees is the glamour. You walk on stage in a fabulous designer garment, you blow kisses, you sing, everyone loves you and people throw flowers at you. What happens behind the scenes to get you to that point is not so pretty. Its a lot of hard work that goes into that. All night sessions at recording studious, ugly, ugly negotiations and a lot of loneliness as well. Life on the road, unless you are consumed by music and its really your passion, can be very lonely. Being in the middle of Angola or Mexico may sound exotic and fun but if you do that often enough and you are by yourself your friends, relatives are in another time zone so you picking up the phone to make a phone call is difficult and you just came out of an ugly negotiation with a promoter it can be very difficult and very lonely.
But if thats your love, if thats what drives you, it makes the job bearable. Luckily for me, having come back to Trinidad, Im now very much involved with a company (Evolving TeKnologies and Enterprise Development, known as EtecK) developing a new industry here which is very much social work. Also, being here affords me the opportunity to do what I enjoy most to assist in taking care of some of our really less fortunate children.
I would like to leave two more points with you. One is the importance of having someone to lean on. A true role model. When I say that I mean not just a Wendy (Fitzwilliam) or Brian (Lara) but also someone with whom you can relate to on a daily or weekly basis. Someone who is important to you and with whom you feel comfortable speaking freely. In my case, there were two women while growing up whom I really admired one a Trinidadian, the other an Austrian, Audrey Hepburn, a very popular American actress and someone I always aspired to be. The Trinidadian I call my local Audrey Hepburn. She is a well known local model by the name of Sharon Imbert. She is also a senior accountant with the Ministry of Finance. Sharon taught me how to marry my passion for law, my corporate world, my social world, entertainment and the business of fashion or glamour. Often, when you attempt to do something a little different, you are bombarded with a lot of negativity and Im sure you guys have faced this too. Before law school I decided to accept an offer to sit for a very well known Trinidadian artist, Boscoe Holder, as a model. My father went absolutely crazy and it got worse when I was offered a couple of television commercials and modeling gigs.
For my very first Meiling show, I thought he would have a heart attack. We had many arguments over that. We got to the point where I had to prove to him that I could balance both. That I could complete school, pursue my career and also successfully pursue that other part. Thats why coming home after Miss Universe and finishing law school was so very, very important.
But what Sharon taught me was that there is a great deal of sacrifice involved in any activity. It is always a question of making choices. If you are as greedy as I am and you want two or three careers, your social life has to suffer to some extent. Sharon was very instrumental in teaching me how to balance both and to overcome challenges such as daddy or a bad grade because of my failure to focus efficiently on my academics as opposed to my fashion career etc.
The other point I want to make is that there is no revenge on this planet sweeter than success. None. Use every really negative comment thrown at you as a positive. If you stay focused on dealing with negativity, its a waste of energy. You know, a classmate at school might be a bit envious of you if you win a regional competition and may want to give you a hard time. Instead of engaging that person in a fight, just do better. That person is insulting you or criticizing you severely only because that person already perceives you to be superior to them. You have to keep improving and showing that you are superior by succeeding.
Wendy Fitzwilliam was crowned Miss Universe in 1998. She is now Vice President/General Manager, Business Development, at Evolving TecKnologies and Enterpise Development Company Ltd.