3 People to Get Stuck in an Elevator with
Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker was a woman before her time. The Guinness Book of World Records lists her as the first female to amass a personal fortune of more than $1 million in the U.S. She also served as a patron of the arts, a philanthropist, and political and social activist.
I would love to chat with her about her savvy entrepreneurial skills. She had a unique marketing gift unlike any other. Orphaned at the age of seven, Madam C.J. Walker recalled that she had “little or no opportunity when I started out in life.” Although she only had three months of formal education, at the time of her death in 1919, she had a diverse investment portfolio and a successful business with over 500k in annual revenue and around 25,000 employees.
As an advocate of female economic independence, she said, “I promoted myself.” She intentionally engineered her personal and professional life so that she could amass wealth, not just for herself but “for the good she could do with it.” She even bequeathed two-thirds of the future net profits of her estate to charity. I know I could learn a lot from such an innovative professional powerhouse who had such a heart to help people and the community in which she lived.
If I could pick her brain for a few minutes, I imagine myself scribbling down notes like a courtroom stenographer. I wouldn’t want to miss a word!
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. His musical talent was obvious at an early age. However, he sadly started to lose his hearing after his first major orchestral work (at the age of 30). Even though his hearing loss escalated into total deafness and severe depression, that didn’t stop him from composing.
When I lived in Austria, I visited one of the apartments where he composed one of his symphonies. It was a bit surreal to stand in the courtyard below and imagine being a neighbor hearing his furious piano pounding. Modern-day me envisions relishing in the musical genius of his composer fury. I’d love to go back in time and eavesdrop on him in the middle of creating the second movement of Symphony No. 9. I’d like to think I’d treasure such a gift, even if inconveniently bestowed in the twilight hours.
He is a reminder that success can still be achieved, despite life’s obstacles or physical impediments. He composed 722 musical works, despite describing his life as a “wretched existence.” He attributed his artistic destiny and the desire to fulfill his life’s purpose as the stimuli for pulling him out of his emotional despair.
I would love to ask him about his dogged determination to pursue his dreams and perhaps inquire about the intended recipient of an unsent 10-page love letter found after his demise.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was an uneducated peasant who came from an obscure French village, yet she became a remarkable teenager. Despite being burned alive at the young age of 19, she lived a life fully dedicated to her personal ethos, which unfortunately resulted in her death. Although her piety might rise above the elevator’s Muzak, I think it would be lovely to talk to someone so greatly despised and yet so wholly untainted by the peer pressure and personal agendas of the influencers of her time.
At the age of 17, she convinced Charles VII to permit her urgent request to be equipped for war and lead the royal army so that she could fulfill a religious prophecy from one of her visions. I love the witty, profound statements she made during her politically-motivated trial that stupefied even the corrupt court officials interrogating her, prompting them to stop holding public sessions.
I have a feeling she would be the type of friend to not only tell you that you have spinach in your teeth but to do so diplomatically and without ceremony. Her honesty and bravery were unparalleled! She not only boosted the morale of a nation, she paved the way for future female rebels. I think she’s a young lady any of us would want on our squad. You may not always like what she has to say, but there’s something to be said for a friend who is always willing to tell the truth, even to her own detriment.