Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Where We Begin Doesn't Define Where We End': The Power of Believing in Yourself

A woman in a suit standing in front of a sign that says women's leadership.

​When Magie Cook, CEO and founder of Maggie's Salsas, took the stage on day three of the 24th annual Women in Leadership (WIL) Institute in Orlando, Fla., and began relating her personal and professional story, you could hear a pin drop among the more than 2,000 attendees.

Cook's leadership journey to CEO of her own company is unique, to say the least. Born and raised in poverty in an orphanage in the mountains of rural Mexico, Cook and the 68 children she was raised with often had little to eat. To reinforce their food supply, Cook learned how to hunt in the nearby countryside, killing her prey with her knife and dragging it back to the orphanage for everyone to share. She learned to improvise any way she could to survive the bleak poverty that threatened her very existence. 

A Hill in West Virginia

That ability to improvise would serve her well when she found herself driving a beaten-down truck she rented from a junkyard to transport 10,000 pounds of her homemade salsa from West Virginia to Maryland. Cook was fulfilling an unexpectedly huge order from Whole Foods—obtained as a result of a cold call to the high-end grocer that Cook was almost too nervous to make.

At 5'2" and behind the wheel of a manual truck with no numbers on its gear shift and wires sticking out of the dashboard, Cook was struggling to reach the pedals as she found herself rolling backward down a steep hill at a stop sign somewhere in West Virginia.

After managing to slowly bring her truck over the hill's summit, Cook pulled over, found a block of wood on the roadside, cut it in half, and duct-taped the two pieces to the bottoms of either of her shoes. Now able to reach the pedals, she made the 10-hour trek, just in time to reach the distribution center where Whole Foods was expecting her delivery. 

‘You Are the Architect of Your Life’

After surviving abandonment and poverty as a child, a broken collarbone early in her pro basketball career (yes, she did that too), and periodic homelessness post-college, it's little surprise that Cook managed to deliver that salsa against all odds. It would be the first order of many for Maggie's Salsas, a company Cook launched with an $800 investment and turned into a grocery store favorite that she ultimately sold to Campbell's Soup for $231 million, which she used to return to Mexico and rescue 30 young orphans from sex-trafficking rings.

To nourish her famous fortitude, Cook carefully constructs her daily routine around personal affirmations and cultivates a worldview in which failure is impossible. "We either let life control us, or we take control of our lives," Cook affirmed. "You are the architect of your life. You will always have adversity, and you need to move forward, no matter what."

Cook advised her audience to ask themselves why they do what they have chosen to do. If you don't know, she counseled, you need to determine what your unique purpose is. "Our subconscious mind is always driving ourselves to our true purpose," Cook said. "But we often don't listen, and we go in a direction that is not ours."

Cook said that for a very long time, her "why" was based on fear—the fear that she would end up like her estranged father said she would, "dying in a prison with AIDS." She had to let go of that to succeed, she said, and she primed herself by projecting for herself who she imagined she could be.

Magie’s High Heels

As a child in her rural orphanage, Cook imagined success was walking confidently into a big business office in beautiful high-heeled shoes. Showing off the jewel-encrusted heels she was wearing on stage, Cook said that with a carefully cultivated life-affirming attitude and a refusal to take "no" for an answer or let the odds win out, we can realize what we set out to do "by devising a strategy to get from where you are to where you need to be."

When the truck full of 10,000 pounds of Maggie's Salsa sprang a fuel leak, Cook was compelled to make repeated stops at truck refill stations. When she climbed down from the front seat and stumbled with big blocks of wood taped to her shoes to fill her tank, and all the truckers at the station stared at her in curious disbelief, "I just owned it," Cook said.

"When you believe in yourself, you can own what you are," she added. "I never saw myself as any different than anybody else. I had no question that my salsa business would be successful."

Summing up her story to an audience hanging on her every word, Cook told them, "Life always comes full circle. I was able to return to Mexico and rescue 30 kids just like me. We either let life control us, or we take control of our lives. Where we begin doesn't define where we end."


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.