Just after Christmas 2004, having completed an ominous painting of a woman crying on a beach as waves crash around her, I received a phone call.

A reporter on the line asked, “Do you have a statement on the disappearance of your photographer Fernando Bengoechea in the Asian tsunami that struck this morning?”

My daughter and her friend came running into the living room. Apparently, I had screamed. Another nightmare had begun.

The body of my dear friend Fernando was never found, but it seemed that the entire world was looking for him. The story of his disappearance in the wake of that terrible tsunami was on many television stations, and even Oprah Winfrey made note of it on her show.

To make matters more poignant, Fernando had told me shortly before his fateful trip that he had found the love of his life and wanted to spend more time with his partner. I was to design a plan to generate income for him through syndication so that he would be able to live his dream.

After his disappearance and presumed death, Fernando’s family had to dissolve his studio. The entire body of work was shipped to me. It was up to me and my office to ensure his legacy through his work.

With the tireless help and enthusiasm of curator Lamar Lentz, we facilitated an exhibition of Fernando’s work at James Dick’s The International Festival-Institute at Round Top in Texas. When Fernando’s brother, his wife, and Fernando’s partner, had tears in their eyes at the opening of the exhibit, I finally felt that my part in his journey was fulfilled, and I was able to come to peace with his untimely death.

During all of this turmoil, my business had begun to turn a profit. I am certain that my Dad and Fernando had a hand in it. My company, Beateworks, became a little star among photograph syndication companies, and we proceeded to sign the most amazing and renowned photographers, and to set up global distribution deals left and right.

We became the world’s most recognized collection of architectural and interior images. While I did not invent the “celebrity at home” story, I turned it into a brand and took the idea global. We became the largest and most successful supplier of such images, licensing in 76 countries worldwide.

After the launch of yet another collection that was very well received, I knew I had arrived at the right time at the right place with the right product. In 2006, I sold my company to Corbis, a company privately held by Bill Gates. After so long – success. Enormous success. Yes, I became wealthy – but even better, I became, finally, a very happy woman all around.

Everything boils down to these two questions: Are you going to be the result of your circumstances? Or do you actively choose who you want to be? The latter is what I teach.

Next, we’ll be moving on to some of the things I learned during my life, which I want to share with you. But first, tell me of a great event in your life that made you who you were – what did you do when you decided not to remain passive in life, but become an active participant? Was it some major upheaval, or a sudden realization after a trying period? I’d love to hear from you – please share your thoughts with me.

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