The bravest thing I ever did professionally was take a chance on "Conga," a song that Sony turned down because it had too much percussion, too much piano and was too Latino. It's hard to go against your own label, but Gloria and I love that music and we thought other people would love it too. We took it to radio stations ourselves and it became our first huge hit.
Courage is where daring meets opportunity. I think it starts with the ambition to get up every morning and make the world a better place. You're never going to fail when you're trying to help somebody else to make a difference in the world.
Not all my heroes are famous people. There's a homeless man I saw when I was riding my bike one morning. He had a loaf of bread and he was feeding birds with half of it. I asked him, "Are you going to have enough to eat?" and he said, "It just makes me so happy to share with the birds."
I admire the pope, who's making a difference in the church by being open to gay people. For so many years nobody talked about the differences people have. President Mandela, I also admire, because he suffered so much but he refused to hate anybody.
Courage and hope go together. I had to be courageous very early in life. When I was 11, I heard my parents talking about how bad things were in Cuba and I knew we'd have to leave my country. Three years later my father and I were able to go, but my mother stayed behind; I didn't know when I'd see her again. It took three more years of work and saving money to bring her to the U.S.
Whatever age you are you have to take chances. My daughter, Emily, is producing in the studio with me, working on an album for Carlos Santana. He asked her to play a small guitar part. She was scared to try it. She said, "Dad, that's Carlos Santana!" When life gives you a chance to do something, take it! A friend of mine who's 87 years old challenges herself by traveling at least three times a year to Spain, Prague or Israel. You have to push yourself. At the AARP convention in Las Vegas I noticed how many people want to try new things.
So many things are out of our control and trying doesn't mean you're going to succeed, but it does mean that you gave it your best effort. Gloria sang her song "Reach" at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta about how great it feels to try hard: "If I could reach, higher/ Just for one moment touch the sky/ From that one moment in my life/ I'm gonna be stronger."
Emilio Estefan is a music mogul, a restaurateur, a father, a husband and a philanthropist. As Life Reimagined ambassador for AARP, Emilio will share his expertise on a variety of subjects, including his passion for living, mentoring, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and much more.
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