So often we try to hide what makes us different, what we think limits us. And yet from the beginning, I succeeded by being a proud Cuban immigrant; different, but with a unique and special voice to share. The Latin beat of Miami Sound Machine; Larios and Bongos, the Cuban-themed restaurants Gloria and I opened; our hotels in Miami and Vero Beach — these are all ways we've celebrated and honored our heritage in our American home.
Starting out as a poor immigrant in the U.S. could have been a stopper for me. So could have my attention deficit disorder (ADD), another perceived limitation. I had to learn to stay fully organized and focused, to finish the projects I started. But I've also found that ADD makes me work quickly on multiple tasks; I can produce three studio tracks when another producer is concentrating fully on one. And among the many directions my mind takes is thinking about the future — I often plan 10 years ahead. When the music business changed due to Internet downloads, I was already working on new ventures.
A challenge I share with many immigrants is having an accent. Since I came to the U.S. as a teenager and learned English late, as these things go, my accent is strong enough that people think I might not understand them. Restaurant waiters will ask me slowly, "W-o-u-l-d y-o-u l-i-k-e w-a-t-e-r?" And I respond, "It's me who has the accent, not you." Maybe people don't always understand me, either — but when I give a lecture, when I talk about where I came from, the audience knows it's authentic. And the upside to my accent? My wife tells me it's "v-e-r-y s-e-x-y."
Sometimes limitations aren't strengths, I'm sad to say. When I put on my producer hat, I may have to admit to myself that I'm not the right percussionist for this particular sound I'm looking to achieve. So I put my ego aside and bring in the best. As a perfectionist, I want everything to come out exactly the way I expect. And when things don't, I learn from my mistakes — and that is always a positive lesson.
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I hope the music professor who once tried to make me accept my limitations has learned something from his own mistake. When I asked him how to go about learning music, he told me I was too old. Here's what he saw: a 17-year-old with no formal musical education. Here's how I saw myself: a person who refused to live without the music I loved. Nineteen Grammys later, I think I can say I overcame the obstacles that I was faced with.
Be yourself: Your "limitations" can be the key to the best you have to offer the world.
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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