I come from a middle class family where my dad worked three jobs and my mom worked full time as a secretary for Nassau County on Long Island. We always had food on the table and my sister, brother and I always dressed nice, but there was no money for extras.
I remember playing the flute in the band. I loved it. But it was expensive to rent every year and the bandleader told the students that we should buy an instrument. I was the only one who didn’t own my own flute. I wanted one so badly. I cried and cried but my parents couldn’t afford to get me one. My Uncle, who wasn’t married at the time, bought me a present one-day and I was always grateful for this gift. I finally could be like the other kids!
One day, my grandfather sat me down, when I visited him and my grandmother in Florida, and he said to me, “Hilary, you need to reach for the stars. Don’t let anything get in your way. You can be whoever and whatever you want to be. Don’t let anything stop you.”
His speech resonated with me. I had trouble understanding what he meant. How could I do anything when I have so many obstacles in my way?
Money was always an issue. Life was a struggle in my house. My parents wanted me to get a secretarial degree and work right after High School. But I had higher aspirations for myself. I wanted to go to college and not have money be an issue in my life. Since my parents couldn’t help me, I took out loans and worked full time and went to school at night. In four years, I graduated and had several internships and working experience under my belt. I landed a good job at Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations. That’s how I got my start.
I worked hard at my first job. I wanted to learn everything I could. I knew one day I would be an entrepreneur and start my own agency but I couldn’t do it without a lot of experience.
I worked constantly. I worked at two major non-profit organizations and three prestigious Public Relations firms. I went for my Master’s degree and graduated in 1991. I needed a Master’s in order to start my own business. I needed to know everything I could know. I kept reaching for those stars.
When I found the news that I was pregnant a month after graduation, I decided it was then that I should start my own firm. Should I call it “Mass Communications?” Mass was my maiden name but was that too cliché? My husband suggested HJMT after my initials and that seemed to stick.
Throughout my tenure of working for others, I collected a database of people I met along the way. I reached out to everyone I knew and told them I was starting my own firm. When word got out, I got referrals and HJMT Public Relations was born three months after the birth of my first child.
Every day was an adventure. I hired staff early on and worked hard for my clients getting them publicity in newspapers, magazines, on television and radio. There were no Internet shows back then. There were no bloggers. It was simple. I would work with the clients develop story angles and pitch the media.
I eventually moved out of my house to an office to a bigger office and then expanded the location of the office across the state of New York. I didn’t realize that running a business was a lot more than publicizing a few clients. There were salaries, taxes, bookkeeping, management, team building and more. It wasn’t easy. It never was. But, I kept shooting for those stars.
When the Internet became popular and I started using social networking sites in 2006, I realized that social sites were just as important as traditional networking and started getting very involved. In 2008, I started my first blog, HilaryTopper.com, today has more than 50,000 unique visitors. And, in 2009, I wrote one of the earliest books on social media and the first dedicated to baby boomers, called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media but were afraid to ask… building business using consumer generated media.The book sold thousands of copies all across the world and my firm generated a ton of media exposure. But it wasn’t enough, I kept shooting for those stars.
Along the way I won dozens of awards and achievements but I still didn’t feel like I made it. I kept striving to do better. This past year, I launched another blog, ARunnersDiary.com, which has 10,000 unique visitors, a Blogtalk radio show, Hilary Topper On Air, which has 5,000 business owners listening. I also launched Wearable On Air, a new show that interviews CEO’s in the wearable tech industry and it’s been picking up momentum.
After winning the opportunity to buy Google Glass, I created the first Google Glass Reality Show on Youtube, Glasslandia. We had more than 10,000 views and more than 50 million impressions through both traditional and social streams. I have more than 100,000 people following me on all of our HJMT social sites, including @hilary25.
I always felt compelled to give back. I volunteered to speak at career day at my son’s school. I started a non-profit organization that educates people on social media. I donated to charity and I started teaching a Master’s level course at Hofstra University. It was… it is… important for me to give back and mentor others.
Every day, I reach for those stars. I think about what my grandfather told me and I wonder if I’ll ever get there, but I keep on reaching…
This article first appeared on LinkedIn.