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Tanea Smith: Triumphant Wordsmith

Sharing her art and words, she’s living proof you can craft your own path to success despite the odds. 

The three words Tanea Smith uses to describe her life philosophy are faith, tenacity, and determination. All are well-chosen words for this amazing NYC phoenix who rewrote her life’s plan at the tender age of 19. But another comes to mind as well, and that word is victorious. 

Against All Odds 

Born in 1975 in Brooklyn, New York to a hardworking single mother, Smith experienced the struggles that often accompany life in the ghetto. Her mother was strict with her and her sister, reminding them as they came of age not to become young mothers themselves. But it happened for Smith all the same. The young woman faced the consequences head-on without flinching. 

Ambitious Resolve 

When her baby son was nine-months old, Smith became resolved toward a different future than what fate might have planned. At age 19, she put into practice the three words that would become her life’s mantra: faith, tenacity, and determination. She refused to accept her reality as it was; vowing to create a life of her own design. She even wrote in her journal every night, “I refuse to accept my reality.” This strength of character would serve her well in pursuit of her dreams. 

Brave New Corporate World 

Conjuring up every ounce of tenacity inside her, young Smith went on an aggressive job search to create the life of her own choosing. She landed job after job, mastering new skills and gaining valuable experience to help her climb the ladder to success. She landed a job as executive assistant in the corporate world and it suited her. So vowed, so achieved. 

Success Fuels More Ambitions 

Having proven to herself how capable she was Smith became restless, hungering for more challenges and an outlet for her innate writing skills. During a maternity leave from her corporate job, she began to dream and plan of bigger things for herself and her children. She would again rely on the strength and vision that had brought her so far in life to propel her even further.

Writing Her Own Ticket to Success 

Despite her gratitude for a long career in the corporate world, Smith was nevertheless bubbling with creativity and ideas for something bigger. Entrepreneurial tendencies fueled her creative notions. She had always been passionate about journaling and calligraphy and decided to utilize these hobby skills for her start-up business. Taking the $25,000 she and her significant other had put aside for a magnificent wedding, Smith began a “side hustle” called She’s Got Papers in 2007; offering exquisitely designed stationery. As she explained during an interview with Essence magazine in 2011, “By midnight the wedding would have been over, but my business is our future.” 

Side Hustling to Achievement 

Hiring a graphic artist to flesh out her ideas, Smith harnessed her natural writing abilities to create innovative products like “baby business cards” and other unique, handcrafted items. She worked her corporate job 9 to 5 and her own job from 5 to 9, often staying up until 1:00 a.m. On the weekends she filled orders and during lunch hours at the office she made client calls and spoke with vendors. Every waking moment was driven by gritty determination. It wasn’t long before it all paid off and she got paid. 

Etiquette in a Modern World 

Another thing Smith is passionate about is the personal touch of a handwritten note. In these modern times an email or text can be so very impersonal, and Smith eschews these tools as adequate for only casual communication or business tasks. Any communication of real, heartfelt meaning from a personal place should be done personally, by hand. Smith has made a return to manners both stylish and effortless with her elegant products. 

Giving Back 

After single-handedly making handwritten snail mail notes de rigeur once again, Smith decided to expand her reach even further. Looking back on her humble beginnings in Brooklyn, she wanted to share her experiences and advise others coming from the same background. Having already mastered the written word, Smith now set out to command the spoken ones. 

One-Woman, Entrepreneurial Power House 

Smith’s next step was becoming a motivational speaker and expert on transitioning from one life path to the next. Having written her own map, Smith knew the path well and was soon featured in national publications like Essence and More, as well as appearing on the Wendy Williams Show. She gave speeches at several institutions of higher learning, including St. John’s University and NYU. Smith proved a compelling speaker with an inspirational story of hope for every young woman dreaming big dreams. 

A Triumphant Reality 

To remind herself how far she has come she still carries her old welfare card in her wallet, right beside her shiny American Express Gold Card. These days Smith spends her days enjoying her family, running her successful business and teaching workshops all over New York City. She continues to inspire and nudge young people toward their dreams and away from doubt; encouraging her tenets of faith, tenacity and determination to all who want to believe in themselves. When the students in her workshops buy her a gift, I have no doubt they receive a beautifully written thank you card in the mail the very next day. 

Learn more about Smith and view her beautiful creations at taneasmith.com.