Sarah Williams #1

“We have to accept our differences. When you try to be cookie cutter, you’re ruining what He created. When you celebrate your differences, you’re celebrating a part of God and what He made you to be.”

 – Sarah Williams

In life, we are told by our parents, educators, and any other significant figure in our lives to follow a universally accepted plan: get a good education and get a job once you graduate from college. We are oftentimes pressured into following in the footsteps of those who came before us. We are encouraged (and sometimes forced) to get degrees and pursue careers in things that aren’t remotely of interest. We are taught to strive for excellence at the cost of our happiness.

It isn’t every day that we are encouraged to go against what is seemingly “the norm.” Not everyone is raised with the idea of following their dreams and creating their own path. We aren’t always inspired to march to the beat of our own drum. Sometimes we have to look towards an outside figure, whether they be someone we randomly encounter, someone we see on our television or computer screens, or someone we see in a book or magazine. Most of all, we have to teach ourselves to listen to that inner voice or adhere to that gut feeling that tells us what we’re supposed to be doing.

It is when we do those things that we start to find our rhythm in the world. We find peace and happiness. Most of all, we begin to thrive in multiple aspects of our lives.

Sarah Williams is finding her rhythm.

The young entrepreneur and visionary, who hails from the Southside of Chicago, has a long list of accomplishments to her name. A graduate of the of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Williams holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies. She also attended the university on several scholarships, including one from the Posse Foundation, a full-tuition leadership scholarship. It was through her experiences that she decided to start two businesses: Open Sesame Cards, a company that produces greeting cards for challenging and unique situations, and 24 Hours Resume, a company that provides premiere professional services (i.e. resume writing, cover letting writing, and interview coaching) to those looking to secure that job of interest or advance their career.

The youngest of four siblings, Williams grew up around her two older brothers. Her sister, the oldest, is fourteen years apart from her (when she was a child, her sister was already in college).

Her parents divorced when she was 5 and Williams lived with her mother and grandmother. They all lived in one big house with an aunt and a few cousins together for ten years. When Williams got to high school, she, her mom, and older brother (other older brother was in college) moved out of her grandmother’s house and into their own place.

Williams attended Robert A. Black Elementary School where her mother worked. It was during this time that she discovered her creativity.

“Sometimes my creativity would get me in trouble. For example, it was one time our teacher gave us specific instructions on what she wanted us to do. It was a group project and I decided that project was too boring. I wanted to do something that was more outlandish, so I convinced my other four group members that we were going to do a commercial. Everyone was expected to put on a television show, but I was like no, we’re going to do a television show and it is going to be a news show. It is going to be called ‘B.S. News.’ And everyone was like, ‘What?’ People said, ‘No, we’re going to get in so much trouble.’ I said, ‘No, it will be great. Just put the B really big, the S really big and in small letters, write ‘Best Source.’”

Williams convinced her group to go along with the idea and crafted an elaborate news story that would surely make the group stand out and create a lasting memory with her teacher and other students.

Williams recalls, “And they were recording this! My English teacher was recording this and she was so big on making sure that we were unique and top of the rod.” On this particular day, she invited a couple of other groups to watch our group! She was bragging about how great our group was and she was so embarrassed. She was laughing, but she had to catch herself. To make the long story short in terms of the aspect of my mom working there, she showed the video footage to my mom and my mom died laughing. But then she had to put on the serious face like, ‘This is so inappropriate.’ I think that was my first encounter with realizing how far my creativity could go. And it created a memory. It’s probably something I shouldn’t have done, but me and my friends will laugh about it to this day. My friends and peers were trying to stop me, but I said, ‘No, we have to do it! It’s too funny!’”

It was also during her time at Robert A. Black Elementary that Williams recognized her ability to write. “I knew when I was very young actually. My first memory of me knowing I could write is probably being in sixth grade and entering city wide essay contests and winning. I won an essay contest where I won plane tickets to meet the original [living] Tuskegee Airmen. And it never really left. Either I would write in my notebook or write in my journal. It’s just something I enjoyed doing in my spare time. I think that’s the reason why I didn’t major in it [in college] because I didn’t want to take the fun out of it. I was concerned that maybe I would.”

While attending the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS), Williams went to an annual national convention for Future Farmers of America. She spotted an encouragement card and loved the wording as well as the design. “I just loved greeting cards. Buying them, people buying them for me, I just love them. I love heartfelt messages,” Williams explains. She thought it would be great to run a business around that one day. Meanwhile, she was encouraged by a teacher to be an Agricultural Lawyer based her ability to be analytical. She would go on to major in Agricultural Communications while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; however, she soon realized that the major wasn’t for her.

“I thought I wanted to do Agricultural Communications and once I realized what it was, the work was doable, but it wasn’t interesting me. It wasn’t the type of writing I wanted to do. It wasn’t how my brain functions. So I was like, ‘Okay what can I do to get out of this?’ I always had this other interest in family dynamics. I always questioned why people are certain ways and why do certain relationships among certain siblings work better than others, so I looked at other majors there. I thought maybe I could major in Creative Writing, and I like to write, but I wasn’t sure if I was the type to want to do it all the time. I enjoyed writing when the inspiration hit, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted do it every single day. So, I saw Human Development and Family Studies. I said, ‘Hmm what is this?’ It explored human relationships and family dynamics and child development. It was like the psychology of families. So, I picked up that major my sophomore year.”

By the time Williams’ junior year came, she had received many signs that led her to know for sure that she wanted to start a greeting card business. While sitting in a class for her major, her professor started discussing taboo topics. That’s when she began to apply what she was learning to her life and her dreams.

“One of the biggest takeaways from being a Human Development and Family Studies major is that there are taboo topics – those things that families don’t discuss. I thought, ‘That’s it!’ I don’t like anything that’s swept under the rug. I’m the type of person to address stuff head on. That’s how we receive our healing. I thought that maybe I could write cards that helped people have empowering conversations on topics that are taboo where someone might not know what to say, but they can buy a card that knows what to say. Oftentimes, it’s those things that are taboo that need to be discussed the most.”

At the same time, Williams was applying for an internship with Hallmark where she had to create a concept for a card. While discussing the opportunity with a college professor, Williams was advised to think about categories where large populations are affected and think outside the box.

“After I graduated, I sat down at my computer one day and started thinking. What will my cards be about? What will make this a business? There’s other greeting card companies out there. What will differentiate mine? I started thinking of topics. Suddenly, my inner voice said, ‘Cancer.’ I thought it was great since no one likes to address it within families. I started to search online to see if anyone had created greeting cards around that and no one had. I immediately told my brother about my idea and he was very supportive and excited about it. Ironically, four months later, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer and three years after that, my brother, with whom I first shared my vision, was also diagnosed with cancer,” Williams recounted.

During Williams’ aunt’s battle, she told her that some people who normally supported her were being avoidant. Williams found out that it wasn’t because people didn’t care. It was because they didn’t know what to say.

Because of her love of helping and supporting others, Williams started writing messages and cards that were tailored to each person’s experience. After reflecting on the advice of her professor, experiences with her family and learning about her major, she confirmed that cancer would be the initial focus for her greeting cards. Open Sesame Cards was born.

“After discovering that I have the ability to write, I then discovered that I have the ability to understand people’s emotions. I didn’t discover that until about two years ago.  One time I was walking downtown and my inner voice said, ‘Go get this magazine that’s out in the magazine rack.’ I was being lazy, it was on the other side of the street way behind me, but I went anyway. In it was an article about Barbara Bates and her battle with cancer. I had met her a year prior and I was taking notes about her experience. I wrote a card based on her experience and I never showed it to her, but seeing that article made me realize how closely aligned the card that I wrote was to her battle with cancer. I discovered through that and other various experiences I’ve had that I have the ability to be in tune with other people’s emotions. The term for this ability is a highly sensitive person. It is also a gift known as empath (short for empathetic). Shortly after, my aunt had it and my brother had it and I was just able to put myself in their shoes.”

Since founding Open Sesame Cards, Williams has had the pleasure of building connections with different support groups such as Gilda’s Club Chicago (named after the late comedic actress, Gilda Ratner) and has led card making classes at Covenant Church of God and Ann & Luries Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Late last year, Williams reached another epiphany and reflected on some additional experiences she had that forced her to put her entrepreneurial spirit to use once again.

“A couple of years ago, I was working at a job and there was a woman who was there. She was so intelligent to me and had so much potential. She had already been at that same job for three years and when I saw her, I just thought she had so much more to offer. So, I started talking to her and seeing what her interests were and I told her, ‘I totally see you being an Executive Administrative Assistant! You could make so much more money than what you make now!’ She asked me how and I just said, ‘Let me just walk you through a whole process.’ So, that’s how it started. I revamped her resume, posted it on all these career sites, prepped her with all these interview questions, and then a couple of weeks later, she started getting all these phone calls from employers. Finally, she ended up getting interviews. This particular one she ended up accepting [the offer]. I told her to negotiate what she wanted to get for her raise and she ended up getting $20,000 more than what she was originally making and she was only ten minutes away from home, whereas where we were currently working, it took her maybe an hour and thirty minutes on a bad day or an hour on a good day to get to work. She was my first success and I just did it out of the kindness of my heart. From the time I graduated from U of I to the time I started law school, my background was in Workforce Development. I worked as a trainer where I would help people gain employment. I just kept helping people. These were people who had been looking for jobs for years and started getting them all of a sudden. I said, ‘This needs to be a business!’ At the same time, I had been applying for positions myself and hadn’t been getting anything. I ended up helping a total of 14 people. That’s when I realized I had a knack for helping people get jobs. I realized I’m not supposed to be working anywhere else. (laughs)”

When asked what advice she would give to anyone wanting to follow in her footsteps, her answer was immediate, precise and clear: “Don’t be me. Be you. Don’t follow in my path. Pave your own. People, including me, have a tendency to silence their inner voice and pay more attention to what everyone else is doing. Every time I’ve tried to do something that’s cookie cutter, it didn’t work for me. We have to accept our differences. When you try to be cookie cutter, you’re ruining what He created. When you celebrate your differences, you’re celebrating a part of God and what He made you to be.”

She went on to explain, “Also go with the flow. It took me not getting a job I really wanted to say, ‘You know what? I don’t need to do this.’ That’s what I mean by going with the flow. The flow was saying, ‘Look Sarah! Look! Here’s what you need to be doing!’ Meanwhile, I’m just applying for jobs and getting ‘Denied! Denied! Denied!’ (laughs) So I just gave in.”

Sarah Williams, we here at Livin’ Like Maya celebrate you for sharing your gift of creativity through writing, encouragement and professional training. We appreciate you sharing your words of wisdom gained through various experiences with readers. We thank you for being fearless and teaching us to pay attention to the little details in our lives that guide us on the path to our purposes. We are excited for all the great things that are in store for you in the future.

Continue to illuminate the world with your light, share your wisdom so other’s lives might be changed, and last but never least, live, learn and evolve each day. We pray nothing but God’s continued blessings over your life.

With love,

The Livin’ Like Maya Fam


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About The Author

Herbert is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in Advertising and currently resides in Chicago. When not doing consulting work, he enjoys writing, reading, volunteering, music, and television, among other things.