08/31/2011 02:31 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2011

Dreaming Is Fine, but Doing Is Better

The first day of school definitely inspires optimism for the future. Speaking as the mother of a young woman who will soon begin her freshman year in college, of course we have high hopes. And no guarantees.

Americans have always been dreamers. For generations, Americans have promised their children that they can be brain-surgeons and rocket-scientists, cowboys and ballerinas, astronauts or the president of the United States. Part of this optimism springs from the faith of immigrants who flooded into America a century ago, and did, indeed, create success in ways which never would have been possible in their native lands.

British people like myself tend to regard this level of optimism as a bit naïve -- a cultural difference, perhaps. But given the current state of the world economy, we must temper "Dream big!" optimism with pragmatism.

I have spent my entire career -- 30 years -- encouraging and motivating young women to achieve. My specific expertise is in professional skin care, and the creation and running of a skin care business. My skills are very tangible, and my approach has always been practical. And I have used my skills to help literally thousands of women succeed in this profession.

Was I a dreamer? Dreaming sounds abstract to me now, and I was always more of a doer. I began working at 13, after being told by my own hard-working mother -- she raised me and my three sisters on her own -- that I needed to be able to "do" something to make money, so that I would never, ever have to rely upon a man for a place to live and something to eat.

My upbringing was not especially future-minded, although Mum did teach me to save money for a rainy day (we certainly have plenty of those in the UK). The focus was on the here-and-now. Not lofty, and not so very dreamy. I quickly learned there is no shortcut around sweat-equity. As a "Saturday Girl" in the neighborhood salon, my sweat-equity began with sweeping up hair cuttings and sterilizing hair-pins.

Although I consider myself a perpetual student, I did not pursue an academic education. I was trained and licensed in the craft of professional skin care, which is comparatively short-term. When I had my license, I went right to work, and I've never stopped.

This feeling of hands-on, here-and-now is what drove me to launch in January of this year. The women -- we're aiming for 25,000 -- we will be empowering with microloans funded through this initiative may talk about dreams. These are dreams of putting food on the table, and creating a better life for their children in very immediate terms.

I recently encountered a remarkable woman who represents both the dream and the willingness to work tirelessly to make it real. Her name is Rosa, and she is the owner of a shop called Native Hand by Hand in San Francisco. Rosa grew up in a family of gifted artisans in Ecuador, and her shop is filled with exquisite silver jewelry and clothes made by artisan cooperatives in her country.

But in 2009, when she wanted to expand, she was deemed "unbankable" by major lending institutions, since she had no credit history. Her first microloan from Opportunity Fund allowed her to invest in inventory, and establish herself as a business. Now joinFITE has funded her second microloan, allowing her business to expand.

Rosa's so proud that her daughter has just graduated from high school, and you can get a glimpse of this success story here. Maybe it's semantics, but I don't know that I would call Rosa a "dreamer." Instead, I see unrelenting doing, working, and sacrificing for a clear objective, which is to give her daughter the tools she needs for success.

I am relentlessly upbeat, but I am about to send my oldest daughter off to college with this caveat: wishing and wanting will not make it so. The vision and the dream are just the first step. The sweat-equity is as important, maybe more so. For entrepreneurs like myself in particular, this sweat-equity means 12, 14, 16-hour days, and the potential of literally years without profit.

The dream and vision, the wanting and the wishing, are what allow you to persist spiritually through the hardship. But I place wishing and wanting into the same category as Snow White warbling "Someday my Prince will come." Maybe in a 1937 Disney cartoon, but I don't advise any of this as a strategy for success.

I was reminded of this by Susana, another woman I also met on my recent trip through Northern California. Susana received a joinFITE microloan for her daycare center called Happy Faces in San Jose, and word-of-mouth in the community has enabled her business to quickly grow to maximum-capacity. In fact, she is now sought out by mothers-to-be, who place their names on a waiting list.

It's worth mentioning that Susana, like Rosa --and like myself, at age 13 -- had made her living sweeping and cleaning, before being licensed as a professional in her chosen field.

For everyone starting a new school year, starting a new business or just looking for a job: there is no "secret." Americans love the word "visualization" these days, and it's the theme for countless books, seminars, success-coaches and self-professed entrepreneurism gurus who tell willing believers that if they just want something badly enough, it will happen. But the success of Rosa, and Susana, and of Dermalogica, too, are proof that this simply isn't so: you just can't skip the heavy lifting.

Learn more about my recent trip to Northern California to meet Rosa and Susana.