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Tyson, Asha 1970–

Asha Tyson 1970

Author, motivational speaker

Childhood Fitted With Abuse and Abandonment

Front Homeless Teenager to College Freshman

Felt Betrayed by the American Dream

Found Lifes Calling in Motivational Speaking


Asha Tysons life reads like a text-book case of the American Dream. Born into an abusive, loveless family, she became a teenage runaway and was homeless by 17. Written off as a problem child by teachers and ignored by society, she was on the verge of becoming yet another sad inner-city statistic. But Tyson had other ideas. She knew if she could get an education, she could escape a life of despair and destitution on the streets of Detroit. Against all odds she found acceptance into a private college and in record time soared through to a masters degree. Immediately upon graduation she was offered a job at the university and began working her way up the ranks of higher education. Her sights were set on a university presidentship by the age of 31 and by 26 that goal seemed attainable.

But then she did something truly remarkableshe retired. I had done all that surviving only to find out that the path I was on was taking me down a dead end street, Tyson wrote in her best-selling book, How I Retired at 26! Id gotten degreed up and followed all the rules for being successful in our society just to end up short-changed. I found myself unfulfilled and broke. I wasnt feeling appreciated for my skills at work, and I stopped wanting to be there. But I had to go. I had bills, student loans, obligations, responsibilities. What was I supposed to do? What she did not only changed her life path, but led her to a new career helping others live the life theyd always dreamed of. For as Tyson wrote, Retirement is when you move into your own sense of fullness and purpose. It is doing something that imprints your time here and says that you didnt wait for any certain age to live meaningfully.

Childhood Fitted With Abuse and Abandonment

An only child, Asha Tyson was born in 1970 in Detroit, Michigan. She never knew her father and her mother was terminally ill with Sickle Cell Anemia. When not hospitalized her mother was extremely abusive and eventually descended into mental illness right in front of Tysons young eyes. My mother lost her mind, Tyson told National Public Radios the Tavis Smiley Show. She was later diagnosed a schizophrenic homicidal, but I couldnt get anyone to believe that she was really that ill. She was stashing knives in window sills, and I was terrified I would wake up with her standing over me

At a Glance

Born in 1970, in Detroit, MI. Education: Suomi College, Hancock, Ml, associates degree; Northern Michigan University, BA, political science, MA, public administration.

Career: Northern Michigan University, assistant dean of students; Marygrove College, director of personal finance; Asha Tyson Dynamics, Detroit, Ml, motivational speaker and president; ATD Publishing, owner; author, How I Retired at 26!: A Step-by-Step Guide to Accessing Your Freedom and Wealth at Any Age .

Addresses; Office Asha Tyson Dynamics, 23309 Ford Road, Division 151, Dearborn, Ml 48128-1258. Phone: 1-800-518-ASHA (2742).

brandishing weapons, and it wasnt uncommon to find myself bound to a bed with jute rope, and beaten with whatever she could get her hands on, and it was really, really difficult.

When not terrorizing the young Tyson, her mother allowed her to be sexually abused. Not surprisingly, Tyson grew up feeling worthless and unloved. When she tried to tell people about the abuse, she was ignored. They thought I was making up stories to get attention. I reached out to school and church officials, but no one was willing to help me, she told the Unicity Nework website. Despite these harrowing experiences, Tyson managed to remain positive and determined to survive. I knew I would do something, Tyson told the Detroit News. I knew I was smart. I knew there was something there inside of me. I had a sense of what I am going through now doesnt define where Im going to be. She believed this even though her grades at school were dismal and her restless energy caused her to be labeled a problem child by her teachers.

Front Homeless Teenager to College Freshman

Tysons survival instinct kicked in when she turned 17 and finally left home. She told the Tavis Smiley Show, I eventually ran away. After living about 20 different places my senior year of high school, because I was afraid, and I was just jumping from place to place, so I was all prepared to live in an alley in a refrigerator box when a woman found me and took me to a basement of a church, which is where I got my first grounding in stability. It was while she was at the church that Tyson decided to attend college. She acknowledged the incredulity of her decision to the Tavis Smiley Show. I was very ignorant to the odds against me, and I had a very poorly developed sense of fear, and I always understood college to mean you could have a better life. So having bad grades I just decided, you know, with no mentors, no plan, no financial aid, Im going to college.

A few years earlier Tyson had seen a poster from Suomi College, a private school located in the tiny town of Hancock in Michigans Upper Peninsula. She later recalled on the alumni website of Northern Michigan University, [it] was just beautiful. It had these great photos on it, bright and colorful and peaceful. I just knew I had to see this place. Soon after high school graduation, with eighty dollars in cash in her pocket and a shoe-box full of chicken wings, Tyson boarded a one-way Greyhound bus for the long ride up north. I just showed up the first day of school, Tyson told the Detroit News .I told them, look, my mom is dying, my grade-point average is terrible, I came from a homeless shelter, I had no money, but I was hard-working, smart, and to just give me a chance. It was probably the most unusual college application process the admissions department had received, but miraculously the school accepted her. She soon proved worthy of their acceptance. Tyson earned a two-year degree from Suomi and then transferred to Northern Michigan University where she earned a bachelors degree in political science and then a masters degree in public administration, all in record time.

Felt Betrayed by the American Dream

Following graduation, Tyson was offered a position at Northern Michigan University. She wrote in How I Retired at 26!, The university was so impressed that they asked me to serve as Assistant Dean of Students; I wasnt even 24. Boy was that the break that I needed! That one job gave me the path for my life. I decided that I would become president of a university by 31. Tyson put all the determination she had shored up her entire life into pursuing that goal, immersing herself in the higher education industry and moving steadily up the employment ladder. By 26 she had become the director of personal finance at Detroits Marygrove College.

However, something was wrong. She told the Tavis Smiley Show, while I was in the process of all that, it occurred to me that I really wasnt fulfilled. I was just doing what it looked like success looked like. Though she made a decent salary, she had trouble paying her bills. She had a nice car, a lovely apartment, an executives wardrobe, but none of it brought her happiness. And whats more is that I didnt see things changing anytime soon, she wrote in How I Retired at 26! I wanted to be fully self-expressed, debt-free. I wanted to spend more time with my family, vacation, sleep in two or three times a week, pray more, take better care of my body and go to Monday morning matinees. But that isnt what I felt allowed to pursue. I had become hindered, stuck in a rut, and not feeling at all entitled to be free.

She had attained the American Dream only to find, as she explained to the Tavis Smiley Show, it really wasnt all it was cracked up to be. She realized that she had pulled herself up from the streets of inner-city Detroit only to live an intolerable life. So at the age of 26, Tyson decided to retire. She quit her job and began to do some soul-searching. I quit broke so that I could go figure out why I was broke, and what people in this country do when they have decided they dont want to live like everyone else, they dont want to be average. How do they stop surviving, stop struggling and become successful? she told the Tavis Smiley Show.

Found Lifes Calling in Motivational Speaking

While Tyson was researching the answer to this question, she was asked to speak at an NAACP function. She was stunned when she earned $100 for her ten-minute speech. Though as a child her restless talking had gotten her into trouble at school, it now became her best asset. I talked so much growing up because thats what I was supposed to bea public speaker, Tyson told the Detroit News .I didnt start making money until I started speaking to others. She began juggling a full-schedule of speaking engagements and soon Asha Tyson Dynamics, a Detroit-based motivational firm, was born.

As a speaker she was hailed for her dynamic delivery and high-energy approach. Meanwhile, she formulated her philosophies on happiness and success and in September of 2001, self-published How I Retired at 26! It debuted at Borders, Barnes & Noble, and to great success. The book explained Tysons definition of retirement and claimed, By dumping emotional dead weight, unlearning self-defeating beliefs, and discovering your passion for life, you will position yourself for financial gain beyond what you hay have ever imagined. You can live the life you have always wanted right now and always. She held her own life story up as proof.

A flood of media interest followed the books publication. Tyson was featured on all of the major U.S. television networks and dozens of radio programs, as well as in newspapers and magazines. Demand for her motivational speeches increased and she began traveling worldwide to give lectures. She soon became a cottage industry and in addition to her book released a workbook called Its Your Turn! and a motivational CD entitled Pep Talk .For the second time in her young life, Tyson had achieved the American Dream. However, this time it was on her terms.

Tyson acknowledged that quitting a good-paying job with massive bills looming is not for everyone. [Quitting] is something I dont recommend to people. I think they should do what they can do at their measurement of faith, she told the Tavis Smiley Show. However, Tyson continued to encourage people to challenge their perceptions about work and retirement. I revolutionized the meaning of retirement in my life. I decided that it meant something different, something promising, something hopeful, and something to partake of right now, she wrote in How I Retired at 26! I did this by integrating enjoyment and work into the overall meaning of my life! That in and of itself gave me a new freedom that made sense. I was then ready to do my lifes work!

However, Tyson was also quick to point out that retiring is not the opposite of work. Not working is a delusional premise that limits our creativity. Retirement doesnt mean that you dont work. The truth of the matter is, we need to work. Work keeps us involved in the circulation of life; it keeps us healthy and spirited. The crux of Tysons philosophy can be summed up in a quote she gave to the Detroit News: Do what you love to do now, and the money will follow. Whether each person who heeds her advice will achieve the success she has is debatable. However, her message and life will definitely provide inspiration for generations to come.



Tyson, Asha, How I Retired at 26!: A Step-by-Step Guide to Accessing Your Freedom and Wealth at Any Age, ATD Publishing, 2001.


Detroit News, April 12, 2002, p. 7.


Asha Tyson Official Website, (March 23, 2003).

From Agony to Ecstasy, Unicity Network, (March 22, 2003)

NMU Alumni Webpage, (March 23, 2003).

Retiring at 26, Tavis Smiley Show,, http://discover, (March 23, 2003).

Candace LaBalle

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