Keeping Your Dreams Alive in Chaotic Times

istock by Getty Images “Rasica”

istock by Getty Images “Rasica”

The hours left in 2018 are now well within sight and soon we’ll all count down to the very last seconds as the ball drops in Time Square marking the beginning of 2019. How do you look back on 2018? How do you plan for the year ahead? My reflections on 2018 bring a flood of emotions: Gratitude. Anxiety. Anticipation!

These are the themes that are all too familiar—in a good way. I am always ever grateful that the opportunity to do what I most enjoy continue to emerge. There is an ever-present anxiety about how best to leverage all those opportunities, however. I experience personal bouts of FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out! Like many Latinas, I manage many roles—familia (parent, spouse, daughter), board member for two organizations, dual executive roles at Impact4Health and its parent company InclusionINC and --of course-- co-founder at LatinaVIDA! As much as I got a lot done in 2018, it pales in comparison with all the anticipation I have for what I’d like to do in 2019!

The hard part about making plans for the future though is to anticipate challenges, obstacles or difficulties that sometimes appear out of nowhere.

I’m certain none of you reading this predicted the extent of instability and turmoil of the political environment we find ourselves in today. Some of you are deeply impacted because you are Dreamers. Others in the armed services may face changes in your deployment. If you are the only US citizens in your family, you may be living in fear not knowing if you may be separated from loved ones. The constant chaos and the negative messages about our culture have made it hard on all of us. I feel I’ve aged a lot these last two years! Not since my high school days when I watched the Watergate hearings after school and watched the impeachment of Richard Nixon has the political turmoil in Washington DC been such a colossal source of unrelenting disruption.

How should we navigate the year ahead? We can’t bury our heads in the sand until its over. I hope each of you seeks out meaningful ways to volunteer on any number of issues that are at the heart of the national debate. Even if you can just volunteer a few hours a month, you will find a sense of relief that you are doing something positive. Stay informed about the issues with reliable sources and make sure you are not getting news just from inside your social media feeds. Otherwise you are living in a bubble of your own curated points of views which is never a good idea. And, keep your eyes open for the disruptions that might come to your career.

When I finished my doctorate in psychology, there were enormous cut backs in social program spending by the federal government and I had to look at very different career paths than what I had expected. I was so consumed by getting my degree that it caught me off guard. Today’ economic instability points to market changes in every sector. The career you have today or planned on may change.

How to respond?

Be a lifelong learner so your skills keep growing and you remain a valued employee or take a new role that positions you for different opportunities. There are so many ways to take an online course from major universities now at edX. You might also want to look at your closest community college or university for extended education and certificate programs. Albert Einstien is noted for saying, “once you stop learning, you start dying”. His wisdom is echoed in the dichos I heard from my parents—A la cama no te irás sin saber un cosa más/Don’t go to bed without having learned one thing today. Let me know your strategy for 2019 at @savvylatinainfo or sending me an email or leave a comment here. Live Your VIDA with intention! -Maria

Fake News, Fake Friends, Fake Entrepreneurs---Let’s Get Real on the “Faketoids” in Social Media that Undermine Latinas


      Let me start by saying I actually do love the technology behind Facebook.  At it’s best, it lets families and friends connect and stay in touch or it brings people together to support community events.  It’s the misuse of FB and other social media platforms—beyond the 2016 election--that sparked this rant because all those “faketoids” on FB can have such a negative impact on Latinas.  
      A year before the furry over Cambridge Analytica’s hijacking of information to sway the 2016 election, the Harvard Business Review published an article reporting that the more a person uses FB, the more likely they are to report reduced  physical and mental health and poor overall life satisfaction.  At the core of this research is how much users basically compare their lives to the lives of those they see in their media feed and make negative conclusions—my life isn’t that interesting, my friends don’t care as much about me, or my career/family/house/significant other/children/parents/car/ aren’t good enough. 
      So let’s get real on the big three “faketoids” on social media: fake news, fake friendships, and even fake entrepreneurs.  Given the high use of social media by Latinas—This is a call to action to own our experience, manage our participation, and most importantly: minimize the damage. Technology should work for us not against our well-being so let’s be smart about it!
       The first “faketoid” to address: Fake news. While there is lots of coverage on the fake news about politics in the US, social media spreads fake stories on every topic. One of the fake stories with a huge impact on Latinas is about who received DACA and the fate of Dreamers.  Those stories not only create even more anxiety for those with uncertain status, they also undermine our legitimacy in the eyes of employers, lending institutions, or other voters.  These stories fuel the fear and the bias.  If you need to know the latest on DACA, turn to a reputable site like United We Dream and trust only the links to reputable news sources. 
      If the fake news isn’t demoralizing enough, what about fake friends?  Social media often creates a frenzy around connecting with others for the sake of connecting—even with people you don’t know all that well.  Soon enough those connections can reveal any number of issues. This past year I’ve seen several Latinas take on publicly what otherwise in the past would have been a private conversation between friends in conflict.  Ultimately, it’s an ugly display of a lack of respect for differences.

       Latinas are some of the most diverse women on the planet---we are single, married, gay, gender neutral, introverts, extroverts, multi-ethnic, low income, top earners, physicians, cooks, lawyers, nurses, teachers, mechanics, engineers, trainers, soldiers, peace officers, business owners, clerical workers, Democrats, Republicans and then some.  This diversity is our fundamental strength until someone makes less of another person because they don’t fit the ideal image of a Latina or they see the world through a different lens.  Just because someone friended you doesn’t mean they get who you are or what you do. Real friendships take time, real friends accept differences, and yes real friendships are built on some elements of common ground.  Regardless of how long you’ve known someone, social media is not the place to resolve a disagreement.  
       The last set of “Faketoids” swirling in social media are all those enticing programs about becoming a successful entrepreneur.  This is a huge risk for Latinas who are now setting up small businesses at a record pace throughout the nation.  Roughly 227 Latinas open a new business in the US every day!  As of 2017 there are 1.9 Million Latina owned business generating $103 Billion in revenues.  But that journey can be exceptionally hard if the business model isn’t tested, if the financing is your own savings account, or if your great idea isn’t getting traction.  The average earnings for Latina owned business is $52,000 per year compared to $210,000 earned by white women owned businesses. What’s the reason for this disparity?  
One is the nature of businesses that Latinas establish.  Many are in the service sector with smaller profit margins. The other may well be the result of the misinformation put out there on what it takes to start and run a profitable business.  

      Given the low cost of advertising---anyone can take a few hundred dollars and create an amazing website, use FB marketing ads, self-publish a book on their laptop, or create snazzy video that serves as click bait.  Before buying that quick fix start up kit—try reputable sources that feature the ups and downs of being an business owner, give away free services, or connect you with entrepreneurs where you can learn what it means to build a business from scratch.  At the very least, do your homework and ask for references from entrepreneurs that have truly built a successful business.    

      What “faketoids” have you spotted lately? Let’s get real and call them out! 

Corporate Job Versus Entrepreneur: Timing is Everything


Latinas are starting businesses in the US at a record pace.  There is no question that women of color have that entrepreneurial spirit in our DNA.  Since 2007-- for every 10 new businesses started by a woman, 8 were started by women of color!   The average yearly gross revenue for all women owned businesses is $143,000 while the average revenue for Latina owned firms is $52,000 and most are concentrated in service sector. 

While that drive to strike out on your own and get out of the grind of working for someone else is so enticing, there are some things to consider for you and your family.  Whenever I’m asked about my big lessons as a business owner, here’s my go-to list of cautions:

First, starting a business requires having an idea that’s marketable and sustainable based on your one and only first employee: YOU.  The passion you want to bring to your business may be there---coaching, social media management, writing, or gourmet cooking!  This is the talent you want to leverage in your business, but now there’s the managing of your business. In addition to being CEO, you are now also Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer.  The key question: Do I know how to manage the business and not just work in the business?

Second, it takes money to run a business and make money.  If your business is going to generate $52,000 –on average—then be prepared to shell out—about 20 - 25% --in federal self-employment income taxes. Then there’s liability insurance which you generally need to have if you will be conducting business with a major corporation or using an office.  Depending on what you do, that can run $2 – 3K yearly.  The list of costs is long.  The key question to ask:  Can you get the capital you need to invest for your start up costs? 

Third, it takes more personal energy and enormous focus to run a business than most can imagine.  It is more common than not to have a 12 hour day and to work on the weekends because your job is not just the service you will provide to your clients---its also about creating a proposal or marketing your service, billing your clients, developing new services, and learning more to stay on top of your game.

There is no question that running your own business is one of the most rewarding ventures you can pursue.  Landing a deal, selling your first product, or opening day for your shop is thrilling!  The key is timing your big launch.  

If you plan to leave your regular job to go solo, save some money---anywhere from 3 – 6 months of living expenses—to launch.  Talk to your spouse or partner about their willingness to handle living expenses while you grow the business.  It’s no fun to stress your relationship over money so get clear on your new family budget and manage expectations about whether other expenses will need to be shifted—that vacation in Cancun may need to be on hold. 

Equally important---be willing to explore what you may not know about running a business.  Entrepreneurs often have a strong, bold sense of confidence.  Hey that’s what being an entrepreneur requires!!  But that confidence can also blind you to what you don’t know you don’t know. That’s not a typo. Read that sentence again. Life’s biggest challenge: you don’t know, what you don’t know.  If you are working inside a large enterprise, you have a perfect learning environment to see how successful businesses are run.  This is one of the reasons I personally advise anyone to work at least 3 - 5 years inside a company before launching your own. Use that time to first develop your own skills!  Then make time to connect with people who work in other parts of the business so that you can ask what they do and what they might claim to be the key learnings from their profession.

Another possibility is that you may want to create a business as a “side hustle” while you are still working.  There may be opportunities to sell a product you believe in but be super careful about getting tied up in a multi level marketing scam or pyramid schemes.  If it sounds too good to be true or there are wild promises about getting rich overnight—don’t walk, run away.  Some of these businesses entice you with stories of 3 – 5 people who made millions but if you look behind those stories---its basically a lie.  They made their money not selling the product---its signing up people who pay to play: buying the product you will sell before you sell it. 

There are so many resources now for starting a business and the range of opportunities is staggering.  Get informed about the options, time your launch carefully, and oh yeah, get your game face and do it con ganas!  Be sure to post your business ideas in our Facebook Group and get some feedback from amazing Latinas who got your back! -Maria

#MeToo For Latinas #YoTambien

me too yo tambien.jpg

We are experiencing a watershed moment in the US.  What is that? I’ve witnessed a few: Watergate.  The personal PC on your desk. The first internet.  The #MeToo moment that started two weeks ago when actor Alyssa Milano asked women to call out their own experience with sexual assault is still trending on social media.  Now the fate of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has many men lying awake at night wondering when their past bad behavior will cost them their job, their current relationship, their family and for some, their freedom.  Finally.  Maybe once and for all the silence around sexual assault and harassment will end.  There is so much at stake for all women but this watershed moment may impact Latinas in a different way. 

First, let’s be clear that we have historically been cast as the most sexualized character in media or the ones with the least power and subservient.  The sex worker. The maid.  The girlfriend that tolerates abuse. The peasant.  The first time I saw a young Latina character on mainstream US television in such a remarkably authentic role was America Ferrera cast as the lead character in Ugly Betty.  That was 2006! Oh, by the way, that show was based on a telenovela in Latin America and produced for ABC by Salma Hayek!  Rarely are we cast as physicians, lawyers, scientists, therapists, teachers, or political figures.  The sexualized, coquette woman in film—the bad one—is both lovely and exotic and that somehow has translated into brown and curvy.  You might as well put a sign on our foreheads: You can do anything you want and get away with it.

Second, there is no question that many Latinas take absolute unquestioned joy in fashion, beauty, and music of every genre.  We celebrate our lives in every artistic form and Latinas love crafting their very own style.   And we (rightfully!) have no fear featuring our curves, our hair, or that must-have red lipstick.  This flair for the artistic fashionista—even flamboyant--trendsetting will not end.  Nor should it.

Our unwavering flair for style coupled with the cursed stereotype of the passive, ever-suffering Latina must not allow the #metoo moment to pass us by.  Our bodies and what we do with them or our fashion sense is ours alone.  Men who look at all this as somehow permission to view Latinas as the one group that can still be subjected to sexual harassment or assault cannot be sheltered.   Just because Latinas (or any woman) lives her beauty out loud on her own terms is not an invitation to make sexual comments or worse.  We are not “asking for it”.  For the umpteenth time: Sexual harassment, assault and abuse are all signs of a warped sense of power over another human being.  It is not about attraction.

Latinas remain over represented on the front lines of every industry’s workforce rather than in management.  This makes it much hard to access leaders who can intervene and defend their positions.  Many do not trust HR for even hiring male predators in the first place. Fear of job loss, demotion, or continued abuse is a reality for any group that lives on the margins of the social gradient of power in the US today.  But #MeToo is not just for Hollywood actresses, congresswomen, or lawyers.  It’s for us.  #YoTambien     

Do You Want to Be the Alpha Latina in the Room (Really)?

(Image by @cellophane_girl)

(Image by @cellophane_girl)

Have you ever described yourself as THE Alpha female in the room?  Some of you are more direct: BadassChingona.  You are proud to dominate the room, the conversation or any situation in your quest to be successful entrepreneurs, community leaders, and executives.  Or maybe you bring out these warrior instincts at home with family—driven to let your family know who’s the boss.   In 2003, Europes largest daily newspaper, The Guardian, published one of the first articles asking the question: Do Alpha females exist?  It cautioned that being an Alpha male or female was not exactly a positive way to describe either men or women!   Since then, stories about the emerging traits of the Alpha female abound. 

My question: In our current quest to create opportunity for all--to build an inclusive society--a strong united sisterhood to advance women of color does it make sense to adopt the qualities of an Alpha male or could this undermine our true power?

The Alpha male is typically characterized by hierarchy—striving to be the one with the most power to control others at any cost.  Power is a zero sum game.  There is only so much and the more you have it the better.  Power is good for one purpose and one purpose only:  Be in charge.  The Alpha male came to be epitomized in popular films with “successful” men though reckless, selfish and narcissistic—think Gordon Gecco in Wall Street. Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas.  It’s their way or the highway. 

Is this the leadership style for women to follow?   Isn’t it possible we can do so much better and model the way?

As Latinas continue to advance in so many sectors, there is no question that a common trait shared across the spectrum of success is fierce determination and assertiveness.  It takes real focus and positioning yourself to navigate up the corporate ladder, get elected to public office or to run your business—and have a personal life.  The word “no” means nothing to us.  And it is so easy to lash out when we’ve been slighted or made less than in our work life.  But Latinas bring something more to the quest for leadership.  We can still bring the best of our cultural values for community, integrity, respect for others and advance without resorting to what’s been done to us.  And, this may be a small manifesto to call each of us to stay true to those ideals—because those values turn out to be actually good for the soul, good for business, and fundamental to the kind of society we may all want to create.

One of the most prolific writers on the value of developing strong supportive social networks is Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Success.  In one of his epic posts on LinkedIn (a must read!) he described how important it is not to cave to the belief that leaders who build big businesses or disrupt industries must also be assholes! And his book offers so many examples of “Takers”, “Matchers” and “Givers”.  Turns out the truly successful business leaders thrive on giving back, helping others, staying accessible to those who actually can’t do much to advance us, and offering authentic support is key to success.  Look at those attributes! Don’t they align with some of our most cherished Latino values?

As much as I want Latinas to Rise to the Top---let’s not do it at the expense of our deeper values that shape our Latinidad. Tell me about the values that shape your career and how you bring our culture to the work you do. Andale Mujer!  -Maria  

I’ve Been Stabbed in the Back

"To Be Stabbed in the Back" by  LadyKenora  Used with Permission

"To Be Stabbed in the Back" by LadyKenora Used with Permission

Those are the words that came to my mind five years ago when a person I thought to be a colleague went forward and published an article about our work on a health initiative---making it appear that the project was solely his.  Yes, the national publication was vital to my career.  No, I didn’t see it coming.   Yes, he was a white male (and quite privileged).  I didn’t find out until I saw the journal publish the article and at that point to go back and ask for a retraction would be a spectacle.  The editor was appalled, nonetheless.

As I often mentor others, when you face a set back its key to put it into perspective and ask:  Is this five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months or five years of recovery.  THIS was five years.  The project was starting and it would be a while before another paper could be written about the results of that initiative.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.  The next hit was that I was taken off the project by this same man after I complained and stated that I expected to be included in the write up of the results of the project.   My options as a consultant were totally different than as an employee. I moved on.

Five years later, I cannot begin to say how much my work ended up turning in a much better direction.  I started another similar project in a different county and garnered better results with better support. I presented a better paper to the National Council on Foundations.  And the original publication where I thought the original article would be published is ready to share the results of this work when done.  I also began driving a different agenda for my work that now supports the activity of a consulting team of several professionals.  All that helped to position me for a Board of Trustee role for one the nation’s largest public safety net hospitals—a role I deeply cherish for what I can do to advance health equity.

When a setback occurs in your career—and they will—it requires assessing what kind of challenge it truly poses for your life—not all set backs are equal.  Our emotions alone are not enough of a measure of the problem because our anger, fear, hurt or frustration can reflect our own ego surrounding a situation.   And sometimes we can stay stuck in the emotions instead of forming our best response that gets us what we most want for our career: respect, opportunity and advancement. 

Que se puede hacer? What to do? 

Go nurture yourself and acknowledge the pain—but stay ready to move forward.  Take a hard look at your role in the situation and write down the lessons learned. Make a list of options.  Identify what resources you have or who your allies may be.  Ask your trusted advisers for feedback on the ideas you generate.  Look at the end goal you have for your career and weigh these against the organizational politics involved, the interpersonal dynamics, and the short and long-term consequences you may face with each action.  As much as possible don’t burn bridges on the way out of a situation that one day you may have to cross on the way back.

Probably the most helpful thinking to adopt is to get away from “either/or” thinking to “what if I do X and I do Y”.  It helped enormously that I maintained my sense of professionalism and that my network of other colleagues supported my next set of activities.  No one succeeds alone and it does take your own personal grit and tenacity to find the path forward.   Tell me how you overcame a challenge and let’s share lessons learned among our LatinaVIDA community.