The Road to Faith: Part 2 – Gratitude

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My mom – Marie R. García – 1930-2003

In my last post, I began sharing my journey to understanding faith. It’s been an amazing voyage of discovery caused by a life changing heart attack and lung complication. Along the way, I’ve come to learn that faith is accepting God’s will, being grateful for what you have, and serving others. It took a major life event to get me on the road to spiritual discovery. On the road to enlightenment, I discovered that my mom had always understood what I sought to understand.

When I was a kid, she taught us to say, “thank you, God, and thank you, mom” after every meal. Of course, I understood why I was thanking mom. She cooked the meals. The real reason for thanking God never really dawned on me. It was a ritual, I thought, like everything else about church: sitting and standing at the appropriate times, praying the “Our Father,” taking Communion, and reciting responses after the priest gave a blessing.

For my mom, all of these actions and words were rooted in her deep faith. Through the course of a day, you could hear her say, “si Dios quiere” (God willing), “gracias a Dios” (thank God), and “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you), as part of any kind of discussion she was having with someone. Those weren’t mere sayings to her. She was a person who put herself in God’s hands. She was patient, understanding, and thoughtful no matter the situation, good or bad.

And, she was grateful. As I became older and more financially secure, I started to notice the beautiful simplicity of her life. Her children and grandchildren were her prized “possessions.” When we bought our homes and filled them with, in her words, “nice things,” she beamed with pride. When she passed away, she had the same round kitchen table, simple living room furniture, basic dinette, and plain bedroom set that I remember as a boy. She appreciated every bit of it. I never heard her yearn for more or complain about what she didn’t have.

While tirelessly climbing the corporate ladder trying to redeem myself from life’s “failures,” I found time to visit my mom in the morning on the way to work about once a week. I loved to see her eyes brighten and the smile on her face when she opened the door. She would give me a warm hug before escorting me to that old round table in the kitchen so she could fix breakfast for me.

I felt safe in the comfortable cocoon of 48 Viewmont Avenue. With a plate of papas and a couple of over-easy eggs, a cup of coffee, and warm tortillas in front of me (she usually didn’t eat), mom would want to hear about the girls and ask me to regale her with tales about my business travels. She wanted to hear all about places she had never visited: Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Her favorite stories were my descriptive narratives about the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol, and the White House. She always thanked me saying how much she would love to see those places someday, “si Dios quiere.” After saying “thank you God, and thank you mom,” I would head for the front door to walk out into the wild and wooly world that was my life. With a hug, she said, “have a good day mijo, que Dios te bendiga, give my love to my babies,” and sent me on my way.

Gratitude, and its connection to contentment, is the foundation of almost every religious and spiritual movement in the world. Fredrick Koeing, an 18th century inventor, put it this way, “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” The concept is simple. To live a happy and fulfilling life, one only has to be truly thankful for all that God has provided.

My mom understood that. She lived that. I really believe that she had a happy and fulfilling life. The struggles of living and the heartbreak of losing loved ones didn’t deter her from being grateful. She didn’t know her father, and experienced the grief of losing a daughter, her husband, and her mother. She wasn’t surrounded with “nice” things and she never visited the places she dreamed about. Nevertheless, she was truly thankful for what she had and appreciated every day of life God gave to her.

In my obsessive pursuit of redemption from failure, I believed that I would find true happiness and fulfillment. With each accomplishment, I thought I was taking another step toward that special place. All the while, I never once stopped to reflect and appreciate what God had given to me. I single-mindedly marched forward to reach for additional professional responsibilities, a bigger office, more prestigious titles, and showed my appreciation by acquiring “nice things” for me and my family.

I didn’t understand what it meant to be grateful the way my mom understood it. It would take a life-threatening medical crisis to feel the grace of God the way my mom did. I hope to share more about my faith and the power of gratitude in future posts, “si Dios quiere.” Stay tuned!

 

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The Road to Faith: Part 1 – Acceptance

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Image by Join me on the road to discovery and faith!
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Several days ago, on a group chat with some friends and family, a few of us were discussing the power of trusting in God. At the end of the chat, I reflected a little more than usual on my personal faith journey. For those who endured the summer of 2010 with me, the life-changing 100-day nightmare in the ICU, hospital, and rehab miraculously came to a joyful end almost eight years ago. For me, the experience is a daily reminder of the power of faith.

I’ve learned that having faith is the key to understanding our place in this uncertain and ever-changing world. As is my nature, I went to the bookshelves to unravel the mystery of faith. A dear friend introduced me to the writings of 1st-century Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius and Pope Francis. My brother David shared New-Age writings about God. Other friends recommended that I delve into the works of Muhammed, Buddha, Gandhi,  and Paulo Coelho.

Reading such diverse viewpoints on a common theme inspired me to dig deeper into my own religious upbringing and tradition. The words of Jesus Christ and the Gospels are more meaningful to me as a result of studying the recommended literature. I came to realize that faith can come in many forms, yet the foundation of faith in all its forms is based on making a full commitment to acceptance, gratitude, and caring for others. Upon deep reflection of my literary exploration, I also realized that a devotion to faith is also at the core of happiness.

It all seems so simple: Belief in God (or your version of a higher power) + faith = peace and happiness. Unfortunately, like almost anything that brings true joy in life, adhering to that equation is easier said than done. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everybody applied that formula to their own lives? We would live in paradise. Of course, we know that not to be true.

So how do we apply this commitment of faith to our day-to-day lives? For nearly four years, this question has consumed my thoughts. Life is a winding road filled with potholes and roadblocks that can keep us from getting to our destination. To overcome these challenges, we need a roadmap that can lead us in the right direction. That map is the word of God delivered through his many disciples.

I value and respect the right of people to practice their religion or philosophical tradition, including those who don’t believe in God. Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson once told a friend that his grandfather said, “religion is like a mother. However good your friend’s mother may be, you cannot forsake your own.”  In the spirit of Gandhi, I trust in the roadmap drawn by my Catholic Christian tradition.

The first step in understanding faith is the full acceptance of the way things and circumstances are, rather than how you want them to be. Marcus Aurelius put it this way, “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” That’s powerful advice. At first glance it doesn’t jive with a “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” philosophy.

On one hand, God tells us to accept what we have and on the other hand He didn’t settle for a small following. I struggled with this inconsistency. Recently at Sunday mass, the priest shared Jesus’ Parable of the Three Servants (Matthew 25:14-30). The moral to the story is that God gives us all a set of tools and rewards those who make the best of what they have. That resolved my dilemma. God gave Jesus the means to expand His flock. In other words, He wants us to accept what we have and do the best we can with it.

Three major events reveal how the road to fully accepting God’s will has impacted my life. The first incident happened in 1983. After a rocky start at San Jose State University, I failed miserably. The university disqualified me for poor academic performance at the end of my third semester. I couldn’t accept what happened. It was a crushing blow that spiraled into years of drinking, partying, and working dead end jobs.

Rather than accepting the disqualification as a mere technical hiccup on my academic record, I sought to cover up the pain of that “failure” by vowing to never fail again. I worked tirelessly to get reinstated to SJSU and continued working relentlessly after graduation to rid myself of the failure demons that haunted me. I married Sandra and we had a family. I found success in the corporate world and in public service, but the demons never went away.

The second episode was a series of “failures” between 1996 and 2008. Although I eventually had the great privilege to serve my community as a school trustee, I lost four elections during that time. I refused to accept what happened after each defeat so I worked hard to erase these “failures” from my psyche. As an appointed school trustee, I labored restlessly and prepared for election as a popular incumbent in 2010.

The third life event was a massive heart attack and a rare lung complication that struck that summer. There was no election for me. All my dreams came crashing down. When I awoke from a medically induced coma two months later, I was paralyzed as my muscles deteriorated while I lay motionless on a hospital bed. I didn’t want to accept what happened to me. I was depressed and contemplated giving up, something I had never done before. Sandra summoned the hospital chaplain. Her name was Terry Becker.

Terry talked about the power of accepting God’s gifts. It was a miracle to survive two harrowing medical events, she said. I was paralyzed from loss of muscle strength, instead of blunt physical trauma like a car accident. Physical rehabilitation will make me like new. God had given me the tools to recover. I just needed to accept what happened and use what God provided. I took a chance and decided to give myself completely to God’s will.

That changed everything. The story has a happy ending. It started with accepting what is, rather than what should be. I also turned to acceptance to expel the college disqualification and election failure demons from my soul. I now understand that those events weren’t failures, but merely stepping stones toward fulfilling my destiny. I’ll write more on that in future posts.

The end of that part of my story doesn’t mean that challenges disappear. Real life is quite the contrary. The loss of my executive salary and financing two college educations make our financial struggles seem impossible to overcome at times. Parenting two adult daughters is no easy task. Advising and coaching replaces scolding and reprimanding when they make risky and unwise decisions. This leads to many sleepless nights. The rollercoaster of managing personal and professional relationships is never ending. That’s life.

All of these obstructions on the roadway of life can cause extreme pain if we don’t have a trusty map to get us through safely.  Each of the world’s religions and philosophies has a map. I rely on God’s word as told in the accounts of Jesus and his Apostles to chart a safe course forward. Their stories provide me with a guide to confront any situation that may cross my path.

The first step in the journey is accepting what is. Gratitude and caring for others come next, there will be more on that later. Taken together, practicing these three acts of faith have brought true joy and happiness to my life. It can do the same for you. You just have to have faith.

Latino Leadership Alliance & Servant Leadership

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Professor Tomas Jimenez working with Cohort 9 on the beautiful Stanford campus – August 2017

In 2015, San Jose City Councilmember Raul Peralez joined four of his colleagues to co-sponsor the creation of the City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. The office, established a year later, is the first of its kind California. Public school administrator Sandra García served on the design team that created Adelante Dual Language Academy in east San Jose. In 2013, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce named her “Principal of the Year” for her contributions to the award winning school.

Marco Ramirez, President and CEO of the DeHaro and Ramirez Group, founded the firm eighteen years ago. His company specializes in concrete construction for major public and private commercial projects. Lupe Rodriguez is on the front lines of women’s advocacy in Silicon Valley. As Chair of the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status Women, she signed a memorandum of understanding to create an innovative Jail Monitoring Program designed to protect women.

These four exceptional people are talented and visionary leaders in their communities. They have another thing in common – they spent nearly a year sharpening their leadership skills with the Latino Leadership Alliance Leadership Academy (LLA) and Stanford Summer Leadership Program. The LLA, a non-profit organization, was established in 2006 to empower civic leadership in the Latino community by identifying, developing, and supporting leaders.

In 2010, the LLA launched its Academy to help build leadership within Latino communities by putting into practice the philosophy of servant leadership based on the Four Pillars of Community Leadership – an operational model pioneered by one its founders. The four pillars are: Business, Community Service, Education, and Politics and Government. Academy alumni have demonstrated that effective management of the model leads to meaningful and lasting change in the community.

The Academy is a unique three-phase executive leadership training program that incorporates a: (1) Monthly Seminar Series, (2) Stanford Summer Leadership Program, and (3) Cohort Network. The Monthly Seminar Series includes leadership skill development, free flowing discussions, and influential guest speakers. The Stanford Summer Leadership Program is a three-day, two night retreat hosted by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity on the Stanford University campus. The Cohort Network provides for ongoing discussion and resource sharing among the Cohorts.

To date, eight cohorts (ninety-eight participants) have completed the academy. In addition to the leaders mentioned above, cohorts include scores of business and non-profit executives, school administrators, and elected officials. Together, they serve on over 50 local, state, and federal government commissions and non-profit boards. Many LLA Cohorts have become lifelong friends who collaborate on projects that benefit the Latino community.

Although the LLA is a family of servant leaders passionate about the Latino community, the organization doesn’t participate in political campaigns, advocate on behalf of issues, or provide frontline community services. The mission is clear: it’s a leadership training and development organization. The LLA  provides a safe learning environment for leaders to explore innovative ideas and sharpen the skills necessary to effectively do all of the above.

This week, the LLA released its application for the 2018 Academy. We seek smart and talented professionals who aspire to lead. Through a rigorous process, the selection committee focuses on candidates with a sincere passion and commitment to serve others. The application is due on January 15, 2018.

If you want to be part of the LLA family and support our philosophy of servant leadership, we would love you to consider joining an amazing team of leaders by applying for Cohort 9 today!

For questions or to request an application, please e-mail info@latinoleadershipalliance.org or eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a Knee for America

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Eric Wright and Colin Kapernick. Image by Michael Slate

The guy in the White House got to me last weekend. He ruined my NFL Sunday. My stomach churned with frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. It was like someone punched me in the gut. I wasn’t even watching my awful, but beloved San Francisco 49ers. This time,the reason for my discomfort was the president’s attack on NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

The unpleasant sensation stayed with me all day on Sunday. The contention that kneeling is disrespectful to our nation’s veterans and military personnel has been nagging at my insides since the media frenzy produced the usual suspects of pro and anti talking heads. The ensuing rhetorical storm has me rethinking my lifelong beliefs when it comes to the Star Spangled Banner.

My dad was a World War II veteran. Although he rarely talked about his experience, I beam with pride every time I mention his service to someone. I’ll never forget my first baseball game with him, the Dodgers vs. Giants in 1971. When my dad and every other fan in windswept Candlestick Park stood in unison for the traditional pre-game song, I was a proud 7 year-old with hand over heart standing right alongside him.

My dad’s service in World War II led to my fascination and lifelong love of American history. I went on to earn a college degree in history. I appreciate why our Founding Fathers risked their lives to start a new country. I understand the Constitution and the discussions that led to its ratification. I researched how our nation rose to be a global superpower and a force of good in the world. From the deepest part of my core, I believe in the values outlined in the Bill of Rights.

I also know all too well the devastation brought on by America’s dependence on slavery, and the tragedy of Native American genocide in the name of progress and destiny. I’ve studied the Civil Rights Movement and America’s brutal reaction to each gain made during that era. It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure. The United States of America is far from the “more perfect union” envisioned by the Founders. Nevertheless, we are the greatest and freest nation the world has ever seen.

With that said, the Star Spangled Banner holds a special place in my heart and soul. I still get chills every time I hear it. With hand on heart, I listen to the familiar tune and watch the Star and Stripes freely wave in the wind. I think of my dad serving on the USS Wasp in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. I think of our heroes – George Washington to Barack Obama, Ulysses S. Grant to our commanders in the War on Terror. I’m proud to be American. I’m proud of our flag. I’m proud of our national anthem.

From the moment that Colin Kapernick set his knee upon the turf, I’ve been torn by this issue. Emotionally, I couldn’t imagine not rising for the anthem. It’s been part of my life since that cold windy night at Candlestick Park. Intellectually, I have absolute respect for the Bill of Rights and what it means to our democracy. For a year and half, I’ve managed to straddle the line between emotional allegiance to my boyhood and intellectual adherence to everything I know about what the United States represents, good and bad.

The president’s attack and the players’ reaction, however, have forced me to rethink my position. In terms of personal integrity, I know that I can no longer be on both sides. The fundamental question is whether the action taken by the players is disrespectful or a peaceful exercise of freedom of speech.

There are those who believe that this discussion is trivial in light of the natural disasters that have impacted so many around the world lately. I disagree. The debate goes to the heart of our nation’s value system and it’s worthy of discussion even during these trying times. The American spirit can multi-task. We can still hold our government accountable to natural disaster response while the anthem conversation continues.

To understand my thought process on this issue, a brief history lesson is required. The United States was born under the compromise of slavery. When the Civil War settled that issue, the law and social structures created two Americas: one for white men and one for everyone else. With the exception of a few victories like allowing women the vote, almost no progress was made until Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus nearly 100 years after the Civil War.

Then, to quote my dad, “all hell broke loose.”

Civil rights, the Free Speech Movement on college campuses, hippies, the Equal Rights Movement, the LGBTQ Movement, and race riots all came raining down on the established social structure that made rural white America comfortable. The backlash began with Richard M. Nixon’s election as president. Rural white America wrapped themselves in our flag and proclaimed it as their flag.

The backlash reached its first boiling point at the 1992 Republican National Convention when Patrick Buchanan, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, stepped up the podium to deliver what came to be known as his “Culture War” speech. We rarely hear about it today, but his angry tone and his words are seared into my memory. He was literally calling for war.

Buchanan is a former Nixon speechwriter and an ancestor of the current Alt-Right Movement – the guys who are against everything that’s not white and Christian. His speech began by outlining the cause for ills in our society: people of color, feminists, non-Christians, LGBTQ. He finished the speech with these ominous words, “we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country” to an adoring and cheering crowd. It was clear who he meant by “we” and “our.”

Thank God he lost. The culture warriors – Neo-Nazis, KKK, white supremacists, all other assortment of racists – were forced to recede into the shadows. Then everything changed when the 45th President of the United States was elected. Their messiah had arrived and the dream of a white Christian only America became a de facto possibility.

I’m not sure if the president is a stooge for the generals prosecuting the Culture War or the Culture War Commander in Chief. I guess it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are in the midst of Pat Buchanan’s Culture War. For me, the fight isn’t about the American flag. The fight is for the American flag. We can’t stand idly by and allow the culture warriors to claim sole ownership of our flag. We must engage the battle to ensure that our flag belongs to all of us, even those who disagree with our government.

The flag is a symbol of the freedoms that makes us Americans, not of any one person or event. It’s been a long and tortuous journey of reflection since Kapernick kneeled down. I have friends who praise him and others who demonize him. That’s their right. I’ve thought long and hard on what I should do. That’s my right. And I want to keep it that way.

Of all the awful things the president had said and done since he descended the escalator more than a year ago to announce his candidacy, this one has impacted me the most. I’m an American, a third generation American. I resent having to write that sentence every time I do. But writing it reminds me not to allow anyone tell me otherwise. No person, no president has the right to question my birthright or tell me how to honor my country.

Until our government gets serious about resolving the issues raised by Colin Kapernick, I plan to honor our flag and our song by placing my hand over heart and kneeling or sitting whenever and wherever I hear the Star Spangled Banner.

I will do this in honor of my dad and all others who have risked their lives for my freedom. I will do this in honor of all those who bravely fight everyday for equal treatment guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. I will do this in honor of the country I love.

This hasn’t been an easy decision for me. My stomach feels queasy as I write, but my conscience is satisfied. I know some people will call me a fool or unpatriotic or worse. That’s okay. This is a personal decision. I’m not encouraging others to flow suit. Each one of us should do as we choose without fear of reprisal. Thank God, our flag gives us that right.

Be a Trailblazer

Inside IT: Blazing Trails of Innovation
Image by managingamericans.com

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with two Latino high school students from Los Banos, California. They sought advice and coaching on their oral presentation for a national science competition. The boys were freshmen who had defeated older and more experienced students at the local, regional, and state contests. They wanted to sharpen the presentation that led to the national finals in Philadelphia.

The duo had collaborated on creating a prosthetic arm. The device was an impressive contraption. Their presentation was excellent and needed just a few adjustments on style and substance. It was clear to me from the outset that these young men were engineers in the making who have the talent and potential to be executives someday.

I was giddy about their unlimited futures until reality set in. The Washington Post printed an article in February that confirms what Latinos in Silicon Valley already know to be true – Latinas and Latinos are grossly underrepresented in the valley’s workforce, especially in management.

Apple, Inc. was highlighted in the Post article. The piece indicated that “only 7 percent of the (company’s) leadership is Latino and 3 percent is black, according to Apple’s website. Blacks and Hispanics each make up 8 percent of the company’s tech workers.” That’s double the percentage of other major high-tech firms. Twitter is in the basement with only 2% of its workforce identifying as Latino.

Unfortunately at Apple, the lack of diversity isn’t changing anytime soon. The Post article cited an Apple spokesman speaking off the record “that the company prefers to promote within its ranks, so change at the senior level will take time.” Without a doubt, the rest of Silicon Valley maintains the same hiring and promotion practices.

Silicon Valley managers have long pointed out that there’s a lack of qualified Latino candidates and the education system isn’t providing a pipeline of talented people of color. This is a common response for organizations and institutions that claim that the problem exists with the talent pool, not hiring practices. It’s noteworthy that the National Society of Hispanic MBAs alone has over 30,000 members in 40 chapters across the country, including Silicon Valley. Somehow that fact has evaded Valley decision-makers.

It’s clear that Silicon Valley has some work to do in recruiting Latino talent. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, Valley executives were beginning to understand that there are “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.” Two years have passed without any progress and it could be decades before the bias demons are exorcised.

Latino professionals can’t afford to wait for society to catch up with the reality that there is a large pool of candidates already in the pipeline. In the meantime, what are smart, talented, and ambitious Latina and Latino professionals to do?

Be a trailblazer. Take matters into your owns hands.  Here are few tips to get you started:

  1. Work Hard

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Getting ahead takes an enormous amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance. There’s no other way around it. All of the successful people I’ve ever encountered were passionate and dedicated to their craft. This can take a million hours a week or far less, it just depends how you manage your time. Just make sure to give it your all. A college education gets you to the front door. Hard work gets you to the corner office.

As I made my way up the corporate org chart from manager to director to vice president, I was the first to raise my hand when upper management was looking for someone to take on an extra project. When the corporate office executives needed support for an initiative, I packed my bags and traveled throughout the country to lend a helping hand. It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart too. The hardest and smartest working employees get first crack at a promotion.

  1. Find a Mentor

Learning to master a craft from a successful person is the best education you’ll ever get. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice once said that aspiring leaders should, “search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.” In my career, the best mentors have been people who truly cared about my future. I’ve been blessed to have five men in my professional life that fulfilled that role.

The most valuable asset each of these men brought to me was a sincere interest in my growth and development as a leader. There are people like this in everyone’s life. You need to identify them and seek their guidance. One more piece of advice from Secretary Rice, “you don’t have to have mentors who look like you.” Just make sure that they genuinely care about your potential as a leader.

  1. Keep Learning

According to Pulitzer Prize historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this concept is one of the ten qualities that made President Abraham Lincoln a great leader. Lincoln spent countless hours with generals in the White House and on the front lines of battle to better understand the science of warfare and the causes and effects of his decisions. He’s perhaps our nation’s greatest wartime president.

Make your personal development a priority. As a student of Goodwin’s theory, I’ve never hesitated at an opportunity to take advantage of leadership development. I studied community leadership as a fellow with the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and corporate leadership with the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Today, I continue to learn from the talented people I encounter in my role as an executive coach.

The most exciting thing about the Latino future is that it’s happening right now. As a Latino professional, you have a chance to chart your own leadership path until the rest of society recognizes that you have what it takes to move into the corner office. There are countless Latinas and Latinos in the pipeline. Those two young men from Los Banos and others like them are counting on you to lead the way.

P.S. The boys earned second place in the national competition!!

Be a Risk-Taker

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Image by 123RF.com

In my last post, I wrote about how the ability to take a risk is a key factor in growing personally and professionally. Not possessing the inborn inclination to step out of comfort zones could be a major barrier to that growth. Can people who aren’t natural gamblers learn how to undertake calculated chances? The short answer is, “yes.” I believe that anyone can learn how to take on new opportunities that are uncomfortable.

In my work coaching emerging Latina and Latino leaders, I’ve learned that the fear of losing a well-paid and comfortable position keeps many talented people from seeking leadership and executive roles. From my own experience and through many years of thinking about this issue, I believe that the way society views Latinos and our acceptance of that perspective are the leading causes of the reluctance to push the career advancement envelope.

I can’t say for sure what comes to mind when non-Latinos think about the Latino community. Given a lifetime of interactions with people from all walks of life, I can say that the perception isn’t very good, not to mention grossly inaccurate. Images of Latino drug dealers, gangsters, “illegal” immigrants, and welfare moochers flood the media.

The good news is that in recent years we’ve reversed the “lazy” myth as most Americans now believe that Latinos have a strong work ethic. The bad news is that belief applies only to those who toil in menial and back-breaking physical work. The white-collar Latino hasn’t even reached the American consciousness yet.

Despite a growing population and modest inroads in economic and political influence, generalized (and negative) Latino impressions still result in unjust misunderstandings. How do I know this? In more than two decades working at the highest levels of the corporate, local government, and education worlds, I’ve heard non-Latinos say the darnedest things about us. I don’t believe these off-the-cuff comments are made in malice or with racist intent. The comments are just plain ignorant.

Latino professionals subconsciously participate in the perpetuation of these images. We tend to play it safe once we’ve “made it.” When the discussion in the conference room gets heated, we shy away from engaging in the ruckus. Our working-class upbringing teaches us to work hard, and keep our heads down and mouths shut. Let’s be honest, white folks in power positions can be intimidating. We’re worried that we might say something wrong, or worse, something stupid. We’ve all been there.

There’s some justification for that reluctance to speak out. This reality was played out last week on the national stage when Senator Kamala Harris (a black woman who served as a prosecutor and California’s attorney general before election to the senate) was rudely reprimanded by Senators John McCain and Richard Burr for “harassing” Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a senate hearing. No other senator on that panel was subjected to that kind of intrusion. Senator Harris, a seasoned interrogator, continued her questioning without missing a beat.

Society has a way of making people of color, even those in leadership positions, appear a cut below their colleagues. That could lead to self-doubt. How can we respond like Senator Harris? The solution is for you to just believe in yourself. Sounds easy, huh? Confronting the fear of taking risks and fighting negative stereotypes can be discouraging and tiring. But you have to step out of your comfort zone to advance.

I don’t mean the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy that seems to be all the rage today. That doesn’t work. You should never fake it! By definition, that means that you’re not qualified. I’m talking about taking stock of your successes and confirming that you’re the real deal.

I’m currently working with a Latina executive who’s contemplating a career change. She has extensive experience in her field and has progressively advanced to higher leadership roles in the organization. Her teams have earned several industry awards in addition to the individual recognition mementos that gather on her desk.

She has three options in front of her: (1) make a lateral move into management at her organization’s headquarters, (2) seek advancement opportunities within the industry, or (3) stay in her current role. I’ve advised her to take a serious look at options #2 and #1, in that order. Both are risky. Her initial response was to question her own qualifications and preparedness.

We did a simple exercise to get that absurd notion out of her mind. She dusted off her resume and started listing her professional accomplishments and accolades. When the dust settled, she had an amazing resume that impressed even herself! She had been so busy being successful that she didn’t realize the extent of her experience and preparation.

Once it was on paper, I could see in her eyes that she truly believed in herself. She’s still nervous about the possibility of taking a leap. The natural sense of anxiety that comes with stretching one’s boundaries will still linger as she thinks about her next move. At least she now believes that she has what it takes to achieve her goals.

The moral of this story is to block out influences that are barriers to your success, obstacles like fear of taking professional risks and the negative effect society has on our tendency toward self-doubt. These are powerful forces in keeping talented Latinas and Latinos from striving to occupy the corner office.

As a Latino professional, you’ve educated yourself and work hard. Learn how to take regular stock of your accomplishments to remind yourself that you have professional value and worth. This will give you the confidence needed to take that risk that will lead to the next level in your personal and professional life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Leap Into Leadership

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Image by google.com

Freezing rain couldn’t dampen my excitement the first time I went to Washington, D.C. Looking out of the window into the night sky during the unsteady landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport, the sight of the glowing Capitol Dome, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial was mesmerizing. This was also my first trip to the east coast. I was in my mid-30s and a manager at a large telecommunications company.

The regional VP of the department had asked if I was interested in participating in scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill in place of her boss who was unable to go. I saw this as an incredible opportunity given that I had been with the company for just 6 months and no one else at my pay grade would attend. I had never left Sandra and the girls for an extended period of time – Marisa was 4 years old and Erica 8 months. This was uncharted territory for me.

When I told Sandra, she asked if I had to go. I hadn’t thought of that question and didn’t know how to answer. We both grew up in working-class neighborhoods where it was common knowledge that extra work meant overtime pay. I learned in my first job out of college that that wasn’t the case in the professional world. Added to the fact that there was no financial benefit to going, I had a young family at home to think about. Did I have to go or did I want to go?

Making the trip would be a calculated risk. If I made a fool of myself, a career with that company probably would have ended sooner than later. If I stayed home, I probably could have had a comfortable career as a manager. If I performed well during the trip, my opportunities with the company could grow. I came to realize that the question was a false dilemma. The answer to both questions was “yes.”

Twenty years later, the thought of deliberating about such a simple opportunity seems quaint. But at the time, it was a big deal. When I decided to make the trip, the conversation with Sandra was somewhat tense. Sandra and I lived in our childhood homes until we were married, our fathers worked at the same jobs for decades, we rarely ventured out of the neighborhood. Family first and being home for dinner were considerations when making social or career decisions.

I remember being a boy listening to my dad’s friends talking about work. Hourly wages, fringe benefits, and keeping a good job forever topped the conversations. The men I looked up to would list the many reasons not to seek advancement: too much pressure and responsibility, salaried employees didn’t get overtime pay for extra work, too risky.

Sound familiar? For many working-class families, taking chances could lead to disaster. Giving up a good job for something that might not work out could put paying the bills in jeopardy. Once you have a good job, the older men would say, playing it safe and not rocking the boat is the smart thing to do. However, I was now in a different world with different rules.

I encourage those who were raised in a similar environment to be confident in your education and experience. Take a leap into the world of leadership and opportunity.

The ability to venture out of comfort zones is a rare quality. Those who are born with this trait are innovators and game changers. They’re not afraid of failure and rejection. They keep taking chances with the sincere belief that the next attempt at success will be triumphant. Thomas Edison personifies this type of person with his oft-quoted observation, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

In my work developing, supporting, and advising Latino leaders, I’ve seen how reluctance to take risks can be a barrier to personal and professional growth. I understand the hesitation. I’ve been there. This is a common thread with both mid-career professionals and high school students. The pros get anxious about losing a job or a title on a business card. Kids fear putting themselves out there to be ridiculed by their classmates.

We all know that getting ahead requires hard work and dedication. But that’s just part of the equation. Stretching oneself intellectually and professionally is needed as well. Those who don’t have the natural tendency to embrace uncomfortable situations must overcome their concerns about the prospect of failure. The best way to do that is by taking on uneasy and unfamiliar roles.

That’s what I did during my first trip to Washington, D.C. two decades ago. Although I had a minor function during the meetings, I held my own. When the VP noticed me chatting with my congressional representative and local elected officials in the hotel lobby after-hours, she recognized me as someone who could provide value to the company. That week turned out to be the first step in a climb up the corporate ladder.

I learned an important lesson on my first journey back east. Taking risks, although riddled with unknowns, results in personal and professional growth. Can taking risks be learned? I think so. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic next time.

 

INVEST IN YOURSELF

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Image by eliteinterp.com

Taking a scroll through social media could lead you to believe that Latinos are thriving in Silicon Valley. This is partly true. Although a vast majority of Latinos continue to struggle economically in the one of the country’s most expensive places to live, there’s a burgeoning Latino middle class driven by higher college enrollment and graduation rates. As a community, we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we’re headed in the right direction.

Those of us who have taken advantage of education and career opportunities invest in comfortable living spaces, luxury cars, and exotic vacation destinations. Who can blame us? Growing up on the east side, I never imagined that one day I would be able to relax on the shores of Maui or sip a rum and coke in old San Juan. When I was promoted to a VP position, I literally ran out and bought my dream car.

We deserve these opportunities as fruits of our labors, right? Damn right…with one caveat. These are short-term investments that may or may not yield more opportunities for the future. I’m not just talking about financial investments. I’m talking about you investing in yourself. Investing time into your personal and professional development is just as important as maxing out on your 401K plan (I hope you’re doing this).

Here’s why: Smart, talented, and compassionate Latinos like you need to seek out leadership roles in business, education, politics, and community service. These four sectors form the core of any successful community. State demographers project that more than one out of every two Californians will be Latino by 2030 (that’s only 13 years from now, folks). Economists say that the 24-55 age group needs to be successful for a community to be economically stable.

Today, California is the 5th largest economy in the world. I’m not that great at math, but I can see the numbers clearly on this one. California needs Latinas and Latinos to fill business, education, political, and community leadership roles for the state to maintain its role as a global economic powerhouse.

The statistics today in all four sectors are abysmal. For example, Latinos represent just 9% of public school administrators in California, and that’s the highest rate of the four sectors. The tech industry doesn’t even release those numbers. Recently, Google shared with Congress that Latinos make up 3% of its entire workforce. One can only imagine what the executive suite and management offices look like.

This data brings me back to Latinas and Latinos making investments in personal and professional growth. I’m not suggesting that you stop treating yourself to fancy (my mom’s word) things, cars, and vacations. I encourage you to balance those investments with a solid retirement plan, personal growth opportunities, and community service. Investing your time and treasure in yourself will pay financial, self-fulfillment, and public benefit dividends many times over.

Beside earning a college degree, the two most valuable investments I made in my personal and professional growth was participating in the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Combined, these programs came at a busy time in my life. My family and career were growing. I participated in both programs my own time and partly on my dime. Fortunately, Comcast financially sponsored my participation in these high-profile leadership development organizations.

For two years, I invested time in what equated to having an additional part-time job, without pay. Raised in a working-class Latino family, doing work without getting paid wasn’t looked upon too favorably. Once I overcame that cultural barrier, I embarked on a set of experiences that was priceless. I learned from and worked alongside some of the country’s top executives and academics. The skills culled from the forums laid the foundation for my future leadership endeavors.

It’s time that you too invest in yourself personally and professionally. It will make all the difference in the world when you walk into a conference room with confidence or knock on your boss’s door to explain why you deserve that coveted promotion. Self-investment comes in many forms: leadership programs, additional education, a personal coach, spending quality time with a trusted mentor. The best results come from taking advantage of all of the above.

Self-investment is a concept that we Latinos are still trying to understand. We’re taught to take care of everyone else first, but we need to understand that taking care of ourselves will make us better caretakers. Don’t fall into the trap of, “I don’t have time” and “I don’t have enough money.”

There will be an abundance of executive, administrative, and public service positions available to smart, talented, and ambitious Latinas and Latinos over the next two decades and into the foreseeable future. You’ll need the personal and professional skills required to step into a leadership role when opportunity comes knocking.  Balance how you use your money and time. Invest in yourself. You’ll be happy that you did.

 

 

 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #71)

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Image by canstock.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the first excerpt from Chapter 9, “August 4th,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 71st excerpt in the blog series.

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Chapter 9

August 4th

 Just five days after the tracheotomy procedure, doctors decided I was ready to move onto the first phase of recovery. The daily X-rays showed that the haze that ominously covered my lungs was dissipating. I was able to breathe with less mechanized oxygen.

My heart, defying the strain caused by ARDS, weakly and steadily pumped blood to my hungry organs. The latest CAT scan and MRI demonstrated no loss of brain function. I was becoming more alert every day as the last remnants of the sedative medication left my body.

Without the distraction of the vivid dreams caused by ICU Psychosis and the sedatives, I was beginning to understand what was happening. The dreams gave me bits and pieces, but I still had no real understanding of the puzzle that had become my life. I had a dream that a distinguished politician and his wife visited and gave the girls tickets to the red carpet opening of a new teen movie.

While the specifics of the dream were pure fantasy, I learned that my friend, California State Assemblyman Joe Coto, did find his way into the ICU. Completely unrelated to that visit, the girls went to a popular movie that summer and told me all about it while I was in a semi-conscious state. My brain connected these separate incidents into one thought, and added the red carpet tickets.

I also dreamed of a rusty pail stuck on my head with its handle serving as a tight chin strap while a hose was lodged in my throat. Perhaps that was when the doctors put me on the BIPAP machine. Following doctor’s orders, Sandra tuned the television to channels I liked and played music that would keep me brain active.

Whether I was in a hot and dusty refugee camp unable to move or in a convalescent home with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tunes playing in the background, there were several consistent themes to my dreams. An object in my throat, the inability to move my limbs, an insatiable thirst, friends and family in weird places all desperately trying to help me out of unrealistic predicaments.

As my mind cleared, I began to realize that I was in a hospital, paralyzed, with tubes and wires connecting me to all sorts of things. On August 1st, doctors removed me from intensive care to the ICU Step-Down Unit. The unit was an interim stop between the ICU and a regular hospital room.

I no longer needed a dedicated nurse caring for me around the clock. Physical, occupational, and later on, speech therapy would intensify. In the ICU, therapists provided exercises that Sandra could do with me to begin waking up my muscles that had deteriorated during the month I was on the paralytic medicine.

Following the therapist’s example, Sandra would lift my legs and arms, and gently raise my head up off the pillows. Rotating my ankles, she would strengthen my lower leg and feet muscles. Doctors told her that it would be a long and difficult road to recovery, but I would be able to fully function as the paralysis was related to muscles rather than nerves. I don’t have a memory of those first therapy sessions in the ICU.

The day I moved to the Step-Down Unit was blurry to me. I remember my bed being maneuvered through long hallways and going into an elevator. The first floor room in Step-Down was large with a window on one side looking out into the street and a large space between the door and the bed. There wasn’t as much activity in the unit and a nurse came into check on me in regular intervals. I didn’t feel as safe as I did in the ICU. When Sandra left the room, I was alone in what seemed like a cavernous space.

The first few days were uneventful. A nurse would check on me in the morning and write the goals for the day on a whiteboard. The entries included the day and date, medications to be administered, therapist schedules, and any other information doctors wanted included on that day. The nurse would ask me my name and queried me about the date. Sandra would read my lips and translate for the nurse.

With the breathing tube firmly in my mouth, I would say “Eddie” without sound coming from my mouth, and then follow-up with “Not sure.” The critical care doctor would arrive not long after the nurse and update Sandra on my progress: lungs getting clearer, heart stable, and all other organs functioning. He was always upbeat and positive, assuring Sandra that I was nearly out of the woods.

Later in the day, between Sandra doing repetitions of the exercises with me, the therapists would come in. They moved my limbs and tried to sit me up for a few minutes while bracing me to keep from falling. It was hard work and painful. I was no longer on sedatives and my muscles weren’t numb, so I could feel even the slightest movement of my body.

On the fourth day in the Step-Down Unit, the first true breakthrough in my cognitive state emerged. I remember looking at the whiteboard, reading the entries, and understanding the content. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but it didn’t look good. That morning the nurse greeted me with a cheery “good morning” and asked me how I was doing.

She followed with the standard questions, “What’s your name?” and “Do you know what day it is?” I lip-synced, “Eddie,” and “August 4th.” Although her eyes welled up with tears, Sandra’s smile was filled with many emotions: gratitude, relief, happiness. This was a pivotal moment in my recovery. I demonstrated to Sandra that I was aware of my surroundings. She couldn’t wait to report this great news to the waiting room.

With that out of the way, the day went on as planned.

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Next Wednesday: My head was spinning when Sandra explains to me why I’m in the hospital.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #70)

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Image by esereport.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the final excerpt from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 70th excerpt in the blog series.

I dedicate today’s excerpt to an old friend and coaching colleague who passed away last night after living a full life with heart disease. RIP Coach Bob Monges.

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As the heavy sedatives wore off, my vivid dreams manufactured by ICU Psychosis focused more and more on that nasty tube. In addition to the eucalyptus branch, I dreamed of chewing on rubber hoses and McDonald’s straws, and trying to pull out steel pipes that stuck out of my mouth and lodged in my voice box. As I awoke from the surgery, I instantly felt relief.

The small tube inserted into my throat at the neck was held in place by a “trach-collar.” The collar stabilized the tube so that it could be connected to the respirator. Studies have demonstrated that the trach-collar is the most effective path to wean patients off of mechanized breathing. It also relieves pressure on the vocal chords and minimizes additional damage to the voice.

When Sandra reported to the waiting room that I sailed through the operation with no complications, there was a collective feeling of optimism and hope. For more than a month, the waiting room inhabitants had been in a constant state of alert. Every new procedure led to some obstacle that created additional fear and concern. As the hours ticked away, Sandra continued to share good news that the tracheotomy was working. That evening, the waiting room buzzed in an almost festive mood.

The doctor later told me that Sandra was an “incredible woman.” She was a savvy and well-informed advocate, he went on to say. Her questions were always on point. Once she made a decision to move forward with a recommendation, there was no turning back. In a positive way, Sandra was “intimidating,” he said. Her keen understanding of the issues related to my condition once again led to forward momentum.

During the next hours and days, I continued to show improvement. My oxygen numbers stabilized even as respiratory therapists decreased the amount of oxygen the respirator sent to my lungs. My mind continued to clear as the remnants of the strong sleeping medicine dissipated. I wasn’t yet fully aware of my paralysis predicament. It hadn’t dawned on me that I wasn’t eating, drinking, talking, or going to the bathroom. But, I was beginning to recognize a rhythm to the ICU and distinguish between day and night.

Early each morning, an X-ray technician would come into my room to provide doctors with the latest images of my lungs. I could hear the slow rolling of the heavy mobile X-ray machine lumbering closer to my door. That sound was the signal to the start of a new day. The technician, with the help of a nurse or other staff member, raised the bed to a 45 degree angle and held my listless body upright to slide the X-ray tray between my back and the bed. The tray, cold and hard against my skin, would stay in place so the technician could take the picture.

The unit would come alive later in the morning as a kaleidoscope of sounds would fill the air: the sticky sound of rubber-soled shoes quickly walking across the polished linoleum floor, the slow and steady ding-dong at the nurses’ call station, doctors, nurses, and technicians exchanging directives and coming in and out of my room to do tests or change the medication that flowed from the IV forest that surrounded me, the public address system paging doctors, the beeping and whirring of the machines that sustained my life, and the small wheels of the cleaning crew carts rubbing against the floor as they went from room to room.

When Sandra left the room, I became anxious. There were few sounds that soothed me to let me know that she was on her way. Amid the cacophony of activity, a loud buzz followed by a distinctive squeal alerted the ICU that the heavy wide doors leading into the unit were opening.

Seconds later, I could hear the zip-zip sound of the electronic hand sanitizer outside of my room dispensing its cleansing foam onto someone’s hands. In would walk Sandra, sometimes alone and sometimes with someone from the waiting room. I would feel at ease and my anxiety would go away.

I knew when evening and night arrived as the sounds of the day subsided and the movement of people in an out of my room decreased. When Sandra was visiting in the waiting room with friends or out at dinner with family, the only person I saw was the night nurse on duty right outside of my door.

Suddenly, the squealing ICU doors and the zip-zip sound of the sanitizing machine made me feel warm and safe as Sandra brought the girls in to say good night followed by the small parade of family and friends that usually included my brother Steve, Rudy, Will and Juanita, and others. The Peraltas would come in signaling the end of the night.

For the next several days, the routine stayed in place. The tracheotomy was working. Respiratory technicians, on doctor’s orders, regularly decreased the amount of oxygen flowing to my lungs, hastening the weaning process. The waiting room became livelier as my condition showed promise and improvement.

To everyone’s amusement, Pancho was the de facto concierge of the waiting room. With his boisterous personality, he answered phones, directed families to the right place, and soothed the fears of others whom also had loved ones in the ICU. The room would erupt with laughter when strangers went to him for directions for gaining access to the unit.

The stockpile of food and drink kept growing. A variety of water, juices, and soft drinks was available to whoever happened to walk in. The food was getting better. One night a parent from Sandra’s school brought in her homemade tacos that were the talk of the waiting room for weeks. Six years later, Miguel, Eddie, Pancho, and Mariano still rave about the Mexican treats. Sandra’s friend Rosa Garcia always made sure that coffee and pastries were ready for those who stayed late into the night.

Sandra steered the ship. The García girls banded together. Shelley and Rudy kept the room laughing. Mr. Peralta, Val, Eddie, Miguel, and the Medinas quietly provided moral support. Mrs. Peralta, Kim, and Rudy led prayers. My recovery was a true team effort. Hope and faith filled the waiting room as July turned to August.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 9 – “August 4th.”