Leadership Series: Just do it!

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At lunch in the U.S. Capitol cafeteria with Congressman Mike Honda and fellow executive Johnnie Giles (2008)

I’ve made the case for why Latino leadership is important to California’s economy. Over the next 20 years, one in two working-age Californians will be Latino, so a prosperous Latino community means economic stability for all. It’s a pretty simple formula.

A quick glance at the CEO’s of the Fortune 500 shows that over 90% of top executives in the country are white men. Demographics of school superintendents across the nation are the same. Women and people of color have made great strides in getting elected to Congress in the last 25 years, but white men still rule the roost.

Everyone has an inclination to judge people based on race and other factors. Leaders aren’t immune to this, so it’s easy to see how stereotypes could limit opportunities for Latinas and Latinos. Bias, however, isn’t limited to white male executives. Latinos also develop impressions about a person’s skill, talent, ability, and place in the food chain based on race and gender.

Latinos are conditioned to accept that leadership positions aren’t attainable. We create barriers to our own success. This starts at a young age. My biggest challenge working with Latino high school kids to develop their leadership skills is getting them to believe that they can be successful.

We can’t change the fact that all human beings have biases, nor will the leadership demographics change dramatically anytime soon. This doesn’t mean that Latinas and Latinos can’t find their way to that dream job or leadership role. It takes a lot of work and strategic planning. Getting there is a challenging and time-consuming process.

Over the past three decades, I’ve learned many valuable lessons. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

  1. Believe in Yourself

This sounds easy enough, but self-doubt is one of the most common hurdles Latinos must overcome to attain professional success. There are lots of people in our lives who help create that phenomenon. Someone is always available – a parent, friend, tío, older sibling, teacher – to caution us against taking risks. Their advice is meant to keep us grounded when our dreams get too big. But it really serves to keep us from achieving our potential.

For me, that person was my high school counselor. With piercing blue-green eyes and a booming voice, Mr. Bailey advised that my poor study skills left me with few options other than trade school, work, or maybe, community college. His advice ignored the fact that I completed a college track curriculum. I applied to San Jose State University anyway.

When I arrived on the SJSU campus for the first time, self-doubt almost crippled me. Few other students came from neighborhoods like mine or looked like me. I could hear Mr. Bailey’s voice and the voices of other well-meaning doubters reminding me that I didn’t belong there. After a rocky start, I realized I could do the work. I went on to do well in college.

If you’re in college now, remember that you’re there because you earned it. If you’re moving your way up in the office – supervisor, manager, or high level executive – don’t forget that you’ve worked for it. Don’t let the doubters that surround you, or your own doubts, keep you from taking risks and getting ahead.

At every step in my career – legislative aide to chief of staff, corporate manger to vice president, education activist to school board president – my own doubts about being able to succeed would creep into my consciousness. With each success, it became easier to manage doubt. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, believe in yourself.

  1. Work Harder and Smarter Than Everyone Else

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Latinos and other people of color have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” My experience has taught me that this statement is absolutely true. I’m not complaining, nor do I intend to discourage talented Latinos from seeking that dream job. That’s just the way it is. Knowing this will give you an advantage.

Let’s start with working harder. Do your job with passion and precision. Stay late to finish a project. Come in early to prepare for a presentation. I believe in the “Five Ps”: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Of course, do all this in the context of having a work/home balance. It’s hard to do, but not impossible.

You need to work smarter too. Make sure that the bosses know your work. This is challenging as Latinos are taught to be humble. You can do this without looking like your bragging. Check in with your supervisors to share what you’re working on. There’s no need for a detailed e-mail or a scheduled meeting. I used to catch the boss in the hallway for a quick chat. Soon, higher-ups  were popping their heads into my office.

Working my way through the corporate environment, I made sure to produce a great work product. I also dedicated time to build relationships with people who made decisions. In this process, they got to know me and my work. When the time for advancement opportunities came, I wasn’t unknown to the company leaders.

  1. Just Do It

I have large black and white portrait of Cesar Chavez hanging in my office. To me, Cesar is an American civil rights hero who inspires people with his rallying cry, Sí se puede. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, that’s not enough. It inspires people to take on a challenge, but it doesn’t finish the job. For that, I turn to Nike’s famous 1988 ad campaign, “Just Do It.”

When the opportunity to advance up the org chart finally came, I was ready. I did my job well, volunteered for special projects, and built relationships with company executives. One of them nominated me to participate in an exclusive executive leadership training program. It would be a year-long adventure that required many trips to the east coast to the company headquarters.

The first session of the program was scheduled for January. The east coast was blanketed with snow, so I bought a scarf, topcoat, and hat to prepare for the cold. There would be an introductory dinner when I arrived, so I dressed for the occasion wearing my best dark suit, white shirt, power tie, and polished shoes. I looked the part. I was ready.

When I arrived on the east coast, I hurried through the airport to catch a taxi to go to the dinner. Excited and nervous, I passed a ceiling to floor mirror and stopped in my tracks. Seeing myself dressed like an executive with top coat, scarf, and hat stunned me. As I looked in the mirror, voices of the doubters filled my head. “Who do you think you are?” “You can’t be an executive.”

After a few moments, I considered walking straight to the ticket counter to get the next flight home. That wasn’t me in the mirror. I was just a Latino kid from the east side. I would make a fool of myself surrounded by talented people. Then I heard Cesar say “Sí se puede” and decided to just do it. One year later I completed the leadership program. Ten months after that, I became a company vice president.

The path to leadership is a complex exercise in producing good work and developing meaningful relationships. It’s a long and tough journey that is made up of many factors. The first step is for you to have a true belief in yourself. Working harder than everyone else isn’t enough. You must work smarter too.

When it’s time to make your move, just do it.

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Quotes & Quips: Wise Words to Live By

"The Coaches" circa mid-1980s (García Family photo)
“The Coaches” circa mid-1980s
(García Family photo)

“Coach ‘em up, and let ‘em play.” ~ Fred O. (Lico) García

Fred O. García is my dad. Even though he passed away almost 20 years ago, I turn to him often for advice. He taught his children how to live a productive life through anecdotes, analogies, and one-liners I call “Licoisms.” His simple philosophy on raising kids is one of my favorites.

He would say that you can’t start teaching values when kids are teenagers, people can learn values from the time they are babies. Together with my mom, they prepared my siblings and me for the tough road called life. He taught us the values of respecting ourselves and others, working hard, taking responsibility for our actions, and owning up to our mistakes. From mom, we learned to trust in God, love unconditionally, and give to others less fortunate.

My dad believed that once children have a strong foundation of values, parents should let them take risks and make mistakes. According to Lico, mom and dad’s role is to be there for more coaching to “help steer them back on track when they wander off.”

Recently, an old friend shared with me that her son was going to start the 8th grade in a few weeks. She commented how it seemed like he went from a little boy to a teenager from one day to the next. I told her that the transition from teenager to young adult happens just as fast. We chuckled and continued sharing stories about our kids.

Then, reality hit me. My daughter Marisa will drive back to Los Angeles soon to start junior year at Loyola Marymount University and Erica is entering senior year in high school. Both are taking big steps in their lives. Marisa and a few friends have rented an apartment off campus. We will move Erica into a college dorm room right around this time next year.

My chuckle quickly turned into concern. I’ve been around enough to know that college isn’t just about term papers, mid-terms, and finals. Alcohol, parties, and other unknown dangers lurk around every corner during down time. Outside the relative safety of campus security gates is a world filled with beauty, wonder, and yes, even bad influences, evil, and darkness.

I thought about how Sandra and I have taught the girls to be independent and confident. We’ve shared with them the values our parents shared with us. On a daily basis, Marisa and Erica make more decisions on their own as their transition to adulthood evolves. It’s easy to worry about external forces that could shape the rest of their lives.

After some more thought, my parents steered me back on track. Concern turned back into a chuckle. My parents were pretty good coaches. God has this figured out, and Sandra and I coach the girls the best we can. As Lico would say, now it’s time to “let ‘em play.”

Quotes & Quips: The Power of Purpose

Celebrating my daughter Erica's quinceañera -  November 3, 2012 (Sandra and Eddie García family photo)
Celebrating my daughter Erica’s quinceañera – November 3, 2012
(Sandra and Eddie García family photo)

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

The great English playwright wrote this sentence in a long letter to a friend about the allure of money and power versus the meaning of purposeful life work. You would think he was commenting about today’s media fascination with the rich and famous. But he wasn’t. He wrote it in 1905.

When I was a kid listening to the grown-ups talk about work, the word purpose was never part of the discussion. Work was a means to put food on the table and pay the mortgage or rent. Any extra money went towards an occasional backyard barbecue and a few beers on the weekend before going back to the grind of the work week.

My parents wanted me and my five siblings to get a college degree so that we could have an important career and earn enough money to live comfortably. When I finally graduated from college, I set out to do just that. I soon became a run-of-the-mill workaholic trying to bring home a good paycheck and make my family and friends proud.

I had never heard about the concept of working with a purpose until I participated in a year-long Fellows Program called the American Leadership Forum. The concept is simple: figure out what gets you up in the morning, find a way to make a living doing it, and give it all you’ve got. I gave these ideas some thought, but the reality of financial commitments and my thirst for success didn’t allow me to do much more than that.

The high-pressure career, and the prestige and perks that came with it drove me to work hard every day. Striving for personal success kept me busy until I had a health crisis that changed my life. Then, in an instant, it all came to a screeching halt. God sent a clear message. An all-consuming quest for personal achievement isn’t in His plan for me.

On a daily basis, I struggle to reconcile what I thought was the definition of success with what I’m destined to do. I still miss the hustle and bustle of working in executive management, not to mention the financial security. But my journey has led me to a deep understanding of passion and purpose.

I’ve come to realize that helping others along their journey and being with people I care about are my passions. I now work with purpose through sharing stories on East Side Eddie Report.com and mentoring others, and I live with purpose when I’m around those I love.

You can find joy in your life. Discover your passion. Work and live with purpose. You’ll be glad you did it.

Latino Thursdays: The Art of Being a Professional

(Stock Photo-www.htbsaccounting.com)
(Stock Photo-www.htbsaccounting.com)

I was 29 years old when I attended my first fundraising event. The guest of honor was a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.  I volunteered to help at the event that was held at an upscale art gallery in downtown San Jose. All I had to do was sign in attendees and collect donations, nevertheless I was anxious and a little intimidated. I had never been to a fundraiser or an art gallery.

As a kid, I remember that my dad used to say that every man should own at least one suit and a sports coat with a pair of slacks, so I had something handy to wear. I wore a gray two-button business suit, light blue dress shirt with dark blue tie, and cordovan penny loafers. The reason I remember what I was wearing so clearly is because it was the only dress clothes I had other than a tweed sports coat and navy wool dress pants.

The gallery was long and narrow. Modern art paintings hung on the walls and interesting sculptures sat on pedestals. White linen tablecloths topped tall cocktail tables and a small bar was staffed by a man dressed in a tuxedo.

A jazz trio softly played soothing tunes as men in business suits and professionally dressed women deposited checks into pre-printed envelopes, ate from small china plates, and chatted with other guests. It was like watching a well-choreographed dance.

After about an hour, the trio stopped playing and the event’s host introduced politicians and other VIPS to polite applause from the 40 or so guests. A few speakers enthusiastically praised the candidate, the candidate made brief comments, and the whole affair was done. Less than 15 minutes later, the gallery was empty.

Coming from a working-class Mexican American family, the only receptions that I knew about before that evening were related to weddings. The evening starts with mariachis entertaining guests, then dinner is served followed with a night of dancing. After the dance, family and close friends go to the home of the bride’s and groom’s parents for a nightcap. They all return for menudo the next morning. Total time: about 24 hours.

So here I was at the art gallery, 29 years old with a college degree, and I had just witnessed something that was completely out of this world for me. I was intrigued with the rhythmic nature of the event and fascinated that everyone knew how it worked. Since then, I’ve attended hundreds of receptions, breakfast events, luncheons, dinners, and cocktail parties. It was on-the-job training on how to conduct myself on a professional stage.

I’ve learned that choice of attire, how you stand, sit, move about the room, and shake hands all send messages on your credibility as a professional. Nobody is watching, yet everybody is watching. The impression you make on others could be the difference in getting the dream job, earning a promotion, or landing that lucrative contract.

More Latinos than ever are graduating with college degrees. That’s a good thing. Armed with an education and a valuable piece of paper, we’re making inroads into the offices of corporate America, government, and education. Taking the next step into management is another proposition. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, just 8.5% of Latinos who work are in “management occupations.”

Most of those management positions are in the service industry. The percentage of government and education administrators is less than 7% and Google recently disclosed that only 3% of its workforce is Latino. I can’t imagine Google, or any other Silicon Valley tech firm, employing more than a handful of Latino managers.

So what does this mean?

Racial stereotypes play a major role in how managers look at their Latino employees. They expect us to be service employees, blue-collar workers, domestic help, landscapers, construction workers, and so on. Latinos may not even register with executives when developing a management team. But we can’t let these facts keep us out of the executive suite.

Unfortunately, many of us lack the confidence it takes to be considered for advancement. School systems don’t teach critically important skills like confidence, poise, and how to conduct oneself in a professional setting. For many working-class Latinos, our first job out of college is our initial exposure to the white-collar world. While we’re educationally prepared for the work, we don’t understand the subtle protocols of advancing through large professional organizations.

So what do we do about this?

As a corporate executive, I’ve learned that those of us who have attained management positions need to actively seek out talented Latinos and mentor them on the nuances of “climbing the corporate ladder.” Leadership programs focused on Latinos in business and education are popping up across the country. As a professional community we need to support these efforts.

Professional Latinos also need to share their time and wisdom at school career days. Our kids shouldn’t have to wait for a college degree and a job before they learn how to dress, stand, sit, shake hands, and speak as a professional.

Latinos are smart, talented, and ambitious. More times than not, ugly racial stereotypes get in the way of advancement. That is what it is. We need to overcome those obstacles. Those of us who have been blessed to have experienced professional success are obligated to make sure that the next generation walks into that first art gallery reception with poise and confidence.

Quotes & Quips: Speaking from the Heart

Delivering the keynote address at the annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement Awards Dinner at San Jose State University (photo courtesy of SJSU)
Delivering the keynote address at the annual Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement Awards Dinner at San Jose State University
(photo courtesy of SJSU)

“Eloquent speech is not from lip to ear, but rather from heart to heart.”  ~ William Jennings Bryan

From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, William Jennings Bryan was the driving force behind the populist wing of the Democratic Party.  He was the Democrats’ candidate for President of the United States in 1896, 1900, and 1908. Although he lost all three times (that’s something I can relate to), Bryan spoke from the heart and captured the soul of the modern Democratic Party.

Over the last several months, I’ve had the privilege to speak at community gatherings, corporate partnership meetings, San Jose State University, Gavilan Community College, and local high schools.  Each one of these opportunities has been a humbling experience as audiences have inspired me to speak from the heart about my passions: leadership, education, and second chances.

If your organization or event planners are looking for a speaker who inspires audiences with heartfelt, amusing, and compelling stories, check out my speaking services.

I tailor each talk to engage your audience by drawing on stories about life growing up in a working-class neighborhood and sharing insights from over 25-years as a corporate executive, school board president, community leader, and high school and junior college basketball coach.

To learn more about speaking services, click on the following link: https://esereport.com/speaking-engagements/

To schedule me for your next event or conference, send an e-mail to eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net or call 408-426-7698.

Quotes & Quips: Living One Moment at a Time

the alchemist

“I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.” ― Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist

If you haven’t read The Alchemist, read it as soon as you get a chance. It’s the story about a boy who has a dream about buried treasure. A wise man tells him to follow his dream, so the boy sets out on the long journey from his home in Spain to the find his fortune. Along the way, he meets good and bad people and experiences success and great loss. Once he arrives at his destination, the boy realizes that the treasure was the journey itself.

What fascinated me about the story was how the boy immersed himself in what was happening to him at any given moment. While his ultimate goal was realizing his dream, he didn’t let that get in the way of experiencing the journey one moment at a time. For most of my life, this concept has been totally foreign to me. I’ve always lived, not in the present, but analyzing past events to create a better future. I was always a few steps ahead of myself.

Unlike the boy in The Alchemist, I spent most of my life preparing and planning for future success and happiness.  In the process, I didn’t fully experience the joy and sadness life had to offer. A health crisis four years ago forced me to live one day at a time. Shortly after recovering, a good friend recommended that I read Paolo Coelho’s masterful fable. I found the tale to be profound, yet perplexing.

Although the meaning of the story resonates with me, I still struggle to truly understand the concept of living in the present. Like most people, I worry about the mortgage, paying for my daughters’ education, and funding retirement. Voice-mail, e-mail, texts, and social media are always there to distract me from the present moment. Despite these distractions, I now try to live one day at a time.

Every once I awhile, I’m able live in the here and now. For me, it’s different and kind of strange, but it’s fulfilling. I better understand what it means to be alive. As I write, I hear birds singing outside my window, see trees swaying in the wind, and smell the freshness of morning through an open door. They’ve always been there, I just didn’t know it. I’m reminded that when I concentrate on the present, I appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells of life. I think everyone should give it a try.

As Coelho writes, “life is the moment we’re living now.”

 

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt #25)

Marisa and Erica get Sen. Hillary Clinton's autograph at a 2008 rally in San Jose. (Sandra & Eddie García family photo)
Marisa and Erica get Sen. Hillary Clinton’s autograph at a 2008 rally in San Jose.
(Sandra & Eddie García family photo)

That same fall, I applied for an appointment to an open seat on the high school board and worked hard to get the votes needed to ensure victory. After three elections losses, I finally became a public policymaker. I shared my story with students in the economically and ethnically diverse district that included my alma mater to inspire and encourage them to work hard, dream, persevere and believe in second chances. I was working around the clock with my dual duties as a Comcast executive and school board trustee.

On one occasion the two duties intertwined when I was on the east coast and airlines were cancelling and delaying flights due to bad weather.  I planned to present a new policy proposal for the school board to discuss that night.  Originally scheduled to take an early morning flight, I was scheduled to arrive in time for the 4:00 PM executive session and 6:00 PM public meeting where I would introduce my proposal.

My flight from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. to San Jose was canceled and my desperate attempts to secure another flight, even on any other airline, were unsuccessful.  With time running out, I took a taxi from Reagan Airport to Dulles International Airport.  During the 35-minute drive, I frantically called airlines in search of a flight that would get me home in time for the vote.  Finally, at Dulles, I was able to secure the last seat on a flight that was scheduled to connect in Las Vegas for the final leg to San Jose.

The flight would arrive around 7:00 PM, so before departing from Dulles, I called the board president and requested a delay in the proposal until I arrived.  Sitting in the middle seat of a cramped plane only added to my anxiety about missing an opportunity. The connecting flight in Las Vegas was also delayed, but I was determined to get to the school board meeting. Once the plane landed in San Jose, I drove directly from the airport to the board chambers to introduce my proposal.  It was almost 9:00 PM when the board discussed the proposal and shortly thereafter approved it unanimously.

Although I enjoyed the adventure and adrenalin rush both high-profile positions offered to me, I hadn’t realized that I was neglecting the diversions that had balanced my life. I no longer buried my nose into a good biography or followed the NCCA basketball tournament to its inevitable exciting conclusion. I couldn’t remember the last San Francisco Giants game I attended that didn’t include a business and relationship-building component or a movie that I could enjoy with Sandra and the girls.

Most apparent, I wasn’t spending time just hanging out with the larger Peralta family.  Sandra, her parents and sisters, and we husbands had always been close. We baptized each other’s children and gathered frequently at the Peralta’s house for no other reason than to be together.  There were the weddings, the family parties, the college graduations, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and News Year’s Eve that also kept the bonds strong.  I had rationalized that I was still fully engaged through the holidays and major family events, but in reality, my career and my public life had taken center stage.

What I was missing were the bull sessions and drinking beer with Mr. Peralta around the barbecue pit on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the “honey-do” home improvement projects and customary beer drinking afterwards with Eddie, the ballgames with Pancho, and the conversations about business and politics with Miguel. I wasn’t keeping up with the family stories and gossip I so enjoyed with Mrs. Peralta, Valerie, Kimberley, and Shelley. My dizzying work and school trustee schedule kept me occupied.

The Comcast executive salary provided a lifestyle that I could never have imagined. I was able to take my family on vacations to the east coast, Hawaii, and Puerto Vallarta.  We even took mini-trips to Santa Fe and the Grand Canyon, and weekenders in San Francisco and Monterey. I was speechless when my father-in-law proudly and emotionally walked onto the grounds of the White House on a tour I had arranged. When Senator Hillary Clinton visited San Jose for a rally during her historic presidential campaign, my family and I had access to seats next to the stage.

I had reasoned that these opportunities made up for missing day-to-day family interactions. I had reached the apex of my comeback and the college failure demons had been destroyed.  I was an executive for a large corporation who traveled throughout the country to represent the company’s interests and I was a trustee for a large school district. The political bug had bitten me again and I was poised to take it as far as I could. With a small group of supporters, I started to map out a strategy to prepare myself to be a future candidate for higher office.

Summer in the Waiting: Chapter 3 (excerpt #23)

My sister Patty (1953-2003) & (1930-2003) in early 2003. Sandra and Eddie García family photo)
My sister Patty with my mom in early 2003.
Sandra and Eddie García family photo)

Blogger’s note: This is the 23rd installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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By mid-year, the senior VP in California informed me that I had been selected, at his recommendation, to participate in the exclusive Comcast Executive Leadership Forum class of 2004.  The Executive Leadership Forum was by invitation only, and the corporate chitchat was that those who completed the program were soon sitting in executive chairs. Just as my professional prospects were looking up, my personal life took a downturn.

In March 2003, my sister Patty, just forty-nine years old, suddenly died from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by an infection from a virus.  She started the year with what seemed like a bad cold that appeared to lead to bronchitis and pneumonia, but doctors couldn’t clearly identify the problem and decided to do exploratory surgery.  The morning of her surgery I called Patty to wish her luck and told her that Sandra and I would make the four hour drive to her home in Bakersfield to see her when she emerged from the operating room.  That was the last conversation I had with my sister.

During surgery, the doctors confirmed that she had myocarditis and that her heart was so weak that she would need a heart transplant immediately.  A suitable heart was found at the UCLA Medical Center, just a short one hour helicopter flight to Los Angeles.  The doctors first needed to make sure that her heart was strong enough for the flight, so my sisters Barbara and Sisi, and my brother-in-law’s family prayed for a positive outcome and anxiously waited for the doctor.

Finally, in the early morning hours before dawn, the doctor walked into the waiting room and asked my brother-in-law to step into the ICU unit. My brother-in-law asked me and the priest who presided over his and Patty’s wedding many years earlier to join him and the doctor.  Once in the wide and antiseptic hallway of the ICU unit, the doctor, in a straightforward and unemotional manner, told my brother-in-law that Patty’s heart had weakened to the point of failure and that she would die within the hour.

As my brother-in-law sobbed and pounded his fists against the wall in grief, I stood by dazed and numb, and my mind started to spin trying to find answers in the confusion. Patty had been in great shape, she ate well, rarely stressed about anything, and she died of a bad heart. A few days later, I was given the honor to speak at her memorial service where I described her fighting spirit and her total devotion to her husband and her only son Matt, while my mind swirled about my own mortality.

At just thirty-nine years of age, I intensified the urgency I had placed on myself to achieve redemption by accepting the invitation to participate in the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum and working longer hours. I was excited about starting the program and moving forward after the stunning death of my sister, but 2003 ended on the same tragic note when my mom died of a blood infection after battling kidney failure for several years.

Once again, I found myself at the podium delivering a eulogy for a woman I loved while my mind raced about the ticking clock that foretold the end of my time. While my sister’s sudden death was startling and forced me to think about my health, my mom’s passing was devastating. She had been the glue that kept everything together. Her unconditional love kept me afloat during the darkest of times. I was sad, scared, and not sure how I would get through the tough times that were sure to come.

In addition to the emotional pain, my mom had named me the trustee of her living trust and I felt a deep sense of obligation to get it right.  Hearing my dad’s voice advising that working hard was the best my way to get through sorrow, I developed a laser focus on my career and on settling my parents’ estate. On top of meeting daily responsibilities as director of government affairs for Comcast in the South Bay Area, for the next ten months I traveled frequently to Philadelphia for the Executive Leadership Forum.

My work schedule was grueling with regular trips to Sacramento and Washington, D.C, in addition to stops around the country as Comcast’s representative at national Latino political gatherings. The grinding schedule kept my mind off of the huge void left by my mom.  What few hours I had left in the day would be spent with Sandra and the girls.  If I was in town, I would have dinner at home before heading out to an evening event, and when on the road, I would call Sandra and the girls just before bedtime to say good night.

Sandra began expressing concerns about how hard I was driving myself. If I wasn’t careful, she warned, my family history of heart disease would catch up to me. Rather than taking that warning as a sign to slow down, I drove myself harder rationalizing that the clock was ticking and my window for redemption and success was closing fast. In September of 2004, after a long week of business in southern California, I found myself short of breath while trotting up a flight of stairs at the Long Beach convention center.  At the top of the steps I was able to compose myself, and a few minutes later, the sensation disappeared.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 3 (excerpt#21)

With Sandra, Marisa, & Erica taking photos for my 1998 school board campaign (Sandra and Eddie García Family photo)
With Sandra, Marisa, & Erica taking photos for my 1998 school board campaign
(Sandra and Eddie García Family photo)

Blogger’s note: This is the 21st installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”  

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I also began to face challenges in my professional life.  In 1996, I worked around the clock managing the supervisor’s campaign.  It was so consuming that when we celebrated Marisa’s second birthday at a pizza parlor, I stayed for just thirty minutes only to return to the campaign office because Election Day was just six days away.  It also became clear that my decision to pursue a career in elective politics severely compromised my day job.  Later that spring, I left the supervisor’s office for a failing non-profit organization that dissolved seven months later.

At home the night Erica was born provides a snapshot of that trying time.  While Sandra and the baby slept at the hospital in preparation to come home the next day, three-year-old Marisa and I sat alone in the virtually empty family room of our newly purchased house watching television.  While she was enjoying the quality time with her daddy, my mind wandered thinking about of being unemployed soon with a mortgage we could barely afford, worried about how I was going to provide for my family, and how I was going to pursue my professional dreams under such challenging circumstances.

With the impending collapse of the non-profit corporation nearing its endgame, I would scour the newspaper for job opportunities every day.  Once again, fate stepped in.  One Sunday morning while Sandra and the girls were still asleep, I stumbled upon a rare job announcement for a government affairs manager at the local cable company.  Government affairs departments are unique to industries that are regulated by federal, state, and local governments.

The role of a government affairs department is to develop and maintain relationships with elected and government officials to educate them to provide an opportunity for that company or industry to influence public policy that is beneficial to its business interests.  Usually, these types of job opportunities are shared by word of mouth with those who work in the political sector, so it’s unusual for a company to place an ad in the newspaper.  I applied for the job and called on all of the politicians and community leaders with whom I had developed strong working relationships to send letters and make phone calls to the cable company.

The work ethic I learned from my parents, the urgency that drove me since my dad’s passing and my mom’s heart attack, and the opportunity to right the wrongs of my past motivated me to prepare obsessively for the job interview.  Well prepared, I drove to the interview early so I would be relaxed and confident for the meeting, only to get lost in an unfamiliar part of the valley.  Those were the days before auto navigators and GPS devices, so I found myself driving up to gas stations and other drivers stopped at traffic lights to ask for directions as the clocked ticked ever so close to the scheduled interview time.

My heart pounded at the thought of missing this opportunity and watching failure rear its ugly head again.  Speeding through the maze of streets lined with the same looking, low lying concrete Silicon Valley research and development “tilt-up” buildings, I finally made it to my destination with just a few minutes to spare. I walked into the lobby nervous and anxious, wiping sweat off my brow and composing myself to look presentable.  Wearing my best suit, I walked confidently into the office to start the meeting.

I dazzled them at the interview and I was invited to meet executives at the division office in Walnut Creek, more than an hour away, a few days later.  I was nervous and excited to meet corporate executives, something I never would have thought was possible just a few years earlier. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I arrived in Walnut Creek more than an hour early. The meetings went well and I got the job. My life would never be the same.

Working at the cable company was a great experience.  I strengthened my relationships in the political community, learned about working in a corporate environment, had an office all my own, and shared an assistant with my boss.  I also visited Washington, D.C. for the first time.  Managers at my level rarely had the opportunity to represent the company in Washington, but my solid relationships with a few members of Congress led to the invitation by our department’s vice president.

When I arrived early that January evening, a light snow was falling and the lighted monuments and U.S. Capitol made the city glow majestically.  That night, I went out into the freezing rain to see the Lincoln Memorial. I shivered while walking up the steps to the enormous statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a chair looking across the Mall toward the Capitol Building.  The statue took my breath away.

I turned and looked to see what Lincoln was seeing and stood motionless as I gazed at the iconic Washington Monument and Korean War Memorial shimmering in white as the rain gave them a shiny finish.  I couldn’t believe that I was there, a boy from the east side who failed in college and found his way back, standing in center of the free world. I returned to Washington several times a year over the next 10 years and never lost the excitement and inspiration our nation’s capital gave me that first night.

My career in the corporate world was progressing nicely as I was promoted to director within two years. Still, my hunger for political success grew even stronger. In 1998, for a second time, I ran for a seat on the elementary school board against three longtime incumbents. Sandra, her parents and sisters, and my brothers-in-law formed the heart of the campaign. We learned a lot from the last election and had a well-organized operation. When I walked door-to-door asking people to vote for me, many had remembered me from the 1996 campaign. On Election Day, hopes were high.  By the end of the night, I lost again by a slim margin.

East Hills Little League: Birthplace of a Lifelong Passion

Tire Outlet #2 - East Hills Little League Farm Division - 1971 (García Family Photo)
Tire Outlet #2 – East Hills Little League Farm Division – 1971
(García Family Photo)

I got the “Throwback Thursday” bug last week on Facebook and posted a photo from 1971 of my first little league team, Tire Outlet #2. Those were the days when sponsors were team names, rather than a using the name a professional major league team. Rich Archuleta, an old friend from those days, commented on Facebook that I “really brought back a flood of memories with this picture.” Boy was he right!

I played baseball at East Hills Little League in east San Jose for six years from 1971-1976. It was an era before parents saw youth sports as a ticket to a college scholarship, glory, and potential riches as a professional athlete. As a little leaguer, there was no pressure to meet with a batting coach for weekly lessons at the batting cage, compete on a travel team, and equip ourselves with the best high-tech gear available. We just played baseball.

During those six years, we were Tire Outlet #2, Imwalle Farms (there was a giant red and white pumpkin on our red-sleeved jerseys), and the East Valley Lions Club. My last season, when I was 12 years old, I was the winning pitcher in the major division championship game. There were no full uniforms (until the major division), bat bags, cleats, or customized gloves and helmets. Baseball has always been part of my life and playing at East Hills Little League started that lifelong love of our national pastime.

I still remember the day that my mom took me to register for little league at August Boeger Middle School. The registration fee was $5.00 and a book of S&H Green Stamps or Blue Chip Stamps. For that fee, we got a baseball cap with “EH” in block letters across the front, a shirt, and a 20-game schedule. I was placed in the “Red” organization. Due to an ordering error, we wore blue shirts that first year.

The Red teams were a family affair led by the Marquez Family. Phil Marquez, Jr. was our manager, Mrs. Marquez was team mom, Larry and Ernie “Nesto” Marquez were our sluggers, and Mr. Marquez, a deacon at Guadalupe Church, was head cheerleader in charge. Junior was a great coach who has stayed involved with youth baseball or softball for 40 years, winning championships at every level including varsity softball at Mt. Pleasant High School. He’s a true east side legend.

Opening Day always started with a parade that wound its way through the east side from Payless Drug Store on Capitol Avenue to the league’s fields. Dads who had pick-up trucks carried the players and honked horns as the procession slowly drove by neighborhoods. Once there, the teams would file onto the major league division field that had a dirt infield, home run fence, electronic school board, and pitching mound. The little kids couldn’t wait to play on that field.

While I’m sure we all had dreams of playing in the Big Leagues, that wasn’t the goal. The reason we went to practice every day was to play ball. Some of us went on to play in high school, a few others played in college, and one kid made it to the majors. Kenny Williams played for the Chicago White Sox and later became the franchise’s general manager. I’ll never forget watching Kenny on TV, as general manager, when the Sox won the World Series in 2005.

Although I’ll never know what it’s like to be a major leaguer, I made long-lasting friendships playing baseball. I stay in contact with many fellow little leaguers and high school teammates are still some of my closest friends. Rudy Bryand, my boyhood friend and best man in my wedding, and I met playing sandlot baseball during lunchtime in middle school. He sat by my family’s side for 100 days when I was in ICU fighting for my life.

My dad shared my passion for baseball and taught me how to pitch and play the infield. He never missed a game from little league through high school. He took me to my first major league game in 1971 to see the Dodgers play the Giants at Candlestick Park. I can still name the starting line-up from that Giants team that included Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal. I wanted to pitch with a high kick like Marichal, and I made the sign of the cross before batting like second baseman Tito Fuentes.

That passion has now passed onto my family. When my daughter Erica played little league, I managed the team, Sandra helped me stay organized, and my daughter Marisa was the Director of Equipment Management, my fancy name for the bat and ball girl. When Edgar Renteria hit a home run to give the Giants their first World Series win in San Francisco, the four of us were together hugging and high-fiving.

Posting that photo reminded me about the important things in life. For me, playing baseball wasn’t a means to a college scholarship or a profession. Baseball gave me a common bond with my dad, a bond that has extended to my daughters. Baseball has been the centerpiece of many lifelong friendships. And it all started on the fields of East Hill Little League.