Episode 20: Why You’re Allowed to Change your Mind About Your Career Path (Solo Episode)

Episode 20: Why You’re Allowed to Change your Mind About Your Career Path (Solo Episode)

Show Notes:

I’ve changed my career path already 3-4 times in my life, depending on who you ask – and every time, there was a “valid” reason behind doing so. I’m here to say: normalize changing career paths at any point in your life for any reason. On this episode, I break down the top 5 reasons to change career paths and offer you 3 questions to answer if you’re considering making a big leap.

Oh, and don’t forget to join my newsletter community where I provide episode updates and resources for BIPOC young professionals figuring out their career moves!

Links Mentioned In Episode:

Sponsor, The Art of Applying – Get $100 off a Quick Call if you mention the ECM Podcast

Transcription:

TEASER

Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger: And so, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, oh, I actually don’t want to do policy work, I actually don’t want to work in government or do work for a think tank or anything like that, and I realized that when I was in my early twenties. I mean, I could have decided to look at that as a failure, but I didn’t. I was just like, cool, I think it’s time for me to pivot now.

INTRO

Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host, Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.

Priscilla: Hey, everyone, how’s everyone doing? By the time you hear this, it’ll be the end of April, and right now it is April, it’s April in Austin, April, 2021, and it’s just hard to believe that the podcast is already at its 20th episode. It’s been so fun to be able to share all of the guest stories with you so far and I’m just excited to continue to see the podcasts grow, but time has really been flying by. It’s really hard to believe that we’re nearly at that half year mark in 2021, and I know that COVID and the pandemic and everything, it’s muddled my concept of time completely. I don’t know if it’s done that for you too, but I think a lot of 2020, I felt like time was going by super slowly, but now, I feel like things are just speeding up, and I live in Texas, so things are reopening a lot and have been reopening for a while. There’s definitely this tension around like, am I ready for this? But anyway, I am really excited to be with you guys for the 20th episode. I’m talking about a topic that I care very deeply about today, which is basically the concept that you are allowed to change your mind about your career path at any point in your life and should feel empowered to do so, and even to just explore it.

I’ll start with talking about what are the top five reasons that I believe are great valid reasons to consider changing your career, and then I will also end with offering you three questions that I think are really helpful if you’re at a place in your career where you’re thinking about making a big shift, and as I tell you this story, I’m coming from a place of someone who did make significant career shifts in my twenties and someone who graduated college not really knowing exactly how I would use my degree. So, I think that this episode will really appeal to folks who either had a similar experience where you chose a degree in college but it didn’t directly lead to a specific career path or maybe you were not sure about which career path to choose, or you’re just someone who has gone one direction and is now considering taking a different direction. So, that’s the audience for this episode. If you’re someone who has always known what you wanted to do and you are now living that dream or making it happen, that is amazing, congrats, you really lucked out in the career department, but I would venture to say that most of us do have to do a lot of work around figuring out where to land, and it’s not black or white, it’s not okay, I got it or I didn’t get it. I think it’s very much an iterative process for a lot of us as we explore career paths and figure out what is the next best step and what is the best fit for me, and what worked for me yesterday may not work for me today, and that’s fine. So, that’s what this episode’s about, that’s the spirit of this episode, so let’s get into it.

Okay, so my first valid reason for changing your career path is that you had limited information when you made early career decisions such as what to major in, what to do for your first job, or how to use your degree, and this reason applies to a lot of us that are first-generation college grads, first-generation Americans and bipoc communities. Why is that? Because again, we had limited information when we were making career decisions, we didn’t necessarily have parents guiding us or guardians guiding us or older siblings guiding us or anyone who maybe understood the system, and so if this is you, I want you to really sit in that for a second, like think back to who you were when you were an 18-year-old, 17-year-old applying to college, choosing your major, choosing your internships, or maybe you didn’t do internships because you didn’t realize you were supposed to do internships or you took jobs because you had to make money somehow and taking an unpaid internship was sort of out of the question, and then as you came up against your first job career search, maybe you just chose something randomly, right? Or maybe someone told you something about the career path that you chose, or maybe you went to an event and something sounded cool, and so you went with it, right? That is sort of what happened to me. I was an architecture major for the first year of college. I wanted to be an architect because my tia in Mexico is an architect and I look up to her, and I thought that sounds like an awesome career, I want to do that. Okay, cool, so I did it the whole first year of the coursework in architecture, I did a summer program at Harvard GSD, which was amazing in architecture. It was amazing because I realized I actually did not want to be an architect at all. I realized that was not the career path for me, and it was time for me to choose my major my sophomore year, so I came back to school my sophomore year and I had to choose a major, and it was around the time that Obama was getting really big in, like, politics and everything, and so I was just like, well, let me be a Poli Sci major. Political Science was a really strong department at Wellesley where I went to school, and so I was like, okay, sure, sounds good, and so that’s how I chose my major, right? Like, it was a very haphazard way for me to choose a major, but it ended up actually being like a domino effect in the sense that that was how I ended up doing a summer internship in DC and working in policy, and then I decided to get my master’s in Public Policy after college, and then kind of went through this whole little path where I was thinking in my head like, oh, I’ll just do Education Policy, and that was just an idea, like I didn’t know anyone who did this job, my parents didn’t do it, I didn’t really know what it meant. It just sounded cool and it was interesting, and so I went down that path, and so it wasn’t until years later that I realized, oh, I actually don’t want to do policy work, I actually don’t want to work in government or do work for a think tank or anything like that, and I realized that when I was in my early twenties, I mean, I could have decided to look at that as a failure, but I did it. I was just like, cool, I think it’s time for me to pivot now, and so the point here is really just that a lot of us made haphazard decisions in college around what to major in, where to intern, what to do for our first job, and if this is resonating with you, I feel you, like that was me. I was in that boat where I was just sorta like, I don’t know, this sounds cool, and like, my parents were like, okay, sounds cool, right? But it was not a well-informed decision where I understood all of my options, where I understood all of the pros and cons and what it would lead to, what it wouldn’t lead to. That was not available to me. I just think it’s so valid that if you didn’t really have information when it came to making those decisions, it makes total sense that a few years later, you decide to do something different.

Okay, so reason two that I think is super valid for wanting to change your career paths is you need to make more money, periodt, okay, period with a T, like, this is so important to level with yourself, and if this is something that’s come up for you, I think that it’s just really important to be honest with yourself about the role that the financial incentive piece plays in your career choice. I’ll talk again a little bit about my own personal experience. I worked in nonprofit, I was a school teacher, I pursued a career path up until my late twenties, that was really not around making money, like that was just not my motivator at the time. I think that my motivator was around making a difference, seeing systemic change for students and for kids, and making a difference in education was really what got me fired up, it got me excited. I was excited to get out of bed every day when I was a teacher, when I worked for a school system, that is on 100, like, that is the truth. I was so motivated by that, but there came a time when the balance started to become unequal. What I mean by that is that joy, that rewarding, fulfilling feeling that I got from working in mission-aligned work started to lessen over time as I started to realize that living paycheck to paycheck and being very much underpaid for how hard I was working was just not cute anymore for my finances, okay? So, I made a very strategic decision in my late twenties to pivot out of the nonprofit sector and move into the private sector, and I’m not going to front – money was a big part of that. I started to look at how much I had saved over time in my retirement, it was not a number that I was excited about at all, and so I felt like, wow, I really have fallen behind my peers when it comes to saving for retirement, when it comes to being able to buy a house and make a lot of these financial moves that are important to me as a first generation American, as someone who does not have a significant financial safety net to fall back on, and as someone who is increasingly aware of just the role that I need to play to create generational wealth if I decide to have a family for my kids, and when I was in my early twenties, I didn’t think about that stuff. I just didn’t, and I think that I was in a position of incredible privilege because I didn’t have significant student loans to worry about, and so I was able to pursue career paths that were very fulfilling for me personally, but ultimately, I was neglecting a whole part of the equation, which was planning for financial freedom and caring about financial freedom, period. So, I think that if you’re in this situation where you need to make more money and you’re realizing that that is starting to stress you out, worry, you’re not feeling good about that area in your career or in your life, I think it is a totally total valid decision to change career paths, to find something that does satisfy that and does help you pay off debt faster, build wealth to just be able to achieve financial freedom. I think that’s a really important part and component of changing careers, and I will say another part of this is transparency. I think for a long time, I just honestly didn’t even know the amount of money my peers were making. I think when I graduated college, I knew that friends that were pursuing private sector jobs would be making a lot more than me, but at the beginning, like I said, I just didn’t think too much about it, and I had this mindset around ‘I’ll just figure it out later,’ but I just think that, again, I was operating under very limited information, and I think that if this is you and you didn’t really think about the financial impact, it’s totally fair to want to revisit that and it’s totally fair to want to switch gears.

Okay, the third reason that I think is so valid for wanting to change career paths is if you realize that you are either underemployed or you are not using your strengths at work, they’re not being leveraged or showcased at all. Being underemployed basically means that you were hired for a job that you are overqualified for and you could be operating at a much higher level, and this could have to do with either the actual job description of the role, so the day-to-day tasks, the day-to-day responsibilities, and that could be either demotivating or create a situation where you’re just not feeling challenged, you’re not feeling very fulfilled, energized, and maybe the day goes by a little slower because it’s just kind of like, okay, yeah, I know how to do this. You’re going through the motions and it’s not exciting because you’re underemployed, and so I think that a lot of the times in bipoc communities, this can happen because sometimes we’re being targeted or talked to about roles that are way below what we can actually do and provide, and so we really need to watch for that. I think that it’s okay if you are in a situation where you just need to get a job, like, you just need to make money. Maybe you got laid off, something happened and, like, do what you need to do right? Like, I will never knock that. Do what you need to do. I think it’s just really important though, when you are being strategic and thinking long-term, ultimately, you want to be in a role that matches where you’re at. You want to think about a role that you’re even a little “underqualified for.” We’ve all seen the statistics, men tend to apply for jobs where they meet 60% of the requirements for the job, and then women feel the need to check every single box and if they don’t check every single box in their mind, they don’t apply, and so that’s what this is about. This is about making sure that the job that you’re in now is really challenging you and that you’re growing and learning, and you’re getting something out of it to take to the next place where you land, and if you’ve plateaued or you’re just going through the motions, or you’re groaning, not looking forward to anything, it might have to do with the fact that you’re underemployed right now, and I actually think that this is a sneaky one. This is one that you have to do a lot of self-reflection around to really ask yourself if you’re operating at 80%, 90%, 100%, or are you just kind of cruising? There is a time and place for cruising. There is nothing wrong with cruising in your job, so please don’t hear that, right? Like, that is not what I’m saying. I think that it’s a beautiful thing to get to a place in your role, in your job where you’re like, Hey, I kind of get this, I’m doing well and enjoying that, but you got to enjoy it, right? Like, if you’ve been cruising for a little too long and you’re just not getting any joy out of it, and you’re dealing with things that feel very tedious and more of a headache to you, then maybe it’s time to rethink the kind of work that you’re doing and what your role is.

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SOLO EPISODE CONTINUED

Like I mentioned on my last solo episode, take the strengthsfinder test, know your strengths, know the things that get you to light up, get you excited. Our strengths often are what give us so much energy and give us life, and so know what your strengths are and do the self-reflection work of asking yourself: Am I using my strengths at work? Am I actually showing up at the level that I know that I can show up as? And if the answer’s no, you’re not alone. This happens to a lot of us. It happened to me, and don’t make it a moment about shame. This is not about shame. This is about knowing your worth. It’s about knowing that you deserve not just ‘good enough’ or just ‘okay,’ but something really amazing, and something really amazing is waiting for you on the other side of that.

Okay, the fourth reason is you are burnt out mentally, physically, and or emotionally, and this is really important. I think that this happens to a lot of us where we have just been running, running, running for so long in a job in a career, giving so much of ourselves and getting to a point where we’re neglecting ourselves, we’re not taking care of ourselves, and it’s just such a bad situation. When I think about this reason, I think a lot about teachers because I was a teacher for two years, I know how hard the career path is and how undervalued it is, and yet just the incredible amount of physical work involved with being a teacher, the emotional toll that it can take on teachers, and also just the mental pressure and just how high stakes it can be. I didn’t teach for a long time and I would never compare what I did for two years to what veteran teachers go through, but I know so many incredible educators that leave the teaching profession because the burnout is real and it’s so hard to constantly be carrying those burdens, and so I think that it’s a totally fair thing, and again, there’s no shame around it. It is fine to switch gears and to do something that is not so taxing on you, like, at the end of the day, you are providing services, labor in exchange for money and benefits. Yes, I am simplifying things, but there’s always people that post about, if you die tomorrow, your role would be filled next week and people would keep it moving, like, that’s just the truth, and so I never want my listeners to feel like, okay, this podcast is about how your career is the most important thing. It’s not, it’s not. I really believe family and relationships, friendships are the most important thing, because that’s what life is about in my opinion, right? Like, yes, have an amazing career, do something, like, that’s so fun and challenging, but like, the reason that I care so much about careers is because we spend so much of our lives doing this and there is so much fulfillment and impact that we can have through the career piece but like, it’s not everything, it’s not worth your sanity, your mental, physical, emotional health, and so if you’re at that breaking point, it’s really time to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. In my opinion, it’s never worth those things. I just want you to hear that I think that is just such an important valid reason for you to be like, this isn’t for me, like, I can’t give this much of myself.

The last reason that I have for you for wanting to shift career paths is just because you feel like it. Yes, I just walked through some reasons that I told you are valid for wanting to change your career paths, but the truth is, you wanting to do it is good enough and it’s worth doing. I think life is way too short and it’s very natural as a human being to at some point, want to try something different or want to just see what else is out there. I mean, it’s almost like dating a little bit, right? Like, some people do find their forever person in middle school or high school. That’s amazing, but some of us do have to date lots of different people, and it’s the same thing with careers. Sometimes, we have to try on different things to figure out what really fits, right? That is the point of this episode. I want to encourage you to not feel shame or not feel scared to change your mind about your career because if you are someone who randomly chose your major, didn’t know how to use your degree, and that domino effect has run its course, or you realize that I’m underemployed,

I’m not using my strength, this isn’t actually, like, interesting or intellectually captivating for me at all, or you’re someone who says, “I need to make more money. I need to pay my bills. I love this initially, but now it’s really not cutting it for me,” or you’re someone who’s like, “I need more work-life balance. I need more personal time.” That’s worth it to me more now. There are just so many reasons why you might want to shift gears, and I really want us to normalize doing that and making that a normal part of the discussion because there is nothing wrong with being like, this ain’t it, like, this really ain’t it anymore. What’s out there?

I told you that I would leave you with three questions to ask yourself if you’re at the point where you’re thinking about shifting career paths, and so here they are.

Number one, am I learning, being developed and, or growing? Number two, do I feel at least neutral every day when I wake up and it’s time to go to work as in not negative, not like a negative feeling, I feel neutral, or I actually feel positively, and then number three, if in five years I wake up and I’m still doing this, will I be okay with that.

Okay, that’s all I have for you today has been so great to talk about this topic. In my head, we’re, like, having coffee somewhere and I’m sharing these ideas with you, but I would love it if you could screenshot the podcast, tag ECM Podcast and share, like, a nugget, what did you like about this podcast? What are your thoughts? And I would love to reshare your content, but yeah, let’s normalize changing our minds about our careers.

Have a great rest of your week.

Episode 19: Why I Left the Teaching Profession and Chose Social Impact, with Katherine Leiva

Episode 19: Why I Left the Teaching Profession and Chose Social Impact, with Katherine Leiva

Show Notes:

Leiva’s story is all about turning tragedy and misfortune into opportunity and hope.

Links Mentioned In Episode:

Sponsor, The Art of Applying – Get $100 off a Quick Call if you mention the ECM Podcast

Leadership for Educational Equity

Transcription:

And at the end of that whole experience, I actually had a conversation with Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and she was like, “How long have you been teaching?” and I told her, “Oh, this is the beginning of my eighth year.” She goes, “Mama, that’s too long. We need you out here and we need you now.” It was one of those moments of, oh, crap.

Introduction

Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.

Guest Introduction

Hey there, before we get started with today’s episode, I want to encourage you to subscribe to our show, leave us a review if you’ve been enjoying our episodes so far and also follow us on Instagram at ECMpodcast.

If you love our episodes, I’d love for you to reshare our content, tag someone that would love to hear this episode or could benefit from it because we’re trying to reach as many young professionals who identify as BIPOC and help them along their career journeys.

Okay, so today’s episode is really exciting for me. I’m interviewing Katherine Leiva who goes by Leiva, and Leiva and I crossed paths in 2012 when we were both brand new high school teachers doing Teach for America in Miami, Florida. Leiva taught ESL, English as a second language to English language learners for nearly eight years before deciding to transition out of the classroom and figure out a new career in social impact and advocacy.

Today, Leiva is a senior manager of Leadership Innovation at Radical Partners, and on this episode, she’ll talk about what it was like to make the decision to leave the classroom, a decision that is often very difficult for teachers to make and how she made that choice, what she ended up exploring, and what she gained in the process as she was willing to re-imagine her career.

Interview

Priscilla Esquivel Weninger: Hey, Leiva, thanks for being on the show today.

Katherine Leiva: Thanks for inviting me, I’m so excited, this is so cool.

Priscilla: Yes, it’s so wonderful to have you here. So, Leiva, why don’t you start us off by sharing a little bit about your personal background, your personal experiences? I know that they informed your career decisions, so yeah, tell us what it was like to grow up in Miami for you.

Leiva: Oh, my goodness, this is such a loaded question. So, I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet, but real. So, a little bit about me. I’m a first generation Nicaraguan American here, born and raised in Miami. Both of my parents were political refugees that were coming from Nicaragua during a state of civil unrest that was happening in the country and is still currently happening today. They came to the US in the 80s, I believe ’86, ’88, don’t quote me, my family might come from me later, but they came in the eighties and I was the first one born here in 1990. I’m the daughter, I’m number six out of seven kids. So, my family is, like, various generations are included. Like, my eldest brother, I think, is about to be 50, so there’s, like, vast generational gaps within us. All of them were born in Nicaragua except for me and my little sister, and we are a mixed status family. So, I’m a citizen, I have people in my family who are naturalized citizens, I have people in my family who hold a green card and are residents, and then I have people in my family who are undocumented until this day. So, because of all of that, I’ve grown up with a very interesting sense of what it means to be an American and what it means to be poor in the US. I grew up in, like, extreme, low poverty here. Both of my parents died when I was very young. My father died when I was nine years old due to hepatitis C. He had an issue with his liver due to being an alcoholic when he was young, and then my mother shortly passed away a couple of years later when I was 14 and she died of diabetes. She actually had a heart attack in her sleep and died at home, so I was very young when I was thrust into adulthood, I moved in with my big sister and her three children, my nieces and nephews that I see them as my siblings, and to this day, my big sister is the only person in my family that I recognize as anyone who’s taken care of me and helped me along on my journey. So, yeah, that’s been my life. I’ve seen Miami through the lenses of growing up, as a daughter of immigrants growing up in a household that was undocumented in poverty. I mean, I’ve seen Miami and some of the darkest possible spaces that I can be in. I tell people all the time, I’m a Miami mutt. I didn’t grow up stable at all. My senior year in high school, actually, I moved 13 different times and each time, because we were evicted, so it’s been rough. It was a really rough upbringing, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ve been thinking a lot about it because of this podcast and truly humbled to share this space with you, Priscilla, and have you elevate the voice of people like me, because I feel like there’s not a lot of that. So, that’s me in a nutshell, and I think, I don’t know, it’s all those struggles and hardships that have made me the person that I am and truly ground me into the leader that I’ve become and will continue to be.

Priscilla: Yeah, I mean, Leiva, at this point, you could write a book, there could be a movie, like, there’s just so much that you have overcome and yet somehow, you’re always laughing, you’re just always bubbly and positive, so I always have appreciated that about you, but yeah. So, let’s go a little bit towards high school, like, where did you go to high school? What was that educational experience like? How did that lead you to making it to FSU?

Leiva: So, one of the biggest gifts that my mother ever gave me was making sure that I attended a magnet high school before she passed away, so my mother died my freshman year in high school, which was rough. I ended up in MAST Academy, I got accepted, and that school completely transformed and changed my life, Priscilla, and I’m saying that because you’ve heard about my senior year, right? I moved 13 times that year. We were homeless, we were transient, we were, like, living on the floors of peoples that we knew and it’s couch surfing, it’s like staying at a friend’s house for a week while my sister tried to figure something out. That was my high school living situation and MAST Academy made sure not only that I graduated, but that I went to college and I thrived there, like, that school literally made it happen because they were invested in me, they knew everything that was going on. My mom died my freshman year and it was like, my mom died on a Saturday, Priscilla, and I went to school on Monday and everything was normal, and then the counselors found out and it was like, oh, hell no, like, they pulled me out of class. They were, like, trying to unravel the years of trauma that I had and I’m just sitting there like smiling, I’m fine. Let me go back to my science class, that’s where I want to be, and because that happened, there was just such an investment in me in what I represented, in what I brought to the school, it was transformative on so many levels, and in my senior year, while everyone’s applying to college, I wasn’t going to go, I don’t have the typical Latina story of you’re going to college and you’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer, like, I didn’t have that. I had, hey, you have three jobs, you are income for the household, great. When you graduate high school, let’s get you a full-time. That was my expected life. So, college was never on the table. It was never something we discussed at home. It was never an expectation. It’s just not, college is not something that my family does, and to this day, I’m the only one who’s gone, still. So, really, like, my high school played such a vital role. If it were not for MAST Academy, I don’t think we would be having this conversation right now. My college advisor at school, Ms. Whitby, she literally put her hand on my shoulder. She looked at me in the eyes and she was like, “Leiva, if you stay in Miami, you’re not going to grow the way that you need to grow,” and she was like, “I see so much potential in you. This school sees so much potential in you that you’re not seeing in yourself, and the only way you’re going to see it is if you get away from the life that you live here, and if you get away from your family and just breathe,” and that’s the first time anyone had ever told me that, and I was 17, I was 17 and I had two jobs, like, it was the first time that someone told me to think about myself, and Ms. Whitby, like, she changed my life and I tell her every single chance that I get, we’re friends on Facebook and I shower her with her flowers every single chance, every single opportunity. She said, “I want you to look at UF, which is the University of Florida which is in Gainesville, Florida, which is about six hours away from Miami,” and then she said, “I want you to look at Florida State University, FSU,” which was about eight hours away and she gave me pamphlets for all of them, and she pointed out that Florida State University had the CARE program and the CARE program stands for the Center for Advancement and Retention Enrollment, and it’s pretty much a first-generation low-income program for kids who have never heard, no one in their families has gone to college or do not have the money to go to college and probably don’t have the scores to do extremely well in college if I’m being 100% percent honest, and not only giving them the opportunity to go to an institution like Florida State, but finish with the support needed. So, they actually had a summer bridge program which allows me to go to Florida State the summer right after I graduated, so my graduation was in June, I was in my dorm in July. You only have a month off. You’re there, you get dorm, you get boarding, and you get food, they give you a meal plan, they pay for all of your courses, you get a counselor, you’re there with everyone else who is in the program, which is about 100 other kids from all over the state who share your background and share the struggle, and it’s welcome to college bootcamp 101. So, you’re starting to go to classes and then they give you, like, tutors, and after looking at all of that, I was like, that’s what I want, and I turned in my application in November, I turned in my regular application of Florida State, and then I turned in my application to the CARE program, did all of my essays, got my letters of recommendation, and within a month in December, I was accepted and I knew where I was going at that point, I was going to Florida State, which was such a relief as a senior and going in December, it was amazing.

Priscilla: Okay, so you graduated from FSU, you joined Teach for America in your hometown of Miami, and you were assigned to teach ESL, which is teaching English as a second language to English language learners, so mostly immigrants, high school students learning English from a variety of different countries. You ended up teaching ESL in Miami for seven years, seven or eight years. What was that like? What was hard about it? What did you love?

Leiva: Oh, my God, honestly, the whole time, this whole experience of teaching ESL is a gift. It is honestly a gift. It is, oh, my God. I am forever indebted to Teach for America due to that because I was so riled up, the mission of one day, one day, all children will have the opportunity to obtain an excellent education. It’s so perfectly crafted, right, to say, “Hey, you’re going to have a chance at this. We’re going to make sure you have at least a chance,” and I was so ready to make that happen and when I got placed in ESL, I remember just having this fear of wait, we are not trained in ESL, right? First of all, we’re not trained in anything, but let alone ESL, right? And the second thing was, I thought I was going to have a community of English teachers, but it’s no, you have a community of ESL teachers and there’s only four of them, right? And you are one of those four. So, it was very much like you are on a ship all on your own, buddy, you got this though, TFA out. That’s what it felt like. So, it was very scary. I remember lesson plans, it was lesson planning and the structure of you need an objective. What are your students going to do today? You need to have activities. How are you going to make sure they learn the thing that they need to learn? Like, that whole structure was new to me. Backwards planning, which is you plan with the end in mind was brand new to me. Girl, come on, I went to college with trash bags. I was not planning with the end in mind. My life has never been planning with the end in mind, so this was a whole new gamut that I was just so, I cannot mess this up, these are ESL children, I can not mess this up, I cannot mess this up, and I remember I am myself up with that fear of I’m going to mess this up in the first day of school. As I was teaching, I was doing my thing, literally, by, I’m not even exaggerating, by my third class that day, I knew that this was the perfect placement for me in the perfect school with the perfect kids and that I was going to knock this out of the park simply because every single child, every single one of them in my class was an immigrant, every single one of them had such a desire to be in that classroom. Every single one of them that spoke Spanish sounded like my mom or my dad, it was eerie. It was just one of those, I don’t know why I’m here, but there’s a reason why I’m here and I will never take that back. I knew by the end of my week, by the end of the first week of school that I was going to stay beyond my second year, I knew it, I knew it. I loved it. Those kids fueled me. They literally lit a fire inside of me. They transformed me as well. They’ve been just a part of my leadership journey as I’ve been a part of theirs. It was hard, but it was so worth it and I would never ever take it back, and I mean, you saw it. I was in the classroom for seven years and all seven, I was an ESL teacher. That is my craft. That is my home, and to be honest, like, teaching the kids was the easy part, like, teaching them what they needed to know, going outside of the norm, right? Because I was always the teacher who went above and beyond for the kids in the sense of the curriculum, right? I wasn’t just going to teach them what the school was asking me to teach, I was also going to teach them about social justice and the ways that immigrants have impacted the world and how we can all make a difference. That was literally my curriculum and what I was structuring, like, yes, I’m going to teach you the main idea as we learn about mass incarceration in my ESL class, which is like, people don’t even expect ESL children to be able to perform, let alone talk about social injustices or anti-Blackness that we have in our communities, and that’s why, like, I had the highest scores every single year, like, back to back because I’m teaching the kids English and things that they want to know and things that they need to know and in something that they’re truly invested in. So, honestly, that was the easiest part.

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CONTINUED INTERVIEW

Leiva: The hardest part was learning that ESL kids get the short end of the stick in our educational society. It was learning that educational inequity was even harder for my kids and learning that if I didn’t spoke up for my kids, nobody would. So, it was being a teacher by day and an ESL advocate at night is what made it hard when I was constantly getting in trouble constantly, whether it was with my superiors at my school or people at the district, I just never shut up. I really didn’t, to this day, I still don’t, and that was the hardest part.

Priscilla: Because you’re such a fearless advocate for your kids.

Leiva: Mm-hmm.

Priscilla: When you were going through this journey of every year deciding, okay, I’m going to stay another year, okay, I think I’m going to stay another year, were you thinking, I think I’m going to become a lifelong educator or were you just kind of taking it year by year?

Leiva: So, I knew that I was going to stay at least for my third year because in Florida, when you have a teaching certificate and when you don’t have a degree in education, you get a temporary certificate and that’s good for up to three years. After your third year, you have to have some sort of education credential behind your name, or if not, you’re not allowed to teach anymore, so I knew that I wanted to stay at least those three years, but my second year was when I made the decision that actually, I really like this and I’m not good at it yet. Even though people were like, “You’re amazing,” yada, yada, yada, whatever. It’s like, I know that I’m not as good as I possibly could be, so I decided to enter the Johns Hopkins graduate school program which was a partnership with Teach for America to get my masters in Education to allow me to continue teaching beyond my third year, which is what I did, and once I had that masters under my belt, it was my fourth year, that masters really helped me reflect over my four years of teaching. The fast growth that I had as an educator, not just as an advocate, right, but also in the curriculum, the design for the kids, and I honestly was able to reflect and see that what I loved about teaching and what I miss about teaching to this day is that genuine relationship that you build with children and with that relationship, you use it to teach, and when the light bulbs go off in a child’s brain, it brings me so much joy. To see a kid grapple a concept, that at the beginning of the year, maybe they didn’t even know how to say “door” or “thank you,” and then at the end of the year, they’re talking about social injustices brings me such a joy in my heart, and so every year, I became better and every year that I became better, the more I wanted to do it longer, I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to become an administrator, I just didn’t. I felt like the further away you get from kids, the less impact that you have, and I actually dabbled a bit in coaching. So, I was actually a full-time teacher in the day and then I was a coaching teacher in the evenings for ESL teachers who taught adults at night, and I actually did that for about a year and as I was doing that, it brought me joy and I loved it and it stretched me, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if I wasn’t teaching during the day. So, that really helped me see that my gift and my passion, and my love was in the classroom and that’s why I actually stayed so long.

Priscilla: Totally. So, I think with the amount of experience that you’ve built up as an educator, as an advocate and someone who has personally lived through a lot of the experiences that our students have gone through, you’re so perfectly well-positioned to do so many different things. You could be a school leader, you could open a school, you could run for office, there’s just so many options for you, and so my question to you is, how did you decide to join Radical Partners as a program manager and how did you decide it was the right time to leave the classroom?

Leiva: I did a lot of reflecting, I did a lot of journaling, a lot of running, a lot of just trying to figure out what all of it meant, and I realized just what you said, Priscilla, there are so many pathways that I can take and I knew that for me, maybe the classroom wasn’t it anymore. Maybe the impact that I was making on 180 kids a year was just not enough, so I got involved with Leaders for Educational Equity. I took a couple of courses that they had and they had a fellowship for emerging political advocates and they were doing it for different sectors, and I was chosen for the LatinX sector, right? So I was an emerging political advocate for LatinX folks around the US and that granted me access to go ahead and be a part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute that happened in September and it truly showed me all the ways that Latinos are kicking ass around the nation. I got to rub elbows with people in Congress. Julian Castro, Joaquin Castro, Velasquez is over in New York, and I also got to meet people who were the heads of Univision but also Humana and seeing how all these sectors came to play to move the “Hispanic agenda” forward in the US and I realized, like, the classroom, isn’t the only avenue, and at the end of that whole experience, I actually had a conversation with Congresswoman Vasquez and she was like, “How long have you been teaching?” and I told her, “Oh, this is the beginning of my eighth year.” She goes, “Mama, that’s too long. We need you out here and we need you now,” and was one of those moments of, oh, crap, that trip, I really thought about it, and I saw they had another fellowship available for teachers who were working full time to be able to give a political insight and voice to nonprofits and for-profits trying to make social impact in the region. So, I applied to that fellowship and I was accepted, and when I was accepted, it was a policy and advocacy fellow, so I became a national policy and advocacy fellow right after that and my placement was at Radical Partners. So, Radical Partners is a social impact accelerator here in Miami that invest in leaders that are growing the city through social impact, that engages locals in decisions that are made by the government and by the community every single day, and that works with collective partnerships in order for us to move closer to a stronger and better community, and in that fellowship, I started to help out with different programs that they have. 100 Great Ideas is this awesome program where for one week, there’s a Facebook group that’s open to anyone in Miami to go ahead and contribute their ideas and their solutions to a problem that we have in the region, and this year that I was a fellow, the problem with climate change, and you have people from all walks of life just giving solutions on how to fix the problems that we’re seeing in our communities – the massive flooding, the heat index is just rising every single day, right? Like, the fact that low-income communities are on higher ground and therefore are now being gentrified is a climate change issue, so you saw all aspects of Miami contributing to this, and then after that week, it’s closed, it’s consolidated, it’s written up in a report and it’s handed over to our political powers here in Miami and saying, “Hey, Leiva from zip code 33138 believes that this is a solution that can be implemented in order to elevate the voices of the community,” and as I was working on that project, a month in, I was offered a full-time job. They were just like, “Listen, you are doing phenomenal work here. Everything is great. We can’t see us functioning without you moving forward. Do you want to be a program manager?” and that was in October and I told them the soonest I could join them would be January in order to prepare my students for their exams in January. I wanted to teach until December to prepare them and see them off, and that’s how I landed at Radical Partners.

Priscilla: Wow, that’s so cool. I had no idea that Lee was actually an instrumental part of that for you.

Leiva: Absolutely, yeah.

Priscilla: Yeah. Tell me some of the cool projects that you’ve worked on or are working on and how have you transferred your skillset as a teacher over to do those things?

Leiva: I was hired to be the program manager for the strategic planning summit which is pretty much 50% of nonprofits right now don’t have a strategic plan, and if they do have one, they paid about anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for that plan and they don’t implement it because they didn’t make it themselves. So, literally, our former executive director, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey came up to me and she’s like, “This is a problem that we have. I want you to solve it in any way that you want over the next year.” So, I literally created a curriculum to help people understand the strategic planning process. I had to teach the strategic planning process to myself first which almost every teacher knows that’s a skill that we have, you teach yourself before you teach the kids, so I had to teach it to myself and then I broke it up into bite size pieces. I created a whole forum. This program started with just me, Priscilla, like, me in a room with a whiteboard going crazy. That was literally it to what it is now, and just to see that my teaching skills were able to be meshed together with helping a community and seeing that the organizations that are receiving this help are the same organizations that are helping my kids in the classroom today is, like, such a different level of fulfillment that I’ve never had before. So now, I’m working on projects that involve philanthropists who want to make the educational leadership arena in Miami better. I’m now currently developing a professional development for principals in my city, in the same school district that I taught at, in the same district, so to see it all work full circle has just been, for lack of a better word, delicious, to see that, like, I can, like, truly be an advocate in this different arena and continue to hone and make everything about the kids first, has been just outstanding that I can continue to do that outside of the classroom. To me, it’s just been a realization journey that holy crap, I’m still having an impact in this very different way.

Priscilla: I love that. I love seeing you thrive and still be aligned with your mission and do it in a different way, right? Like, teaching was one way to do that but there are so many different ways to have an impact and make a difference in people’s lives. So, thank you, Leiva, thank you for sharing your incredible story with us.

Leiva: Oh, thank you. Thank you for giving me the space. Thank you for allowing me to reflect and truly enjoy this time, and I can’t wait, I can’t wait to see what comes out of all of this.

Priscilla:Thanks for tuning in to the Early Career Moves podcast. Be sure to visit ECMpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community, and if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review.

Talk to you next week.

Episode 18. What It’s Like to Run Social Media for NASDAQ , with Lyanne Alfaro

Episode 18. What It’s Like to Run Social Media for NASDAQ , with Lyanne Alfaro

Show Notes:

Links Mentioned In Episode:

Sponsor, The Art of Applying – Get $100 off a Quick Call if you mention the ECM Podcast

Transcription:

TEASER

In the journalism and media field, you see so many people saying, “Take that unpaid internship, work on the stipend, work, extra jobs,” which I did also, I did daycare, but I think the way I saw it then was like, well, why would I do that? Because I don’t have a financial safety net to fall back on. I felt like this kind of advice appealed to more people with generational wealth or people with connections, quite frankly. So after that, I was like, okay, I’m going to seek opportunities where I get paid.

PODCAST INTRO

Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host, Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, Texas Latina daughter of immigrants and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.

GUEST INTRO

Priscilla: Hey, everyone. Today, I’m excited to introduce to you Lyanne Alfaro. Lyanne is a Mexican American from the Chicago area who works at producer host and social media strategist at NASDAQ. Lyanne graduated in 2015 from the university of Illinois with a degree in news editorial journalism. After graduating, Lyanne cold emailed her way into a social media role at CNBC where she got to pick it’s stories about the intersection of the Latino community, business, and entrepreneurship. Her pieces have been featured in CNBC, Business Insider, and NBC Latino. She’s also the creator of Moneda Moves, a bi-weekly newsletter and podcast where she dives deeper into the LatinX influence in the world of business. If you’re interested in journalism, a career in social media, or if you’ve ever been told that you should take an unpaid internship, this is a great episode for you.

INTERVIEW

Priscilla: Hey, Lyanne, welcome to the show.

Lyanne Alfaro: Thank you so much for having me, Priscilla.

Priscilla: Of course. So, Lyanne, I’m really excited to dive into your really exciting career that you’ve had in journalism and learn about what you do with Moneda Moves, but before we go in that direction, will you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Lyanne: Yeah, of course. I’m first-generation Mexicana, my parents are from Guadalajara, Mexico and I grew up in Chicago, Illinois on the Northwest side in this neighborhood called Humboldt Park, and from the very start, my parents were educators in Mexico, so coming here to the US as immigrants, they may not have gone to college here, but they certainly had that grounding where they believe that education was so important. I grew up speaking Spanish. I didn’t speak a lick of English and neither did my parents, but they realized that kind of the first goal was just like, okay, we need to make sure she learns the main language in this country, and so I did see, I think early on, my parents really extend themselves, even though I recognized we were lower income, they extended themselves to make sure I had the best possible education on a low budget. So, that meant I spent a lot of my summers in libraries, I spent a lot of time reading. Eventually, I ended up in the school where I learned English and I fell in love with writing, and to be honest, for as long as I remember, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to tell stories, and funny enough, my dad did name me after a local well-known journalist called Lyanne Melendez, she was a Puerto Rican on ABC7 and she would cover stories about our community but just general assignment as well, and so I started tracking her career and I was like, okay, I see another Latina in the field. This was in the nineties, but my parents gave me the kind of like backing the education or the ability to get access to these institutions and just seeing them extend themselves and how hard they worked, I knew I’d be doing all of us a disservice if I didn’t pursue what I was truly curious and passionate about which was journalism, and it wasn’t always about in particular Latinos and people of color communities, I covered a little bit of entertainment. I started writing when I was 15 and I did a little bit of even fashion writing, but what I really fell into post-grad was business news, and in business news, I saw not a lot of people looked like me, not a lot of people of color and certainly not a lot of first-generation, and I thought to myself, I have so many friends in my life that are going through this, navigating the system for the first time, but also people that I’ve seen be very successful in starting their small businesses, why aren’t we seeing that represented in these national newsrooms? So, that that’s what has been my driver to do what I do to navigate my full-time jobs the way that I do, and so today I’m a producer at NASDAQ stock exchange, where I tell stories about technology companies or listed companies, market technology. But of course, at any chance that I get, stories about people of color.

Priscilla: Yeah. I’m so excited to hear like how you got to where you are today. So, when you were in college, what did you do during that time to figure out what kind of journalism you wanted to do?

Lyanne: Yes, that’s a very good question. I think one of my biggest learnings was that there is no linear path, especially when you’re first-generation, you don’t, or at least I didn’t have access to the connections to get the references, to have people push me through the system, and I feel that’s the case for a lot of people that are Latino and first gen and/or lower income, we don’t have this network. So, I became aware early on that I needed to get out there and meet people, and yes, I loved to meet Latinos, but I need to get out there and meet all journalists, so I didn’t limit myself to journalism when I did internships, but I did start writing for my school paper in high school and there was a city paper, the Chicago Tribune which had a program for teenagers called Mash, so via that you would be able to do journalism at the scale of the Chicago Tribune. They picked a handful of people, everyone had to apply, and this was such a critical step for me for many reasons, I started writing at the age of 16 at a city-wide level. I was getting the skills from editors, professional editors and commentary on my work, and I got access to these connections, right? But the other thing that I realized and started getting a hang of was how the system worked and I think it was so valuable that at 17 or so, they started paying me for my work, so I may not have had a ton of experience writing at that level but the fact they they paid me for work set me up with this mindset where I was just like, okay, like, I value experience this much and I’m going to seek free opportunities, but I don’t believe any more that I will be doing free internships. So, I think that kind of set my mindset a little bit differently because in the journalism and media field, you see so many people saying, “Take that unpaid internship worth on the stipend, work extra jobs,” which I did also, I did daycare, but I think the way I saw it then was like, Well, why would I do that? Because I don’t have a financial safety net to fall back on. I felt like this kind of advice appealed to more people with generational wealth or people with connections, quite frankly. So, after that, I feel like that was very formative because after that I was like, okay, I’m going to seek opportunities where I get paid. So, that meant that I wasn’t always working in straight journalism. Sure, I always made sure I was freelancing at some point for a journalistic company, but I would pick up jobs in PR, in comms, in strategy, and these are the kinds of internships that I did. I worked for a channel called Weather Nation which is, like, Weather Channel’s competitor and learned about acquisition of companies. So, I learned a little bit about the business side and I found that to be very instrumental.

Priscilla: Yeah, I think that’s really important, just the mindset shift and the realization that yes, that advice around getting an unpaid internship might apply to someone who literally can do that or someone’s going to help them, or they have the connections to get in the door, but for us, when we’re, like, literally the first in our family to do this and we don’t have anyone we can talk to to get us in the door, it’s, like, such an important realization to say, yes, I need to take care of myself, but I also need to proactively look for opportunities where I will get paid for my time and my work. So, so cool that you were able to have that shift pretty early.

Lyanne: Yeah, no, it was absolutely instrumental because I was in college and I’d hear people who would advocate for taking free opportunities, and don’t get me wrong, I did do things at some point unpaid, but they weren’t internships, they weren’t long-term commitments. I did short term commitments to get experience where I was just like, okay, there’s a skill share swap here, but at the end of the day, I am of the field of thought that interns should be getting paid, and I would say that most of this burden doesn’t actually fall on the interns or students themselves but on the corporate companies, like to me, the older I got, the more a little bit frustrated I became with the fact that we okayed these unpaid internships and said, “This is fine,” knowing very well that not everyone in society has an equal shot at these kinds of things, or even being able to do it even if they did have the talent and skill.

Priscilla: So, tell us about your first job as producer at CNBC. What was it like to get that opportunity?

Lyanne: So, this is an interesting one and a pivotal move because it’s my first full-time job in New York city, so I got this after doing six months of an internship at Business Insider also in New York and this came as a result of a cold email. I sent a cold email to the head of social media at CNBC at the time, her name is Anna Gonzalez. She had about 15-plus years of journalism experience. I did extensive research on her and it really appealed to me that she was head of this at what seemed to me at a very young age but also was Latina just like me, and so I was like, okay, we have something in common, and I knew that wasn’t gonna secure it, but I said, maybe I can reach out to her. We can talk about what value I can provide and what things she needs in her team. So, I cold emailed her, I reached out to her via Facebook. It worked because she was hiring for social media and I will say social media was my way in for journalism and I find that for a lot of times, young journalist today is you can move across, but it is a way in because people tend to look increasingly towards younger people for social media, it’s just the way it is, but so the cold email set up a call with her and that was probably one of the quickest processes ever because once we got on the phone, it became very clear what she needed and actually, the original position I reached out to her for, I was underqualified for it. It was my first job, and so she’s just, “This isn’t quite the fit, maybe in a couple of years, but I do have another position that’s opening up that I think would be great for you,” and so I started as associate producer, started doing social media, realized CNBC has free range for you to pitch stories. So, I started doing that. I worked across networks. I went to NBC Latino, met the editor in chief, Sandra Lilly. She was fantastic, pitched my stories, worked on them after hours. So, that’s what CNBC was like. I got a little bit of experience in a bureaucratic environment because it was, it’s a bigger company, but also being able to have that leeway to do things beyond what’s written down in your role.

Priscilla: What were the biggest challenges for you in that role, especially as someone who was, it was your first job, you were fresh out of college, what did you have to ramp up on pretty quickly?

Lyanne: Yeah, I must say graduating from college, I thought I knew more than I actually did, and so I learned to be a student. I think that was the first thing that just because I had graduated from college didn’t mean I was done being a student. I needed to continue being a student. Media is very different from the world that I am now when you talk about work-life balance and what it means to be a good employee. I feel like in media and in journalism, you need to do a lot more managing up. You’re often working on a very lean and mean team. You don’t always get guidance that you need, you get very aggressive KPIs that you need to meet in working for a social media department, and it’s just not easy. It’s not easy, period, but what helps is setting these managing upskills for you in place so that you can set the expectations for your boss because they won’t always do it for you. So, that was one of the big learnings, which is more corporate, actually, than you might think. The other thing, I guess, is just like in terms of reporting, it was just that you’re going to be your biggest advocate, like, my boss was a really big advocate, but at the end of the day, I was the person who needed to reach out for the additional opportunities, I needed to speak up, I needed to work those extra hours, and I needed to really explore it and then finesse what it is that I wanted to do.

Priscilla: And so, tell us about the passion for the Latino population and money, how did that start for you and at what point did you start to think about pitching stories or creating content around this?

Lyanne: Yeah, honestly, it’s when I started to have my own journey where I was coming back in touch with my own roots and culture, and that probably started towards the end of college. I think I was coming more to term with my roots and I spent a very long time not talking about my identity and not really exploring it. Maybe when I was younger, there’s a little bit of not really wanting to embrace it fully, and then in college, I was just like, our culture is so rich. I became fascinated with a little bit of history, with a little bit of culture, music. Actually, one of my earliest stories for NBC Latino was about a woman mariachi band in New York City. It was nothing to do with business, but the fact that I was in the business space and I saw a need, it wasn’t completely, solely passion. I was like, okay, I’m passionate about this and I see a need, those two things can intersect and fulfill me and drive me, and so that’s where I was just like, okay, the market needs this because it’s not there. I think that’s one of the fallacies, I think, of national media that we get placed into one bucket and we increasingly need to have these hard conversations about how we’re a lot of people, Latinos, we’re a very diverse bucket.

Priscilla: Absolutely agree, and I think we saw that with the election, right? Like this past 2020, we’re not a homogenous group. There’s a lot of intersectionality and race, and class, and so many other things play into our understandings of ourselves and, like, how we show up, and yeah, so I love that, I totally agree. What really resonated with me was that I’m Mexican Peruvian American and I grew up going to predominantly white schools, my whole life, and so for me, I was in a space in school constantly where I just wanted to survive. Like, I was just trying to survive, just trying to do well in school, just trying to get to college and make my parents proud, and then there was also a lot of racism I grew up in Texas. There were definitely always comments being made about Mexicans that were derogatory. So, for me, when I went to college, it was also a time of re-embracing that identity.

Lyanne: As diverse we are, like, that’s one thing that we can resonate on. You’re saying you embraced it in college. I feel like I met other people in college who had a similar narrative and said growing up, it was just so hard for me to see the things, the way that I see them now, and I appreciate things so much more, and just having that community and being able to relate to that meant so much.

Priscilla: And so, on the topic of money and career, what comes to mind for you in terms of one of the biggest lessons that you had to learn in terms of navigating money and career, whether that’s, like, negotiating for a salary or honestly, just anything?

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INTERVIEW CONTINUED

Lyanne: Yeah, I would encourage you to keep tabs on your wins. Literally keep them in a folder, keep them in a Google Doc, keep those emails that you get from clients or from editors, readers, praising you, use that as leverage when you’re asking for a negotiation and if your company doesn’t do this, set metrics for success a year out or even six months out, but six months to a year out with your manager. Again, managing up, so that that way, you can revisit those and use that as leverage when you’re asking for a raise.

Priscilla: Yeah. Okay, so now, I want to transition to your decision to leave CNBC, so what prompted your decision to leave and then what made you move over to NASDAQ?

Lyanne: Yeah, I got to say, I didn’t think I’d leave a full-time journalism job in the near future, but the opportunity came up. My former boss actually moved over and she wanted to bring me with her, and so to that end, she became a big thread in my early career because she was what I realized we call a sponsor. She was more than a mentor. She wanted to take me with her under her wing to advocate for me, put numbers to that too, like, money and, and say, “We can offer you the opportunity that you’re looking for,” and so what really drew me to NASDAQ was the opportunity. It was an opportunity for growth in skillset. At CNBC, I was doing social media and I was writing articles in my after hours, and while I really appreciated that flexibility, it was a little bit harder to get some of these other hands-on experiences at such a big outlet that I wanted to get. And NASDAQ was in a time of growth, and so they had a studio, they were working on video production which is really fascinating to me. After I joined the CMO, even became interested in a podcast, which I launched for the company alongside our comms team, so the opportunity for growth is really what appealed to me. Once the opportunity presented itself, I really pursued it for the skills and the growth proposition that was there.

Priscilla: That’s huge, and so has it fulfilled a lot of what you expected in terms of your growth and, like, all of that?

Lyanne: Honestly, it’s more than I could have imagined. I went there not with the title of, like, supervising producer that I have now. I went there as a booker. That’s what I was, I used to book people for our live interviews, and the thing about NASDAQ, it has a very flat structure, at least on the marketing end, which I sit under, which means that you have insane access to the C-level executives and I was just like, what is this place, this amazing place? Because that certainly was not CNBC which is very structured, and you had to really climb up and do time and all of that. Here at NASDAQ, it was the second day and I was sitting in the studio in an interview. So, the opportunities and the speed at which they were coming I think brought about by such an innovative company, because NASDAQ is relatively new for stock exchanges founded in 1971, second biggest stock exchange, but it’s not that old, so I think it was that, that kind of just, they move really fast. You have access to all the C-level executives, and so the opportunities have been endless, like, I’ve been sent on projects around the world to do video, to speak with different companies, I’ve learned so much about different fields, from the health industry field to biomedicine, just things that I would’ve never thought that I would cover, and I just, no, not all of them is related to Latinos and money, but tactically, I’m just like, okay, I love being in these different environments and I love learning things that I can apply then to my coverage which I continued to do around Latinos and money. So, I found it a great place to grow and get experience of everything, a smattering, so to speak, across the board.

Priscilla: Yeah, and what’s really cool to me is that you didn’t really have a business background, right? It’s not like you worked in corporate or finance or had a BBA or something, but you were willing to be a beginner and be like, I’ll learn as I go, and I think that’s a big deal, that you were willing to do that.

Lyanne: It’s a big deal, but I think I practiced that muscle early on. I will say, I think it’s difficult for a lot of people in the Latino community to admit to things we don’t know and be vulnerable in that way, and I would venture to say that in my family, it’s because they went through such hardships early on immigrating here, everything they had to go through that it’s just, okay, I’ve lived, like, what else do I have to do? Especially for my parents, it’s a lot, but for me being a first generation who didn’t have to go through that immigrant experience in all of that, I’m just like, okay, well, this is the least I can do, admit that I don’t know things and then say, okay, I’m going to go out and learn it, and that’s been my approach to life. That’s my approach now, too, as I’m even getting my personal finances in order, because I’m still on that journey and I don’t mind saying that because I like being transparent. I like for people to know where I’m coming from and that we may be coming from the same place.

Priscilla: That’s the thing is I think so many people, we’re actually all in the same boat, like we’re all figuring things out as we go, and we all have to be beginners at different things at different times, but we have such a hard time admitting that to each other and we build so much, so much community when we can actually just be vulnerable and be authentic about where we are and what we’re doing to get to where we want to go.

Lyanne: Yeah, I am absolutely about that, and I’ve embraced that a lot in the last year, I think, with more online communities where people can be vulnerable like that.

Priscilla: Yeah, and so I noticed that you’ve interviewed Ryan Leslie, which I was really impressed because he was, like, one of my favorite RNB singers and he kind of stopped singing, but what has it been like to interview these really cool people and what has been your highlight from that time?

Lyanne: Oh, my gosh. Oh, boy. Yeah, no, Ryan, he was great. He was so down to earth and we interviewed him because he started an app on his phone to kind of help facilitate communication. He’s a really smart guy. I would say I just enjoyed the diversity of it. I interviewed the first company to go public on an American exchange from Costa Rica, which is so specific. It’s so specific, but I was just like, this is really cool, and at the time, we did the interview in Spanish, too, where I was just like, wow, this is powerful, like it’s just the Costa Rican media outlets picked it up too, and honestly, that was an interview, I know he’s not a celebrity, but that really stuck with me because my heart swelled with pride where I was just like, okay, the whole theme of opening doors and paving roads, and being the first, that, I feel like the most impressive part about that is not that you were the first. It’s that now you’ve opened up a road where you won’t be the last. That’s what is most impressive about that, and so I think I really enjoyed interviewing people, not just Latinos, but people of color, people in general, who were the first to do things, but if I could think of one person, oh, my gosh, there’s just so many. I interviewed at some point the actress from Nikita, and I love her, I interviewed Maggie Q because she has her own fitness line and I think she was with some health company that came to ring the bell, but I absolutely adore this woman as an actress. I watched her shows like all throughout college and I was just, I don’t get starstruck very often, but I was just like, I literally, I watched all of your acting career and I literally felt so empowered watching you, and so the fact that she’s also a business woman is obviously really appealing. So, yeah, she was definitely a memorable person for me.

Priscilla: So awesome. It sounds like your job gives you a lot of energy and like you’re really excited and super engaged a lot of the time.

Lyanne: Yes, it’s super engaging and that’s kind of exactly what I look for. I like being able to move from one thing quickly to another, adapt and just continue to tell those stories.

Priscilla: So, I’m really curious about Moneda Moves. Tell us how it started, what it is and your mission with your podcast.

Lyanne: Yes, of course. So, Moneda Moves is a platform, newsletter podcast all about Latinos, our relationship with money and role in the American economy. Basically, what a CNBC would be but to Latinos. It’s largely aggregated at this point because it’s just me, but I have a weekly newsletter where I give you the kind of top line stories that you should know. Lately, we’ve been covering the Latinos on the Biden cabinet, and actually, they would have a big hand in managing money in this economy. So, it’s really important to track those and see where they are. It usually takes a hundred days for cabinet members to get approved, so that certainly will be really impactful, and then we have a podcast that is bi-weekly. The goal with that is to have different conversations around money with people who are successful in the field, that money can mean a lot of things. So, I’ve been talking to people in financial technology, people building personal finance platforms for Latinos by Latinos, but the goal is also to provide contextual story. So, we’ve done a story about the PPP loans from last year, 2020, and how Latinos were having a really hard time getting these loans for their businesses. So, I think just giving a little bit more context is really important. I love the profiles, but I also think we need to be aware of the bigger picture and our role in it.

Priscilla: So, my last question for you, what would you tell your younger self if you could tell her anything today?

Lyanne: I would tell her to trust yourself a little bit more. I think sometimes, I held myself back because I wanted things to be perfect or I just didn’t think I was good enough. I think that leads to overthinking and analysis paralysis, which is understandable, but taking risks once in a while and trusting yourself, and trusting your gut and your intuition, I would tell my younger self to trust yourself and take the risk because action is how you get started. If you have an idea, go for it, shoot for the moon, and then see where you land.

OUTRO

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning in to the Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit ECMpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community, and if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.

Episode 17: How To Step Into Your Power as a Woman of Color in Tech, with Rebecca Garcia

Episode 17: How To Step Into Your Power as a Woman of Color in Tech, with Rebecca Garcia

Show Notes:

Are you a woman of color seeking to transition or thrive in the tech industry? Are you someone who struggles with imposter syndrome, speaking up for yourself or prioritizing your wellbeing at work? On this episode, you’ll hear from mindset & career coach Rebecca Garcia, a daughter of immigrants from the Philippines and Mexico. Rebecca is a self-taught developer, ex-product manager and, as of the publish date, a program manager at Facebook. With experience working in tech startups and tech giants, Rebecca inspires women of color to step into their power in tech.

Links Mentioned In Episode:

Sponsor, The Art of Applying – Get $100 off a Quick Call if you mention the ECM Podcast

Rebecca Garcia Coaching

Transcription:

Teaser:

And then there’s this playing big kind of fear where you’re like, I don’t know if I’m ready to take up more space. I don’t know if I’m ready to do these things. I think I can do them but I don’t know if I’m ready yet. And so whenever you start to inch towards that playing big fear, that’s how you’re going in the right direction because you’re growing and you’re starting to take those risks.

Introduction:

Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host, Priscilla Esquivel Weninger – proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat each Friday, as we dive into a special guest’s story, and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.

 Guest Introduction

Hey everyone, today you get to hear from Rebecca Garcia, a mindset and career coach for women of color looking to transition into tech. Rebecca is a first-generation American and daughter of immigrants from the Philippines and Mexico. She’s worked across tech startups, big tech giants in several different roles as a self-taught developer, a product manager, and now a program manager at Facebook. I really love this conversation with Rebecca because she has a very calming presence and she helped me reframe a lot of different ideas that I had around imposter syndrome and how we really need to prioritize our mental health and wellbeing above all in our careers. So if you’re looking to transition into tech, look no further, check out Rebecca Garcia and check her out at MindsetCoachForWomen.com.

INTERVIEW

Priscilla: Okay. Welcome, Rebecca, to the show.

Rebecca: Thank you for having me, so excited to be here.

Priscilla: Yeah. So why don’t we start by just having you share a little bit about your background so that our audience can get familiarized with who you are or your personal background, and then what you do today?

Rebecca: Absolutely. So I’m so excited to share my work as both a mindset and career coach. I specifically work with women of color and started off working with women in tech. And I have grown my career as a woman in tech as a self-taught developer turned product manager, program manager, doing a lot of different shifts along the way. And by day, I am a program manager at Facebook on the developer programs team, specifically working on a lot of different partnerships and events. And I’m also first-generation a daughter of immigrants. My mother immigrated from Mexico, my father immigrated from the Philippines. Growing up, I didn’t see anybody who looked like me and I didn’t know that there was a career path for me in tech. I had been learning to code as I was growing up, copying and pasting HTML and CSS on my MySpace, my Neopets pages. It was really fun and exciting.

I knew that when I was little, that I wanted to help people but I didn’t know at the time how to be able to combine that. I ended up starting to follow that passion and built my career as a self-taught developer. I was at Squarespace as it was growing from 250 to 500 employees. I found myself as a program manager at Microsoft, managing a full-time technical training program for underserved New Yorkers, helping them to become IT and assist admins. And in between, I’ve been a technical product manager at a handful of different startups most recently at a startup helping to end the gender pay gap, and most recently as a program manager at Facebook. So that’s my little journey in a nutshell with a lot of pivots and twists.

Priscilla: Yeah, that’s really cool. So tell us what it means to be a program manager, especially now at Facebook. What are you responsible for? What does that kind of look like for you?

Rebecca: Yeah. So at Facebook, as some folks may know, there’s a lot of different emerging technologies, whether that’s augmented reality, AR, or virtual reality, VR, or technology around natural language processing, NLP. Essentially, my role as a program manager is to help get more developers and more creators on these new emerging Facebook products. It’s really fun because I get to work with a lot of different teams. So I work with engineering, we work with marketing, and we get to dream up these different programs to get folks engaged and involved and give back to the community. Some folks like to ask me, “Well, why did you transition from being a developer or transitioned from being a product manager?” And honestly, I think the role that I’m in right now is just a really fun and exciting combination of my different various experiences and it helped set me up for it. So for anybody out there who’s thinking that you have to have a straight and clear narrow career path, I’m here to tell you that you don’t. If you think about the tech industry being a, quote-unquote “young industry” there’s so many different roles out there that didn’t exist 5, 10 years ago. So it’s like sky’s the limit and yeah, it’s just a lot of fun what I get to do at Facebook.

Priscilla: Now tell us a little bit about how you decided to become a career coach and then becoming a mindset coach, and what does that mean?

Rebecca: Absolutely. So a handful of years ago, I used to meet folks for coffee very often. So I’ve spent the last 10 years in New York City and I would get reached out to and folks say, “Oh, I’d love to hear more about your background. I’d love to hear more about your story. Tell me how you that into X role at the time, whether that was as a developer or program manager, product manager.” I used to meet them for coffee and, quote-unquote, “have them pick my brain” and I realized that a lot of these folks could use a more structured way to help them to define their unique value proposition essentially about themselves and their transferable skills and how to interview and move into a new role, because tech interviewing can be nuanced and some folks might seem intimidated or scared by it, but it’s actually not that scary. It doesn’t have to be that scary. So I transitioned into coaching because I wanted to help a lot of these women and especially women of color who were struggling with how to make those pivots and make those shifts.

So I’ve been doing that work for handful of years now, and I then realized that there was an even bigger gap with imposter syndrome that, you know, even though I helped these folks move into new roles, that the imposter syndrome still followed them. How can we start to dismantle the imposter syndrome and realize that it’s not just, “Oh, you need to work harder. You need to” quote-unquote, “be more confident” especially for people of color, it’s not that easy. So that’s the work that I’m doing today is to help people understand where imposter syndrome comes from, the unique challenges that come along with it as a person of color and how they can start to essentially reprogram their brains to stop feeling — not to stop feeling that imposter syndrome but to start realizing just how amazing they are and the skill sets that they’re building and the things that they’re learning that are so much more than their imposter syndrome.

Priscilla: Yeah. And so when you got your first job in tech at a big tech company, what were some of the immediate challenges that you identified when you were first starting out your career?

Rebecca: Yeah. When I was first starting out in tech, I think one of the biggest challenges that I realized was, especially starting out at some smaller companies, at some startups, I noticed that it was very easy to get sidetracked and to want to do all the things. That’s the exciting part about tech is being able to do all the different things. But I realized that I wasn’t helping myself for the long term, for my career and honing in on what were the strengths that I had versus trying to level up all the, quote-unquote, “weaknesses” and I think that this is something that prevents folks early in their career from moving more into a mid-level or senior role is that they become generalists. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with starting out, you start out as a generalist, but I have learned from Tim Ferris to become a specialized generalist. That’s essentially how I felt my career is as a specialized generalist, where I can do all the things but I know what I am not only, quote-unquote, “good at” but more passionate about, even though I can do a lot of project management, that’s not the only value that I bring. I bring innovation and I bring rallying people to the table. How can you start to figure out and narrow down on, “Okay, I’ve grown a bunch of these different skills. Now, what are the skills that I want to start to focus on that I’m passionately moving towards?” And it doesn’t mean you have to be good at them right away but that you’re letting them push you forward.

Priscilla: Yeah. So you help women break into tech. What are some of the pain points or maybe issues that you see, some of the people that you help get tripped up on the most? Is it something like in the interview process? Is it once they’re in the door and more of that mindset challenge? What are maybe one or two things that you’re like, “Oh, people really struggle with this?”

Rebecca: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve got a few. So one of the first ones is definitely discrediting their previous experience, and I’ll give an example of, say, somebody went to a boot camp but they worked in finance before. On their resume, they take out the stuff from finance because they’re like, “Well, this isn’t relevant to the job that I want as a developer”. They’re leaving off all that valuable professional experience, going back to your point about the soft skills, right? So they’re missing out on that they’ve worked on multiple teams, that they understand the product, that they have this background in finance that’s valuable. That’s the first thing is discrediting their experience. And when I say experience, it doesn’t have to be working experience. It can be volunteer work that you’ve done. It can be side projects that you’ve done and. Again, if you’re feeling that you’re lacking experience, these side projects or the volunteer work is a really great way to boost that. So that’s the first one is discrediting experience.

And the second piece on the interview process, what I tend to see goes one way or the other. The first way leans back towards that other one of discrediting their experience. And so they’re not really sharing their background and how it got them where they are. Usually what I see folks doing is they start off in their most recent experience. They say, “Oh, I’m a developer at this. And then before I did this and I did this, and then I studied this in school.” And so they’re doing it in the reverse order, where they should switch the order and they share what is it that led you to where you are now? How has that built up so that they can start talking about that. So sometimes they’re leaving stuff out, or the other thing that I see is that they’re over-preparing and just talking at the interviewer. They’re like, “Oh yeah, I practiced my elevator pitch. I did this and did that but they didn’t listen to me.” And well, it’s a two-way street. You got to ask them questions too, give them room to breathe. Instead of just talking at the interviewer, see the interviewer as a person and start to get comfortable asking questions, which as a person of color, it can be very hard because you might think, “Oh, in some cultures that might be considered disrespectful” or in some cultures you’re taught not to speak unless you’re spoken to or all sorts of unique experiences that people of color and people with different backgrounds have. Those are some of the common themes.

And then the last piece, the imposter syndrome piece, where for anyone who’s not familiar with imposter syndrome, it’s this idea that you feel like you might be a fraud, like you don’t belong there. Especially if you’re a woman, you might think this because I know for me I’ve many times been the only woman on a team. And so it can feel like, “Oh, I don’t know if I fit in. Do I belong here? Is this the right company for me?” And so you start to question your experience. You start to question your capabilities. And in terms of tackling imposter syndrome, I actually think that you can flip the narrative on imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome doesn’t mean that you don’t know enough. There’s actually a phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect, where once you start to learn things, you realize how much more there is to learn. And the folks that think that they know everything, it’s because they are not willing to look at all the things that they could learn, so they’re staying stuck. You’re actually at a great point if you’re coming up against imposter syndrome. Yeah, because it means you realize how much more there is to learn and that means your potential is limitless, in my mind.

It doesn’t have to be something terrible that we keep trying to get rid of. That’s another thing that some of my work is going into, which is people from underrepresented backgrounds, we are taught to discredit our feelings. We’re taught to stay quiet or we’re taught to not let things get to us. When we push down those emotions, they bubble back up to the surface and all that resistance that you were having against taking action or against speaking up, it kind of daze itself in and it grows roots. So how can we learn to care for our emotional wellbeing instead of, I think a lot of the advice out there is “just be more confident and speak up” and the reason it doesn’t work is because it doesn’t feel safe as a person of color or it doesn’t feel right. Or maybe you’re like, “I’m an introvert. I can’t do that.” So understanding why it might not even feel right in your body and being able to work through that by working through your emotions and knowing that it’s okay that you don’t know everything. That actually means you’re growing.

Priscilla: So that’s really interesting, that phenomenon you mentioned about people who are probably doing the same thing feel confident in what they’re doing, right, because they’ve been doing it for so long. But yeah, try something different and I’m sure people will feel not so secure, right?

Rebecca: And just to that last point that you had on doing something new, I think there’s also a way that you can differentiate between the, “Oh, this is really scary and I don’t want to do this” or “I don’t know if I can do this” and that kind of “This is new and exciting. I want to do this.” Another thing I learned from the author, Tara Moore, is there is this kind of staying small fear, right, where you’re like, “I don’t know if I can do this. I’m not sure if I’m ready for this.” and you’re hiding. And then there’s this playing big kind of fear, where you’re like, “I don’t know if I’m ready to take up more space. I don’t know if I’m ready to do these things. I think I can do them but I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” And so whenever you start to inch towards that playing big fear, that’s how you’re going in the right direction because you’re growing and you’re starting to take those risks and you can start to see it as excitement rather than anxiety.

BRIEF ADVERTISEMENT

And now a quick message from our sponsor.

Hey, everyone, if you’re thinking of getting a graduate degree like many of the other Early Career Moves guests, check out our awesome sponsor, The Art of Applying. The Art of Applying has spent the last 10 years helping people who aren’t the cookie cutter applicants for top business, law, policy and other programs get into their dream schools and get money to pay for them. They have a large team of expert consultants who know what it takes to get into the school of your dreams and can give you the roadmap for how to get there, especially if you’re stuck on something like getting the perfect test score or struggling with the right words to put in your essays. They believe each applicant has more to offer than just their test scores or GPA. And that approach has helped thousands of their clients get into their dream schools and earn more than $20 million in merit scholarships and fellowships.

Graduate schools care about your entire application and I love that their team helps applicants, put their best foot forward. As a sponsor of the Early Career Moves Podcast, they’ve invited listeners to explore working with their team by going to theartofapplying.com/ecm and signing up for a quick call. If you mention the Early Career Moves Podcast, you get $100 off enrolling in their hourly coaching or application accelerator program. If you’re dreaming of going to a top school without paying top dollar, go to theartofapplying.com/ecm.

INTERVIEW CONT’D

Priscilla: Did you experience that in your career where it felt really unnatural and maybe kind of like, “Am I bragging on myself” by talking about your accomplishments or anything like that?

Rebecca: Absolutely. That is something that definitely comes up a lot, where I hear folks say that like you said, you don’t want to seem braggy, you don’t want to seem like you’re boasting. And maybe in your culture, I know that I was told be humble. I think that there is a difference between bragging and boasting and puffing out your chest versus sharing the work that you do or telling people the work that you do or the work that you’re excited and capable of doing, because that allows you to be of service to others. Because if you don’t speak up and you don’t say those things, then how are the opportunities going to find you? How are you going to make the right connections if you’re constantly — you’re waiting for somebody to tap you on the shoulder and give you a permission slip to be successful? You’re basically placing your success in somebody else’s hands versus you being able to pick the direction that you want to go in because that’s how opportunities come to you is when people know you for certain things. Or a lot of the early advice is like, “Oh, build your network”. I think of networking, it’s a long-term strategy. I think of it as a boomerang, right? You make connections and then they come back around and then they happen to be helpful later. But those connections are only as valuable as much as you let people know what it is that you want to do or what it is that you’re capable and excited to do. So just putting it out there as a reframe of it’s not you bragging, it’s you advocating for yourself, advocating for your career because you are the only person who can be that advocate for yourself. So not just a mentor, not just a manager, you get to pick the direction of your career.

Priscilla: What are some wellbeing things that you do or maybe even advise your clients, people that you work with to do to find some kind of sanity and separateness from work, because work is in our house now, right? It’s like at home all the time.

Rebecca: Yeah, that is a great question. One of the things that I like to do, especially after having a lot of Zoom calls, meetings, back-to-back stuff going on, is to take a nervous system break. I’m sure if I had just started spouting off to folks like, “Oh, you should meditate”. Everybody has heard that they, quote-unquote, “should meditate” but before even meditation, just giving your nervous system a break, meaning how can you get out of that heightened state of doing stuff all the time and go, right? Because we’re working from home, we have to create that. Whereas in the past we might’ve had it naturally built in, right? So I’ll give an example of when I worked in Manhattan, for lunch I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go walk and I’m going to go pick up lunch from somewhere and maybe I’ll listen to a podcast while I’m walking.” That was essentially a nervous system break. And now that we don’t have that built in, how can you build it in? One practice is to notice the things that help get you out of that going mode, and so whether that’s listening to a podcast or doing the dishes for 10 minutes or just being away from the computer, being away from your work. And make a list of those things that allow you to feel a little bit more relaxed and incorporate them into your day and don’t feel guilty about it because we don’t have those things built into our day now. If we don’t build them in now, it’s building these wellness practices into your life, everybody’s, “I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy.” But it’s learning to swim before you’re drowning, before you’re burnt out, before you’re really tired, before you’re just, “Oh, my gosh. I can’t function.” So just throwing that out there is taking a nervous system break here and there and the world will be okay. Your inbox, your emails will still be there. The notifications will still be there 10, 15 minutes later.

Priscilla: So true, yeah. I think those walks are just like creating your own version of a commute, right, like before or after work. It helps so much to get out of your head for sure. Well, my last question for you before we wrap up is just what is maybe your number one career lesson that you would want to impart on younger folks, especially those looking to get into tech?

Rebecca: Yeah. So one of the quotes that I love to say is from the author Jon Acuff, and his quote is “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” It’s really easy for us to look at other people and say, “Well, they have this thing. I don’t have that thing. I don’t have these skills yet. I don’t feel ready.” When you look at a job description, actually see it as a wish list. Don’t see it as you need to meet every single thing on that list. I say this as somebody who has worked in hiring and has worked with recruiters, and sometimes those job descriptions aren’t even written by the hiring manager. Sometimes they’re written by a recruiting team with the things that they would in an ideal world love to have, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow into doing those things. So that’s one thing to keep in mind.

The second piece is how important mental health is. I know that there’s a stigma against it in many cultures and where, “Oh, therapy is only for people who can afford it” or therapy means that there’s something really wrong with you or “Oh, meditation and yoga, it’s too woo-woo for me” or “I can’t do that” and you end up putting off all of these things. I wish that I had spent more time helping myself. It’s like that when you get on an airplane and they’re like, “Put your oxygen mask on first,” because how are you going to put out your most valuable work and how are you going to provide the most value if you are unable to function well? So taking care of yourself is important. It’s not a luxury. It’s a base need. So honor yourself, honor your feelings. You may have family members or cultures that don’t agree with this but at the end of the day, who is it that’s living your life and building your career? It’s you, right? So why not take that time for you? So I hope that’s helpful for folks out there who are thinking, “How can I become successful?” And I will tell you at the mid senior part of my career of working in tech at big companies and small companies, burnout is real and it happens at any stage in your career. And if you can take care of yourself now, do it. Put yourself first and keep putting yourself first.

Priscilla: Yeah, awesome. Well, Rebecca, where can people find you online and potentially even work with you?

Rebecca: Yeah. So come find me on Instagram at Mindset Coach for Women. That’s also my new domain MindsetCoachForWomen.com, if not, RebeccaGarcia.tech. I would love to connect with you, shoot me a DM, tag me if you listened to this podcast episode and you found it helpful. I do career workshops, as well as mindfulness and wellness practices, and I’m excited to help more folks with imposter syndrome. So thank you so much for having me.

OUTRO

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning in to The Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit priscillabulchacoaching.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.

Episode 16: What It’s Like To Go Viral and Be a Video Producer, with Evelyn Ngugi

Episode 16: What It’s Like To Go Viral and Be a Video Producer, with Evelyn Ngugi

Show Notes:

You may have bumped into one of Evelyn’s hilarious videos on the Internet, ranging on varying topics like beauty, travel, social justice, and Beyonce. Born to immigrant parents from Kenya, Evelyn always wanted to be a storyteller – and today she’s exactly that – a humor writer, digital storyteller and successful YouTube star with over 240K subscribers. On this episode, Evelyn tell us how the vision for her career evolved, how she followed her creative passions and eventually made the scariest move of all – to go freelance and work for herself.

Links Mentioned In Episode:

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Evelyn of the Internets

Transcription:

TEASER

YouTube invited me to interview Margaret Atwood. And so to sit down next to the person who wrote Handmaid’s Tale and talk about storytelling and talk about writing about the dystopian future, that was super cool.

PODCAST INTRO

Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host, Priscilla Esquivel Weninger – proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat each Friday, as we dive into a special guest’s story, and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.

GUEST INTRO

Hey everyone, today you get to hear from Evelyn from the Internets, also known as Evelyn Ngugi or Evie. Evelyn is a humor writer. She’s a digital storyteller based out of Austin, Texas.

And in her own words, this means that she posts funny words and videos on the internet, but I would add that she’s wildly successful at doing so. Evie’s YouTube channel has blown up since it started back in 2008, as it’s had nearly 18 million views and has over 240,000 subscribers. On this episode, Evie guides us through her early career years, as she figured out what she wanted to do with her journalism degree, as digital content and social media blew up. She also tells us what it was like to go out on her own, leaving her corporate job behind, and freelancing as a self-employed boss.

INTERVIEW

Priscilla: Hey, Evie, welcome to the show.

Evelyn: Hey, y’all, thanks for having me on, Priscilla.

Priscilla: Yes, I am so excited to have you here today and to get to dive into your career story because, you know, a lot of my guests tend to come from more traditional career paths, but I love that your story is a little more non-traditional and I’m just excited to share your story with everyone. So Evie, why don’t we start with having you just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, how you grew up, anything that we should know about you.

Evelyn: Yeah. So I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the Fort Worth Texas area. I moved to Texas when I was in seventh grade and that’s where my parents still live today. My parents are Kenyan, so I am first generation American. And, you know, I moved to Austin to go to journalism school. So that’s me.

Priscilla: When you were growing up, what did you think that you wanted to become when you would get older? And how did that lead you to UT and studying journalism?

Evelyn: So when I was younger, like elementary school, I thought movie director, because that’s the only thing I knew existed besides the actress. So I was like, “Yeah, movie director,” didn’t really know what that meant. And then in junior high, I was on the yearbook committee, I was on the newspaper staff, so it turned kind of into, “okay, journalism,” and that’s when I knew I wanted to go to college for journalism. And so I did, I chose magazine, not because I particularly know many things about magazines, but because I wanted to learn how to research a story for a long period of time. And I thought I would grow up and follow some rappers for Rolling Stone and then just write these big stories about what happened. I always thought I would become a reporter and just be dispatched to all these places. I really saw myself as a culture writer, so not like, “There was a fire down the street,” but writing feature stories and really getting to know different cultures, different types of people, and traveling the world and doing that. I didn’t know how that would happen, but that’s what I thought.

Priscilla: That’s so cool because even though you didn’t land exactly where you thought you were going to land, you are doing those things now. And in many ways you sort of are a movie director, right, with your video work and your YouTube channel. So, yeah, very interesting. So tell us how you first got involved with starting a YouTube channel in college.

Evelyn: Going into college, I knew that I would have to diversify my skillset just because I entered undergrad around the time where the recession was kind of ending. And so I was like, “Oh, there’s not going to be many journalism jobs because newspapers and publications rely a lot on advertising.” And when we’re in economic downturn, advertising is the first thing to get chopped. So I was like, “Okay, let me continue this hobby that I have for making videos and using an actual camera and hopefully that will make my resume and my skill set a little more diverse. So I am the journalist and reporter who’s not just writing but can also make a video about it in case that is what’s required. So I didn’t make that definite decision when I was in college, to keep doing YouTube on the side. I started using YouTube maybe in 2008 when I started school. And it was just a hobby on the side whenever I had time, since I’ve always been like a media type girl even from the times of like cassette tapes and burning things onto DVDs, YouTube was like that next evolution and the technology of creating your own media.

Priscilla: Yeah. You were definitely ahead of the curve with the whole YouTube thing back in ’08. How did it start out? What kind of videos were creating? What did that look like?

Evelyn: Yeah. So it was just my thoughts. It was more like a diary in a way. Over time, I realized that people would post videos talking about themselves, because at the time everyone thought YouTube was funny cat videos, bloopers. It wasn’t really like a place you go to watch things as much as it is now. I started following these Black people who are around the world and doing interesting things, and for me, I had only ever traveled to Kenya. So I wanted to travel a lot more in my adult life now that I was in college. And so I started watching all these people and it really inspired me to keep making videos of my own and talking about my own life.

Priscilla: Yeah. And so, as you were working on YouTube and being creative and expressing yourself, I know eventually you graduated from college and you had to find a job. So how did you approach your first job? What was that like figuring out what to do next after you graduated?

Evelyn: It was so difficult. I graduated a semester early and so I wasn’t prepared at all. I kind of just showed up to my advisor and she was like, “Okay, go ahead and order your cap and gown.” And I’m like, “For what?” She was like, “Well, I mean, you have no more credits.” And I was like, “Oh, all right.” So, it kind of threw me off to to be done with school on December, so I ended up moving back home to Fort Worth and I was doing some freelance copywriting online. I was trying to get freelancing writing gigs and I was playing around in Photoshop and just doing things for myself, trying to keep myself busy because I wasn’t full-time employed. And then I applied for a fellowship and I got it. I went to Arizona, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, and they paired us with the local publication, and so we worked there while taking classes at the school. And so that’s what I did right before I moved back to Austin, because the whole point of that fellowship was that you would get placed at your hometown’s version of that publication. So for me, that would have been the Dallas Observer. So I was excited to be moving to downtown Dallas and live that whole life, but that didn’t end up working out. So then I got an opportunity to be a social media manager at a place I interned at in college, and that is what led me to Austin.

Priscilla: So social media manager is a pretty common title nowadays in 2021, but back in 2012, that wasn’t as common. So what did you do in the role at the time?

Evelyn: It really was all about getting people to engage, whether that means an Instagram strategy for increasing comments or writing tweets. We used to have giveaways because I worked with the hair and beauty space. It was also kind of customer service because we had an online shop. If people want to complain, they usually do it on social media, so managing all of that. So it was a lot of creativity but also a lot of strategy and looking at numbers and being able to make presentations to the CEO about that. It was a lot of copywriting, a lot of working with a designer to make any visuals that you want to make. And it was a lot of presentations because you have to convince the higher ups that it’s worth it at the time. But now I don’t think anybody needs convincing that social media is important.

Priscilla: Yeah, definitely not. So, Evie, how did you evolve from a social media manager at this company to doing more video production and then ultimately becoming a freelancer slash having your own business? Or how do you define what you do? How do you describe it?

Evelyn: I just had my own YouTube channel there on the side that I had since college. That was really the only thing I did until we started making videos at my full-time job, just a couple of us with who had some free time at work. And so slowly but surely we created this new job position, a new section, new department of the company to produce videos. And one by one, we got promoted to that. So I was there from 2012 to 2017, so five years full-time. And then the time I realized it was time to move on was when I’ve been doing so many things for my YouTube channel on the side, I might have to take some paid time off  or I would always be having to leave my job to go do this YouTube thing on the side. And so I was like, “What if I just freed up my whole time to do this thing?” And it felt like a good time to do that. I think I was 27 at the time and I was like, “Yeah, I can ride out my twenties doing something new, I guess.” So that’s when I decided to just resign and take a little break. So then I started freelancing even more and I still struggle with calling it one unified business. I feel better saying like self-employed or like a freelancer versus an entrepreneur. So right now I’d say that I’m just self-employed, working for myself, and I’m a video producer. So back then is when I realized that it was time to take this step.

Priscilla: Yeah, which we’ll get to in a little bit what that was like for you to become a freelancer. But before that, I’m curious, when you were balancing your full-time job, just starting to do more video production but also doing your own thing on the side, were these purely creative projects that you were developing that you were not getting paid for, or were you actually starting to be able to charge for some of that work that you were doing?

Evelyn: It was both. So in order to get the projects where people pay you to do it, you have to do a lot for free or not even for free. You have to have a body of work already. Yeah, just uploading videos because it was a fun thing to do and it was my hobby, but also because I was starting to become involved in different projects or maybe work with sponsors, so I would have ads in my video. So it was a mixture of both.

Priscilla: Yeah, that must’ve been so exciting to see that starting to grow, right?

Evelyn: Yeah. It’s weird because it happened so gradually. I really don’t think I appreciated it at the time because people always ask me like, “How did it feel getting your first hundred subscribers?” And I’m like, “That would have been like over 10 years ago.” I don’t remember when, so I didn’t really appreciate things as they were happening because it was happening over such a long period of time.

Priscilla: That’s also a really good piece to pull out of your story, Evie, is that you are not like an overnight a YouTube star, right? Like, you have put in work over a long period of time. I think that’s really important and how much consistency is required to be able to really build a brand and a platform and to be well known for it. So I’m curious on a personal note, did you feel shy when you started to create YouTube videos and put them out there into the world?

Evelyn: I did not feel shy and I have this video about the difference between being quiet and being shy. It’s really about where your energy comes from and where your energy goes. And so for me, I’m quiet because I am people-watching or I’m just observing things, but we’re Leos, Priscilla, okay, we’re Leos, so there is that part of us that’s like,  “get me onstage, hand me the mic,” we’re just ready. So there’s a little bit of that going on but also when you’re making these YouTube videos, I’m still in my room by myself. So it’s not as an extroverted of an activity, it’s probably the most introverted activity because you’re just by yourself recording videos.

Priscilla: That is such a good point. I think that’s so true. I’m currently in a room by myself, essentially talking into the air with you, but I totally agree and we definitely have that in common, although I’m definitely a baby podcaster at the moment. But yeah, so Evie, you’ve probably had so many cool experiences like connecting with people all over the world now that your YouTube channel has gotten to the level that it’s at. What has that been like for you, to connect with strangers all over the world?

Evelyn: It’s been such an amazing experience and experiment, just because you never know who is watching. You never know what things mean to people. I have gotten emails from women who were like, “Girl, I am old enough to be your grandmother, but I love your videos.” I’ve talked to dads who are like, “Hey, my daughter watched,” and so it’s just been really interesting to see and meet the different types of people. So it’s always so funny to see who’s watching.

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Priscilla: Totally. And at the same time, you’ve also created content that can really impact people’s lives and the way that they feel in the world. And what comes to mind when I say that is the video that you made in 2015, Calling in Black, where you basically talk about the ongoing trauma that Black folks deal with as they hear about more and more Black death that goes unchecked. So that video, you have nearly 170,000 views on that video. Was that something intentional that you thought through like, “How do I make videos that are speaking to some of these other more serious topics”?

Evelyn: It was never a decision that I made. It was more just the nature of the videos I was making. So if I’m making videos about my life or telling stories about my life, there are certain stories that I can’t separate from the news or current events or whatever is going on at the time. So I don’t talk about every single thing just because that’s exhausting. But whenever I do feel especially passionate about something, I will make a video about it.

Priscilla: Yeah, very cool. So let’s move into talking about what it was like for you to become a freelancer and so what it was like to leave your full-time job, the security of that, and joined this world of freelancing, what was that like for you?

Evelyn: Yeah, so the suckiest thing was that first year I didn’t have health insurance just because it is so expensive. Even this year, I have health insurance this year and every time I see that money leave my account, I’m just so pissed. So that was a con to the whole experience. It was just making sure I’m not spending more than I’m making, but I also had saved money from all those years of side hustling while I had a full-time job. So I’ve had a lot of savings that allowed me to extend the time that I took off. And I did move out of my apartment just because I had to make sure I had the money so I was like, “We need downsize,” and I rented out a room at my friend’s house. So, yeah, just trying to minimize my bills while I’m making this transition, and I did have a lot of savings though.

Priscilla: Yeah, that can be super scary. So how did you deal in those moments when you were just freaked out?

Evelyn: Definitely crying, definitely happened. Just letting yourself freak out is the best thing you can do, because if you try to hold it together, you’re not going to hold it together very well for very long. So just allow yourself to feel the feelings. And I think those freak outs are what led me to never really take a true break. I was always working on something for that fear of not being able to do this long-term, yeah. I guess the long and short of it to that question is that I’m still, every month I’m like, “Oh, okay. We did it, we did it.”

Priscilla: Yeah, and how do you figure out balancing your personal time and then your work time, especially since you’re your own boss, basically you direct your own time and how you spend it. Has that been a challenge for you?

Evelyn: Yeah, I still haven’t found my balance. I do work weekends so for me, it’s that the days themselves don’t mean anything. I can have my weekend in the middle of the week if I want, but Saturday doesn’t automatically mean it’s my weekend. I also work random hours. I try to work regular nine to five hours, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, just because that’s the way the rest of the world works so that I can be up when everyone else is up and sleep when everyone else is asleep, but that doesn’t always end up working. And sometimes I’m up till 4:00 AM, but that’s because I didn’t get started until maybe 3:00 PM. So it’s flexible in that I can make up for my mistakes whenever or however I want.

Priscilla: Yeah, and when you started freelancing, you went from working on a team, seeing co-workers, having people around you, to suddenly being a lone wolf. Was that a hard transition for you to go from a big team to basically being a little bit isolated? Was that a challenge for you?

Evelyn: No, it was very difficult. I joined a co-working space just to get out of the house, just because I was like, “Dang, if I don’t go grocery shopping or something, I’m in the house all week.” So I got a little spot at a co-working space, but that was just to get out of the house. It wasn’t much like socializing that took place. And so even at the beginning of the year, I was actually looking for part-time jobs so that I could have co-workers, but then the pandemic hit or we realized the pandemic hit, and then I was like, “Dang, back to having no co-workers.” So it’s something that I’m currently trying to understand how to acquire, how to be on a team. And that might mean like changing up some of the work that I do so that I get to be on teams.

Priscilla: Okay. Tell me about some of the coolest moments that you’ve had so far in your career as a YouTuber.

Evelyn: So there have been many that all of them feel ridiculous. YouTube invited me to interview Margaret Atwood. And so to sit down next to somebody, the person who wrote Handmaid’s Tale and talk about storytelling and talk about writing about the dystopian future, that was super cool. And then on another occasion, YouTube asked me to speak at one of their events and they just threw in casually the day of that I would be speaking after Malala. And so the purpose was for me to give more laughter to the crowd after listening to her talk about super heavy stuff, and I was like, “No pressure.” So I got to talk after Malala, and then having my video shown on Beyoncé’s world tour definitely takes the cake. It’s what everyone talks about, so.

Priscilla: Yeah, so for the audience who’s listening and may not know this, Evie actually created a video reviewing Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, and in 2016 during Beyoncé’s world tour, Evie’s video made it to the video collage into the concert. And so her video popped up on the big screen and I’m sure millions of people saw it. So, anyway, Evie, what was it like finding out? How did you even find out that you were being featured in Beyoncé’s concert?

Evelyn: So my college friend, actually, he texted me in the middle of the night and I was like, “What are you–” because he was just texting random stuff and I’m like, “What’s wrong with you?” And so then he texts me a video and he’s screaming and I’m like, “Are you at a concert? Where are you?” And it was my face on the jumbotron.

Priscilla: That is truly wild and amazing, Evie. And of course, indicative of just how talented you are. So anyway, what would your advice be to someone who is looking to make a similar early career move, like, leave your corporate job to become a freelancer?

Evelyn: Oh, yeah. I would say work at finding the balance between being prepared, but also accepting that sometimes to begin, you can’t wait until you know everything. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but it’s this feeling of sometimes we get scared because we’re like, “I’m not knowledgeable enough.” But if you wait to become quote-unquote “knowledgeable enough” you’ll never start. So it’s being responsible enough to prepare and do your due diligence when learning about taxes or things like that. But at some point you’re just going to have to press start and go, and then you learn on the way

Priscilla: That is great advice, right, because we learn as we go, we get better as we go. And if we stay paralyzed, then nothing happens, so great advice. Okay. Very last question – tell us what you’re up to. What are some upcoming projects? What are you working on? What’s next for, Evie?

Evelyn: Yeah. So right now I’m producing videos for my own YouTube channel, but also working with other organizations and other channels to either host shows on their channel or contribute in the way of writing a script. It’s fun to collaborate with people. And then moving into 2021, I’m hoping to start season 2 of Say it Loud, which is a PBS digital studio show on YouTube. And then I would love to be more diligent about screenwriting and learning how to write TV shows. So that’s what my next plan is.

Priscilla: I love that and I can’t wait to check out all of those projects. Evie, thank you so much for being with us today.

Evelyn: Thanks for having me on.

OUTRO

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into The Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit priscillabulchacoaching.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.