Women's History Month: "Writing Women Back into History"
Women have been making history since the beginning of times. A friend offered me the opportunity to speak at an event for US Customs & Border Protection officers and I thought I would look for good examples of women who made history a long time ago. And I thought I would bring them to life for them. I had all these plans about what I was going to say.
And then, Sunday I watched the Oscars. Such a trivial thing, I know. But I was touched by a few things I heard.
Kathryn Bigelow, an American Film Director, became the first woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Director. Americans have been making movies for over a century. And the Academy has been handing out awards since 1929. But they managed to go 82 years without awarding a woman in the Film Director category. Yet, women did not stop directing films.
And that is what, as women, we do every day. We do not stop working hard. We do not stop trying to reach new goals. We work 8 hours a day at our jobs and then we go home and work another eight hours taking care of the family and the house, and grocery shopping and doing laundry.
We do not stop achieving great things because we have not been given an award. We push forward. Sometimes we walk the pathways other women have traced for us and for which we are grateful, and other times we make new pathways for ourselves.
I moved to the United States in 1999 following the path that my parents had made three decades before that, but I came to a country that was very different from the one my parents had lived in, in the 70s. When I got here I didn’t speak English and I didn’t know anybody. But I met people who helped me, I developed relationships, and I learned. I was determined to succeed. Being a woman was never a deterrent for anything I wanted to accomplish in life. And it still isn’t. Let me share with you how, as a woman, I believe I am making history. Not the kind that you will find in history books, of course, but the kind that my people will remember:
1. I believe in proactively setting goals for yourself and making sure they are aligned with everything else that is going on in your life. Your past does not have to be a prediction of your future if you don’t want to. Imagine what your perfect future would look like and work toward making it happen. Don’t be deterred by how long it would take. Learning a new language may take 5 years and when you put it like that it seems like a lot, but in 5 years you are going to be 45 regardless of your language skills. So why not be 45 and be able to speak French?
2. I believe in the importance of learning something new every day. Learning doesn’t stop when you are done with school and learning is not taking qualifications or passing exams. Learning is about curiosity, exploration, personal growth and enrichment. Learning adds depth to your life and keeps you from getting bored. Learning keeps you healthy. You don’t have to schedule a training class. Read more. Read books, magazines, online blogs. After you finish school, you’ll never again have someone giving you homework. And while you probably spent many years looking forward to that, I think it’s important to understand that learning is a big part of what makes life interesting. When your learning is self-directed, it can be a lot more fun than school was. Make learning a life-long journey and not because I say so, but because man or woman, that is what successful people do.
3. I believe in the positive effects of being an optimist. My glass is always half-full. Why not make the best with what you have and have a lot of fun in the process! See the problem for its potential instead of its burden. Solving problems is a challenge so challenge yourself to come up with the best solution. And when you do, celebrate!
4. I like to put a little magic into my thinking. You never know where “what if..?” could take you. Sometimes what it starts as an expression of desire can lead to the most unexpected outcome. When I was in high school I used to have this teacher whose boyfriend was from Brazil. And she would share with us words in Portuguese that her boyfriend was teaching her. I was 15 and I used to think “What if one day I could speak Portuguese?” and even though this was back when I lived in Buenos Aires and Brazil was just a few hours north, a trip to Brazil was one of those things you just dreamed of as a teenager. But I never stopped believing that it was a possibility. When I finished college a classmate got a job in Brazil and told me about it … and I tagged along. Even though more than 10 years had passed from that initial day when my teacher inspired me to dream of learning Portuguese, I remembered. And I suddenly saw my dreams coming together. I moved to Brazil, I learned Portuguese and I lived there for 2 years. This never would have happened had it not been for me asking: “what if…?”
5. I also believe in the importance of building an impeccable and flawless reputation. I am a consultant. How many of you have not heard a joke about “the consultants”? Over the years consultants have gotten a bad reputation. So I need to work extra hard at demonstrating that I am good consultant. The kind that, when engaged by a client, immediately becomes part of the solution instead of part of the problem. The kind that follows the rules and turns in actual expense receipts instead of fishy estimates. I met with a client once and after he explained what he needed I turned down the job. I told him: “I can’t do what you are asking me. I am simply not qualified.” and he said to me “You must not be a real consultant or you wouldn’t be turning down the job”. Believe or not, after suffering through all the bad consultants’ jokes over the years, this was the best compliment I ever received. There is a saying: “Your reputation will follow you” … and indeed it will, so no matter how hard, always be honest and act with integrity.
6. I value connecting with people. Listen more. And I mean: really listen. When somebody talks to you, stop having those little conversations that we all have going on in our head and give the person in front of you your full attention. Make sure you understand what somebody is telling you. Ask questions and clarification if you need to; and make your goal to be helpful to others. I believe that being a good listener can make the difference between just being successful and being a leader or making history.
To all the women out there: Write your own history. Collaborate and help each other. Alone we can achieve a lot, together we can achieve anything. When I started my business it was just me and I was doing a decent job but I keep telling everybody I wanted a business partner. People who know me well questioned my idea of having a business partner. They know I can achieve anything I set my mind to. But I kept thinking … what about all those ideas that I could be brainstorming and transforming into something better if I had a business partner? And what about all the fun we could have in the process? Now I have not one but two business partners.
I heard something else on Monday’s Oscar’s ceremony that I want to share with you. Sandra Bullock received a Best Actress award. And in her acceptance speech she said: "Don't aspire to be in these shoes. Walk in your own. Everyone's unique, and that's what makes people exciting.” That is the best advice you can get. Be yourself.
But an even bigger gesture from Bullock was that she also won a Razzies for being the Worst Actress in a movie this past year, for a different movie than the one she won the Oscar.
She showed up to receive the award. Only the second actress in the past thirty years to actually show up! And her acceptance for the Golden Raspberry should be a model of grace for all of us. She had fun with it. And people loved her because when you can take criticism with good humor people believe in you, they like you and they will remember you.
And that is what “making history is”.