I turned 50 on November 7. For many people, this day brings some level of sadness. For me, turning 50 has been energizing – I call it a “reverse” mid-life crisis. Getting older helps me evaluate and treasure all the things that have gone well in my life, especially when it comes to family. I’m blessed to have been born into a loving, supportive, loyal, and incredibly fun family. And I’m even more blessed to have created a family of my own with these same characteristics.
As I look at my mom, my siblings, and their children, I see the legacy of my father personified. I also see my dad whenever I look at my own son and when I hear him speak with pride about his Salvadoran heritage, expressing reverence towards the sacrifices his parents and grandparents have made.
As I reflect on these awesome 50 years, I also look at my bonus family: my husband (a proud full Italian from Philly) and my bonus daughter and bonus son. They’ve enriched our lives tremendously, and they’ve also allowed me to look at life through the lens of people unfamiliar with forming part of a crazy Latino family. I don’t know when it happened, but they’ve fully embraced all things Salvadoran – from eating pupusas to dancing cumbias at parties, they’re now Italian-Salvadoran-American – and we’re one big messy, goofy, and passionate bunch! I can’t think of anything that embodies the American Dream more than this.
What is Leaning In… Con Sabor?
As I embark on a new professional endeavor, which involves, among other topics, addressing ways to embrace the entire mosaic that is the American experience, I see what a large role my own background plays in my outlook, and especially the way I address issues of strife, both at work and beyond. The sabor (flavor) in my life is strong and influences how I think and act in all areas.
When I read Sheryl Sandberg’s acclaimed book Lean In, I remember connecting to many of the stories and struggles she outlined. But many of them didn’t ring true for me. I realized that the experience of a professional woman con sabor is a bit different. In my case, the differences are sometimes due to cultural realities, and sometimes result from the fact that my viewpoint is shaped more by my specific upbringing (being raised by a feminist Latino father – contrary to popular belief, this is not an oxymoron – and a strong mother).
In honor of hitting the big 5-0, I dug up my notes on Sandberg’s book to reflect on the concept of leaning in, with a bit of Latina flavor (this is the first of several articles on the subject).
So how do you Lean In… Con Sabor?
Early on in my career, I was newly married, but not yet a mother – my son, Tony, wasn’t born until several years later. I ran into a dear colleague who had recently left a large law firm to open her own shop and had also recently given birth to a beautiful son. I asked her how she was doing, and her reply was life changing (for me at least – my guess is she doesn’t even remember saying it). She told me that when she was at work, she felt like a mediocre mom, and when she was with her son she felt like a mediocre lawyer. Over the years, I’ve heard different versions of the same sentiment from female colleagues again and again.
Even though I was years away from being a mom myself, I remember thinking at the time that while I could live with being known as a mediocre attorney, my life would be meaningless if my kids thought I was a mediocre mom. Of course, all my mom colleagues want to be excellent mothers, regardless of their ethnic background, but I realized that my Latino upbringing made it easier for me to be able to unapologetically put my family – and especially my son – first and far above my career.
In a strange way, the stereotype of the Latino culture as valuing family above all else made it easier for me to live out that (positive) stereotype in my own life and career. Unlike Sandberg, who (understandably) felt the need to have her assistant lie and put a fake meeting on her calendar so that she could go home to be with her newborn, I resolved to use my Latina sass to make it clear that while I was (and still am) ambitious and hard-working, nothing is more important than my son. And a strange thing happened: clients, colleagues, and bosses understood – they even commented on how refreshing it was for someone to be honest about her priorities. Of course, I must note that my unapologetic announcements only worked professionally because I also demonstrated that being a committed mom didn’t mean that I’d slack off at work or that my work product would suffer.
These days, I share my story with young female professionals who are struggling with balance. I remind them that the secret is to remain true to who they are, regardless if their outlook is vastly different from my own. I also remind them that I firmly believe that as women professionals, we can have it all – but maybe not all at the same time. Finally, I share that we have different seasons in life and that as someone who has been where they are, I can attest to the fact that even the “later” seasons are pretty fantastic! Cheers.
Patti Perez is founder and CEO of PersuasionPoint, a modern-day consulting firm dedicated to teaching leaders and teams how to create and sustain healthy, equitable and inclusive workplace cultures. Patti is the best-selling, award-winning author of The Drama-Free Workplace (Wiley 2019), and draws from the book’s themes to provide practical, authentic, and action-oriented solutions to help companies achieve true diversity and equity, and to create environments of belonging and inclusion.
Patti and the team provide services specifically tailored to address workplace struggles with recruiting, retaining, promoting and fully valuing diverse employees – including consulting, leadership training, and boot camps for diverse attorneys who are emerging leaders.