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This article is part of the Hispanic and Latin American Voices in Adweek series, which will cover the different nuances and challenges within this community.
“What’s the best advice you would give your younger self?” the moderator asked in a panel I took part in recently.
I took a big breath, imagined my younger self standing right in front of me and said: “Don’t ever dim your light, even when they tell you that you are too much—just keep shining brightly. And if they are too bothered by your brightness, well, they can put sunglasses on!”
It sounds like such simple advice, right? Just be you! Don’t silence your voice or shapeshift to fit in.
But this is not the typical experience for workers in corporate America. In fact, there is this notion that one must change their way of being to be successful. After a serious health scare that shook me to my core, I realized that I couldn’t keep going as I was and reflected on what led me to this point and what needed to change. Here is what I learned.
The pressure to fit in is real
Speaking from personal experience, the real discrimination that Latinos face in corporate America that can be crushing. There is an implication that you need to act, talk, look and behave a certain way—a different way—to be successful.
You work hard to lose your accent, dial down your passionate personality, even wear more “toned down” clothes. Slowly, you start to silence your own voice.
You learn to become more assertive, hide emotions, possibly start using war terms in your vocabulary. Over time, there is a complete transformation, shape-shifting into someone else because that’s what you think you need to do.
And you do start moving up the ladder, gaining pride as you go. In many ways, this “fitting in” approach can be quite effective… until it’s not.
These outside transformations can take a physical, mental and emotional toll on your inner self. It can lead to exhaustion, stress and a feeling of loss: of identity, spark, positivity and passion.
Unlearning and redefining success
A leader and mentor once said, “We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know we have a problem.”
The first step is to realize that it is impossible to be truly successful if you are wearing these masks and pretending to be someone else. Redefine what success means for you, because you cannot truly be successful or fulfilled unless you can be your true self. This deep journey of unlearning to fit in and relearning to be your authentic self takes time and courage.
The next step is finding the strength to let go of belief systems that have been there for so long because they may be holding you back. Because deep down, you may wonder: What if being your authentic self at work backfires? Ultimately, you need the courage to be truly seen, to show and bring your true self to work to unlearn what you were originally taught.
But after so many years wearing masks pretending, dimming our lights, silencing our voices and fitting in, relearning to be our true authentic Latinx selves—sin/sem pena—takes time.
Igniting a ripple effect
Sometimes, when we look around corporate America and see all that needs to change, it can be overwhelming because we don’t know where or how to start.
But the truth is that change starts within us—each of us—as we turn inward to unlearn fitting in and relearn to shine our bright Latinx light, boldly, proudly and unapologetically. And when we do that, we lead and inspire others by example with our full brilliance.
When we each reignite our Latinx magia (magic), we create an unstoppable ripple effect across corporate America together. We start to learn that Latinidad is actually a strength, a superpower.
After my response in the panel that day, in my mind I could see the big smile in my younger self’s face—the peace and joy in her eyes hearing that she could just be herself.
Keep shining brightly.