Maria Elena Carter
Being True To Yourself

Introduction: As long as I can remember I was given the freedom by my parents and my siblings to write my own story and march to the beat of my own drum.  My unique upbringing provided me the ability to grow up with no baggage, barriers or limitations.  I easily assimilate/adapt to whatever cultures or situations I find myself in without giving up my personal identity, values or ethics.  In my professional life, I often find myself to be the only “woman” at the table. And now I use my expertise in educating and empowering women as the Executive Director of the Women’s Intercultural Center.

Background: As the youngest of 10 children, unlike my siblings I was raised with more freedom and less discipline.  My father was very active in raising me; I spent more time with him growing up than my mother.  But they both were equally influential in my life.  In reality, the foundation of the person that I am and the leader that I have become is in fact related to my family.  It is through them that I learned to explore and understand the uniqueness of being me.  In my house the word “weird” or “different” was always replaced with “unique.” And the beauty of being identified in this manner was emphasized as a gift for it is that uniqueness of the individual that makes him/her great.   

Because our family was multicultural, I believe my parents showed us to compartmentalize our emotions and experiences in an effort to ensure that we wouldn’t get easily hurt by others as we were usually the unique individuals everywhere we went.  I remember going to school and being told by my father, “Your mission is to get educated if you make friends that’s great but if not it shouldn’t matter because that’s not your primary goal.”  I guess I should mention that my father was an officer in the Army.   Because of this I immediately assume leadership roles specifically if they are related to the attainment of my desired goal or outcome.   

Being held responsible for my own life and the choices I make ensured that I never make any excuses for failure.  I was taught to learn from it and modified my thinking, processes and ideas in order to succeed in attaining my goals and desired outcomes.  It taught me that anything could be achieved no matter what for if I encountered a barrier I was expected to utilize my skills, ability and creativity to remove it from the equation.   Often times it required for me to think outside the box and emulating the skills, abilities and creativity of other people that inspired/mentored me and/or had the qualities that I needed to succeed.

In my professional career, my male mentors opened many doors for me and positioned me for a role in the game.  Through my work and their introduction I gained a solid reputation of being a successful producer, ethical and trustworthy.  To date I am well respected by the males I did/do business with and our relationship continues to grow. 


My female mentors were very strong women, all of whom had similar relationships with their fathers like I did.  Their self-esteem was/is extremely high they were/are very competent, logical, passionate and flexible.  All of them were very supportive and encouraging.  They never once hesitated to share their knowledge with me and were crucial to my professional and personal growth.  And even though all of them were in positions of higher power, they never considered themselves above me, we were equals.  They were my peer support network.

We all need mentors, female and male.  Having the right mentors not only impacts your professional and personal life but that of the people we come in contact with.  We start a positive cycle that will continue giving way after we are gone. 


Professional issue: As one of my staffers mentioned to me, “When we contacted all your references the one thing they all said about you was that you were a workaholic.”  I have a tendency to work long hours without conception of time specifically when I am writing proposals.  I haven’t found that right balance yet, but I think it all has to do with my belief that stress pushes me to the next level.  My mentors and friends all tell me that I need find a way to learn to cut back because as I get older I will not be able to maintain the pace that I’m currently at. 


All of them have recommended that I delegate some of my duties to my staffers.  I am actually learning to do this. However, it’s difficult because I always hear my father’s words, “If you want something done right do it yourself.” This is another reason why I assumed leadership roles.  I always wanted to control the dynamics around me to ensure that the most important details of a project were being completed by me specifically if it was relational to one of my goals or outcomes.   I am learning that the best way for me to feel comfortable in delegating some of my less crucial work projects is by mentoring my staffers and following up on their progress.  In actuality these women are being groomed to take my place and/or surpass me. 


Personal issue:  In order to have success in your life, family support is crucial.  Family is your foundation, the official launching pad for your initial success.  If you don’t have a supportive family, surround yourself by a surrogate family (i.e. mentors and friends) that will play this crucial role in your life.  If you are able to have both the attainment of success as defined by you, is much easier. 


If you are married and/or have a family, their support of you is crucial.  You need to make your husband a full partner in your relationship where each of you give100 percent.  You must maintain your own identity, values, sense of fulfillment and your own source of happiness.  This is a crucial balance in your life because this will determine whether or not you will pass up once in a lifetime opportunities which you will later regret. 
Your children also need to support you, just as much you need to support them.  Since the age of five both my children were exposed to community service and in later years they were educated on work ethic and what that required from their parents and them as a result of being in the workforce.  I may work long hours but one thing for certain, it is a rare occasion that I miss dinner with my children.  On preferable occasions we gather together in the kitchen to make dinner, each of us with a designated task.  During heavy work days, the boys take turns on who gets to make dinner and give me an estimated time as to when it’s going to be ready for me to make it home on time for dinner.
No matter how busy you become, never forget to make time for family. They are the ones that will be there for you when you need them the most and the ones that will share your life in good and bad times.  For me, every Sunday is devoted to my family. My brothers, sisters and their families all gather at my mother’s house.  We spend all day together bonding and recharging our batteries for the week ahead.  
Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions and ideas and most importantly, don’t be afraid to take your place at the table.  Stand by your choices; don’t try to justify them to others.  Don’t pretend to be someone else or as they say “fake it till you make it.”  Being honest with yourself about what you know and don’t know will help your growth and development for you’ll be able to identify what areas you need to hone in on or identify the qualities you need from others that can help fill that void for you in your profession and personal life.  Don’t be afraid to ask and most importantly become a lifetime learner.  You can find learning opportunities from every person you meet even if it’s only minutes of a conversation.  Don’t discount anyone for any reason for you will be surprised as to the individuals that have the potential to enlighten your life.  Be open to the world and its blessings and they will come to you.