Role Models: Giving back means being another’s inspiration

I was privileged to ask to speak at the UFSC International Conference this weekend. The UFSC  is The Urban Financial Services Coalition is “the premier networking, professional development and community outreach organization for Black and other financial services professionals from diverse communities”. Their mandate is to:

  • Engage the talent in our community to develop professionally and seek their potential
  • Inspire young people to consider financial services as a viable career path
  • Inform our community about the importance of financial literacy to sustained prosperity
  • Empower all our members and constituents to reach new heights of leadership, personal growth and community service

As a panel member I spoke about the role of role models and what has inspired me in my life. It was great to hear the stories of panel members who had grown up in challenging circumstances and were able to go on and do amazing things with their lives, in spite of all the barriers they faced.

In my own life, I never really thought about my obstacles as obstacles. To me, they were just milestones I had to overcome. I listened to a gentlemen as he spoke about the challenges of the Black community and the years of suppression they had experienced. It was because of this history that he declared was the cause of the poverty and disenfranchisement Blacks had faced for decades. He was quite articulate as he stated that it was only “right” to give back to a community who have been marginalized and not granted the rights and freedoms compared to other communities.

One of my fellow speakers, Dwayne Matthews, Executive Director of d&a Canada, posed a controversial statement when he noted that he did not believe in giving back as much as “strengthening the weakened”, through mentorship, advice and training. Monetary gestures are not enough to fix the problems, nor motivate the youth.

I spoke up, as a daughter of immigrant parents. My parents came from the Philippines and were well-educated, both having received university undergraduate degrees before they married. When my parents decided to come to Canada, they brought with them 4 children under the age of 4. They struggled for years making ends meet. My father had to go back to school to get his Canadian university equivalency before he could even hope to try for an accounting designation. My mother always wanted to be a flight attendant. When they came to Canada, those dreams would never be realized. My father worked by day, then at night as a janitor, while studying for his accounting courses on the weekend. My mother took whatever work was available– remember Woolco?– to help supplement their income. We lived in a semi-detached home in Sarnia–I shared a tiny bedroom with my 2 sisters.

Growing up, we lived with racism, being one of only a handful of visibility minorities in a very white community. It was tough but we got through it. My parents were very protective but they always pushed us to study hard and get good grades. And we did. That was one of the ways we gained acceptance. My parents wanted us to live our own dreams even if they couldn’t.

My point is, while the gentlemen who challenged us about giving back, the obstacles of poverty and racism in my own life were overcome, not by others who “gave back” but by my parents’ incessant will to make sure we strove for something “better”. They instilled that in me and my siblings.

I didn’t really have any real motivation to be successful. That was ingrained from my parents at a very young age. I became who I am because of them. And when they weren’t around, I surrounded myself with “like” minds to accelerate my growth. That’s what my parents taught me.

I graduated university during the recession and it was difficult to secure employment for most of my graduating class. While I was lucky to secure a direct marketing position, no one seemed to be registering for seminars and conferences during this time. So, I moved from department to department until I was laid off. I took another job with an event company just to ride out the recession.

Then I landed my dream job at Ogilvy. Wow, 10 interviews later and I was in! And I held my head up high! I finally made it–or so I thought. It took me less than 3 months to realize how cut-throat the agency world really was. The notion of “you’re-only-as-good-as your-last….” was a common mantra. It was also a dog-eat-dog industry. Only the toughest survived. I battled a lot of frustration and politics in my career. I’ve unwittingly gone into battle with opponents much stronger than me. The tone of someone’s voice was enough to quell my spirit, crush my motivation and make me want to crawl underneath a rock.

I survived because of a mentor, Sandy Williams, a big ad executive who ran her own shop. Sandy had the patience to teach me about the ad industry: how to survive the insanity and the politics; the ins and outs of good creative; the essentials of production environment; and most of all, how to carve my own path.

The best advice I ever received from Sandy: When listening to someone who is visibly frustrated and angered by you, allow them to scream and vent. In the meantime, close your eyes and attempt to take away the “tone” of voice you hear and concentrate on the message they’re trying to get across. Use this as a guide to help you learn.”

This has gotten me through some tough times. I’ve grown stronger but promised myself to lead with integrity and motivation instead of fear. It’s the only way I can inspire others to learn to trust their own instincts and carve paths of their own.

This is probably the most important gift I could give. Am I a role model? I’m glad I’m perceived as one. I’m learning to trust that as far as I’ve come, I’ve learned a few things along the way–things that I must share. There is no point keeping it to myself if I can somehow have even an infinitesimal effect on someone else’s path to success.

I am forever thankful for my parents and people like Sandy that I’ve met along my journey. You have given me the knowledge and the strength to trust myself and what I’m capable of becoming. I hope I can do the same for others.

inspiration art exhibition part 2, originally uploaded by bwrahbwrah jonguh.

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