Updated: Feb 2
If you could talk to your younger self, what would you tell them? I think about that often and for a while, I’ve wanted to write my younger self a letter as a healing practice. I’ve decided to share because in a spirit of solidarity, what if this helps you stand in the light, too?
Dear 21-year-old Mariangely,
You are about to be the first in your family to earn a Bachelor’s degree and though you don’t want to admit it, you’re afraid. My hope in sharing these lessons with you is that you live more freely and in less fear of the future.
A quick professional heads up about your 20s… you’ll have more than 3 very different jobs, you’ll be let go, you’ll quit, and you’ll be unemployed twice. Wild, I know!
So here are six professional lessons you’ll learn in the upcoming years.
1. Leadership matters. Growing up, leaders were untouchable authority figures that you must fear or respect. It will take you nearly a decade to unlearn that definition of leadership, and redefine it for yourself.
But you will learn that how a leader defines and exhibits their leadership, will have an impact on your performance, and unfortunately your concept of self.
Folks will tell you to strategize and advocate for yourself, and you’ll feel paralyzed because you won’t even have the words to explain how you feel. So, pay attention. Listen and observe leaders in your community: how do they define and share power? What do they value with their time and money? Their actions and inactions will serve as a blueprint.
2. Your voice has value. It will take you a long time to step into your power and believe that your voice has value. Let’s save us some pain, yeah? Here is the truth: you have the right to ask the “hard” questions. Just remember to ask them strategically so you don’t get penalized (and you will be penalized).
Watch how other bomb QTBIPOC womxn use their voice to push forward social justice, not just reform.
Learn from them. Enter in honest dialogues with them and listen, especially when they tell you to snap out of “it”- “it” meaning a colonized mindset. Trust me, you’re in for a journey. This brings me to the next lesson...
3. Conflict resolution is scary but absolutely necessary. You were taught conflict is not good and it’s meant to be ignored or ended in an altercation. For a very long time, you avoided conflict at all costs. You won’t be able to avoid it at work.
There will be several moments in your career when you will be confronted with conflicts of all magnitudes. You will be forced to report a case of child abuse and carry the complexity of that guilt for a long time
you will be asked to explain why you do not teach kids to sit up straight and do as you say, you will have to bring up issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to white leadership, and you will be called into dialogues by your community when you need teaching. You will fail in some of these moments and they will haunt you, but you will learn from them. During the conflict, you will feel your throat tighten. Breath, relax your shoulders, ask for time if you need it, and seek guidance from loved ones.
4. The heart compass is real. The community that raised you is magical and they instilled in you a heart compass. Somewhere along the line, in your effort to reach that American Dream with them, you forget to listen to your heart. You take jobs even when your compass tells you not to. By the time you come to your senses, you won’t have the skills to correct the course. You will be let go and your heart will be broken. From that experience, you will learn to trust your heart. It won’t be perfect, but the next time that you feel like “Nah, this isn’t it” or “this isn’t right, get out”, you will listen.
And you’ll be so happy that you did.
5. More often than not, you are more than qualified. One of the many reasons you love your family is that they instilled in you a great sense of humility. However, you will learn that there is a way to be humble without being stepped on or making yourself small. You won’t always know what to say or how to navigate different systems that were created to keep you marginalized, but you will read the books, engage in difficult conversations, and do the damn work.
You are more than qualified for that promotion, that role, that raise. When others, intentionally or not, make you feel unqualified or replaceable remember that you aren’t here to compete, you are here to liberate.
6. Celebration is key. No matter how hard you work, you will experience a lot of perceived defeat because you will be in environments that embrace white supremacist values that are misaligned with yours: joy, solidarity, social justice. When you find yourself not being kind to yourself (you’ll explore that in therapy), pause, take a look at everything you and your loved ones have accomplished together, and use the fabulous phrase YES, AND. YES, you screwed up AND you are an emotionally intelligent woman capable of acknowledging her mistake. YES, your approach to the work is different AND you are a 1st-gen-queer-working-class-Latina who endures the fuckery of code-switching, imposter-syndrome, and white supremacy on top of your regular human burdens. That is worth celebrating!
I could go on, but I think 6 lessons are plenty to start with. And guess what? You’re now 30 and you have no idea what lessons life has on deck for you in the next decade, but you’re finally standing in the light and it feels really good.
So to our younger, afraid but powerful selves… we’re going to be okay, mis amores.
Mariangely Solis Cervera is an education and LGBTQ+ advocate with over seven years of English Language Learning experience, Social and Emotional Learning, and issues of equity in the K-16 schooling system. During her free time, you can find her playing "Just Dance" on Nintendo Switch, cuddling her cat Saja, or making homemade cocktails for her loved ones. Learn more about her on LinkedIn and follow her on Instagram @marisolisc27 and Twitter @mariangelysolis.