How finding your passion changes everything

Want to know how finding your passion changes everything? Hear it straight from this 92-year old Guinness World Record holder, art-teacher who thinks age is just a three-letter word!

Before I met Conni Gordon, there was only one 90+ woman who had completely changed my mind about aging. My great-aunt Marietta Abeles. One of the most beautiful women I ever met, who at 94 continues to give me fashion advice. (And relationship advice too if you want to know the truth!) I’ll talk about Marietta in another post because once you see her picture you’ll want to know how finding your passion in life changes everything. Most noticeably, how you feel about yourself and about what life has to offer at every age.


How finding your passion changes everything | My great-aunt, Marietta Abeles, who at 94 gives everyone fashion advice. You can see why!

My great-aunt, Marietta Abeles, who at 94 gives everyone fashion advice. You can see why!

But I digress. Today is all about Conni. Another vibrant 90 + woman who holds the Guinness World Record for the World’s Most Prolific Arts Teacher. She taught 17 million people how to paint. Read that again. It’s the equivalent to the entire population of Chile! Undoubtedly, Conni is the epitome of how finding your own passion leads to a happy, healthy, and long life. A veteran of World War II, Conni has taught President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, Sammy Davis Jr., Roger Moore, Larry King and many, many others. She’s appeared on more talk shows than any other person alive and is getting ready for an appearance on Univision, as she tries to share her amazing methodology with the Hispanic market.

How Finding your passion really changes everything

Conni Gordon, at 92 teaches us how finding your passion changes everything!

Conni Gordon, at 92 teaches us how finding your passion changes everything!

Did you know you had a passion for painting when you were young?

Yes, for painting and music. My dad was a theatrical agent. He hired strippers and other entertainment acts and someone had to accompany these women while they were practicing on stage. So I played the piano, the accordion and the organ to help him out. I tell you, everyone should have a childhood like mine, so free of prejudice!

I also had a Kindergarten teacher who got me interested in painting. The decision to choose painting over music came to me quickly when I was in finishing school in France. They told me that if I wanted to be a pianist I had to practice 12-14 hours a day. That was it. I became the fastest artist in the world!

Painting by Connie Gordon. Finding your passion is he key to a long, happy life.

Painting by Connie Gordon. Finding your passion is he key to a long, happy life.

And then you got a Guinness World Record for helping millions of people learn to paint fast!

Yes, that’s true. I was interested in being on top, being head of this or that, the valedictorian. It was always a challenge to be up front. Not in the back.

Finding your true passion

So when did you realize that your passion was more for teaching others than being an artist yourself?

Most artists want to paint for themselves and that was never my aim. From very early on, when I saw the women that came through my dad’s business looking all the same, I decided I was going to do something nobody else in the world had done. That was a passion that developed when I was 12, 13, 14 years old. It was about giving back to others. To me it was always more important to do for others, to help them improve their self-esteem, and make them feel that they could do more than they thought they could do, than it was to become an artist myself.

You are constantly developing materials, techniques and concepts to help people create art. Tell us a bit about that…

My interest is to develop concepts that a person who knows nothing about art can create. It’s a technique. My passion is opening the world of art to millions of people around the world. I’m very good with materials. So I developed materials to teach people to paint even when they are blind. Their paintings had become a way for them to make a living.

And I also developed a creative thinking method called TILS, which is a simplified approach to Mind Mapping and it helps people find solutions to their problems.

Throughout my career, I’ve always balanced between taking a high paying gig in a Fortune 500 company and a free presentation to people who need help.

How to find your passion

Why do you think so many people have trouble finding their passion?

Conni Gordon quote: If your attitude is that life has passed you by, then it has.

Unwrap every day like it’s a gift, suggests Conni Gordon

They don’t think for themselves. They accept what the family or friends tell them. People are afraid to look within themselves. If you have a hobby you enjoy why don’t you think about it as a business? Think about it. What could you do to turn it into a business?

What has been the biggest learning for you in teaching so many million people tap into their inner artist?

Painting by Conni Gordon

Painting by Conni Gordon

The fact that most teachers don’t give their students a feeling of immediate success! They talk about technical terms, they make it complicated. My thing is help people do something where they see the result right away. You can’t fool people. When they come out with a picture they can recognize they get interested in finding out more. (That’s why I stay in the realm of realistic art.)

What would you say to someone who’s trying to answer the question, “How to find your passion?”

To look into their heart and answer these questions: What do you really, really love to do? What keeps you happy? Being by yourself, or in a group? What makes you different? What talent do you have? Do you want to help others or do you want to live a selfish life? Those are the questions that lead to finding your true passion.

How has winning the Guinness World Record impacted your career?

It has been very important because it was the highest recognition at an official level you can get. Everyone knows if it’s in there it has been researched. It’s proof. It has made me proud and it helped in selling and convincing other people that may be my method has power. All that without paid advertising!

Have you felt at any point that your mission of teaching people to paint became a burden?



The only burden is that I’m growing older and I can’t go around the world as I used to! But I do it through books (they’ve sold 17 million copies!) online, and I franchised the method to someone in Russia, Lithuania, and San Diego. And I’m now training Cecilia Bertomeu, who I met while she was taking classes with me, to continue my work.

What would you say to women who think that their age is an impediment for starting something new, better aligned with their passion?

Age is a three-letter word that doesn’t mean a thing. It’s your attitude. If your attitude is that life has passed you by, then it has. If you look forward to opening up every day as a gift, then it will keep you going. You need to have something planned to look forward to everyday.

Why are women so mean to each other? Find out!!

An age-old problem, unhealthy workplace competition between women, has many people wondering why are women so mean to each other and is there anything that can be done to change this behavior.

Unhealthy competition in the workplace and how to deal with it

In trying to discover if unhealthy competition in the workplace between women has an evolutionary component or it’s a learned behavior we contacted Tracy Vaillaincourt, Ph.D., who has been researching for years bullying across the lifespan (including bullying in the workplace.) Dr. Vaillaincourt is a Professor and Canada Research Chair, Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at McMaster University in Ottawa, Canada. Her research interests include indirect/relational aggression, (including women aggression against other women,) development of aggression, social status and others. She’s the perfect person to help us answer the question “why are women so mean to each other?” and to figure out ways to deal of unhealthy competition in the workplace.

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt answers the questions: Why are women so mean to each other? How to deal with unhealthy competition in the workplace?

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt answers the questions: Why are women so mean to each other? How to deal with unhealthy competition in the workplace?

How women aggression against other women gets started

You have dedicated a lot of your research to bullying and to the answer to the eternal question: Why are women so mean to each other? Why the interest?

The way girls and women treat each other has a profound impact on their health and well being. Studies have shown that girls and women are particularly sensitive to ostracism, incivility, and the like, especially when it is directed at them by another female. My interest stems from witnessing girls and women behaving poorly toward each other and wanting this reality to be different.

Does women aggression against other women start in the playground? Or does it develop later in life?

Females begin using aggression early in life. In fact, we have data from 2 and 3 year olds showing that they withdraw love and affection from caregivers when they are angry— an early form of the ‘silent treatment’. The type of aggression girls and women use, termed indirect aggression, continues to be employed throughout the lifespan.

Is there an evolutionary component to female bullying?

I do think there is an evolutionary component to it. One reason I think this is because indirect aggression is used by girls and women across the world, even though they come from very different cultural backgrounds.

Why are women so mean to each other and the research behind it

What are some of the highlights of the research you’ve done in the last ten years on the topic of why are women so mean to each other?

  • Women are particularly intolerant of sexy peers.
  • Women do not want their romantic partners to be friends with sexy women.
  • The use of indirect aggression is found early in life and increases with age.
  • The most powerful and popular girls in middle school and high school are also the ones nominated by peers as being the most indirectly aggressive. They also tend to be very attractive.
  • Indirect aggression is linked to dating behavior—aggressive girls report having more boyfriends and more sexual experiences than their less aggressive peers.


We answer the question of why are women so mean to each other. Read on! Women aggression against other women starts early in life. Photo Credit:

Women aggression against other women starts early in life.
Photo Credit:

Female bullying or women aggression against women: A psychological profile

What is the psychological profile of a woman who bullies other women?

There are many different types of women who bully others. I think the most common profile (and most vitriolic) is the very competitive and envious woman who has some sort of power that is derived either from her position in the workplace (e.g., supervisor) or from the way she interacts with her colleagues (e.g., has a lot of influence among her co-workers, is friends with the boss, is socially active, etc.).   Having said this, women should be wary of competitive-envious women, as these women tend to be very toxic, especially if these traits are combined with narcissism.

Tips on dealing with unhealthy competition in the workplace

Do you have any recommendations for women who experience unhealthy competition in the workplace? For women who are bullied by other women at work?

Workplace bullying prevention programs often require employees to address their bullying concerns directly to their supervisors; which does not take into account that a lot of bullies are supervisors. Also, a lot of workplace bullying is within gender (women bullying women) and when this is mentioned to a male supervisor, it often gets dismissed as women just being ‘catty’ without recognizing the seriousness of the behavior. My suggestion for women being bullied by other women (or men) is to document everything. If possible, create alliances with other co-workers who can help defend you or be called to testify on your behalf if needed. Finally, find a sympathetic supervisor/manager and address the concern early on— before it becomes entrenched.

What are you working on now in terms of research?

I continue to examine bullying across the lifespan. I am currently interested in the links between dieting behavior and indirect aggression in girls and women, as well as the biological underpinnings of bullying.

You can reach Dr. Vaillancourt via:


How great marketing mentors like Kathleen Haley build key alliances with men

Undoubtedly one of the strongest marketing mentors you could find, Kathleen Haley  started her career in the agency side and then moved to tech giant Hewlett Packard. What years of working at large corporations have taught her…

They say great things come in small packages and this is seldom truer than when you talk to Kathleen Haley, a petite woman who is a giant when it comes to branding, communications and marketing. Undoubtedly one of the strongest marketing mentors you could find, Kathleen is as demanding as she’s fun to work with. Born in the U.S. to a Salvadoran mom and an American dad, she’s had an impressive career which included roles at public relations agency Porter Novelli, tech giant Hewlett Packard, spice and flavor manufacturer McCormick and now at health care start-up Iora Health. She’s one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet yet at the same time she always finds time to enjoy life and laugh a lot. There’s so much we could learn from her…

How great marketing mentors like Kathleen Haley build key alliances with men.

Kathleen Haley, one of the most sought-after marketing mentors in the industry

The making of one of the best marketing mentors

As a marketing professional and one of the most sought-after marketing mentors out there you worked both on the agency and on the client side. Which did you find most satisfying and why?

I started out on the agency side of the house, working in three different PR agencies, all focused on high tech. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Learning PR and marketing (or whatever your focus is) is best learned in the agency where you’re doing the actual ‘doing’.   Through this experience I was able to learn from the bottom up and it helps me even today because I know what’s possible!

I love working in house now, but really think the agency is the best way to start out.

Both sides are satisfying in different ways.  In agencies, you go deep in a function and have the breadth in terms of the company exposure. At one point at my first job, I worked across seven different accounts (five different companies).  That’s a great way to learn!  By the time I left the agency world, I was focused on only one account, HP, so it was easy to jump over because I wasn’t getting the benefit of the agency life anymore.

On the client side, the benefits are different. You are able to know one company very well and learn the whole company (not just PR or marketing – but supply chain, operations, IT, HR, etc.).  During my career, I’ve also been able to go pretty deep in these different areas by managing the communications for them.  For example, when I was the communications lead for HP’s CIO and Executive VP of Global Operations, I had to understand those functions really well to help him with his communications.

As long as I’m learning and working with good, smart and nice people, I’m pretty satisfied!

The global experience of one of the most inspiring people in marketing

You’ve worked for global companies such as HP and McCormick and traveled extensively not only for your job but also as an international student. What differences do you seen in the opportunities for career growth women have in the U.S. versus in other areas of the world? 

First off, I’ve loved every minute of my global experience.  Living and working abroad is a much different and richer experience than having a global role from the US. But honestly, being an American woman in a global role in Europe is different than being a European woman in Europe!  I remember “pushing the envelope” – to use a well-worn phrase – a lot more than many of my counterparts in Spain, because I didn’t ever think that I shouldn’t.  Depending on someone’s upbringing, there are different expectations on what you should/shouldn’t do – I just never thought I shouldn’t ask a question, challenge the status quo…I also think a benefit for me was that I joined HP from the agency so I was seen as a consultant, which I think was a good thing.  Some of my colleagues and great friends pointed out, even then, that it was different for me because I was American. I don’t really know if they would’ve been treated any differently but they thought they would so they behaved a little safer than I did.  And this, oftentimes, led to fewer opportunities in the long run.

In my experience, women in Europe are, for the most part, in leadership roles only in certain functions – HR, sometimes Marketing/Communications.  But frankly, I see that in the US too.  When you look around the table of execs, it’s usually very male and the women are still in those same roles.  Not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but for the majority of groups I’ve been in, I’ve been the minority.

I had the luck of being able to sit at that table as a pretty junior person in Europe because I had a direct reporting relationship with the head of the business.  I used to tell people that it was a very long line, but a direct one! – so I saw from early on what it was like.  I think there’s a good way to work within the environment.  There’s an advantage to being the youngest and one of a few women – often times you’re underestimated. I took advantage of that to learn how the business worked and observed how politics moved things forward.

Many people would say that there are really big differences between the US and the rest of the world.  From what I’ve seen, it varies by company. Overall there aren’t enough women in leadership positions, but there aren’t enough Hispanics either…nor African Americans.  And then you get to certain companies where there are!  But they are few and far between.

One difference I’ve seen is the focus on changing the picture of leadership to have more diversity, including more women in leadership positions. I haven’t lived in Europe in a while, but it’s spoken about a whole lot more in the US than elsewhere but I don’t see that many companies doing really actionable changes in this area.  Talking is good, but measuring and having consequences for not making strides, is a whole lot better!

Diversity in leadership positions is spoken about a whole lot more in the US than elsewhere, says Kathleen Haley, one of the best regarded marketing mentors

Diversity in leadership positions is spoken about a whole lot more in the US than elsewhere, says Kathleen Haley, one of the best regarded marketing mentors

Overcoming adversity on the road to career success

Share with us one of the big challenges you faced in your career path and how you tackled it.

Challenges come often and while we don’t always view them that way, we should; they’re good.  And every choice we make – whether it’s not to make a decision or to make a conscious choice – is a choice that affects our career path.  A big challenge I faced was to make a leap to leave a dysfunctional organization. The first time I did this was extremely difficult.  There were people advising me to find a job within the company, stay until I had a new job, and a lot of other advice but I knew that while I had had a great run in the company overall, it had changed and was no longer where I should be.  I have values that I need to live by and I wasn’t seeing them around me any more.   I stayed much longer than I should’ve but the day I chose not to stay – not to find a job within the company – and to risk not having a job to get to something better – that was a scary day. And yet it was a great decision for me.  My challenge was to get out and take a leap without knowing what was on the other side, because where I was wasn’t good enough for me!

And since then, I’ve been less afraid to make changes – big changes – when I find myself in a place that’s not the best for me. Life’s too short to be less than happy.

How great marketing mentors build strategic partnerships with men

How did you build strategic partnerships with the men in the organizations where you worked so they would support your career goals?

It’s interesting because in my experience, I’ve had better luck with men supporting me than women!  (Blasphemy in this group, I know, but it’s true!)  One area where I think I need to work harder is building relationships and partnerships outside of the reporting structure for that extra support, to find and build mentor/mentee relationships that span jobs/companies.

What I’ve done well is that I’ve been able to work with several really great managers who have supported me – even when I’ve wanted to leave their groups to try something else. I’m a bit dictatorial when it comes to my career conversations.  In my first job, the agency instituted a policy that they would pay for one lunch a quarter for each employee with their manager to talk about career goals and development.  I was 22 years old and as soon as we had one lunch I would put the lunch date on my manager’s calendar for the next quarter! I am pretty sure I’m the only employee who had quarterly development discussions because of my determination!

And, today, I try and approach men – and women – with specific asks.   I call on people for different things – whether it’s challenges I’m facing, jobs I’m considering or thinking about my future in general..  I go to people I worked with, respect and have good working relationships.  I’m not great at building relationships just to network but I build them through working with others.  And since I have these relationships, I never have an issue emailing or calling them up to ask for help. But being specific helps. I appreciate it when someone comes to me for advice with a specific ask. If it’s broad, nebulous, it’s always harder to accept than if someone asks for 30 minutes to talk about something specific.

Make a statement signaling your support for women's career success. Connect with the Movement!

A leadership style that works

What’s your leadership style?

If you ask people I’ve worked with, I’m sure they’ll say that I’m demanding but fair.  I have high expectations of my team and myself as I want the best results possible.  I get things done and love to work in – and work on – building high performing teams to get the best work. I always put my team first and invest in the team needs to improve team dynamics.  And, as a leader of a team, I see my self as someone who’s there to remove barriers for them.  And I always have projects that I’m working on as I never have been a leader who only leads, without projects to get my hands dirty on!

And I like to have fun. If we can’t have fun while working so hard, what’s the point?

You can connect with Kathleen Haley on Linkedin as well as make a statement signaling your support for women’s career success.



How women can succeed in corporate America: Carla Dodds

When it comes to how women can succeed in corporate America, Carla Dodds from Mastercard seems to have written the book. She talked to us about what it takes to succeed in Corporate America and we took notes!

If your goal is to succeed in corporate America it’s probably a good idea to learn how others have done it. And if you are the first one in your family to step into a corporate role this exploration is even more important than any other section on your resume as it is unlikely that your family or your college have prepared you for what you will find. To succeed in corporate America without a strong support system to offer insights into the unwritten rules of the game is a non-starter. So reading the stories of successful women such as Carla Dodds, currently Vice President, Senior Business Leader at Mastercard, can pave the way to your own success. Not to imitate their style but to develop a deep sense of awareness of the kind of tools and strategies you’ll need in your toolkit.

Carla has held marketing positions in companies as diverse as TXU Energy (Texas Electricity) and First Choice Power to Walmart and now Mastercard. For a while she even had her own company NovoMercatus which specialized in Business Development. (The company that brought Bia Figueiredo, Indy race driver, to America.) But she has also moved quite a bit: From her native Argentina, to Texas, Arkansas, Brazil, and Miami always jumping at the right opportunity. (A path that may not be for everyone but that is a sure way to succeed in corporate America.)

"It's all about creating a bridge between my definition of success and that of other people with whom I'm working at any given time." - Carla Dodds

Carla Dodds seems to have written the book on succeeding in corporate America

For women to succeed in corporate America, a strong motivation is needed

What attracted you to a career in corporate America? 

Originally, it was the lure of having the power to do things faster and more efficiently (in my perception) compared to the public sector.  I wanted to be a diplomat and after doing an Internship with the Organization of American States (OAS) and working at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in the early stages of my career, I found that timing of execution had a huge weight on being successful. Upon gaining retail experience in the market entry of Walmart into Argentina, it became obvious that if I wanted to see my efforts benefit others in real-time, corporate American was a better bet than the public sector.  While bureaucracy exits everywhere, there seemed to be less in corporate America.  And then you will probably ask: “Well, what about your desire to be a diplomat?” Well, that is easy. Diplomacy is everywhere and it is a highly valuable skill if you want to succeed in corporate America.

How to succeed in corporate America when you’re the first in your family to work there?

Could you share your experience being the first one in your family to work and succeed in corporate America? 

My family is pretty large since in addition to my two brothers I consider my cousins to be like siblings.  Since most of my family is outside the US, they are not really familiar with what it entails to succeed in corporate America.  To them, it really doesn’t make a difference.  I imagine it has much to do with my behavior of keeping work separate from home.  My family is certainly happy for my successes and they may proudly share them with others but outside that we don’t really make a distinction between my work and theirs.  The only experience I can call out is that because they don’t really know what it is like to work or much less succeed in corporate America, they don’t fully understand what I go through.  This makes it difficult to relate to them the level I seek or to get inside guidance from my family.  For this, I usually have to bounce off of my husband and then my network of friends in corporate America.

Traits that can help you succeed in corporate America

What personal traits helped you move forward in your career? 

List of traits that can help you succeed in corporate America. What other traits would you add?

Traits that can help in succeeding in corporate America. What other traits would you add?

I am very persistent, optimistic, solution driven, dedicated, passionate… And I also have traits like tenacity, conviction, and flexibility. I’m always seeking to learn more about people, situations, and things in general.  One trait that would have helped me more is patience –which I have in limited quantities.

What do you think are some of the aspects that define a successful person? 

I believe that it really depends on how you measure success.  For me, it is being aware that I did the best I can, with the resources I have at any given time, with the intent of doing “good,” helping or improving the world we live in.  Based on my definition, having strong core values, understanding that not everyone shares the same goals or definitions and the flexibility to step out of your beliefs to learn someone else’s is what makes me successful. It’s all about being able to create a bridge between my definition of success and that of other people with whom I’m working at any given time.

Along your career, in what ways have men helped you succeed?

From colleagues and ex-bosses:  Some by recognizing my strengths in the workplace, others by encouraging my drive and growth, and providing me with the tools and path to achieve my goals.

My first boss, Mark H., helped me by encouraging me to get my MBA. When the time came, he went to bat on my behalf for the company to pay for it. He also helped expand my role of being his right hand with administrative responsibilities to a learning role, where I learned how to do due diligence for financial deals.  So he really pushed me to spread my wings into a new area.  Another example is Matt C., who taught me to pick my battles.

Two of my bosses at TXU were also great!  Jon B. pushed me to always ask more questions and dig deeper into situations I was faced with, rather than jumping fast into a conclusion based only in my gut feeling.  This developed my ability to weigh gut feelings against facts, to achieve balance, a clearer vision and consequently make better decisions.  John G. helped me with his patience and pushed me to be more sensitive with my surroundings, as well as teaching me the importance of not burning bridges.  Apparently I was overly focused on delivering results and not sensitive enough to the perceptions I was creating in the process.  I was very direct and in my urgency to deliver I was unaware of asking for things without thanking individuals for their contribution.  He showed me that being “overly focused” created the perception that I didn’t care about others when that was far from the truth.

I also observed certain behaviors in men, such as their ability to remove themselves from details and yet sound confident, that helped me recognize some of my own skills.  Becoming more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as well as focusing on complimenting others, allowed me to formulate better team dynamic to achieve company goals.

What about women?

In general women bosses have not been as supportive of my growth or advancement.  Many of them didn’t take the time to teach as much as my men bosses did.  However, three women bosses did… My first boss in the US at the International Development Bank, Beatriz Harretche, supported me and took me under her wing to teach me the business.  This was a true honor given her long experience at the IDB.  She was perceived as very demanding, knowledgeable and at times unapproachable.  The truth is that she was one of the most compassionate people I have ever met.  A woman who was a true fighter in the work place, in a male dominant environment, but at no time forgot her responsibility as a mother and grandmother.  She helped me understand that you could be successful both in the workplace and at home.

Finally, Daphne E. was the first woman who told me that no one would look out for my career. I needed to plan and make things happen instead of looking for others to support me.  Yet, despite having taught me this, she actually helped me review an offer (and later, make the transition) for a position in another organization.

Outside women bosses, women within my network have truly helped me by being sounding boards, providing unbiased advice, and offering contacts to help me grow.

Carla Dodds talks about what it takes to succeed in Corporate America and we took notes!!

One of Carla Dodds first bosses (a woman) helped her understand that she could be successful both in the workplace and at home.

How can women succeed in corporate America-male dominant industries?

Is there something women who work in male-dominant industries can do to grow and prosper? 

1.  Know your opponents

2.  Understand they are not your opponents

This idea is key to better understand those around you.  Understand their drivers, their personal lives as much as possible because this will help you understand how they respond better. This knowledge will help you navigate the workplace more effectively in order to achieve positive outcomes and ultimately succeed in corporate America (or anywhere else you work.)  Understand men’s weaknesses and strengths so you can seek to “compliment” not “face-off” with them.  A gender face off is very unlady like and should only be used as a last resort because the perception will be created instantly that you are “too aggressive and difficult to work with.” Unfortunately, you will brand yourself with all the negative stereotypes as a result of one reaction.

Instead, think strategically.  Keep cool and calm.  Breathe and take yourself to a happy place while the other person vents. Apply your abilities of “seeking to understand” instead of “seeking to judge.”

Men and women will never think the same way because we are not the same and fundamentally we live totally different experiences, challenges, and opportunities. And even if there are similarities, our nature will always be different.  So, accept others for whom and what they are and seek to co-exist in a productive way rather than going toe to toe.

Finally, picking your battles is key. Learn to appreciate men for what they offer and use that as your fortitude. Join forces and build teams. Remember there is no “I” in team, so why would you treat them as an opponent when they actually can help you grow your team?

You can connect with Carla Dodds on Linkedin.

Benefits of being bilingual: Berta Bejarano

The benefits of being bilingual have been proven in study after study. Berta Bejarano has built a career based on her passion for Español. Read her story.

It’s not often that we focus on people who use their language abilities to make a living. Yet being bilingual is what inspired Berta Bejarano to build a career to help others understand the American system. Whether in the court system or in the health care industry, this Californian who was raised in Colima, Mexico, confirms that when you unify your passion with your skills great things can happen.

Punished for being bilingual? You bet! It’s not that unusual…

As a teenager you were punished for being bilingual. You were suspended for a day for speaking Spanish in the hallway of your high school. How did this experience influence your decision to become a court interpreter?

Berta Bejarano has always treasured being bilingual

Berta Bejarano has always treasured being bilingual

The experience was not fun and without a doubt defined my passion for the love of the Spanish language. (Along with my high school Spanish teacher who taught me about the richness and beauty of the Spanish language.) I excelled at learning new words, studying them and implementing them in my daily life. I was hungry to enhance my Spanish vocabulary and even carried a Spanish journal with me and when I came across a word I loved I would write it down and repeat it throughout the day and use in in sentences which had no relevance, to me that was fun. I drove my Spanish speaking friends (which were not many) nuts by always correcting their Spanglish. I recall one of my favorite Spanish words was MURCIÉLAGO, translation=bat. (the animal.) Not because I liked the animal but because the word MURCIÉLAGO is the only word in Spanish that contains all 5 vowels.

When it was time to apply to college, my destiny was clear, I immediately declared my major, Spanish, with the intention to become a Federal court interpreter, and later a State interpreter. I applied to University of California Berkeley and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish. I later would study at the Monterrey Institute of International Studies and then become a Spanish court interpreter for 10 years with the U.S. Department of Justice. I knew failure was not an option and I wanted to to pursue higher education. My older sister, Tita, created a beautiful cascade in my family and paved the way to make it easier for me to attend college and graduate school as young Latina woman and the daughter of a Mexican baker, my father.

After 10 years of court interpreting I desired a change. At that time medical interpreting was viewed negatively as a profession amongst interpreters. But I wanted to take a risk so I became a health care interpreter for Kaiser Permanente, a large HMO in the United States.

How did your every day experience of being bilingual impact your new job?

My Spanish language skills and expertise took me full circle from interpreting for my parents at doctors appointments, to community interpreting, to legal interpreting to finally health care interpreting. A profession as equally important as in the legal setting. I instantly found my true calling, health care and the love of español.

You continued your education and found a career path at Kaiser Permanente that leveraged your passions and skills. Tell us about that.

I was hungry to become “La Jefa” of the interpreters and knew the next step in my professional development was to widen my experience and obtain a graduate degree. Which is what I did. I successfully obtained my Organizational Development graduate degree from Stanford University in 2004 and began working for the Judicial Council Court Interpreters Statewide Program located in San Francisco. Having worked there five years I longed to return to Kaiser Permanente in a management capacity. I became Kaiser Permanente San Rafael’s Program Manager of Diversity.

My career at Kaiser Permanente San Rafael and my mentor and manager, Patricia Kendall, Medical Group Administrator, have been instrumental to my professional development. Ms. Kendall has been pivotal in my professional journey where I now hold the position of Executive Director of Diversity, Linguistic & ADA Services. She has endorsed me and supported me to attend numerous programs in and out of the organization such as, Kaiser Permanente’s Leadership Diversity Development Program, and the National Hispanic Corporate Council’s Latino Corporate Executive Development Program. A program tailored for a select group of high-potential rising leaders who have been chosen to participate in their innovative program.

Berta Bejarano a powerhouse when it comes to helping people take advantage of being bilingual

Berta Bejarano a powerhouse when it comes to helping people take advantage of being bilingual

Why do you feel this program in particular can make a difference in Hispanic professionals seeking leadership positions?

The National Hispanic Corporate Council and SMU’s Cox School of Business located in Dallas, Texas have created their program to address the leadership gap among Hispanic executives in Corporate America. Even though Latinos represent nearly 16% of the population, less than 1% of Fortune 1000 corporate officers are Latino. I was fortunate to attend this one year program at SMU which addresses many of the causes for this gap which include cultural factors, team and organizational leadership skills, and the need to build social capital.

Benefits of being bilingual still not appreciated fully in the U.S.

 In the U.S. the benefits of being bilingual are not yet fully appreciated. What are some of the career advantages you’ve experienced due to being bilingual?

Being bilingual has clearly opened doors to a plethora of opportunities for my professional development and career. Speaking two languages rather than just one has many benefits in our increasingly growing diverse demographics. Studies demonstrate the clear advantages of being bilingual: the ability to converse with a wider range of diversity of people. Being bilingual, makes you smarter. Studies show it can have profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shield against dementia in old age. The view of bilingualism has certainly evolved from when I was in high school and is viewed remarkably different which is a welcomed and inclusive change. More than one in 5 school-aged children (21%) speak a language other than English at home. That number of bilingual speakers of course is projected to increase given the growing demographics of Latinos.

As result of being bilingual, I became a Federal and State court interpreter, I was the first court interpreter the Judicial Council Court Interpreter Program hired to oversee the Interpreter Statewide program. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to sit on an array of executive boards and committees as a result of me being bilingual and possessing linguistic expertise.

Share with us any of the challenges you may have faced due to prejudice because of your being bilingual.

We’re not universally loved by all. Being bilingual as a child, I was targeted as being “different”, especially since my parents immigrated from Mexico and had a strong accent and retained a strong connection to our culture. During the late 70’s and early 80’s it was frowned upon being bilingual. At that time it was common for immigrant parents to ask their children to refrain from speaking Spanish in public attempting to protect them from racism, discrimination and public humiliation. It was an effort to assimilate their children to American society. It was my strong willed, loving and dear mother, Maria Bejarano, who instilled in me our rich cultural values with great orgullo. My mother encouraged me to continue to grow my passion for language and supported me every step of the way when others made fun of me when I declared my major as Spanish in college.

As adults, bilinguals are often looked upon as haughty or overly proud of themselves, some peers feel jealousy, especially if they do not speak a second language. In high school I was often viewed as a “show off” because of my language skills. Becoming bilingual in school is often greeted with hostility by parents who can view it as an attack on their native culture, or as an impediment to their children’s learning. But the idea that learning a second language slows down learning in the native tongue or in the other subject has been disproved time and time again.

Working at Kaiser Permanente, a dream job

You have several jobs all related to being bilingual. What kind of satisfaction do you derive from being the one who helps people communicate with each other?

I truly love, love, love what I do for Kaiser Permanente. Simplicity is often profoundly difficult to put into action. I wish everyone would have the best employer in the world. So, thinking positively about your work is key and that for me brings me satisfaction on many levels. I dwell on the aspects of my work which bring me pleasure, providing quality language access, educating our health care physicians and providers on how to enhance their cultural agility to promote wellness not only in the Latino community but to all members we serve. Like the saying goes, “Live Happier by Doing What you Love”. Happiness is largely a choice, my choice to practice everyday.

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She turned her love of Español into a career to help others

What exactly do you do at Kaiser Permanente?

Heavy loaded question, the key word in my job is diversity. In any one day I could be overseeing our bilingual workforce programs, leading various work committees and boards, conduct Diversity Council meetings, translation unit, mentor young Latino students interested in higher education and utilizing their language skills, going out to the communities we serve and bringing health care services directly to them, managing our interpreter staff, presenting at the local RN nursing program students on cultural compentency, and devising and disseminating communication guides for clinicians and staff.

You can connect with Berta Bejarano on:

Twitter: bertaalicia@babaztlan

Linkedin: Berta Alicia Bejarano