My guest today is Maira Hernández. Maira grew up in the Los Angeles area with immigrant parents from Mexico. Her parents instilled a value of hard work and dedication that became a strength for Maira. Maira attended UC Berkeley and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Media Studies. She started her career in the non-profit industry working on improving college access and later transitioned to working in admissions at UC Riverside. When she entered the professional world, she had to learn how to balance hard work and setting boundaries to make sure she was taking care of herself. Maira recognized that she didn’t have balance in her life and embarked on a journey of self-discovery through self-help books, podcasts, therapy, and travel. Ultimately, she decided to make professional changes so that she could live a more fulfilling life. Maira is currently a Recruitment Specialist at Year Up, a non-profit organization focused on career placement and development, she writes on her blog – www.mairahernandez.com, and recently released a book about her experiences titled Aventura, Amor y Tacos: The Path to Reconnecting with the Motherland. You can connect with her on Instagram @maira.hdez. Here is a little of her First Gen Journey . . .
In this episode, Dr. Hernandez interviews Maira Hernández, an author, blogger, and Recruitment Specialist at a non-profit organization about her First Gen Journey. She discusses her struggle to understand herself better, find balance, and advocate for a professional space that would allow her to feel valued.
Here are a few highlights from her episode:
· Growing up, Maira felt connected to her roots in Mexico and also understood that education was the way she was going to grow and achieve success (1:17). Living near a community college also helped facilitate her family’s awareness of college and reinforced the idea that college was an option.
· Maira’s father has worked at the same company for most of his life and provided Maira with the example of loyalty and making the best of a work situation (3:36). He also empathized that it is important to utilize your talents and take initiative at work. Maira has embraced the message of working hard and going “above and beyond” in her career but also acknowledges the potential costs of that perspective and the need for boundaries (5:08).
· Maira conceptualizes her strong work ethic as a strength but she also had to learn how to set limits. Maira would often put the needs of her team members and colleagues ahead of her own and that lead to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted (7:35).
· Maira noticed that the dynamics in her work life were affecting her well-being and decided to start a process of self-exploration and self-development through books, podcasts, and lectures (9:00). She was able to recognize how her experience as a First Gen College Student was impacting her professional life - like feeling the burden of having to be successful, the burden of paving a path on her own, and the weight of having to prove herself (10:17). She also grappled with healing the part of herself that had internalized society’s negative messages about her value as a woman of color (11:37).
· Eventually, Maira shifted from focusing on better understanding herself to taking action and creating change for her life in the present. She recognized that making a change would mean taking a risk but that ultimately, she had to take that leap (12:42).
· Armed with the confidence from her self-study, she decided to make changes in her work life, set healthy boundaries, and start valuing what she was offering her job (14:01). Maira was ready to make changes but was faced with the reality that her employer did not want to make changes. She made the concessions she needed to at the time while also planning her next move (15:22).
· Identifying her work priorities and values helped Maira understand what kind of work environment she needed to thrive. Looking back, her previous work experiences helped her define those factors and gave her the confidence to know that she could find a better match (19:40). But she also recognized an opportunity to take a break and re-charge ahead of her next job search. She decided to make herself a priority, take an extended break from work and live in Mexico (22:03).
· Taking a break was a risk because she didn’t have any role models she could follow and she knew that this idea would seem ridiculous to her family and friends. In order to feel secure in this decision she took advantage of every resource available to her (23:17). Therapy was an important part of this process for Maira because she wanted to make sure she had been thoughtful about her plan and that she wasn’t letting the mindset of her past experiences limit her (25:45).
· Communicating her plans to her parents was a challenge of its own but Maira found a way to do so without letting it affect her plans or confidence (30:05). Being open with her friends and co-workers also provided accountability to help Maira follow through with her dream (32:11).
· Maira described her time in Mexico as transformative. Although not easy, she learned so much about herself and her personal history. She was so moved by her experience that she wrote a book about it and hopes to inspire others (33:48).
· Maira was traveling for eight months before returning to the job market. She found that her experience provided so much joy and pride that it increased her confidence and made her a more attractive candidate (35:37).
Maira’s tips for First Gen students and professionals:
1. Find the support and find the connection however it comes – reaching out to people you’ve never spoken to before, being open to people you would not normally be open to because you never know what kind of perspective they may bring. You don’t know where you are going to find support but be open about your wants and needs.
2. One tip for negotiating that Maira’s friend shared with her was to note the roles and duties that were outlined when she was first hired and add the tasks/duties that she was now doing in addition to her original role. That way you can point to how you are adding value to your job by performing these additional tasks.