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Three Lessons From Life after High School

Ana Polanco


My goddaughter’s High School graduation was Friday and while I should be writing about aging parents, I really find myself drawn to talk about what we can learn from looking back at life transitions.   

High School graduation is such a defining moment in a young woman’s life and represents what I consider one of many conscious transitions into shaping who we want to be in the world. Much like our first menstrual cycle, High School graduation is another jump into the unknown and really tests how comfortable we are with not knowing what’s coming next.  

As I reflect on my own graduation, I can safely look back and see how many ways I was and wasn’t prepared for the transition that lay before me. My mom had definitely covered the basics – work hard, don’t be wasteful, do your own laundry, cook, clean and the eternal sex talk which boiled down to --- Don’t get pregnant. Don’t get pregnant and did I mention… don’t get pregnant. Sound familiar.  While these skills were really important for general self sustainability in the dorms, there were really important reflections that she had raised a good kid and she took great pride in that.

Looking back, the real teachings had been in all those transitions in my mom’s life that profoundly affected me. My mom’s life and her willingness to embrace change were important life lessons that I have reflected on often over the course of my life. My mom is one of four sisters from the baby boomer era. My mom, the rebel in her family, has lived an adventurous life. She left her native home of Bogota, Colombia in her early 20s to pursue a place where women could be more than mothers and the husband of so and so, to really define her own life.

She has always lived on her own terms. While she was definitely scared as she made all the transitions, she never let fear drive her life. In the face of difficult relationship breakups, she dealt with money issues as she became a single parent, and had a deep desire to graduate from college and change her life. My mom was resilient---with a big R! While her transitions were not always graceful and sometimes hard and lonely, she met each turn with great defiance. Each challenged faced proved how strong and malleable my mom was as life through her a literal obstacle course of challenges.    

As I stepped out into the world after High School, I was met with a whole other set of challenges. My mom's experiences prepared me for some of those experiences. Except, now as an independent college student and adult, I had choices to make and own. While I avoided some hard lessons based on my mom's experiences, others were harder to shake. For some time, it was easy to blame my mom or others for not preparing me for these lessons. Blaming others for my own limitations was a way of avoiding my own problems. Once I began taking responsibility for my own choices, I had a greater sense of personal power and real appreciation for making my own decisions and owning my own mistakes. By taking more ownership over my life choices, I began to really appreciate the fantastic, horrifying and ugly transitions life brought me. 

While not all our experiences were the same, my mom has taught me three important life lessons that helped me meet life's challenges. Today, I can look back and really appreciate them:

Tell fear to take a back seat. Fear is always present. My mom really taught me to look fear in the face and respectfully tell it to take a back seat. Fear is an important emotion. It has practical uses like warning us not to touch the fire on the stove or cross traffic when you don’t have the right of way. And fear also shows up when we’re about to do something outside our comfort zone. Being fearless is not the goal. Instead invite fear to be present and also remind fear that they are not the driver. Instead let other emotions or parts of yourself take the wheel like creativity, adventure and discovery.

Obstacle courses make us stronger. While you may be super annoyed about every obstacle that has come your way, the truth is that those obstacles help us grow, stretch and change in important and even unexpected ways. We tend to cover up our obstacles or low moments out of shame or fear. People of all ages are more resilient than we think. Sharing stories of adversity and change help young people transition into adulthood and show us each other how to be truly authentic and desirable human beings. Teaching each other to be open and vulnerable also creates an opportunity to receive love from others as we share these stories and how we overcame challenges.    

Resilience. The number one lesson I took from mom is the important of resilience. While the universe conjures up the next cocktail to force you to move on from wherever you are, Remember if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger! Find your resilience and praise it every day. Looking back what are the stories of resilience in your family and within your community? How can you honor those and remember those when the going gets rough.

Remember to celebrate what happens between the big milestones. Graduations, your first period, weddings, the first time you walked, were all milestones of your early years. Let’s also celebrate those lesser known milestones like getting out of debt, surviving your first break up, passing that class, listening to your friend without zoning out, telling the truth, being vulnerable and even finding your own voice. If you are present to your life, you can celebrate a new milestone each day. That will make the big milestones all the richer.     

It’s your turn. How are you present to your own life? How can you celebrate a milestone every day?     

Don’t You Wish You’d Had a Period Godmother?

Librada Estrada

Taking a walk with my daughter.

Taking a walk with my daughter.

I have a daughter who is not yet a tween. However, we are starting to have more and more conversations about how her body is changing and what she can expect.  Having these conversations brings up stuff for me. Specifically, I think about what I would have wanted my mother to do or how I would have liked her to guide me when I started my period.

A decision I made early on related to child rearing is that I would be more open, honest and vulnerable with my children than my parents ever were with me. I do not want them to just see me as an authority figure but someone that they can trust and talk with as well. I also want to give them access to information so that they are not clueless.

So, as my daughter’s body is slowly changing, we are discussing what she can expect when she begins her menstrual cycle and how her body will change physically. I have also brought up that just as her body is changing, I want her to be different by asking for what she needs and to express herself in healthy ways.

I recognize that I cannot be the only resource for her nor will she want me to be the only source of information. I want her to feel comfortable talking to other women about her body and what she is experiencing. I want her to have access to different perspectives and to feel confident asking for what she wants and needs.

At the end of the day I am the expert on my body only. She shouldn’t just take my word for it, especially if she is experiencing something different from what I know. I want her to reach out to a source that she can trust and go beyond “this-is-how-the-books-say-it-should-happen.”

I remember my teen years and wish I could have had another woman, not directly related to me, that I could reach out to and ask questions. I only had my peer group and looking back at what we shared with each other, a good portion of us was misinformed because we were in the same boat.

I wished I’d had a period godmother when I was younger. I would have appreciated the event being marked in a special way, having someone to discuss different product options, to share remedies with me, or bring up things that she had learned through her experience. I might have been less frustrated if I’d had someone to speak to about the emotions I was going through.

Why a period godmother? We have madrinas and padrinos for quinceanearas, weddings, and marriages in Latino cultures to support us during these important events in our lives. The role of these individuals is to provide guidance and to be a source of advice. It makes sense to have a godmother for a girl’s period as well.

A girl’s period is an important event in her life. I want my daughter to feel supported and loved. I want her to embrace this transition, her body and not be afraid or embarrassed. With this in mind I decided that I would ask a woman in my circle to be my daughter’s period madrina. This is a person that I trust, has similar beliefs and values as I do and that I am comfortable sharing things with.

I want her to know that I encourage her to ask questions and that she has other adults in her life that she can trust. I am saying this to her and providing a resource. By becoming comfortable speaking about her period to someone besides me, I hope that it makes it easier to reach out for help or ask for guidance in other areas of her life.

For a long time I felt I couldn’t ask questions about my body, my cycle, or even my sexuality. These were things that we did not ask about or discuss out loud at home. If anything, my period became a burden because new rules were imposed on me and it was better not to say anything. To some degree, this affected how comfortable I felt asking for what I needed or what I discussed about my body for several years. It was only through conversations with other women outside of my family that I let go of being embarrassed to talk about my period and my body.

I am empowering my daughter early on to take charge of her body with confidence. It’s setting the stage to feel empowered in other areas of her life.

Your turn: How are you empowering someone else now?

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Shifting your thinking around sexual and domestic violence

Ana Polanco

This month is sexual assault awareness month. Whatever your gender, don't turn away from this blog.  Victims, Perpetrators, and Bystanders can be of any gender and are all affected by violence directly and indirectly. [Note: If you need or want support or to learn more about how to be a bystander at work, home or in your community, a list of resources is available at the end of this blog.]

We live in a culture and society where violence is pervasive. This month we felt it was important to write about sexual and domestic violence and trauma. While all of us are affected by violence, the vast majority of victims of violence are still women. 1 in 3 women will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. This could be you, your daughter, sister, mother, coworker, neighbor or your spouse. 

Here are a few insights that we want to offer as we strive for a world where persons of all genders can live free from violence and in choice: 

Why does she stay?

What was she wearing?

Why was she out so late?

Why are they so weak?

Why can’t they just leave? 

These are the most common questions we hear about women as victims of sexual and domestic violence. These questions are not empowering.  But why?

These questions infer that the woman is doing something wrong at the time of the attack. They put the blame and pressure on the woman to behave in a particular way. We all make choices every day. Some of us have to work late at night. Others want to go out to a party. And still others want to date. All of these things seem harmless as I talk about them. If I told you a girl went to a party with her boyfriend and her friends. You wouldn’t think twice about this story. But if I told you her boyfriend coerced her into having sex at that party and then told his friends about it. Your mind would shift to something she did wrong. If your mind shifted to her I would urge you to pause and ask yourself what about this story changed? Why didn’t your mind shift to him? And if it did, what was the nature of your shift?

Our society's systems and structures have largely been constructed and are reinforced by men. As a result, it is easier to culturally blame and shame victims of violence. This need to blame and shame is largely driven by a need to define people into neat boxes and then make a judgment of the value of that definition. We use all sorts of definitions to make judgments - skin color, weight, how someone dresses, where they live, what religion they practice, etc. When we label or try and define and shame others we should ask ourselves, “what’s important about blaming that person?” Are we seeking to distinguish or “exceptionalize” the situation? Does doing so create a “safety boundary” to separate us from them?

What if we shifted our thinking and asked: Why does he or they abuse? What made the choice of violence more attractive? What’s important about having power and control over another human being? 

You could run through a list of reasons but the final answer is quite simple… it is a choice.

Sexual assault, harassment and other forms of sexual and domestic violence are about making a choice to exert power and control over another human being. Who has the power? How can I take it from them? This affects how we think about what love should look like. Is love about control or power? No. Yet there are all sorts of signals in our society’s culture about normalizing the exertion of power and control in every day life. Here are some examples in the Latino community:

  • Greeting with a hug and a kiss. Not all Latin American cultures greet each other with a hug and a kiss, including people outside and inside the family. Some Latino cultures and families believe a handshake is more appropriate, even between family members of the opposite sex, especially between men and women who are not partners. Consider how often you touch others. Sometimes we exert our own culture on other people without knowing what that person needs to feel confident and safe. If you prefer less touching, consider communicating that to others so they know you are not comfortable with hugging or kissing. Sharing what you need from relationships is key to stepping into your own power.  
  • Silence in the Latino culture. In my childhood, I was told “children are to be seen and not heard.” Children are often discouraged from seeking help by being told that the family will be torn apart or that they will lose a parent if the police get involved. Women are taught to be virginal in all aspects of life and see sex as a mystery to be revealed on your wedding day. Many men are over-sexualized from a young age, seeing sex and sexual prowess as a right of passage to prove their manhood. Later, they may feel forced to engage in hyper-sexualization of women for fear they will lose status with other men if they call out someone else’s bad behavior. These are all forms of silence placed upon us to keep a false concept of masculinity, preventing men from exhibiting all their emotions and allowing others to behave poorly by keeping the status quo in place. We all have a choice to keep or let go of certain culture norms or behaviors in our community. Breaking the silence around these norms can provide personal freedom  and respect for ourselves and for each other across genders, families, and communities.
  • Your behavior at work. Many of my female clients and friends have expressed the need to behave like "Alpha Males" to make it in their industry. Instead of bringing your natural given talents to work, we replicate bad behavior to demonstrate our own prowess and ability to control others. Unfortunately, when men and women mimic this hyper masculine approach, they suppress other forms of essential leadership in the workplace. This usually costs companies, time, money and valuable leadership skills. This element is further contrasted with a great desire by “Alpha Females” to marry a man who is macho, strong, warrior, leader and will protect them because this behavior is valued in society. Instead of leading based on someone else’s behavior, establish your own values and lead from that place. The most successful authentic leaders do not seek to harm others. Instead they use their values as a compass to achieve what they want and bring people along in the process.

We all have a role to play.  So how can we shift?:

  • Letting go of shame and guilt. Shame and guilt are the mental killers for victims and survivors of violence. As a coach and a survivor of sexual assault, I have seen the shame that victims carry around about the perpetrator’s bad behavior. That shame shows up in all kinds of ways – depression, anxiety, modeling male behavior in the workplace and even depressed sexuality. If you are victim, the perpetrator’s behavior is not your fault. Consider putting down the perpetrator’s bad behavior and picking up your own healing. You are resilient and beautiful and this moment in time does not have to define the rest of your life. You can change direction. Consider seeking counseling, coaching or some form of therapy to help you begin to shift and feel more freedom in your life. 
  • Peer to Peer Education: Be a Good Bystander. Step into your power with your peers. Bystanders are everyone who is neither a victim nor a perpetrator. You have great power to shift the culture. Hold others accountable before physical violence begins. Violent behavior begins with bullying and rolls downhill into a number of other behaviors before it ends with rape. While a bully may not turn into a rapist, the road to violence is learned and reinforced by peers. Early intervention can help prevent deeper forms of violence over time. When your friends are making sexually explicit jokes that demean others, tell them to stop and that you don’t think it’s funny. We can each contribute to shifting the violent behavior into something new and positive.  More and more men are standing up and living outside these traditional gender roles and communicating where they stand on these values.  Thank you #HeforShe!
  • Supporting Survivors in Choice. Most of us want to rush to the aide of someone else and pull them out of a bad situation. We want to save the people we love from pain. We often rely on telling victims to get out of there immediately. More power and control over the victim is usually not the answer and may further endanger that person. Allowing a victim in emotional or physical crisis to tell you what they need is key. Make that shift in thinking and become an ally by asking how you can support them. Then be patient. A victim will tell you what they need, when they need it and how they want to be supported. You can become a true lifeline to an otherwise isolating moment for someone trying to escape violence.

Violence comes in all shapes and sizes. While this month is about physical contact most people experience some sort of emotional, economic, religious, cultural or social violence in their lifetime. We can shift our society together. And remember, Love is respect. 


  • If you have been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
  • To learn more about what healthy relationships look like, check out Love Is Respect 
  • or call 1-866-331-9474
  • To attend a training or have a trainer come to your place of work contact the National Latin@ Network (NLN) at or the Anti-Violence Project at:
  • To learn why Violence Against Women is a Man's issue, check out Jackson Katz's TedX talk:



Dance To Your Own Beat: Putting Your Life’s Passion into Practice

Librada Estrada

We continue our commitment of highlighting Latinas who are transforming their lives by living in choice. 

Dance is at the heart of Amanda Cardona’s life. With over 20 years of professional experience, Amanda combines dance with teaching, travel, and digital marketing to share her calling with others. When she isn't leading or taking a class, putting on a show or recording videos to share her globetrotting adventures, you can find her working on some fancy footwork. To see some of her performances or to get in touch with her, check out her YouTube Channel at Amanda Cardona Dance or follow her on Twitter @AmandaCDance.

A fan whirs in the distance, a bell whistles “toot toot”, sneakers crunch across gravel… in an instant, my foot is tapping, my head is bopping and I spin a little twirl, when I realize that the store employee is smirking at me.  Instantaneous blush, a shrug of the shoulders, a quick thank you and out the door I go as I think to myself, yep, I’m a dancer people.  I hear music in everything and that in turn, inspires me to move, to create, to dance….

A Dancer is Born

Dance is simply my life force.  It’s like the air I breathe, constant and steady.  It’s my happiness when I’m down, my inspiration when I’m unmotivated, and my jolt of energy when there is no caffeine around.  

I’ve been lucky enough to have dance in my life since the age of 3 when I was a bratty kid refusing to actually participate in the dance classes my mom dragged me to.  Little did she know then that I was quietly refusing to try it until I knew I could do it well.  Week by week I would sit there and WATCH the class for an hour; until the fateful day when, without any prodding or threats, I mean gentle supplications, I stood up and executed the entire month’s routine perfectly.  And so, a dancer was born.

A Rude Awakening

Now, on the flip side, I grew up during a time when “dance” wasn’t seen as a viable career path, there weren’t as many options available as there are these days and quite simply, I didn’t have the “dancer” body type that was necessary to pursue dance in any form other than a hobby.  For example, in my 20s, when I wanted to get into Latin dance on a more professional level, I thought, “I’m Latin, I’ve got flavor, this should be a shoo-in!” Uh no, I was a served a plate of rude awakening.  

I am a relatively tall and pretty curvaceous Latina that is often not accepted by certain groups, not given the opportunity to perform on a stage, regardless of my two decades of training and experience. These experiences have at times shaken my confidence.  But I keep getting up and putting myself out there.

A Physical Art Form

Those situations haven’t completely disappeared. Dance is a physical art form, which by design places your body under the magnifying lens for inspection, evaluation and judgment (especially at its highest levels). The minute I step on a dance floor for a warm up dance, especially where I don’t know anyone and vice versa, I can feel them making a judgment that about me. It usually goes something like this… “Hmmm, new person.  Don’t know what level she is.  She’s a bit tall, she’s “thick”, and I don’t know if she’s heavy on her feet.” This then translates to a dance where you’re “tested” or “evaluated” on your skill level.  One turn, good she kept her balance.  She reacts quickly and moves quickly and hence the door is opened to a more “advanced” dance. 

I actually advocate this type of “warm up” dance.  You should begin slowly because you don’t know the other person’s skill level, not because of their size or shape. Many people equate size and skill. It can be a bit disheartening when you take those first steps, especially to a song that you just want to JAM out to!

Making It Work For Me

But even in those dark moments, when the negative voices are chirping incessantly, needling in the back of my mind, I also had another voice that I thankfully pay more attention to that reminds me, “Yeah, yeah, so what.  You love to dance, so make it work for you.” And that’s just what I’ve done, made it work for me. If you have ever even had even the slightest thought of giving dance a try, do it and most importantly make it work for you. 

Easier said than done?  True but the work and overcoming those nagging voices is what makes it worth it. Here are some examples from my personal experience and how I have made it work:

  • I go see a dance show.  I’m inspired and melancholic at the same time.  Inspired by the sheer skill of the performers, melancholic as I compare my own skill level.  Solution:  Change my thinking. Reflect on what I have done and what I can do. Translate the positive thoughts into action- what kinds of dance can I do, what exercises can I do to get stronger, more agile, and more flexible and get moving! 
  • I would go out to dance, but wasn’t being asked to dance.  Solution: I ask others to dance.
  • I went out with girlfriends to dance, amazing songs would come on and perhaps everyone was already dancing.  Solution: I learned how to do the leaders role (and damn well if I say so myself).  I know I was doing something right when my dance card filled up, except I was leading!
  • I wanted to perform, but couldn’t find a partner. Solution: I joined forces with other women and created an all-female dance company.
  • I wanted to travel the world teaching & dancing but wasn’t “well-known”.  Solution: Start out with cold-calls.  Offer to be part of an event without pay or for barter, then show & prove what I can do. 

Does it require work? Absolutely! Is it worth the time & investment? Undoubtedly! With each obstacle and the resolution that follows, I changed my attitude and my reality. I make it work for me and in return I fall deeply in love with dance over and over again.

Promoting Dance

Why am I such a cheerleader for the art of dance?  Let’s take a look from the outside in.  

Physically speaking, dance can do wonders for your coordination, mobility, endurance and stamina, muscle tone and fitness.  Who doesn’t want to look and feel better in their own skin!  The physical exertion also produces endorphins, which in turn leaves you feeling happy.  

Dance can be mentally and emotionally stimulating as well.  It allows you the freedom to move, occupy your space and be comfortable with yourself and the movement you can create.  It allows you to leave all the nonsense, obligations and minutiae of daily life at the door- just check it at the door- and move.  You’d be amazed at where your mind can go when you allow yourself that freedom.  When you combine all these elements together; physical, emotional, mental health- it’s a recipe for overall well being.  

Dance has a special added bonus.  Many dance styles are social, meaning they create the opportunity for a person to socialize, to get to know people who share a similar interest.  Stick with it long enough, and before you know it, you’ll find you have a new “family”.

Your dance family looks for you when you’ve missed class, is ready to give suggestions and recommendations when you’re taking the plunge into buying dance shoes, and welcomes you with a smile when you walk through the door.  

For me, dance has given me so many individual benefits and a feeling of home no matter where in the world I go.

Dance To Your Own Beat

Everything begins and ends with… YOU.  We live in a world full of structure and even confinement.  There will always be some obstacle trying to block you from your passion, interest or goal.  Sometimes those external factors will play a role in what you are able to achieve or accomplish and the key that will always influence how far you get is YOU and YOUR attitude. 

You can let others dictate your worth or value or you can MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU.  We have to be our own cheerleaders, because only you hold the key to unlocking your potential.  Instead of focusing on the limitations, exercise your brain and your body and discover how you can work with what you have been given.  Challenge the boundaries and perhaps stretch them a bit.  Soon enough, you just may find yourself “dancing” to a masterpiece of your own design.

Your turn: How are you honoring your passion?

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Is a Scarcity Mentality Holding you back at Work?

Ana Polanco

Is there enough in your life? When someone asks you how you are, what do you respond? I remember being at work in my political job and always telling people I was busy and tired. I was actually busy and tied a lot. But I was also used to saying it and found myself saying I was busy even when I was feeling something else.

Working Late nights and on the weekends have become some sort of societal badge of honor instead of something embarrassing. It helps coworkers interact superficially, avoiding the opportunity for deep connection with others in or out of the workplace. Whether you are busy or not, saying you’re busy and training your mind to say you are busy has a horrible side effect --- a real feeling of scarcity.

Every time you say you’re busy, you are reaffirming that there is not enough time to accomplish what you have set out. Being busy all the time, sends a confusing signal to the neocortex that busy = good. In fact, have you ever caught yourself one upping your coworkers, friends or acquaintances with who’s busier? When someone one ups me about being busy, I usually feel a sense of despair, a sense that there isn’t enough time to get things done and that I’m not as efficient as the person next to me. That feeling sucks.  

Have you stopped breathing as you read this last paragraph? Take a deep breath and reset. The truth is that the idea of scarcity exists in many different aspects of our lives.

In fact, leaders who think and operate from a place of scarcity, often struggle at work. Leaders who think there isn’t enough time, recognition or money to get something done, struggle to be creative, to support other leaders and to support each other in promotions, bonuses or new hires.   

As a first generation college graduate and second generation American, I was also vulnerable to the scarcity mentality. Like everyone else, I come with a whole set of stories and experiences that inform my life. In my case, past experiences with poverty and shortages of home resources had an impact on how I viewed the availability of money, raises and well paying jobs. As a result of these experiences, at times I was vigilant and small in my work.  Overtime and with the help of mentors and coaches, I learned how to let go of these limiting beliefs and become an expansive, abundant and successful leader. 

So how does this scarcity show up at work? Here are some obvious ways it shows up:

  • If only we could erase the word “but” from our vocabulary. I would be rich living on an island of the Coast of Colombia if I had a dollar for every time a person said “I love that idea but there isn’t enough...”
  • Taking all the credit for work done by a team of people
  • Letting one person take accountability for all the mistakes, knowing you and others were also involved
  • Preventing others from getting a promotion, raise because you think there isn’t enough money available or you think it’s you or them.

Here are the less obvious ways you can be operating from a place of scarcity:

  • Refuse to hold another colleague accountable for their bad behavior
  • Avoid having courageous conversations with coworkers and friends
  • Dodge accolades or praise for a job well done  
  • Remaining silent or going unnoticed to avoid sharing emotions

As you can see feelings of scarcity can play a major role in how we share our gifts with the world. The beliefs we have about our role and our emotions can suppress or oppress our own engagement or the leadership of others. Feelings of anger and frustration usually ensue when we hold back our true self.

Fear, anger and frustration are usually gatekeepers for deeper feelings of inadequacy or scarcity in our lives. Instead of looking away from the fear and anger, look past them and see what areas of your life feel insufficient or limited. What are you protecting yourself from?

Putting your finger on these deeper insights can help you unleash your full power and potential as a transformational leader.  Instead of filling up with scarcity, we want to see the abundance and plenitude. Finding abundance in every situation, helps us be more authentic, loving, compassionate and fierce coworkers.  We can engage in more courageous activities, take smart risks and find creative solutions to today's most pressing problems. 

Your turn: What parts of your life feel scarce or incomplete? How can you create an abundant perspective in those areas?

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