Set clear goals and create a strategy that will help you achieve them. Hope is not a strategy. You can’t put something out there and just “hope for the best.” You need to come up with a plan to help you get there. While you do not need to have everything figured out, you should have a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish and then develop a strategy centered around those goals.
Prioritize what matters. As a changemaker, you will likely have dozens of things on your to-do list, but not all of them will make sense at the time. It is important to prioritize things that will have the largest impact and leave the rest for later.
As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melba Tellez.
Melba is the proud founder of Mujeres on the Rise — a community that connects Latina women and provides them with resources and tools to grow their careers and build the life they’ve always wanted.
After successfully overcoming many obstacles, such as dropping out of high school at the age of 16 to help her family financially, Melba is now thriving in her career and aims to empower other women to do the same.
Melba has two degrees — a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and a Master of Science in Marketing. When she is not empowering women or tackling her next marketing project, you can usually catch her writing or watching reruns of The Office.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
I grew up in a single-parent household watching my mother work three jobs in order to make ends meet. I was very much taught that hard work and determination were the keys to success, but there was an unspoken understanding of what hard work looked like. Hard work in my family consisted of having multiple jobs (often involving manual labor) and pursuing activities that would make a quick buck. This mindset worked well in the short-term but offered very little towards long-term success.
I spent most of my childhood traveling back and forth between San Antonio, TX, and Monterrey, N.L, Mexico, and I often found myself struggling to fit in as a Mexican-American. Things got especially tough at the age of 16 when I quit high school to get a job and help my family financially. After a few years, something inside me clicked, and despite the odds, I got my GED and eventually got myself to college, determined to turn my life around.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Defining Decade by Meg Jay is a book that came into my life to change it for the better. The book challenges the idea that your twenties are a time to goof around and have fun and encourages readers to use this time to lay valuable foundations for the rest of their lives. As a first-gen college student, the advice offered throughout the book was invaluable.
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
Mujeres on the Rise helps break cultural and generational barriers by giving Latina women the empowerment, support, and guidance they need to grow their careers and build the life they always wanted but never thought possible.
What makes us different is that we don’t just give women the tools they need. We also help them overcome feelings of inadequacy and the idea that who they are isn’t enough. We do this by featuring other Latinas and sharing the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Our motto is: it does not matter where you start; all that matters is that you do.
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
I started my journey with Mujeres on the Rise in 2019 after realizing how hard it was to establish my career as a Latina. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. As a first-generation college student, I was paving my own way, making mistakes, and figuring things out as I went.
In a matter of years, I went from being a high-school dropout to a marketer at a top tech company.
After multiple rejections, career heartbreak, and large doses of fear, I decided to launch Mujeres on the Rise to help other Latinas rise in their desired fields.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Since starting Mujeres on the Rise, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with women all over the world. One time a woman reached out to tell me she tuned into my IG lives and IG stories as often as she did her favorite telenovela, except that she actually gained something of value from watching me. It was the sweetest thing ever.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Earlier this year, a woman reached out to me because she needed help creating a resume. After being a stay-at-home mom for a few years, she lacked confidence and had no idea where to start. We scheduled a consultation, and in this call, she told me she could not afford my services at the time but that she could pay me after landing a job. I knew she needed help, so I decided to take her on as a client. Together we created a stellar resume that perfectly highlighted her skills and demonstrated how she could add value to an organization. I also provided her with a list of interview preparation resources. If I’m honest, I never expected her to pay me, but just a little over a month after working together, she reached out to tell me she had landed her ideal job, and she paid for my services in full. She told me she loved her new job and was excited about where this would take her.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, making a difference is all about creating opportunities for others. As a Latina who has managed to build a career she loves, I feel a sense of responsibility for helping others do the same. I like to make a difference by mentoring others, sharing what I know, and referring people to resources that I feel would benefit them.
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Just start. My biggest advice is just to start. Don’t think about how long the journey towards your dreams will be or how far behind you might be from everyone else. Everyone’s journey is different, so just focus on the change you wish to see, take it one step at a time, and you’ll be well on your way towards your goals before you know it.
- Set clear goals and create a strategy that will help you achieve them. Hope is not a strategy. You can’t put something out there and just “hope for the best.” You need to come up with a plan to help you get there. While you do not need to have everything figured out, you should have a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish and then develop a strategy centered around those goals.
- Prioritize what matters. As a changemaker, you will likely have dozens of things on your to-do list, but not all of them will make sense at the time. It is important to prioritize things that will have the largest impact and leave the rest for later.
- You can’t neglect self-care. A good friend once told me, “you can’t fill from an empty cup.” If you don’t take care of yourself first, you will not be able to inspire change. So take breaks as needed, and let go of the guilt associated with rest.
- Remember that you will not get what you don’t ask for. Opportunities are out there — but you can’t expect them to fall into your lap. You need to put yourself out there and make the ask.
What are the values that drive your work?
Values are the essence of who we are, and to me, it’s important to embrace authenticity, courage, compassion, hard work, and community.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
I’ve always believed that knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. My advice is to dig deep into who you are and why you do what you do. My favorite way to learn about myself and remain centered is by journaling. I usually journal 3–4 times a week by setting a timer to seven minutes and letting my thoughts and feelings flow onto the page. It’s very therapeutic, and it allows me to break free from anything that is holding me back while allowing me to discover more about who I am as an individual.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
I would love to see a world where everyone values collaboration and the sharing of information. Often, people can get caught up in this idea of scarcity of knowledge, which prevents us from sharing what we know out of fear that someone will end up doing it better than us. This needs to stop.
In an ideal world, we would embrace failures, share the hard lessons that we learned so that everyone can benefit from them, and we would stop holding people to unrealistic expectations. We are all a work in progress, and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
If I had unlimited resources, I would personally go to marginalized communities to speak to students about their fears and limitations. I would provide access to technology, tools, resources, and education so that everyone has a chance of success. I want to see a world where all children can see themselves represented in the career of their dreams. In order to achieve that, we must first show students what is possible so that together we can work towards a more inclusive future.
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
I would love to see systems in place that help ensure everyone has an equal chance for success. This should come in the form of financial resources, tools, school supplies, scholarships, tutors, etc. Students of color must receive access to mentors from various backgrounds. These mentors would serve as an inspiration for students allowing them to see that their obstacles, financial barriers, and environments do not impede achieving their dreams.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that if the idea is already in their minds, they owe it to themselves and to others to pursue it. Often the changes we wish to see in the world are driven by our own experiences. If there’s anything we can do to elicit positive change, we should do it.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Dulce Candy. I love the work that she does to empower women and help them feel confident in their skin. I’d love to chat with her about the biggest obstacles she has faced in her career, how she balances work and family life, and her journey to becoming a published author. I’d especially love to pick her brain about what else we can do as Latinas to make an impact in our communities.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow and join our community on Instagram at @mujeresontherise.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!