One of my earliest childhood memories is my father telling me stories of his life in the Philippines. He was the leader of a student revolt that had been largely involved in the Battle of Mendiola, the culmination of a period of unrest in the Philippines in which thousands of students protested against the massive poverty and inequality caused by an unjust government. He would often show me the gunshot wound and scars from where he was stabbed at a protest when he was 17 years old.
I learned about my father’s friends who were seriously injured, too, that day. I learned that his life was in danger, and so his uncle, who was the Speaker of the House, advised him to leave the country. My father gathered a few belongings, said goodbye to his family and got on a plane to New York. My father landed in NYC with next to nothing in the middle of winter. But through his own optimism and thanks to the kindness of the people he met along the way, he not only got a jacket, but he received an advanced degree and lived a successful life in the City of Dreams.
Soon after, my father met my mother – a beautiful nurse who had herself just moved to the States from the Philippines – and they decided to settle in Texas where they would raise a family and realize the American Dream. My two sisters and I were kept on a tight rein and imbued with the typical immigrant values and expectations. Work hard. Reach High.
Chasing the Corner Office
As I grew up I always struggled to reconcile the sacrifices my father had made for a better life in his country, and the painstaking work he and my mother had carried out to make a good life for their three children here. His stories had instilled in me a sense of empathy and helped me begin to understand the powerful importance of reaching out to lend a hand to someone in need. So I began to envision a plan. A plan in which I could fight the good fight just like he did and realize the Dream all at once. A plan in which I could change the world from a corner office.
The thing is, as I rose up through the corporate ranks, gaining experience and status, no matter how hard I tried to find opportunities with mission driven companies, I began to feel that the closer I got to the comfort of the executive office, the more uncomfortable I was.
Yes I had the American Dream drummed into me as a child, but I also had an activist’s blood coursing through my body. And when I looked around at what was happening around me, I could feel it in every inch of my being.
Inside the four walls of my workspace I found it impossible to stay quiet if I noticed a wage disparity or lack of equal representation. I couldn’t not fight for the integrity of the company mission and for the sake of all those who believed in it. And these feelings were only amplified by what was happening outside those four walls. I saw hate and ignorance take center stage. I saw old friends and acquaintances writing horrific things about immigrants on Facebook. I saw brutality and injustice.
But I also saw truth, bravery and resolution.
I saw the grit and determination of people who had always been out there, actually carrying out the mission-driven work that fuels real change. People, non-profits and brands raising their voices and breaking through the noise and distraction no matter how loud it might be.
Where my voice and my values had always seemed to clash with corporate policy and every institutional ‘ism’ you can think of, in this world, where my voice was loud and free, that’s where I found my power. I co-founded a women’s activism group called I Will Not Be Quiet. I protested, I marched, I rallied. I allied myself with non-profits. I supported advocates and I spoke at conferences.
And after a few years, I realized there was one thing left to do.
I finally stepped off the track to the corner office altogether and channeled everything I had into this work, hoping – believing – that my skill set and my experience would have a huge impact.
A New Vision Through Rose-Colored Glasses
This week, I’m taking an important step toward realizing that new dream with the launch of my new business: Rosie, a boutique storytelling agency for non-profit organizations, people and brands who are doing good in the world. It’s a storytelling agency because before we decide what kind of tools you’re going to use to amplify your cause – PR, events, social media – before all of that, we unearth and illuminate the human stories that root your cause in meaning and create connection to everyday people who don’t yet realize how powerful their contribution can be.
I’m choosing to engage with the world through positivity. As a storytelling agency, we unearth and illuminate the human stories that root causes in meaning and creates connection to everyday people who don’t yet realize how powerful their contribution can be.
We look for the stories that will make people pay attention, and we put them to work the way only a true all-in-one communications partner can.
Because without these stories, there is cause but there is no effect.
Lessons for my Daughter’s Generation
Right now feels powerful. It feels hopeful. And it feels right. Not just for me but for my daughter too. I want her to live in a world where she can work hard, reach high and speak up. I hope I won’t ever have real scars to show her like my father did, but I want to be able to tell her the stories about how I was a small part of making important change a reality.
That’s the story behind Rosie. It’s a hopeful and optimistic story. Because that’s the kind of story I know leads to action. My father and I are a perfect example of that.
We don’t have to trade in fear and horror. There is so much beauty and courage and promise when we shift our lens to see the positive impact of our work.
If we can all think Rosie, anything is possible.
This post was written in collaboration with The Oratory Laboratory.