A nod to the women who’ve taught me

From the Archives

Originally published March 9, 2016

I like to think I celebrate women every day by the way I treat them, the opportunities I try to provide them and the deep respect I have for them as equals. Still, like certain holidays, International Women’s Day serves to give me pause, to reflect upon the influences that have shaped my life and helped develop me personally and professionally. Today, in the spirit of yesterday’s official observance, I wish to share a mere sampling of those influences.

Mom Martin brought me into the world, and for the short time she was here, she taught me cleanliness, order, self-reliance and sharing. If I inherited nothing else from her, I learned to hold onto things long after they have any useful life. It’s true; while she wasn’t a hoarder – neither am I – we both tended to keep things (she a bag of hair from my first haircut and I a collection of my business cards through the years) that are best served in the trash. It’s not entirely a bad thing either; after all, that’s where I learned true sentimentality. Today, I’m a pro at keeping what I truly want and enjoy and trashing what no longer serves me. She laid the foundation for that development.

Mom Ortiz taught me about networking in both the computer and business senses of the word. She was my immediate supervisor and confidant at my first job, and she took me under her wings in other regards. It was she and a group of women who shared close quarters in the administrative pool at that first job who chipped away at the protective shell that long had cocooned me as a youngster and helped me learn about real life. The running gag is that these are the women who “corrupted” me and that they’d all march me down the aisle someday to give me away in marriage. She’s apparently still up to it.

Though I had already been creating art for five years by the time my first muse showed up in front of me, it was her energy and enthusiasm for showing off that kicked my creative energy into high gear. Jackie was more than a neighbor and friend; she was a gem and the only neighborhood girl for whom my mother showed any sign of approval. Other muses, notably Becky, Tatiana and Malena, eventually succeeded her and really worked to help me move my technique and style along. They shaped the beginnings of a still growing repertoire and a number of community programs I’d later author.

My first big boss, Patricia Mazzuca, was principal at the middle school where at first I volunteered and eventually took up employment. She took a chance on a high school senior “looking for something to do keep off the streets for the summer.” Everybody won. I grew into my technology role at the school, did a part-time stint at a local Spanish-language weekly paper (a job for which she recommended me), and led a few after-school clubs before taking my second full time job a few blocks away. As recently as a few weeks ago, I sometimes find myself wondering what my life would be had she slammed the door in my face when I walked in off the street and offered my volunteer services that first summer.

At a more recent job, the second in which my male bosses did little to express value in my work, a contracted finance guru was the one who truly invested in me. Whereas the boss there once told me he wasn’t sure whether the employer or I “got the better end of the deal” (by hiring me), the contractor, a sharp and talented young grandmother named Nancy, reassured me that the employer definitely got the better end of the deal. If that assurance was meant to pacify me into working quietly and efficiently toward better results on the job, it worked. So well did we work together that our colleagues noticed and remarked about how we always got along and never disagreed about anything. They were right and wrong: we did get along great… BECAUSE we didn’t always agree on everything. We had respect for one another’s roles and would “take turns” deferring to the other’s judgment when making key decisions. Once her company’s services were cut loose, I felt as if my work there was done, too. A few months later, I ended my relationship with the employer. I remain grateful to Nancy for teaching me as much as she did, for sharpening my accounting skills, and for preparing me for a more substantial role there, even though the employer didn’t share her views about it.

Coincidence that my current supervisor is also a brilliant and devoted finance manager named Nancy? She and our big boss Chris (the first female CEO to hire me) chose me over other equally qualified and better credentialed candidates after creating a new full-time finance role at the nonprofit where we’ve worked together for going on a year. Remember the holding-onto-things-forever-because-you-just-never-know kind of thing I described earlier? Nancy’s apparently a fan of it, and there isn’t a historical question about the company’s finances that she isn’t able to answer by ruffling some papers in a file somewhere. She acknowledges that I bring something to the table. She fights me on some proposed changes, openly addresses when “we clearly don’t think the same way” (it’s a lie: we dress alike about three times a month, both “cheat” our diets by snacking or sipping on no-no’s, and bring applesauce with our lunches on the same days), and then jumps on board with just about any change that we agree will progress our work for the company, no matter how little she welcomes the change. Powerful lessons in patience, forbearance, understanding and solid work ethic.

There are other women in and out of my life who have had profound impact on the way I think, speak and act and on the way I view women. At least one aunt and one sister have my undying respect for taking over head of household duties after their parents passed away, leaving many young siblings in their care. A teacher, Mrs. Wood, who first taught me in fourth grade and again in sixth furthered my love for books and reading, a love first instilled by Mom Martin. The late Emma Jean Mickles, an elderly woman from my church held a passion for all things creative – art, music, flower shows, photography and more – before she passed away three years ago; her passion for lifelong learning and unending artistic pursuits lives on in the ones whose lives she impacted while she was here. There’s a new crop of young ladies with creative and entrepreneurial interests from which they’re not the least bit deterred, even in the face of a society designed to conform them to stereotypes. Inspirations, one and all.

See? I could easily fill a book on the subject and won’t try to here. Instead, I invite you to share about inspiring women – in your life or in your general view – who have impacted your life. Please share in comments or send us a short message from our contact page. I’m eager to hear your stories about the remarkable women in your sphere of influence. Their stories could well inspire another generation of great women. Tell all.