After what felt like a month of nonstop travel, from D.C. to Salt Lake City to D.C. to Phoenix back to D.C. to Chicago then Charleston and back to D.C., I experienced something that’s seldom happened to me: I hit a wall. Worse still, I’d come down with a cold. (Pro tip: When you’re on a plane for tens of hours a week in February, take some Emergen-C before, during and after your flights). I felt exhausted, drained, even defeated. Like the weight of everything was bearing down unrelentingly.
But I know now it wasn’t just the breakneck schedule causing me to feel this way. It was also the pressure of having to be the voice and face of a national organization, of having to always be at my absolute best.
Let me elaborate. I’ve always seen myself as an introvert at heart—the person at the party who loves nothing more than watching the human play unfold from afar. But according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a well-known test that illustrates how people perceive the world around them, I’m actually an extrovert. An ENTJ, to be specific, short for Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment. I’m not in bad company, either. Julius Caesar. Franklin Roosevelt. Steve Jobs. Angela Merkel. Carl Sagan. And my personal favorite, Xena Warrior Princess—all ENTJs.
There’s a word for this specific amalgam of letters: The Commander. The CEO. Makes sense, right? Only, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Yes, there are plenty of women ENTJs out there—congresswomen, corporate leaders, people in every industry and all walks of life. But there’s also a double standard for women ENTJs, an unwritten code that says we should be strong … within reason. That we should shake things up … but not too much. That we should make our voices heard … just, you know, don’t be so loud about it.
Having to constantly thread that needle, between being a powerhouse and being polite, between speaking assertively and sounding “shrill”—it takes an emotional toll, one that the nonstop demands of the past month manifested into physical exhaustion. I’ll get over it; I always do. The hard part is working to ensure that hitting a wall doesn’t become a regular occurrence.
I know I’m not alone in this regard. Balancing how we see ourselves with the expectations and labels of others is a struggle as old as the human psyche itself. We all deal with it. But what I’ve come to realize is that, by being more honest with who we are and who we wish to become, the only expectations we have to meet aren’t those of others, but of ourselves. To heed our theme for 2019, the Power of Transformation starts with us, whether the desired change is personal or for an organization like SHPE.
For me, that means continuing to evolve as a leader, being more observant about what I’m doing, what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, and how I’m responding (or reacting). It also means creating space for women leaders, like me, to do our jobs without having to observe a “smile more and be more nurturing” clause that does not readily apply to male leaders.
In the same way, as part of an organization that prides itself on being engaged, we at SHPE should always be looking to improve, to buck against the voice telling us to fly under the radar and stick to the sidelines, and instead seek new and innovative ways to inspire and empower Hispanics in STEM.
By freeing ourselves from unfair expectations and embracing who we are and what we can be—both as individuals and as an organization—the better chance we have of not hitting a physical and emotional wall. If anything, we’ll learn how to blast right through it.
If that wall happens to be a winter freeze, however, maybe consider a different course of action: have some te de manzanilla con miel y caldo de pollo or—get a few nights of good solid rest (something I plan to do this weekend), and please, whatever you do, don’t forget the Vick’s Vaporrub.
Raquel Tamez, CEO