I met Sandra Diaz, the third in our series of “13 women, 13 Profiles of Success”, almost 6 years ago. Sandra has spent over 15 years raising millions of dollars and developing award-winning communications programs and partnerships as an Executive Director, senior fundraiser and marketing practitioner.
In 2005, back when I was a mom of young twin boys fresh on the path to creating my own definition of success (do you think I just talk about it?), I was sent an ad for a position on a Board for the Assaulted Women’s Helpline (AWHL.) I was in the weeds, making some pretty tough career choices and trying to broaden my scope of work to where I felt I could make a greater impact. This position seemed right up my alley. Now, I have already spoken of the amazing organization itself in a prior post, “Lets help … please” and the merits of supporting a cause dedicated to helping women who are victims of abuse. But this is about Sandra, who from the moment I met her in my interview for the Board position, knew she was something special. Her enthusiasm is contagious. Her leadership and management ability, second to none and even more, and the reason she is our 3rd profile is that she is a shining example (she literally lights up a room) of a woman living happily with her own definition of success.
How? Because Sandra has made conscious career choices, life choices and as a result she is genuinely happy (she is also a self-professed choco-holic, which doesn't hurt). It didn't just happen. She thought, she planned, she did. I truly think she is an inspiration for others who are trying to do the same. She certainly has been for me ever since I met her and so, I felt incredibly lucky to sit down with Sandra to share her story on a rainy yucky spring day over a warm cup of tea ….
A little about Sandra's background to get us started. She was the first in her family to attend University. She put herself through school despite the concern from her family that a career might eliminate their hope of grandchildren! Knowing she wanted to be a part of the “creative side” of business, advertising was the perfect fit. However, she also needed to satisfy her innate to desire to give back and to to help so she always kept her hand in volunteering with organizations that were close to her heart, hoping that one day she might be able to do more. However, like many of us coming out of school, paying off the student loans and supporting herself was what had to be focused on first.
Fast forward, marriage to a Creative Director that Sandra met at Leo Burnett and son, Zachary, Sandra was able to take advantage of the first time Ontario offered a full year of Maternity. I know Americans, unheard of for you, almost makes putting up with Canadian winters bearable. It was during this time period Sandra admits making a conscious decision to do something that she could feel good about beyond marketing beauty care products of super large organizations. Like many Mom’s, she felt strongly that if she was going to leave her child everyday (who was not easy to have and a true gift), then she damn well better feel good about it.
And so came the first step in her path … a friend had been the victim of serious abuse and she found the Assaulted Women's Helpline. He began to volunteer there as an attempt to not only help her friend but other women facing the same horror of abuse. After Zach was born, she decided to move permanently to the charitable sector. As someone who was in advertising too, I totally understood how advertising at a big agency is not easy for a working Mom. Incredibly tight deadlines, long hours and demanding (but lovely clients. At the Helpline, she was able to work part time and then move to full time when her son was old enough. Working from home gave her lots of flexibility for drop-offs and pick-ups and everything else that comes along with parenting and as the spouse of a travelling Creative Director. AWHL was her home for 6 years. But, needing less flexibility now that her son was a bit older, the opportunity to preside over a large foundation came knocking. And she answered. For 3 years, Sandra was the President of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. A dream come true, managing a foundation with the money and resources to make a difference to a cause she is so passionate about … Huge accolades, huge responsibility and a huge and hectic travel schedule. Uh-oh… can you feel the stress building?
It was. Sandra was starting to miss important things in both her son and husband’s life. Not around when she wanted to be, not in control of her own time and her lifestyle not healthy. And so … after lots of soul searching and talking with her husband, she left . Not an easy decision but in "the Sandra way", she figured out a way she could use her skills, gain control of her time, be there for her son, and work with the people and causes she loved. And as a result of this personal journey, Courageous Philanthropy began. They work with visionary non-profits and the corporations that support them to raise both funds and awareness to change the world. They offer training, ideation, strategic planning and support programs.
True to form though, Blooming Betty wanted to know more about how Sandra created this path for herself, what were the questions, the tools and the challenges she faced so that we, as women, can learn from each other.
Here were some of the questions we asked:
First and foremost, how do you personally define success?
What is most important to me is how "good" of a role model I am for Zach, whether that is how to be a good family member, how to give back to the community, how to have work life balance, how to work hard at what you love, how to treat people.
Success for me is also based on the relationships in my life and how functional and positive they are – with my son, my husband, my friends, my clients/coworkers.
Has your vision of success changed over time?
Yes!!! This is totally different than before kids when simply a job title, how many interesting experiences I had, the clients I had or how many people I managed defined my version of success.
Do you regularly monitor this vision of success?
I do. I have goals that are written down that I refer back to … but one of the things I try and do once or twice a year – usually during a vacation which also serves as a “device free” or unplugged week” is to ask myself two hard questions
Am I happy? Am I fulfilled?
Unfortunately, the answer isn't always yes. And when it is no, then look it right in the eye and turn very proactive about finding the change I need to turn it around … like quitting my job at the foundation or moving to the non-profit sector in the first place or setting up date nights with my husband because we didn't have the time to connect.
Was there an “ah-ha” moment for you at the Royal Lepage Shelter Foundation that you knew you couldn’t stay?
Yes. There were lots but two that stand out. I had to take my son on a work trip instead of spending his March Break with him as I planned. I was speaking on “family values” of all things, and there he was sitting at a table on his March Break, playing with my blackberry. The other is when he chose to play Rep Soccer (a select soccer league) and when the coaches were explaining the responsibility entailed, I knew it was next to impossible. I did make it work but it was terrible. I was the crazy Mom on her phone, dressed in a suit at the sidelines. I did not like it.
What keeps you up at night? Do you still have challenges? Things that you feel hinder your own success?
Absolutely. I continuously struggle with my own internal critic. My expectations of myself are extremely high. Always have been so I am constantly checking in with myself to see if I am meeting my own expectations but am working hard on trying to just enjoy the moment. I also wrestle with comparisons, comparisons to the “achievements” of others, other Mom’s and other women. On the good days, I do feel like I have it all, on the not so good, I read about someone else and all that they are doing and it strikes a cord. Like maybe I am not doing my best.
What has been essential for you in figuring out your own success story?
Probably the most important for me has been “conscious decision making”. For instance, I know the value of vacation time for my family, I book a few a year where I re-charge and do my best thinking. Date Nights with my husband. Twice a month we get a sitter and go out. Consciously choose not to talk about our son or household logistics. Choosing to take care of myself both in our marriage and outside of our marriage. But all of it, is formally thought about, scheduled and planned! Unfortunately, things don't just happen.
Do you have advice for younger women just starting out or women working on their own vision of success?
1. Success is a state of mind.
2. Release the inner critic and block out the noise and judgments others put on you for your work/parenting choices – your best is always good enough.
3. If you decide to work for pay, do something you are passionate about – it eliminates the guilt, energizes you and shows your kids what it's like to be excited about something that matters to you.
Any advice for women looking to make changes in their own lives?
Figure out what is important to them first and foremost. Every woman will have different things but you have to know what they are to start to shape the vision. Figure out what you enjoy, what you are good at and work from there.
Sandra and I both work from home and we both agree , that women in the same camp as us, often feel misunderstood. We work, but we are also home. We are “around” to participate in the daily lives of our families but we are “not” too in that work needs to get done! Having feet in both camps feet in both camps sometimes leaves us feeling like we don't fit in with the stay at home Mom’s or the Working Mom’s . We are the “gray” area… the concentric part of two overlapping circles of work and home. We both agree that the labels and corresponding “judgment” that women give each other are destructive to all women. And many times just plain mean! We have all felt the pain at one time or another of "judgemental woman". So, we decided together, that it was time to celebrate the “gray”, because, often this is where the greatest success is found. Somewhere in the mix!
Finally my time with Sandra had run out… our kids had to be picked up, work for the day finished and dinner made but as always when I sit with Sandra, the sun had come out.