Close your eyes… As you open them what you have before you is an eight year old boy with his mom… They just learned they lost everything… Their house, their car, they only have each other. As I went through life I realized that there is no such thing as a natural born change maker. There are people who consciously make the decision to become one. I made the decision and I want to invite you to make yours. My purpose today is to answer the question how can you become a change maker in today’s world. I stand before you as someone who made his way to Washington DC from San Sebastian, Puerto Rico to become an advocate of emerging leaders, the President of a non-profit organization that provides an authentic voice to over 10,000 young government leaders and a former Hispanic and Millennial Recruitment Strategist for one of the largest employers in the world. Throughout my career I have interacted with over 30,000 leaders and I want to share the three steps that I believe will help you become a change maker.
Step # 1: Embrace your identity and make it count: Remember that eight year old boy I told you about? After we lost everything, my mom in the desperation of finding us a home got married to an alcoholic and moved us to a rough neighborhood. The world as I knew it changed in its entirety. But during all that mess I had a teacher that truly believed in me, on my birthday she gave me this little box of Jordan Almonds, you know those that are colorful, and taste so good you can’t stop. She said, your spirit is as colorful as the almonds inside the box, and she looked at me: “what you are going through will make you a great leader, embrace it and grow from it, you will do great!” She was truly believing what she was saying, so I believed her. My attitude was, let’s do this! After 12 years, I got accepted into an internship program in Washington DC. Now keep in mind that I grew up with salsa and Merengue, rice and beans, so speaking English wasn’t part of my life. My vocabulary consisted of 3 words. Hello, yes and no. And that was the first challenge. Do I accept this internship knowing that I could not fully speak the language or do I choose to stay where I feel comfortable? I accepted the challenge and embarked on very scary and exciting journey. At the time I was 425 pounds, so fitting in the airplane seat was almost impossible; as soon as I arrived I was identified as a minority… Yeah I was like “a minor what? I was no longer Miguel, I was now “Miguel” and was categorized as a Hispanic Millennial, so I had a label. I quickly realized that I had a FAT accent, and to the benefit of the waitress she did say heavy, but my reaction was first, I don’t have an accent, and second whatever you hear, don’t call it fat. During those 10 weeks I asked myself what in the world am I doing here? I had a couple of breakdowns, including one with my boss, were I spoke Spanish the entire time… I wish you could see his face. But I survived the internship, because I purposely embraced my identity and I used my story to move forward. Those 10 weeks open the doors of opportunity, in was a change in paradigm. So I returned to Puerto Rico to help my peers, my friend, my community to get similar internships, so they could go through a similar experience. This leads me to.
Step # 2: Dare to care. Let me tell you the story of about remarkable lady that lives in my city called the Fairy Godmother of Entrepreneurship. She grew up in Spain, and raised by her single mother, who worked two to three jobs to provide for the family. From a young age her mother, told her that she needed to get a degree and find a good paying job. So she did, she became a lawyer and got offered a prestigious job in a global organization: with competitive benefits, a corner office, a great pay and everything she could ask for. But she had a fire inside her, a passion to help underprivileged women to build their businesses. That burning passion was unstoppable, so she spent 9 years helping women while having a full time job. 9 YEARS. And she said this: it all starts with a dream, but a dream without movement is merely an idea, and while ideas are pretty, you have to start doing something, even if at the moment, you don’t know exactly where it will go or how long it will take to get somewhere, you have to start it. And you have to be ok with the fact that you may not be able to make a living from the cause that you are so passionate about. But you work on it because you believe in it, because you know there is a gap that you can fill. You work afterhours and weekends and you make the time because you care. And it will be painful, it will be difficult, but when you start to see the impact you are having on others, that’s when it hits you; what if you had never started? If not you, who?
It took her 9 years, some times we work on something for a month and we get tired. Her cause grew so much that she had to decide between her full-time job and her non-profit. Do I choose to be secure or do I decide to help women? She decided to leave her secure 8 to 5 job and dedicate all her time to the nonprofit. Today, her non-profit has helped thousands of women across the United States, Spain and Latin America. Women that develop businesses that impact even more people in their communities. This is happening because she decided to care. See here is the secret; something magical happens when you are yourself without going after yourself. Are you willing to dare to care?
Step # 3: There is no change without a maker. Last month I had the opportunity to meet a young lady that I call the Miracle Fire Survivor. When she was 6 months old she suffered first, second and third degree burns in 80% of her body. While she was being rushed to the hospital after the fire, her heart stopped twice. The prognosis was so discouraging that doctors gave her mother the consent to terminate her life. Her hands had to be amputated due to the severity of her injuries and her face and tiny body were disfigured. Despite all of this, her mom raised her with the confidence of a strong, purposeful and unapologetic woman. Every rejection, bullying and discrimination incident, her mom’s addiction, her brother’s prison sentence, the death of one of her siblings, and every single scar in her body propelled two questions: why didn’t I die in that fire? Who am I? Why am I even here? She had every reason to live in invisibility, to hide behind her scars and feel sorry for herself for the rest of her life. But she didn’t, she didn’t, she took action. She embraced her life experiences and used them to empower others. Today she is writing her auto biography, organizing her non-profit and serving the community as a social counselor because she decided to be a maker instead of a whiner. Are you the maker or are you the whiner? There is no change without a maker.
There was one common denominator within the people I interviewed for this talk: Servitude. Change makers have the guts to disrupt the system, they use their story to find a cause that moves them, but above all, they have the grit to put action behind their words. Let’s focus on what we can do in the present moment, because we are not Next, we are Now.
do you know when you have become a change-maker? First, you know when you embrace who you are and you make it count unapologetically. Second, you dare to care for others. Third, you purposely choose to be a maker, you are laser focus in a specific challenge, and you have champions and sponsors to help you in the way AND here is the key, you truly know that you have become a change-maker when you look back and realize that your actions are helping people. The examples I shared with you today are an invitation for you to create your own story. What will your story be?
Give permission to the change-maker inside you to come out. Change-makers are willing to walk into challenges; because every challenge holds your next promotion—face it. Every challenge contains a hidden treasure—find it. Every challenge has the power to make you a change-maker—embrace it. Find your cause, because no change can be achieved with players in the sidelines. Whatever you do in life find ways to make your community, your city, your country and your world a better place. Accept the call, get involved, find your voice and never, ever, stop until you see the change become a reality. This is the decisive moment. The moment when you act, the point of no return. This is when you embrace yourself and start your own story. This is your moment. Dare to become a change maker.
Check out the TEDx Video: