What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
You are in control of your own career. Always be working to master your current role, and figure out what it takes to move to the next level. If you feel like you are not receiving the training that is necessary to excel at your current position, take the initiative and talk to your boss to share the aspects of your job that you feel you have not received development for. Ask to put some time on the calendar for the two of you to go over this, so you can perform at your best and move to the next level.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
Failing the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner) exam. It was a two-day, 10-hour, $600 exam, only offered three times a year, with a pass rate between 55-60%. I put pressure on myself to take the exam because those I had graduated with were all taking it at the same time, but I should have waited. I was planning a wedding, moving, and getting married on top of trying to study, so I failed. I was so upset that I wanted to take it again immediately. My friends and loved ones told me to wait, but I couldn’t because my confidence level dropped. I thought “I’m smart, I can show this exam who’s boss;” that exam showed me who was boss, because I failed it again. But this was the best thing to happen to me. I waited two years, until I truly felt confident, and was absorbing the material rather than just going through the motions of studying. While I was taking the exam, I laughed the entire time to myself because I knew all the answers; I was prepped, and there was nothing in my life that was distracting me, so I could truly focus. The third time was a charm for me, I passed. Although it was the biggest failure, it was a blessing in disguise, because it has turned into a teaching moment. When financial planners tell me they failed the CFP® exam, and automatically think “Well, this isn’t for me,” I ask them “What’s happening in your personal life, were you actually ready?” My failure has been used to help young professionals that have come after me. I can keep them motivated and confident, let them know that they are smart and can do it, too!
What issues have you dealt with being a woman o color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
I like to see the positive side of things, so I would rephrase this question to “What have been the advantages of being a woman of color in corporate America?” For me it’s that you stand out, period. Out of 80,000 CFPs, 23% are women (it has remained that percentage for the last 13-14 years); out of the 80,000 there are 1,200 who have self-reported that they are African American, and about 1,400 who are Hispanic. I am biracial; I am Hispanic and African American, so there’s not many of us in this profession. It’s empowering because I know how great of a career and profession this is and this provides the motivation for figuring out how can I get more women and people of color into it.
As far as issues I’ve dealt with, of course you stand out; there will be older professionals at conferences who will try to challenge you, challenge your thought process or skills by asking you questions they may not typically ask other people. But that allows you to be prepped and ready for anything that comes your way; you can look at being one or two out of a thousand in a room as being a challenge, or you can take the positive side and look at that as an opportunity, because you can be the person that helps bring more diversity to this profession.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
There are a handful of organizations that I am a member of: The Financial Planning Association (FPA), Quad A (the Association of African American Financial Advisors), XY Planning Network, and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). I also have a couple of mastermind groups that have been formed from meeting people from the various organizations. Those are all resources; within those organizations they have conferences you can attend to continue to expand your knowledge, and it’s also an opportunity to network. Networking is a huge part of your career progression - you want to start to surround yourself with like-minded people, and people who not only want to see you advance in this profession but who you want to help as well. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
I raised my hand to be a leader, which I would encourage young professionals to do as well. It’s volunteer work, but being a leader allows you to strengthen skills; so when it’s your turn to run a team or an organization, you feel confident because you have done it before within these organizations.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
While mentor-matching services and doing your own research are helpful, mentorship, I believe the best mentorships for me have happened organically, it should not be rushed or forced. I have a few mentors, and we have gained such a friendship that it doesn’t feel like a mentor-mentee relationship, more like two colleagues trying to push each other forward.
Also, mentorship does not necessarily mean that you are seeking guidance from someone older. There is a woman I consider my mentor, but she considers me her mentor as well, and I am younger than her. Mentorship can take on different forms, and it should never be one-way street. Even as the mentee, if you see there are some blind spots for your mentor, don’t be afraid to help them or provide suggestions. HERE is an article I wrote on how to find and keep your ideal mentor.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
Be a sponge; learn all that you can. Again, remember that you are in charge of your own career, you are in charge of your own success; don’t ever put that responsibility in someone else’s hands, it’s yours. Think about where you want to be a year from now, five years from now; it sounds so cliché but it really helps you set goals so you know if you are working hard enough to achieve the next role or milestone that you want.