How Chicas Poderosas Miami helped find my groove back

It’s odd to say that a three-day local mediathon event helped me out of my long-winded depression period. And yet, it’s what happened to me starting on April 10, 2016 when I signed up for Chicas Poderosas.

Prior to this event, I was in a constant state of insecurity after experiencing the first week of 2016 dealing with internship rejections. It’s strange how I’m able to bounce back from dealing with an interpersonal rejection when I sense someone isn’t worthy of my time, energy or relationship. Granted, it took a lot of years of self-care and assurance that it is not my loss. Somehow I still haven’t applied these principles when it comes to career or job prospects. This is where the rejection woes kicked in, as I got three rejections from several newsroom internships I entered during winter break.

The email rejection letters were generic reply-alls with the same caveat: of how they received numerous applications, how competitive the candidate pool was, how they narrowed down their choices that weren’t you, and the well-meaning but cliché phrases of “thanks for applying and best of luck on your internship/career endeavors,” with the signature email listing their editor title and Twitter handle.

The first email I received, I played it off like the K.C. Green “This is Fine” dog meme comic. The first two comic panels feature a dog drinking coffee saying the titular phrase while his house is caught on fire in the background. By the second rejection notice, my inner emotions channeled the last two panels of the dog burning alive as he brushes off his misery. The third rejection was the hardest hit as I got a phone call, while I was out shopping at T.J. Maxx, from the managing editor at a local news start-up saying they didn’t pick me because I didn’t have enough experience. Never did I fought so hard to hold back tears in the women’s shoes department while simultaneously controlling my voice from croaking in the other line when I replied with “oh.” Just “oh.” What else was I supposed to say? I’m a college student with limited bylines so yeah, it was the truth I couldn’t defend and didn’t want to face. I paced back and forth in the size 9 shoe aisle to keep my momentum and still maintain a professional conversation of “thanks so much for the call-back anyway, have a nice day and good luck.”

 

I found out about Chicas Poderosas after receiving a forwarded email from Miami’s NAHJ chapter. After all, this event was organized by the FIU chapter division and the purpose of this nonprofit is, according to their website’s About section, “to bring Latina women in the Americas into the forefront of digital journalism and to increase the number of Latina women working directly with newsroom technology.”
Latina? Check. Working and pursuing career in journalism? Check. Technology-savvy? Check, please. An opportunity like this, I figured, is what I needed to get myself out of this funk since that phone call back in January. I read the itinerary listed on their website and was immediately sold: panels that range from being a woman of color in journalism to digital portfolio and podcasting workshops, after-party networking events and a finished multimedia product to showcase on Saturday night.

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I’m not a morning person and it showed when I woke up late on the first day despite my excitement of this event. With little time to get ready, I wore whatever I deemed as “comfortable but presentable,” which equaled to my black button-up, basic green tank top layered underneath, denim jeans and sandals. As my husband hit the carpool lane, I dug through my purse to find my travel makeup bag and I spent the entire drive down dolling myself up as we headed to Univision-Fusion Network’s headquarters in Doral for the first day event.

When I signed up and made my way up to the conference room for the first panel, “How to navigate salary negotiation, impostor syndrome and work/life balance,” I saw how full the attendance was at this event. I gripped my husband’s hand and stood behind him, using him as a literal and emotional shield while I move up to an empty corner of the room closer to the panelists.

While squeezing through, I couldn’t help but notice the girls in attendance staring at me with their flawless contour makeup, polished fashion outfits straight out of an upscale mall shopping spree, placing bets at how many of them know each other from taking the same classes and whatnot. And here I was, feeling out of place already and for an event called Chicas Poderosas, I bring my husband aboard too. He didn’t mind it though, he’d rather be amongst women than men anyway.

The panel ends with the moderator opening up a Q&A, and without hesitation, I raised my hand. I came here with a purpose of becoming better and being better so I asked my question in the most convoluted way:

“I want to know if you have any advice or tips on how to deal with rejection. Earlier this year I got rejected from three internships in a week and…”

Before I continued with my sentence, the memories ushered through of that T.J. Maxx phone call. Memories of how I was ignored and under-appreciated at the student newspaper. Insecurities about lack of support and encouragement. I lost it. I cried.

“…it broke my spirit and confidence and I’m not sure of what I’m doing is right, so yeah. How do you deal with rejection?” I finished asking, gasping for breath in between the last several words.

I got angry with myself because the last thing I wanted to be known for throughout this event is to be “the crying girl.” I kicked myself over and over while these women were telling me great advice.

Univision journalist Maria Elena Salinas, one of the only two women anchors on television opposite PBS’s NewsHour, told me the most basic yet strongest advice: “Don’t give up. I got hundreds of doors shut in my face but if I’d given up, I wouldn’t be here doing what I love and ushering in a wave of other women with goals of becoming dedicated journalists.”

“I know it feels like the end of the world right now but trust me, the right opportunities will come. Then you’ll look back on all of this and see how far you’ve come,” Anne Vazquez, former Sun-Sentinel managing editor, reassured me that I still have light years ahead of my career.

The most unexpected, and hilarious advice, came from Univision’s music editor Nuria Net as she quoted one of DJ Khaled’s mantras: “Stay away from they. They wanna shut you down, they don’t want you to succeed.” This got a massive cheer out of the room. It got a gross sobbing and laughter combination out of me.

After everyone else asked their questions and spent their break time taking selfies with the panelists, it was surprising to experience how these FIU girls and even the journalist guests flocked to me with sincere hugs, emotional support and even sharing their own negative experiences.

I never thought I’d open up a Pandora’s box of sorts when I indirectly wore my heart out on my sleeve. All of these women I was so eager to listen to in these panels were stopping me and saying “It’s okay, I’ve been there. I had to cry in the bathroom when I didn’t get a promotion or had my story pitches denied,” or even the extent of “if you need a mentor or advice, here’s my contact info so you can send me your work.” While I still regret the crying bit, I don’t have any regrets on the aftermath that came out of my vulnerability in front of 60 women in that Univision-Fusion conference room.

I didn’t expect that by the end of this conference, it’d produce a butterfly effect of how networking and befriending these women would give me that push and drive to soldier on. I didn’t expect to get this intense level of inspiration in developing side projects onward. I didn’t expect that by gaining confidence and putting myself out there equaled landing freelance gigs with ease. Most important of all, I didn’t expect to leave the conference with my doubts lifted away, new support system and a wallet full of business cards.

It’s been a year and a half since that conference and I’m proud to say that I have my handmade cards ready to give out with no hesitation.