Being successful was never something I had consciously aimed for, since as a well-off girl growing up in El Salvador, I was reared more to be wed than anything else. Success, in my community, meant landing a good husband who would take care of me. Of course, I needed to also have a career that we jokingly called an “MMC” or Mientras Me Caso, meaning “While I Get Married,” because college or your career is what you do while you’re waiting to land that dream a wealthy or hard-working man.
In that same vain, failure mostly meant not finding the ideal man — the one who would maintain or elevate your social status and thus the “appearance” of your success. He was the ticket to the right car, house, trips, and your kids’ education.
But I’ve always been a non-conformist, and I knew I wanted more from my life. I just had no clue as to how to achieve it because I was so blinded by my huge fear of failure. The worry of “qué dirán” (“what will others say”) was so deeply ingrained in my frame of thought.
It took me well into my late 20’s to finally understand that the drive I felt had nothing to do with a white dress and a groom, nor was I even remotely interested in the well-off idiots I kept meeting along the way. What I really wanted at that time was to find success in my career as a TV producer.
At 28 years of age when most of the friends I had grown up with in El Salvador were already changing diapers or even taking kids to preschool I left my comfortable and rapidly growing job in Univision and my lovely South Beach apartment and moved to chaotic Mexico City all on my own. I had been traveling frequently to Mexico for work, and every time I was there I felt alive in a way I had never felt before. Mexico had everything I was looking for in a city: a cosmopolitan vibe, work opportunities, art, history, an exotic culture, warm people, amazing food, and all this in Latin America where I felt at home. Every single person advised me against doing it. Everyone said I was completely loca and out of my mind. Mexico City would eat me up. I was too naïve to live there. Why would I leave a picture-perfect job for an uncertain future in a wild city with 25 million people? They were all right, but I couldn’t let their ideas of perfection drown me.
What happened during the five years I lived in Mexico is worthy of a novel. In short, the first year I confronted failure and fear head on. I had a thriving freelance business, but I learned that people wouldn’t always love you just because. I learned about traitors, tyrants, and men wanting you for the wrong reasons. I learned to watch my back and to take the hits. I learned I could be just as nasty and how much I hated that version of myself. I felt lonely, disillusioned and engulfed by the massive city I had already grown to love in spite of all the failures.
And then, once I let go from trying to achieve this relentless picture of perfection I had set up for myself and let myself touch bottom, the magic started happening. The moment of darkness before the light came in various stages and from various people. I was lucky enough to not have anything drastic like an act of crime or such happen to me. It was more the personal attacks from people I had grown to trust who noticed my vulnerability in this city and went after me and my business, even to the point of threatening to have me deported from the country. My email was hacked and my private correspondence used against me. Money was stolen from my bank account from someone I completely trusted. I witnessed a friend getting beat up in her house by her fiancé. I fell ill and had an emergency operation that saved my life.
When I just couldn’t take it all and felt completely alone, ready to give up and no one to turn to, I found a man who became my partner for the next two years. He helped me find my soul again and rebuild my life just by showing me that spirituality was real. In a way, he brought to me exactly what I had unconsciously gone to Mexico to look for: my voice, my strength, and my real purpose.
Mexico City’s duality — where the best and worst can happen in the same place — was exactly the chaos I needed to finally grow up at 28! and allow life to happen to me as it may. I realized that success and failure are on the opposite sides of the same pendulum, and I must always be ready to sway with it.
The failure I semi-consciously put myself in the path of during those years built up what I needed to finally achieve what felt like success for me. Success has come in many forms and in many stages since then. I keep redefining my own sense of success, but I can guarantee I’ve never felt as driven as I do now. And as I keep threading forward defining my moments of success, I keep reminding myself to embrace failure and confront it along with my fears. In fact, one of my secrets to knowing what my next move should be is to head towards that call or opportunity that brings up a sense of anxiety in me. That means it’s time to break through, do it regardless of the outcome and reach another level. Call it my failure thermometer, if you will. It works.
Would love to know what your relationship with failure and success is. Do you embrace the fear of failure or do you run the other way? Have you had any moments you can think of when you broke through a fear to discover a new potential in you? Please share in the comments and let’s chat!
Oh, and these quotes in the slideshow below make for an awesome and inspirational Pinterest board, don’t you think?
image-3 1 of 11"The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty."
Source Sarah Burkhart via Pinterest.
image-10 2 of 11"Fear is not your enemy. It is a compass pointing you to the areas where you need to grow." ~Steve Pavlina
image 3 of 11
image-11 4 of 11"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." ~T.S. Eliot
image-2 5 of 11"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising up every time we fall."
Print by Lisa Congdon
image-4 6 of 11"Thanks for making me a fighter."
image-5 7 of 11"Never let success get to your head. Never let failure get to your heart."
image-6 8 of 11"You must do the thing which you think you cannot." Eleanor Roosevelt
image-7 9 of 11"We are all failures … at least the best of us are." J.M. Barrie
Source Mercedes via Pinterest.
image-8 10 of 11"Too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful, and too determined to be defeated."
image-9 11 of 11
Read more from me at
Check out the forthcoming book I co-authored, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America.
Don’t miss the latest from Babble Voices — Like Us on Facebook!