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Health Equity Forum: Executive Director Article – September 2016

On Motherhood, Leadership and Turning 40!

By Sarah de Guia, Executive Director, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

This newsletter edition is a special one for me. It marks my 2-year anniversary as CPEHN’s Executive Director. And even more, it marks an important turning point in my leadership journey. When colleagues and friends ask me, “How does it feel?” or “How is it going?” I can’t help but compare my leadership trajectory to Max’s development, my three-year-old son. When I was hired as a brand new ED, Max was 10 months old. He wasn’t talking or walking. He would point and grunt when we saw something he liked or wanted. He was standing up but couldn’t take steps on his own. I often felt like that in my early days. I didn’t know exactly what to say and at times stood a little sheepishly, and even needed the company of others in important meetings. Over the course of two years, he and I have learned how to talk and walk together. For Max, he has literally learned to talk, my husband and I often stare at each other in amazement at some of the things he says. And he is now walking, mostly running around, like a whirling dervish, especially on Friday nights after a long week.

For me, I have also learned to speak over these past two years, with authority, thoughtfully, compassionately, yet firmly. I have had tough conversations, the ones that only the boss can and should have. I have reveled in the joy of welcoming a new amazing group of Board and staff members. I have had to make tough decisions like saying good bye to long time staff members. And, I am “walking the walk” of leadership by taking some calculated risks and stretching myself and others in ways that we haven’t been before. I am learning to say no or stand up for our organization’s ideals when compromised. Leadership comes in so many forms – in ways that one would never expect or understand until you are there, making decisions that not only impact you but many others.

Just like Max when he is overwhelmed with something new, I have thrown a tantrum or two. But, unlike Max, there is a benefit to turning 40, which is having the support and love from staff, colleagues and family as well as wisdom and experience to draw from. This has not only helped me through tough times but is probably the only way I have made it to this second year anniversary. Luckily they are there not only for those tough times but to celebrate the good times. There are moments I find myself glimpsing backwards to my twenties and thirties, lighter times with much less responsibility, and I am glad to be here, now. My growth has come with important teachers, mentors, and fellow EDs who are also finding their way, some as new leaders as we support each other in this journey.  And, I (and CPEHN) have an amazing and passionate community of supporters, advocates, and friends who are helping our communities achieve the best and brightest future for us all.

On this 2nd year anniversary, and a few days before I officially enter a new decade, I want to thank CPEHN’s Board of Directors, the CPEHN staff: Pam Flood, Aviva Prager, Antmen Mendoza, Cary Sanders, Kimberly Chen, Kiran Savage-Sangwan, Rocio Gonzalez, Stella Kim and Gabriel Stover (and former staff members Ruben Cantu and Tahira Cunningham), and all of you for helping CPEHN (and me) grow and prosper in our continued journey for health equity.