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Slow, Steady and Persistent

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Torchbearer: Karen Santana — Dominican-American. New Jersey, USA.

“You’re never going to be too young, too beautiful, too intelligent. You always have to be open to new ways of learning.”

Karen navigates her career with such amazing intention — she’s planned and purposeful. Her internal compass is something to be admired. It’s far from arrogance — it’s a beautiful balance of assurance and warmth. With that, she is emphatic that women need to, “define your career path. Envision what you want for yourself. It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you set your direction with intention, you will get there.”

Slow, Steady and Persistent

For me, it’s not about how fast I can get there, but what I am learning throughout this journey. Starting at a young age, I did not conform to society’s rules as to when and how I should be living my life. I always felt that life should be lived on my own terms. Whether it was dressing up in heels throughout my sophomore year of high school because that is how I wanted to show up — as my future self in my career. Or choosing to enjoy my 20s as best as I could, despite the fact my mother had my brother and I by 22.

My friends completed college a couple years before I did. They started their professional careers before I did. It took me a little longer because I felt like there were other things that I needed to attend to in my life. Like understanding who I was, what I liked, what bothered me and make sure that I had good mental health. Learning those things were as important as my career.

Let’s face it, as women (and men) we are constantly told that life is meant to be lived according to a set of rules society has created. There were moments when I felt like I had to speed up. But I took my time because I’m as human as everybody else. I had to pay for school. I had to work a part-time job. I had my father that was there and supportive but at the same time, it’s not like he’s Bill Gates. I had to also hustle and decide for myself. So yes, I graduated at 24 and not 21 — like some of my friends. I was okay with that being my journey — to take my time.

Your Job Search “Put Yourself Out There”

I’m still young in my professional career. When I finished college I said, ‘I have two paths here. I can either be in marketing or international business.’ Because that’s what I studied. I applied for all types of jobs! My professor told me, ‘Create a LinkedIn account and connect with the companies you want to work for. Email and tell them you would like to have an opportunity to explain why you’d want to work for them — add a personal touch on why you love their brand or company. Share with them your experience, your educational background.

I’m pretty sure that out of the 100 emails you send, at least five people will listen and give you an opportunity. He suggested that if I don’t find a job within six months of graduating, then get back to college and finish your masters.

Most importantly stay active whether you’re learning new skills, interning in positions that can add value to your career, or find new ways that can make you more marketable.

I put myself out there as my professor suggested. Eventually a job recruiter contacted me about a job I applied for in the international trade industry. Through that recruiter I was hired and landed my first job at a freight forwarding company in their logistics department — handling their shipments and communication with overseas suppliers. At that time I didn’t really know what that was, but I knew that it had to do with international business. That moment reminded me of a quote by Richard Branson — “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later!”

Learning the Business

I said and literally prayed — ‘Whatever job gives me an opportunity, I’m going to take it!’ I just knew that whatever that path would be, that it would be the right opportunity for me at this time in my life.

I started within their logistics department and after that, I was promoted almost every six months because of my persistence and determination. I genuinely took pride and wanted to learn the business; it was interesting. I was intrigued by how the import/export side of a business worked. I’m that person working in the background, making sure you buy that trendy coat so want for the winter, bringing the steel that is used to create beautiful skylines, or the oatmeal that you have every morning to keep up with that diet you started.

It’s not just me, but many intelligent women that have stepped into this world to facilitate the seamless movement of products.

Starting Your Career — “Go & Pursue”

Your first step should always be to define your career path — like I did with the marketing and international business majors. I chose those majors by understanding who I was. I was, and still am a social butterfly that loves to travel. I also had exceptional problem-solving skills.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with these majors. However, I knew once you step into whatever industry you choose to step through — you’re going to discover new things that are going to be interesting. And those new, interesting things could change or confirm your direction and professional path. Either way, that’s okay, you’ll figure it out throughout your journey, just as I did.

My first job out of college — I actually worked for one of my family’s car service businesses for six months. I remember my uncle never wanted me to leave my family’s company — He actually told me, ‘You are NOT going to be successful if you leave here.’ But my dad said, ‘You need to get out of here. You need to pursue your career. I know your potential has more value. I do not want you here. Your capacity and your intelligence is for so much more than just being in here.’ My dad gave me that an extra push to say to myself, ‘You know what? He’s right. I need to go and pursue my own thing.’

So NOW You Know My Value

The freight forwarding company was a mid-sized company. I felt like I was moving up little by little, but there’s only so much growth that could happen at a company that size. I wanted to move to the next step. I was doing so much work and it didn’t seem like the money was adding up.

I started to apply for jobs. While I was getting desperate and more stressed at work. I finally got an interview at a construction company and received an offer. It was a great offer! They were giving me an opportunity to be mentored and promoted within a year as a manager. I really wanted to leave my job, but this new job wasn’t in international business. I knew I wanted more growth, but I didn’t want to leave my industry.

When I went to my job and shared that I have a new job offer, they panicked. Right then and there, they gave me a counteroffer! (When people give you an offer, don’t take their word for it. Get it in writing.) I’ve never seen two dudes type a paper so fast! It’s like, wow! I had to get to this point for you guys to actually see the value in my work. I almost took the other job because I didn’t feel valued. I almost left international business.

I didn’t stay necessarily for the money. It’s because I didn’t want to leave my industry. I knew that I wasn’t going to be happy. I knew I wanted my career path to be in international business.

Ready or Not — You’re Ready

Not very long after I negotiated my promotion, my mentor calls me, knowing I was recently looking for a new job. She told me about this opportunity in customs compliance at this major automobile company. It was such an amazing opportunity. This was the job that I thought I would be ready for in a year and a half with more experience. She encouraged me to apply — and they loved my resume.

I tried to break the ice with each person during the interview — I was a tomboy growing up, so I talked about sports with one person. I started asking about their professional background and personal interests, things that are professionally acceptable. They were exciting conversations.

Two days after, I got a message saying they wanted me for the role.

Here I am thinking that I had to wait a year and a half to get to the next level in my career when basically the new universe is telling me — no you don’t. You don’t have to. You’re ready. You’ve got to believe in yourself.

To Be Young, Gifted and Latina

I am now working in Customs Compliance at this European company. I’m a woman. I’m Latina. I am a millennial — and very young compared to my coworkers. There are only a few young people on our team and all of us are minorities. In one way, I feel like I’m at a company that can really embrace my ideas. Then at some points in this job, I’ve questioned myself because I’m so different. There are some individuals that make things a little uncomfortable. But you should never let another person’s insecurities dictate your opinions and ideas. That’s why I say it’s important to take your time and learn about yourself along the way.

“It took me a little longer because I felt like there were other things that I needed to attend to in my life. Like understanding who I was, what I liked, what bothered me and make sure that I had good mental health. Learning those things were as important as my career”

It’s like they first thought, ‘Okay, maybe she’s just pretty but she’s not that smart.” I proved to them that yes, I can be pretty AND smart. I like being young and polished! I think I dress pretty modestly — but I’m a woman of color that has curves. I am unapologetically me. Then they were like, ‘Okay, but maybe she’s going to be messing up.’ Believe it or not I actually heard these comments! I just stayed really quiet about it. I cannot let their opinions affect me! That’s what they’re looking for and I’m not going to give them that satisfaction. It’s my hunger for success. I wasn’t going to let this throw me off my path.

Pursuit of Education — The Women Before Me

I want to be a voice for women that look like me. People from first generation families that have very hard-working parents. Things are possible for us — it takes discipline and grit. It’s the attitude of always wanting to work.

I remember at one point my mom ended up leaving her job to take care of my dad and the family because he was sick. My mother would tell me, “You have to be educated. I encourage you to always finish school, to make something out of yourself. Always be independent. Don’t depend so much on others, especially a man, because you don’t know how things are going to turn out in life.”

That’s why I said I didn’t care if my friends finished college before me. My goal is not based on my friends. It’s based on what I need to do for myself. If I had to take three extra years to finish college. Then okay — it’s going to take three extra years. But I made sure that I listened to my mom. Education is so important to me because I’m not only am I doing it for myself. I am doing it for my mom. For every other woman before me, that did not have the opportunity to pursue what they wanted in life.

— Karen Santana


Enjoyed Karen's journey? Then let us know! Here are other inspiring moments.

  • Catch: Karen's book recommendation

  • Read: "Terrifying & Amazing" - This is literally what was going through my mind the two years after graduation: I’m not making money. Bills are past-due. Life is hitting me. I’m an adult. Now I don’t have Mom. I don’t have Dad. Rent is due. What the hell!

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