Last week, I had the privilege of speaking as a panelist at A&M College of Law. At this year’s Women’s Law Caucus Annual Legal Tea (I just love that name!), we spoke about wellness, mental health, and ways to avoid burnout in highly demanding careers like Medicine and Law. Our moderator, Professor Broussard, shared her heart and wisdom in such a touching and genuine way; I am certain we will all remember her stories. One of the panelists, also a physician, was unable to present with me due to a medical emergency in one of her patients. This meant for the first half of our time together, it was me, our lovely moderator, and a group of highly engaged law students. For the second half, the also lovely and smart, Dr. Sarah Diekman, joined our discussions. I am so proud to know her and thrilled that in just a few months, she will have a law degree to add to her medical degree. WooHoo!! Our profession will be blessed by her knowledge, professionalism, and heart.
Preparing to speak at the law school was enlightening! It was evident we share much in common as we discussed topics like empathy, perfectionism, and the desire to serve others. I was so grateful for all the learning, sharing from the heart, and vulnerability displayed in the room. It was truly a special afternoon.
Beyond the blessing of meeting the students and faculty, this day was meaningful for me for another reason. My mother, Maribel — ¡Mami! — was a lawyer. She was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Puerto Rico and, as her career evolved, she wanted to gain a more thorough understanding of the Law to advocate for every worker more effectively. So while I was in high school, Mami worked during the day and went to law school at night. It was inspiring to watch her sacrifice so much to serve others.
I am grateful she had me type her papers in school. This meant I got to practice typing (I later won every speed contest in typing class!) and also read all her papers. Reading about ethics and professionalism, justice and fairness was as formative for me as the many conversations my extended family engaged in when we gathered throughout the year. Nothing like a room full of lawyers, doctors, and entrepreneurs — all highly engaged in the island’s political landscape — to train a child in advocacy and instill a sense of social responsibility and civic duty at a young age. Growing up in this family was beyond awesome; writing about it is making me miss all my cousins!
Driving home after speaking to the students and faculty at the law school, I had so many flashbacks to these lively discussions at family reunions. A particular memory filled me with joy as I recalled a press conference at the Department of Labor in which Mami was interviewed. I was young, and all I remember is a room full of reporters, cameras, and microphones, and my mom speaking from the podium. I can’t recall her message, but I remember the ending. I stood in the back of the room, mesmerized, as she declared, “Our young people are the future of our land.” And looking straight at me, she added, “I believe in them. They are smart, and they make the world better. We must believe in them.”
My mom was a class act. A public servant and friend to all, she was a woman of substance. I still remember how, the week before Christmas, every year, she’d leave the house with gift bags for, seemingly, every person in her building! Her laughter, grace, and cheerful spirit filled every room. Integrity and charity inspired her actions, and service was a way of life. Though she left this earth when I was in my 20’s, the seeds of service, acceptance, and love she planted continue to bear fruit, now even in my children!
The photo to the right captures two plaques. The one on the left was given to me when a conference room in Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor was dedicated to my mother 12 years after she left us. The plaque celebrates her as the “exemplary public servant she was and as a faithful collaborator toward the postulates of social protection of workers in Puerto Rico.” The plaque is on the wall of my home office as a constant reminder of her legacy and my roots in advocacy and public service.
The plaque on the right was a thoughtful gift I received from the law students and faculty. I know Mami was thrilled I was there; surely she filled up a room in Heaven with that smile that, to me, was like a ray of sunlight!
Years ago I wrote a post titled, On the Edge of What’s Next. At that time, I felt called to something new and I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know exactly what awaited around the corner. What I did know is who it was who called me to something new, and trusting Him, I had peace. Well, around the corner was the beginning of a more public life I would not have chosen but that has been inspiring, stretching, and an adventure. As I’ve traveled around my state and the country with a message of hope and a call to action for my physician colleagues, I have made new friends and been challenged to step out in faith continually. I always joke that I left my comfort zone behind years ago!
As I stand on the edge of what’s next once more, I recognize how God has equipped me every step of the way for what’s around every corner. I can trust Him, still. Even when my efforts seem futile, I know they are not when I see lives transformed, courage return to faces, and sparks of hope spring forth in the people I am blessed to serve.
I also feel grateful to those of you who recognize every leader needs a friend, and that the opposition to those of us committed to shining a light in the darkness is real. Together we are stronger, so let us continue to encourage and support one another no matter what awaits around the corner.
And, as always, remember to be good to yourself!
For a tribute to my mother, read Lessons I Learned Watching Mom: A Mother’s Day Tribute.
Learn more about my latest book, Recapturing Joy in Medicine. Although it was written for physicians, its concepts apply to the workplace in most settings, and both patients and medical professionals as well as people from different fields find it inspiring and relevant. Check it out and let me know what you think!