In the 1970s, my mother immigrated to Queens, New York after graduating from nursing school in the Philippines. She arrived in the U.S. with about $50 in her pocket and slept on the floor of her friend’s apartment using a cardboard box as a mattress. It was a similar story for my father.
Mom eventually became a nurse, and I grew up with relatively modest means. But I have been impressed by her lifelong commitment to giving back and supporting her family in the Philippines. She emphasized that education was our inheritance, and she sent me to an elite New England preparatory school. I felt like everyone else there was smarter, better looking, and richer than I was, and that created a lot of insecurity. That experience affected me deeply and would go on to inform the rest of my life. After graduating from Cornell, I pursued a career in compensation on Wall Street because I was intrigued by executive pay. I became an expert in compensation and took advantage of the shiny new life I had.
About a dozen years passed until I remembered my roots. It was during the “Occupy Wall Street” economic inequality protests against the “one-percenters” in New York’s Financial District when I started wondering how I could better use my talents to create meaningful change.
I came to Blue Shield of California at the end of 2013 to work in compensation, with the idea that I could eventually pivot to philanthropy; Blue Shield’s commitments to career mobility and to giving back to the community were a big draw for me. I dove into nonprofit work on the side by joining boards and volunteering abroad after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.
And eventually, the stars aligned and the right job opened for me at Blue Shield. Today, I lead our Corporate Citizenship efforts. I’m grateful for the leadership philosophy at Blue Shield, which involves continuous learning and professional development, and the ability to work with bright minds on how we can best deploy resources for social and systemic change.
In particular, I’m very proud to be a part of our first corporate signature initiative, called BlueSky, which focuses on resilience and youth mental health. We established a corporate social impact budget to complement our Foundation, and we are doing important work to address racial and social injustice. We have broken all our records on employee giving and volunteer engagement, and have been recognized for going “beyond the check” to fully leverage our employees’ talents, time and generosity. And while the impacts of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and climate change heighten the needs for social change, I couldn’t be prouder to work for a company that values standing for what’s right.
I’d offer this advice to anyone who has a career trajectory in mind but isn’t sure how to get there: Aligning your career with your purpose may require 180- or 90-degree turns. Leadership involves conquering your fears, taking risks and being courageous. And understanding that it’s all possible—even if it seems like it’s not.