People are people everywhere (Pt. 4)

In this series, I talked about moments and people that inspired me to have a fuller understanding of who I am in relation to each community I have been a part of. Putting a life journey in perspective inevitably brought the need to find synthesis. In this final part, I will talk about leadership, and how meeting people I admire has strengthened my belief and value in authenticity, showing and telling me how compassionate leaders can transform the world we live in.

Education as a means to spark curiosity and creativity

From my experience until college, there was only one piece of consistent feedback I received from people I met: that I was creative. I didn’t know exactly what that meant or what to do with that information. So one day, I looked it up, and found a TED Talk on it: How schools kill creativity. In a nutshell, the talk is an argument showcasing the way schooling was set up globally in such a way that we created a human crisis of leadership and creativity. I was amazed to see how this eloquent man spoke about everything I believed in. Sir Ken Robinson — in memoriam.

On my very first post on this blog, I talked about how Ken Robinson helped shape my vision around what I wanted for life. While I was in college, I was taken by surprise that Sir Ken was coming to our campus to deliver a keynote at a seminar on Business of Art and Design. So I did everything I had to do to be able to meet Ken Robinson not once, but twice in person [!!!], and share my admiration for his work and his thinking. As I watched him talk live, I closely observed how he used wit, storytelling and data to convince his audience, just like he did with government officials worldwide. He skillfully used that approach as an invitation for everyone to revisit their understanding of the educational system and creativity, and encouraged us to think differently about new models if we wanted to survive as individuals and collectives in today’s reality.

Ken Robinson showcased how we got here with schooling in inertia derived from old models built during the Industrial Revolution, treating young children through early adulthood as items in a production line, paying no attention to individual needs and potentials to develop each person to the full of their abilities. That led us to a crisis of creativity — and how could we expect anything different, when being successful in school, in most cases simply required students passively passing through a standardized test. Such tests proved nothing beyond the fact that the individual was able to retain virtually useless information until the day they had an exam — conforming to a system, and a very oppressive one.

Ken Robinson & ecstatic yours truly, with a copy of each of his books.

Meeting Ken Robinson in person revealed to me that one can challenge the system, be funny and get away with planting the seed for significant change making. And yes, we are talking about a white-cis-male-hetero-european person, who got away with a lot of things. However, more important than that, when I met Ken Robinson in person, I was delighted to realize how kind and generous with his time. Even though I rushed to tell him about my admiration for him, as I knew how busy he was, he wanted to learn more about my ideas, and he appreciated knowing that I was thinking about deep questions regarding educational systems. He looked me in the eye and encouraged me to continue to do that, and wrote that on his autograph on my books. I felt believed in — and that was such a blessing.

That motivation from meeting with Ken Robinson was followed by a true mentor I had in college: Dr. Wanda Chaves. Wanda enabled me to expand my view of how the world worked, from a people centric business management standpoint. I also had the opportunity to interview Malcom Gladwell and Daniel Pink about the interconnectedness between the realms of education and corporate environments. I was encouraged to see how all of these thinkers saw the two spaces intrinsically connected, and how similar structural issues they faced, as part of the same ideological constructs. In their view, creativity was at the heart of everything we needed for positive outcomes. But how?! I was intrigued.

As part of my fascination with the subject of creativity, I took on a special internship project as part of my classwork with Dr. Chaves, to partner with Cirque Du Soleil executives in a creative producer capacity. At that point in time, I believed I had THE opportunity to bring everything I learned about arts and put it into an inspiring and magical use. And there was so much more at play. I learned that creativity grows exponentially when a culture conducive to the spirit of collaboration is present. I worked with outstanding designers and artists in the ideation of what the future of entertainment could look like. Our team received prizes from Cirque. At this point in time, that was my second prize related to creativity, but this one was special as it spelled out “creative excellence”, and somehow, that hit a special cord in my self-esteem.

After this dreamy experience, I felt unstoppable, and kept thinking: what’s next? What greater challenge could I learn from? Going back to Sir Ken’s premise, I was interested in learning about those structural issues from first hand experience. Fresh out of college, I spent a year working as a freelance creative producer, which was fun and great to learn about customer management, but honestly, it was not the best way to start off my young adult life and build myself financially from scratch. Therefore, combining my learnings and vision attained from my exchanges with Dr. Wanda Chaves, Daniel Pink and Ken Robinson, I decided to seek a corporate job opportunity.

Entering corporate life and the pursuit towards social justice

I started working as a contractor for Google in Brazil, working in sales, as part of the new business team. I knew nothing about cold calling or sales altogether, but how much did I learn! I learned so fast that in six months, I was able to exceed my sales quota by almost twice the targets I had, and actually became bored with the sales routine very quickly. So I looked for the next opportunity and found a sales trainer position, and applied for it. Education + sales, that was fun. I travelled the country and delivered hundreds of trainings to partner agencies working with Google Ads solutions. I did that for two and a half years, and really excelled at it, before I was able to join as a full time employee.

Once I became a Google employee, my reputation for public speaking and training preceded me. I immediately took advantage of the resources that came with that, and created a brand new, Cirque du Soleil-esque immersive experience with a social responsibility component for our Google Partners, and wow, was it special. I worked with fine artist Lina Lopes to create an interactive installation to engage our participants in a gamified experience, as wells as Aldeias SOS, a local NGO and the Mirante Lab collective to partner with children and their image of personal heroes, and bring them into reality with 3D printing and further customization. The event was unforgettable and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive from everyone involved from children to adults.

I wanted to put those skills and gained knowledge into good and greater use, so volunteered myself to partner with Jimena Tomas from the marketing team and Keith Matsumoto, a senior executive at Google and teacher, to put together the digital skills content for the very first Grow with Google and womenwill, including its first iteration for Trans women events in Brazil. There was SO much creativity and storytelling involved in these events, and the output of that was an incredible amount of energy coming from the audience. It was truly exhilarating to be a facilitator for the first editions of these events. I remember seeing young adults, young parents bringing their children along, and even retirees looking into something new to reinvent themselves.

Yours truly, Pedro Lins and Keith Matsumoto in the very first edition of Grow with Google in Brazil, Recife, Oct 2017
Womenwill for trans women in São Paulo, Brazil, August 2018

This last one was one of my most unique and magic moments at Google. I felt so honored to be the only cis male presenting, I made it clear that I also wanted to be the last — that in a hopefully near future, I would love nothing more than seeing one of them at the stage to replace me. I never felt such a strong connection to an audience before. A couple of years later we could already see the direct transformational impact events like this could have in enabling individuals from historically excluded groups to find their path towards reaching their true potential. This story from Victoria Napolitano is a beautiful example of that.

That was not the first initiative I was a part of that focused on serving the Trans community in Sao Paulo. In fact, the year before, I worked with our Pride@Google employee resource group to organize a community effort to engage in personal/professional development workshops with a really special group of Trans and Nonbinary individuals at Cursinho Popular Transformação. I was moved by the artistic talent and deep intellectual inclination most of them had, and how they channeled those traits to foster community to empower each other. I kept in touch with many ever since, ever inspired by the incredible demonstration of innovation and uniqueness of their work at events like Transarau. Their visceral expression of humor, radical compassion and honesty moved me to tears on several occasions.

Volunteering with Cursinho Trans, São Paulo, Brazil, July 2017

Experiences like these brought me closer to colleagues from all walks of life, but particularly my Black colleagues in Brazil. Outstanding individuals who reached a place in prestigious companies against all odds life brought upon them. For the first time I began to understand the deep impact systemic racism had in the private sector, and how it directly affected my colleagues. Performance management was something that always gave me anxieties, but something that took me a long time to realize how it was an unfolding consequence of the delusion of meritocracy. The harm in self-esteem this imposed on everyone was the first symptom I noticed, however, the impact on mental health and it had on people of color, women, people with different abilities and LGBTQIANB+ individuals was jarring.

Only this year I was able to draw the connection between the grading — also degrading — systems schools use to assess students and performance management in the corporate world. Beyond the emotional and mental damage most non-white-hetero-cis-male generally experience, the material impact performance management has on people from historically excluded and underrepresented groups is far from trivial. This was made self-evident to me in an intervention I was co-lead, bringing Sonya Renee Taylor to deliver a workshop to employee resource group global leadership and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program managers at Google. When Sonya asked us what prevented us from living with radical self-love in our time at work, more than half of the participants’ response was PERF (short for performance management). This was such an enlightening moment. It brought me back to the anger I felt in school when me or close friends of mine felt completely demoralized by low grades. How did I not see that connection between the schooling and corporate systems?

Coincidentally, or not, at that time, I recently had a performance review with managers whom I worked with in the previous work cycle, which I was utterly unhappy about. I decided to give them the feedback about why I was discontent with the grade I received, but this time around, I was grading the system rather than letting it grade myself. This is a new chapter of my life that only started now, when I’m having conversations with my teenage activist self and confabulating things we can do in this new system to foster social justice and equity. I am getting increasingly more involved in the so-called Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) conversations and related projects. I know it will take a lot trial and errors until we come up with a new model to evaluate the value added by individuals, let alone entire collectives in the corporate world, but I believe we can dismantle the illusions of meritocracy and individualism everywhere, even where the power dynamics benefit the most from them, and substitute it with something FAR more exciting and fair. Many big companies are doing this already. Knowing the direct impact this can have on the most critical individuals for companies’ capacity to innovate (hint: not the ones currently in power), this should be taken seriously and urgently.

Living as an integral and authentic being

In this series I talked about my search for an alternative education for myself, and how I took on a personal mission to remain a learner for life, far beyond the limits of schooling, into my personal and professional life. I lived in big cities and small ones. I lived in the Global South and the Global North, in both so-called “developed” countries and “underdeveloped”, emerging ones. I used to have an insatiable wanderlust, but today I am simply curious about each place, and most of all, I am deeply appreciative of the moments that I had and the friendships I made along the way — for they let me see who I am more clearly each day.

To me, thought leaders I mentioned in this series, like Paulo Freire, Ken Robinson, Wanda Chaves and Sonya Renee Taylor not only eloquently talked about authenticity, but they embodied what it is like to live authentically, standing up for what they value and believe in, designing a world where each person can realize their full potential. I will work for the remainder of my life to bring what I learned from them to more and more people, as part of their personal development. I believe corporate life has its shortcomings when it comes to mental health, however I also know it has the resources to innovate approaches and entire new systems that may be the model to change societies as a whole.

I’ve been recently asked: How do I keep myself in hostile corporate environments? This will probably unfold into a separate piece in the future, but in short: I stayed true to who I am, and I never stopped learning. Self-development became a shield and a tactic to find language and tools to navigate the many unbalanced and abusive power dynamics I faced in my trajectory. To my surprise, incompetent managers and directors were not very different from incompetent teachers I had throughout school and college. I learned to outgrow their influence on my work with strategic thinking and lateral career moves when I had no choice. But staying authentic to who I am was the ultimate act of resistance and change making, after all, I am a part of the system I want to change.

Thank you dear reader if you’ve come this far in learning about my personal journey. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these pieces. What questions come to mind? What would you like to hear more or less of? I’ll begin posting some more conceptual pieces, but would love to integrate your feedback and ideas into my future writing practice :)

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