Leading by Letting Go

Confession: I can be a bit of a control freak. It comes out at the most inopportune times. Often I’m in the middle of trying to convince someone to do something my way when I realize I have to stop talking and take minute to really listen.

This year I have found myself in a leadership position as PTA president at my children’s school. Thus far, the experience has been a lesson in patience and humility—one that is making me a stronger and more compassionate human being. It has made me realize that it is a terrible idea to try to change people or expect them to do something that they aren’t really passionate about. The most important thing is to be a good listener and to celebrate others’ talents and accomplishments. By giving myself permission to let go and avoid micromanaging, I better appreciate what they bring to the table.

This applies to kids too, of course.

My oldest daughter started taking piano lessons when she was five from a wonderful, classically trained teacher. As the years passed, I noticed she was getting more and more frustrated. Frustration turned to dread, and even willful defiance at times. It was clear that this was not working for her, and yet I kept asking her to persist. I told her, “Sometimes you have to work through the frustration. You are so talented; you can do it.”

Little did I realize that my cheer-leading and attempt to build grit in my eight-year-old was failing miserably. Our entire family felt stressed and upset. Why were we doing this, again?

Finally I decided that enough is enough. Life is too short to sacrifice the present for the promise of some future badge—and to be honest, I don’t know what that future badge even was. I was caught up in a hamster wheel of expectations. Somehow, I had lost sight of the big picture.

When I was a child, my parents let me off the hook with piano after I complained a couple times. This pattern repeated itself across every activity I started, so by the time I got to high school I played no instrument nor sport and boasted a non-existent list of extracurricular skills. But you know what? It all turned out just fine. As a ninth grader I chose to join the swim team and learned to play and love water polo. My casual art hobby became my passion, fueled by the encouragement of a few teachers who recognized my skill and interests and became my loudest cheerleaders. Because I had so much time to focus on just being a kid in elementary and middle school, I had plenty of time to do what I wanted. That’s the key here: I did what I wanted to do, not what my parents forced upon me. They stood back and encouraged me, supported me, and always held high expectations for me. They trusted me to figure things out on my own, loved me unconditionally, and left me feeling like I could do anything.

My parents’ unconditional encouragement and trust, combined with unwavering high expectations, made me who I am today. I entered my freshman year at Yale University ready to conquer the world, secure in the knowledge that at 18, I was a free thinker, resourceful, and independent.

While I don’t expect either of my daughters to go to college alone with a one-way plane ticket like I did—I mean, come on, I want to at least help them move in!—I do want them to feel the way I did growing up: that they can do and be anything they want, not what I pressure them to be.

Giving my eldest permission to let go of classical piano after years of dedicated lessons was a good starting point for us this school year. Once we made the decision to say goodbye, we all felt a huge weight lifted off our shoulders. After we sat and talked for a while, I came to understand that she still really wants music to be a part of her life; she just doesn’t want to play classical piano. Together, we tested out a couple of options and found the perfect fit in a laid-back teacher that allows students to pick their own instruments and songs and form their own bands. A couple lessons in, my daughter is a new child. She can’t wait for her weekly lesson and always leaves with a huge smile on her face.

Looking back, my only regret is not listening to my daughter earlier. But as they say, better late than never.

Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, a sunny, cultura-rich land where la gente are the majority. As a child I spent my days doodling unicorns and puppies and people and anything that caught my fancy. Drawing was my life, and I dreamed of one day being an artist. After high school, I left town for a bit to attend Yale University but ran back to Texas as soon I’d tossed my graduation cap in the air. I got a “real” job in advertising, where I met my wonderful husband, Victor. In 2005, I got a little brave and decided to step into art full time, for the first time. I spent a year recreating the Mexican Loteria, updating it to reflect the symbols and culture I knew: the “Tex Mex” version. The My Loteria game and corresponding line of kitchenware appeared in H-E-B grocery stores and boutiques around the country, which was pretty cool! Fast forward a couple years, and Vic and I decided it made perfect sense to move to the middle of nowhere and sell ice in the desert (in Alpine, Texas, where we opened the Murphy St. Raspa Co., an homage to Mexican shaved ice, candy, art and culture). A baby later and with one more on the way, we decided to come back home to San Antonio to be closer to family. I landed my dream job as the Marketing Director of The DoSeum, San Antonio’s Museum for Kids. Life was good. But I knew deep down in my heart of hearts that I needed to give my art another try. And a little more than a year ago, I took that leap and never looked back. So here I am today: a mom to two awesome little girls, a muralist, portrait artist, wife, and social media addict. I built a tiny house art studio in my backyard, dusted off my paintbrush, and began painting again after a two-year dry spell. I recently completed my first large-scale public mural to celebrate the San Antonio missions’ World Heritage designation, and am plotting my next art move as I type. I spend my days painting portraits, planning murals, perusing social media, and being my kids’ scheduler in chief. And you know what? I’m having the time of my life.