September's Person of Inspiration: Rocio A. Perez, "You've Got This, From Abuse to Self

I am the child of Mexican immigrants. I was born in the small border town of Laredo, Texas known as El Ombligo del Diablo—The Devil’s Bellybutton - due to the 115-degree plus heat. Laredo is where the poverty and unemployment rates were the highest in the country and graduation rates the lowest. Like most Laredo residents, my father took whatever work was available and as a result we moved often. Although many children of migrant workers had to work in the field full-time and did not attend school on a regular basis, somehow, my father came up with enough money that we could attend school full-time.

Desperation and poverty led my parents to emotionally disconnect from their children. We grew in less than ideal environments and lacked the positive nurturing that children need to be successful in life. Being the only girl, I also was subjected to an added burden of abuse.

My only safe refuge was school. I'd daydream with my older brother about becoming a teacher, a future so farfetched I might as well be asking to go to Mars. I loved reading and learning new things, and with the assistance provided by some extraordinarily compassionate teachers, I became a straight A student, Spelling Bee Champion, and an Honor Roll member.

As I grew older, the beatings I got at home became more and more severe. It felt like my parents bonding strategy, when they were trying to make up after one of their fights, was to jointly gang up on me, and beat the crap out of me. I felt unfairly punished and emotionally exhausted, without being able to comprehend why. At the age of 12, I ran away from home, and went to live with my grandparents. My grandparents cared for me for two years, but were overwhelmed by the task of caring for a rebellious teen who acted out in challenging ways to get attention that they weren’t equipped to give. Eventually they decided to take me back to my parents. I was so terrified by the prospect of returning to my parents, I ran away with my 22-year-old boyfriend, who at 8 years my senior was more than 50% older than me. Two weeks later I was pregnant. My life changed overnight. Obtaining a college education and becoming a teacher seemed an impossible dream.

While other girls my age were planning their Quinceañera, I was taking prenatal vitamins, visiting my gynecologist and walking on eggshells around my abusive partner. Two months after my 15th birthday, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I soon realized that to make a better life for my son I had to continue my education. At age 15, I applied to the Community College of Denver, and became emancipated from my parents so I could attend college. By age 17 I was a college student.

My relationship with the father of my child went from bad to worse. I would leave him, but he would track me down and threaten to take my son away if I did not return home with him. He was very concerned about appearances, me running away from him implied something deficient about him to his family and friends. Preserving appearances with his very much underage, very pretty teen girlfriend mattered more than having any concern about me being happy, me having any kind of say in my life and who I would like to choose to spend it with. Nor did he seem to care about the welfare of our son, who sometimes got shaken, manhandled, or ripped out of my arms in a way that could have injured our baby. The pattern was that he would find me, actually be nice for a week or 10 days, and then slip back into his rages, abusive behaviors until it got so bad I would leave. He would find me, beg me, be nice, and the cycle would repeat.

All during this time my dream still flickered, like a beacon that might lead me to a life of self determination and out of abuse and an expectation that a man that I didn’t even love could control every single aspect of my life and leave me few choices in my own life. Although I was going through hell. I’d wake up at 3:00 each morning to make his and my lunch, and pack my son’s diaper bag. Blizzard or heat wave, I would carry my son to the bus stop, catch the 4:30 AM bus, drop him off at my grandmother’s house around 5:45 AM, turn around and do the same thing in reverse to get to school by 8:15 AM. I was determined to succeed. I’d spend 8-hours a day going to and from school on public transit, whether it was minus 20 or 106 degrees out.

At 19, I earned my GED. I sold my car for $500 and made my move. I had enough. I no longer had to fear the threats that my son would be taken from me by social services because I was a minor. Whether or not that fear was true, I had spent 5 ½ years staying with the abusive father of my child because of his daily threats that he could make a call and social services would have my son ripped away from me and placed in foster care if I ran away from the abuse I was subjected to daily. During my pregnancy, a social worker had told me that her organization would appear at birth and take my baby from me, which strengthened my fear at these threats.

The day I made my big break for freedom, I dropped my ex at work and packed my son’s personal belongings. I was taking one of the greatest leaps of faith I ever took, began the process of creating a new life for us. I had no idea what was in store for us, where we were going to sleep, what we were going to eat. The only certainty I had that anything was better than my ex continuing the pattern of daily abuse I thought I had left behind when I ran away from my parents. All I wanted was an opportunity and a fresh start.

I found a way to navigate the bumps on the road. I worked 130 hours a month in exchange for rent, and I cleaned houses on the side to earn a bit of cash to pay for our necessities and put myself through school. I did whatever it took. I put in the long hours, took buses for hours on-end, walked through snow banks during blizzards, and never let go of my vision that more education would allow me to own my life and ultimately make it! I kept at it until I succeeded.

By the age of 33, I was an empty-nester, had earned a BA in International Business, a dual MBA in International Business and Marketing, and was on my way to earning a Graduate Certificate in International Entrepreneurship.

I built a successful marketing business, a new home, and became the teacher I once dreamt of becoming. I also became a serial entrepreneur. I realized that we are all capable of achieving success. If we are willing to put in the work, the other things mostly sort themselves out, with the aid of mentors, learning from our mistakes and the willingness to keep getting up and trying one more day, one more time. My mantra is “I’ve got this, no matter what.” I repeated this mantra all the time, more often when I felt like things weren’t quite working out for me.

As a business professional and consultant to numerous US and global businesses, I have worked to help individuals and companies foster outstanding leadership capable of meeting the challenges of this century.

Today, I learned from the school of “Hard Knocks”, and also got my fair share of unexpected help and kindness along the way, mostly from people who really didn’t have to be there for me. That’s why I am honored to serve as a positive role model, mentor and coach. I love and live to help people see what’s possible and help them achieve it, the way some very special people did for me.

The Keys to Success I Teach:

  • Vision: You must create a clear picture of what’s possible.

  • Belief: Develop the certainty that you can succeed, even in the face of massive obstacles.

  • Confidence: Learn your value and own it, no matter how much others try to put you down!

  • Energy: Show up with vigor. Use your vision for power when you feel weak. You got this!

  • Ethics: Do the right thing because it’s right. Your reputation precedes you.

  • Focus: Never take no for an answer and do whatever it takes. Know that ultimately you can only succeed if you just keep trying.

In my evolution as a breakthrough coach, I went from paving the way for others, to helping people like you pave your own way, with all the resilience, strength and beauty you already have inside of you. I am privileged to be able to share the skills that made me successful: communication, self-discipline, negotiation and marketing skills. Once you get a glimpse of what’s possible, regardless of where you are now, you can connect your own dots toward success and fulfillment in your education, career and overall life.

About Rocio:

Rocio A. Perez, MBA, is an Executive Leader with more than 20 years providing relevant insight to private, public and non- profit organizations. Her work inspires leadership to create authentic impact fully engaging an organization’s internal and external stakeholders.

She created Inventive Consulting (INVENTIVA) to collaborate with organizations committed to working through the processes needed to align culture, brand and leadership. As the founder and CEO of INVENTIVA Rocio brings here own unique engagement style to the consulting projects.

Ms. Pérez is a mentor and moderator for the Stanford Latino Entrepreneur Leadership Program. She was a nominee for the Inspirational Leader of the Year for the San Diego Magazine’s “Latinos Making a Difference” and the 9News Leader of the Award.

Ms. Pérez vita includes dual MBA in International Business and Marketing (Regis University), a Certificate in International Entrepreneurship (University of Colorado) and a B.S. in International Business (University of Colorado).

Follow Ms. Perez on Facebook: Rocio Perez

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