How 54 Nos Led to One Big Yes

I am worthless. I am worthless. I am worthless.

These are the words that passed through my brain on repeat while my 3 month old daughter and 3 year old son slept in the neighboring room of my tiny two bedroom Copenhagen apartment. My husband was in and out of the apartment, tirelessly working on Covid response for the city of Copenhagen. And despite being surrounded by my two kids at all times, I had never felt more alone.  

In January 2021, I saw no hope. I felt worthless to my core. While I could intellectually understand that my self-sabotaging thoughts were not rational, that didn’t make the feelings any less real or intense. During these tearful breaks, away from the children, I often asked myself: How did I get here? What should I do?

How did I get here?

Before I moved to Copenhagen, I was the Executive Director of a rapidly growing organization in  NYC. I loved my job and I deeply identified with the term, “leader in my field.” Heck, I graduated from HARVARD. I imagined that I would arrive in Denmark and find a job that honored and built upon my past accomplishments. That was not the case. Despite nearly a hundred coffee meetings and informational calls, 54 job applications and cover letters, two first round interviews, and one second round interview, I could not find a job. After nearly a year of rejection, I started to think, “People in Denmark don’t find me valuable. I bring no value to Denmark. I bring no value. I am not valuable.” 

What did I do?

I honestly didn’t know what to do so I started with the simplest thing I could think of: I moved my body. In the dead of winter, I put on three layers of clothes, wrapped my baby in several layers of wool, strapped her into a thermo blanket, and I walked. I walked for hours while she slept. At first, I drowned my thoughts with podcasts and music. Before long, though, my thoughts were silenced enough that I could turn down and then turn off the noise, walking in silence. I spent over 360 hours walking (at least two hours a day, every day, for 6 months) and during that time, I allowed myself to think, dream, reflect, wonder, and plan. 

By slowing down, listening, and moving my body, I learned some very profound truths: 

  1. You are not your role. Without the title of Executive Director or even “employed,” I felt worthless. For years, I tied my value to my accomplishments, awards, and titles. When all of that was deemed irrelevant, what was left? Just me. For a while, that felt like not enough. But then I realized I was a fucking chingona back in Aldine before the titles and the Harvard and the blah, blah, blah. I was a chingona with the doctorate and the salary and the titles, and I was still a chingona jobless, in a new country, holding it down with two kids during Covid. I am not my role. I am a badass. Period. 
  2. Wherever you are, you belong. At first, I felt so out of place in a country where I didn’t speak the language, couldn’t read the letters from my son’s daycare, and visibly stood out as often the only person of color in mostly white spaces. But then I realized my presence is enough. I belong because I am here. 
  3. No is not rejection, it is redirection. Looking back, I am grateful that I was rejected every time I applied for a job in Copenhagen. While I know I was qualified and could do a good job in the roles, those jobs were not in alignment with my purpose. I was shrinking myself and hiding parts of myself in the application process, before I even got into the door. Ultimately, I was looking for jobs out of fear and desperation and not out of joy and abundance. Therefore, everytime I heard “no,” it wasn’t actually “no, not you,” it was, “no, not this.” 

Staying in alignment

So if not that, then what? Slowing down, listening, and staying in alignment with my purpose led me to create the Language Preservation Project. The Language Preservation Project is a movement to reverse the trend of language loss across the generations. We support families and educators in recognizing and leveraging the strengths of their own culture and heritage language and then using this to raise and teach multicultural and multilingual children.

Most heritage languages are lost by the third generation. This was the case for me and my family. I was limited in my bilingualism and on track to lose Spanish within our family by the third generation when my son was born.

When I became a mother four years ago, I knew that I wanted to raise my Mexican-American-Danish son to feel connected to all parts of his rich heritage through language and customs. I wasn’t sure that I would be successful at passing along a language that I didn’t speak fluently, but I felt such a strong connection to the Spanish language and Mexican culture that I naively moved forward with my plans to raise my son in Spanish.

I spent so many sleepless nights searching for, and ultimately creating a framework and resources specifically designed for heritage language  speakers raising  and teaching multilingual and multicultural kids. It was a lot of work, but I loved it and I wanted it to be my full time job. In the silence of my walks with my daughter, I listened to this faint and then loud voice in my  head telling me to go for it. 

Listening to “No”

I believe your language and your culture are your strengths. This fundamental truth pulled me through the darkest of times and into total alignment with my purpose as the founder & CEO of The Language Preservation Project. I was only  able to hear this truth because 54 Nos redirected me to one big yes. 

As I leave you, I want you to think about your “nos” lately. What are they  telling you? Where are they  redirecting you? The possibilities of no are endless.