Yesterday I continued my series Life’s Work with the story of my friend and former roommate Melody Wilson in Life’s Work: Planting Seeds for Empowerment. Today I am sharing the story of my mentor, friend, colleague, and former carpool buddy Inés Maturana Sendoya. She has lived an interesting life from her childhood in Colombia to her adulthood in the United States. Join me in learning how Inés’ lived experiences have informed and prepared her for her life’s work in building bridges between people.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity.
Tell me about yourself.
I am Afro-Colombian and have lived in the US for more than 30 years. I work in higher education, specifically in diversity and inclusion. I have worked in higher education more than 25 years now. I have graduate education in international higher education and intercultural relations. I speak Spanish, English, and French fluently.
What does the term life‘s work mean to you?
Life’s work for me is the combination of your talents and your passions. When those two things come together, it is life’s work.
Do you have something or some things you consider your life‘s work?
For me, it is working with college students and helping them reach their goals. The other piece is about being a bridge between people. I like bridging people who are different from each other to find some common ground.
How has your life impacted your work?
Since I was very young, I was confronted with being “the only one.” I was the only Black child in my school, which was an elite French school in Colombia. That experience made me feel marginalized and made me feel like I didn’t belong. It’s not a surprise that, as adults, we find ourselves working in those areas that were challenging for us as children or as young people. It was challenging for me to feel excluded and marginalized since I was very different from the rest of my classmates. Today I work in trying to support young people, who feel marginalized, to feel like they belong to the places that they are a part of.
Another experience that was significant for me was when I was finishing high school. I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to pursue.
In Colombia, you go into a field, and that field can become your career. When you graduate from high school, you go directly into law school, medical school, engineering school, and so forth. There is not that buffer that exists here in the US of having college where you can major in something, but that does not necessarily go into a specific career path.
I wasn’t really sure about what I wanted to do. My father dictated for me what he thought I should be doing, which was more of what he wanted me to do. That was very hard and created a rift between us. So for that reason, I think that today a part of my life’s work is to work with young people and help them connect with resources so they can reach their goals, their personal goals—not their parents’ goals, not their community’s goals—but their goals.
How has your work impacted your life?
It has given me humility to understand that my worldview is important, but there are many worldviews. There are many experiences that inform how people feel about the world. I am always learning. There is always something new for me to understand, a new way to look at life.
There is the inspiration that I receive in my work from young people, seeing them trying to make sense of the world. Seeing that at the end of the day, even with mistakes and all, you will be fine. People will find their way, and they will be fine. I get inspired by seeing them struggling through challenges and then coming out on the other side fine.
What do you consider to be the highlights of your life‘s work?
The young people I have worked with. Like I said before, seeing them struggle through whatever circumstances they have to confront and finding them years later doing fine for themselves. Finding seeds that I have planted in their lives knowingly and unknowingly. Seeing how they have flourished.
What have you learned through your experiences?
Because I am interested in the field of inclusion and development, seeing how in my students’ own work and in their own lives they open spaces for people who have been marginalized. Seeing how they themselves also try to act as bridges between people who are different. Understanding it’s not always about me, but how we interact together and weave these worlds together—sometimes in ways that we have planned, but other times in ways we have not planned.
What do you hope to experience in the future?
I would like to bring this work to Colombia. Even though diversity and inclusion is not a field per se there, the work is much needed. There are lots of rifts there regarding race, socioeconomic status, political differences, gender expression, and gender identity. There is a lot of work to be done there. At some point, I would like to contribute to this work in Colombia. Hopefully, people are not going to think that I am importing American ideas. I would like to do it in a way that works for our community and reality.
How do you hope the workforce evolves in the future?
I’d like for everybody to have more work-life balance and work that is not all consuming. People can work, but it doesn’t have to take over all of their lives—that they can pursue other interests. That is one piece.
The other piece is that we divide the work in a way that everyone can have a job. It seems like there are some people overwhelmed by work and other people that don’t have work. There should be enough work for everybody.
The last piece is that if you’re working, you should be able to make ends meet. You shouldn’t have to have two or three jobs to make ends meet. It would make sense to me that if you’re working, one job can provide you with what you need in order to make sure you can do what you need financially.
What action steps can you take now?
Because we are working in the pandemic from home, I am trying to establish more boundaries about my work life and my personal life. For example, on the weekend, I try not to work on the weekends. I try at some point to stop and close my computer, not because the work has stopped. I could be working 24 hours, and there still would be work. At some point, I said I’m going to stop now and do other things. I would say that for myself, but also in terms of modeling for other people where I work to set up more boundaries and create more work-life balance.