When I first started out in journalism, I worked as a Senior Editor for Urban Latino magazine. Part of the position was to write about events, and I was assigned to cover a concert rehearsal featuring many of the top Latin singers from the late 1990s. While I expected to hear amazing Latin music, I never could have predicted that I would learn life lessons from the legendary Celia Cruz herself.
Rehearsal was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Having worked in the entertainment industry for a few years at that point, it wasn’t uncommon for celebrities to show up late — or sometimes, not even at all. While a couple of singers strolled in after the rehearsal started, Celia was on time. In fact, she was early.
Celia went first, and when she grabbed the mike, she was ready. Although she had the lyrics written down on a piece of paper, she barely even looked at them. She was singing a new song, and she already had it memorized.
Undoubtedly, Celia was La Reina de la Salsa and rightly so, with 3 Grammy Awards, four Latin Grammy Awards, 23 gold albums, the President’s National Medal of Arts (and later, a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award). But when she saw some of the other artists struggling with the new songs back on that night back in 1996, she got up and helped them. She offered tips on how to hit certain notes, or how to sing a line with more emotion. She treated everyone as equals, and the mutual respect among all the artists was inspiring.
As I sat there, listening to these amazing artists perform, it didn’t go unnoticed that there were some serious life lessons happening right before me that could be applied anywhere in life, from the workplace to the playground. Here’s what I learned:
Sure, it’s hard to get anywhere even remotely on time when you’re dragging a toddler who is clothing-adverse and another kid who can’t ever seem to find his right shoe. Still, you should try to make the effort to be punctual. It definitely decreases your stress levels when you’re not late for that pediatric appointment. Also, it just makes you feel good when you time it just right — even if it’s making it to the PTO meeting before it begins or being on time for that Zoom job interview.
You get a pile of Girl Scouts papers that you need to fill out, but you’d rather watch Is It Cake? with your kiddo instead. While deducing if that Mona Lisa portrait is a painting or a vanilla cake with chocolate ganache can be more fun, it’s even more exciting to be responsible. Don’t believe me? Yes, it might not seem signing pages would be scintillating, but knowing that you’ve prioritized the paperwork (or any other task) and it’s officially done means that you can relax and truly be present with your kiddos.
You’re a parent, so naturally, you’re busy AF. But being of service to others is always bound to give you those warm and fuzzy feels. For example, if you’re an attorney, you can read through your friend’s divorce papers to point out any potential problems, or if you crave coming up with some delicious dishes, you can make extra chicken fettucine alfredo for your neighbor who recently broke her hip. The point isn’t to overwhelm yourself with so many activities but rather to take your own talents — be it cooking, accounting, or whatever — and see how you can help someone in need.
It’s the biggest cliché of them all: Life is short. And you might not have ever given that idea a second thought until you started your family and realized that life is finite. That’s why it’s so, so vital to do what you love, whether it’s going after that job you really want or starting your IVF journey to realize your dream of becoming a parent. No matter what you want to do in your life, you just need to stop thinking about it, take that step, and go for it. Like Celia says, “La vida es un carnaval,” (“Life is a carnival”) and it’s always much better to go through life happy so that you show your child what it’s like to really live.
Sometimes, you need a reminder of what really matters in life. And showing up for yourself in work (and life) is paramount, especially when, as a parent, you probably put yourself last. So when I’m in a situation and I’m unsure what to do, I ask myself one question: “What would Celia do?” I usually come up with the right answer that will lead me towards a fuller and more authentic life. Because being true to yourself nunca pasa de moda.