November 23, 2021
Letting Curiosity Lead
By Vanessa Pimblott
I have a longstanding nickname that my grandma gave me: Sinvergüenza. It’s Spanish for “bold and without shame.” She has always told me, “¡Eres tan sinvergüenza!” (You’re so shameless!)--and it’s true! I will not hesitate or flinch to ask anybody questions. How did you do that? Who should I talk to? Can you point me in the right direction?
I haven’t always been this proud of my sinvergüenzura, but the older I get, the more proudly I lean into this aspect of myself--my curiosity. I’m grateful for the places my curiosity has led me to.
I’m a mother of a seven-year old, five-year old, and a seven month old, and when I was pregnant with my youngest, I decided to run for school board. To be honest, I didn’t completely understand what I was getting myself into, but this vision I dream of, the one where we as a society protect children, celebrate, and create space for children to grow into their full potential, was worth throwing my hat in the ring for.
At that time, my baby’s due date was April 4th and the school board election was April 6th, so at my pregnancy check-ups I would ask my doctor, “Is it looking like I’m going to give birth on April 4th? ‘Cause I’ve got somewhere I’ve gotta be on April 6th.”
“And where do you have to be?” my doctor asked.
“I’m running for school board and I really want to vote for myself.”
“You are running for an elected position right now? Of course you are.”
This is just the type of person I am though; if I have a vision for something, I will do whatever I can to pursue it. And it’s not always running for school board. Most days, it’s small, deliberate actions--it’s putting my energy towards the new instead of wasting it on the old.
I realized several years back, though, that not everybody thinks the same way I do. I grew up in Los Angeles with a lot of social inequities and violence towards Black and Latinx communities, and I was always kind of told, “well, just put your head down and don’t worry about it. If it’s not affecting you, just keep walking.”
But living in St. Louis in 2014 with the killing of Michael Brown, I was incapable of existing in this way. The violence was so blatantly racist, targeted at the Black community--we could not not talk about it. To have integrity in my own life, I had to say something--and I did. I brought it up in my main community at the time, which was a Christian church of predominantly White people, and they told me to stay out of it--to stay out of politics, to keep out of these conversations.
This just further cemented the need inside of me. “Oh no,” I thought, “these are the conversations I need to be having then. These are the conversations that matter.”
We can’t start building the world we imagine until we stop avoiding, stop the sugar-coating, and see through the delusion. Then we can make the choice to stop doing what we’re currently doing, seek other ways, and build.
I was working at a major corporation at the time, and one day was talking to a friend about how there is so much more we can be in this world. She told me about a new fellowship at WEPOWER that engages Black and Latinx community members in actively reimagining and redesigning social systems. This spoke to me--I applied and got in.
Now, it’s not often we enter into change feeling all warm and fuzzy. Even for an extroverted person like me, change feels awkward and hard. In my corporate position, I was used to being able to easily melt into the background and not share much of myself. I was okay enough.
But in this WEPOWER fellowship, I couldn’t hide behind anyone or anything. I had to show up and share from the inside, and I was so out of my comfort zone. I mean, I was in a room with PhDs, owners of ECE centers, and people who understood policy...and who was I? I was just a mom!
No, I wasn’t familiar with any of this type of leadership or policy work when I started, but I wanted to know and I persisted. The voice inside me wanting change was strong enough to keep pushing me forward. And surprisingly, as I got going and kept showing up more and more fully, I kept finding more people I had powerful things in common with. My path became increasingly clear.
Soon after that, I chose to leave my corporate job and come work at WEPOWER because I was ready to take a risk. I wanted a place that offered fertile ground for me to honor that inner voice and blossom into my own leadership capabilities. I wanted space to be imaginative, playful, and honoring the agency we have to create change. And I wanted to do this with other people who were also ready to build a visionary community.
Our mission here is to activate power--the power that is already inside of people. At WEPOWER we don’t believe we are giving anything new to anyone because it’s already inherent. We provide platforms to help you activate it when you’re ready.
Through this work, I get to see people having major “aha” moments, who come from their own versions of hiding in the background and being quiet, to stepping forward, starting groups to organize in their communities, getting involved, and really realizing the magnitude that is inside of them. This work has made people realize that being Black and Latinx is pretty freaking amazing, and brings me a lot of joy and pride.
Looking back on all this now, I wish I could have told my earlier self, “Actually, Ms. Sinvergüenza, once you take your leap, you’re going to grow so much--as a mother, a person, and a leader--and those voids you feel inside are going to be filled. Once you trust that curiosity and invest in the things that you can say a whole-hearted ‘Yes’ to, the dividends will be so much greater. Trust that voice, and throw your hat in the ring!”
Written in partnership with Whitney Bembenek.