The Unexpected Story of How I Started My Career

The Unexpected Story of How I Started My Career

I decided a few weeks ago that I need less sleep than I am already getting and therefore need to expand this blog into YouTube. You know, so I can spend countless hours filming and editing video into the wee hours of the dawn, generating content in a format that doesn’t come as easily to me as writing does. But your girl never backs away from a challenge and, while the quality of my videos is definitely not up to par with my written content, there is something to be said about sharing my career advice “face-to-face”.

For the very first video on my new YouTube channel, I decided to start from the beginning: the story of how I started my career. I kept it short and to the point so feel free to write in the comments—either below or on the YouTube video—if you have any lingering questions. (A common one for example is how I chose marine affairs and policy as a major in the first place.) I would also appreciate your support in subscribing to my channel and giving your feedback on other stories, advice and topics you would like me to cover via video.

As you watch it, please be gentle. Remember that video creation does not come easily to me and that this is my very first attempt. I am hoping to create at least one video a month to start and promise that they will progressively get better in quality as we journey along together into the depths of YouTube. Happy watching!

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

“Devastating”,”monster hurricane”, “most catastrophic storm ever”, “apocalyptic storm”, “like a lawnmower from the sky”. Those are some of the words the media used to describe Hurricane Irma, the Category 4 storm passing over Miami as I write this. How do those words make you feel? Based on the mass exodus, gas shortages, long lines at the supermarket and violence over plywood and gas, I’m going to guess they make you feel panicked. It’s not your fault—those terms are designed to put you on alert.

Saying “the storm that, according to the models, may cause devastation in Florida” is not quite as attention grabbing as “the storm that swallows Florida in the latest forecast”. The former also doesn’t move us to take action, to prepare with the same urgency. I calmly traveled to Iowa two days before Hurricane Irma “made its way toward south Florida”. I changed my flight back to Miami and started preparing when Hurricane Irma became “the hurricane that will make Florida disappear from the map”.

Most people don’t think twice about the words they use when they communicate but word choice matters. Not only can it spur emotion like it was intended to do pre-storm, but it can also prevent miscommunication. (And, based on these ten examples, even seemingly small miscommunications can have massive consequences.) It is a tool that when properly used, can vastly improve the understanding of what you want to convey. And, if you take it one step further, can even get others to do what you want.

During my quarantine, I watched this George Carlin skit about saving the planet and was blown away by the effectiveness of his word choices in communicating his message. At one point he claims the human race will go extinct by referring to us as an “evolutionary cul-de-sac”. Let that visual sink in for a second. Isn’t it the perfect metaphor given the configuration of the tree of life? (In case you forgot your high school biology, I’ve included an example of a tree of life below.) It helped me really feel the finality that the end of our species would entail.

Tree of LIfe

This week pay extra attention to the words used by others when they talk to you. What were words and phrases others used that conveyed a clear, concise message? Which were ambiguous or confusing? The nuances you pick up when you’re on the listening end can help you be more effective when you’re on the communicating end.

Also, pay careful attention to the words you use when you talk to others. These 25 tips will help you make better choices. They’re intended for writers but are just as applicable for verbal communication—plus, the author’s examples of poor word choice are hilarious. In the end, I am confident you will find they’ll help you become a better communicator.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Words are free. It’s how you use them that will cost you.” —Unknown

What Running Has Taught Me About Work Ethic

What Running Has Taught Me About Work Ethic

My dad introduced me to running. My friend Roy got me back into it after I slipped into a year-long hiatus. I’m grateful to both of them because I’m meant to be a runner, just like other people are meant to be tennis players, or swimmers, or dancers. My body—I have long, lean legs—is certainly built for it. In fact, my body needs it to burn all the excess energy that materializes as anxiety or stress when I don’t run.

When I became a born again runner, I asked Roy to be my accountability buddy because he has a great training philosophy and runs at least three times a week, no matter what. His advice helped me tap into next-level running potential I didn’t know I had. After one year, I was logging an average of 21 miles per week and whittled down to a 110-pound athletic frame with a budding six-pack. I also started winning races, helping my South Beach Triathlon relay team place first in April and my Mack’s Cycle Trilogy relay team place second just last weekend.


Beyond building physical prowess, my return to running has greatly improved my work ethic. It’s not surprising. When I first started applying for jobs, multiple people recommended I include my sports experience because both team and individual sports teach skills needed in the workforce. Alas, as an entry-level candidate, I heavily pitched my seven years of competitive volleyball as proof that I am committed and a team player.

Being a runner has taught me discipline—the discipline of eating well, taking care of my body, getting enough sleep, and not missing a day of training. It has taught me mental toughness, the kind you need to push through mile 12 of a half-marathon or hour 13 of a long work day when all you want to do is quit. Last but not least, it has taught me to be patient with myself. There are days when I kill it in training and days when the training kills me. Running has taught me to celebrate the good days and to dust myself off on the bad days, keeping my goals in sight and working toward them no matter how discouraged I may feel.


My next goal is to run my very first marathon in 2018. I’m actively searching for an epic race—think Paris, Greece, New York, Boston—for which to start training. Any suggestions? And, while we’re on the subject of epic races, next month Roy will be competing in a Boston Qualifier for what will be his fourth time running the Boston Marathon. He’s worked extremely hard these last five months so please send him positive vibes for a successful (and enjoyable) race day.

And now, for your quote of the day and one of Roy’s favorites:

“You train to race, not race to train.” —Bill Bowerman

Three Podcasts I Can’t Live Without

Three Podcasts I Can’t Live Without

The moment I discovered podcasts is the moment I started wishing I had a longer commute to work. Turns out, there are too many great topics to cover in my five minute drive. Nevertheless, I savor every second and anxiously await an excuse for a longer trip (i.e., when I visit my parents in Boca) to get caught up on everything I want to hear.

There are three podcasts I listen to religiously that were all recommendations from friends. I figured I would pay it forward by sharing them with you in order of their importance in my life. As a disclaimer to my more conservative friends, they are presented from a liberal standpoint but I still think you will enjoy them. In fact, part of why I like them is that they expose me to different perspectives and, because I am consciously aware of how the information is being framed, their viewpoints are all the more thought-provoking.

1. The Daily

If there is one podcast you need to stay on top of current events, it’s The Daily. My friend Betsy introduced me to this approximately 20-minute segment by The New York Times and it has become part of my Monday through Friday routine. I like it because it concisely breaks down the top news story of the day, making a concerted effort to present the issue in a balanced manner. For example, they interviewed a coal miner for a story on climate change.

2. This American Life

This American Life is the podcast I have been listening to the longest. Betsy played it on the 8-hour car ride from Sosúa to Punta Cana during our 2015 trip through the Dominican Republic. (Remember the one where I nearly died of a stomach virus?) The show covers a wide range of topics in an effort to understand the human experience in America, my favorite of which have been episodes #423: The Invention of Money and #400: Stories Pitched by Our Parents.

3. Freakonomics Radio

This podcast expands upon the work Steven Levitt undertook in his 2005 book by the same name: to study a wide range of subjects using economic theory. He covers random topics from politics to suspense to food. Ironically, the episodes I like best center around finance and economics, such as the last two episodes on money.

Looking for more podcasts? Here’s a list of honorable mentions in which I also dabble:

  • Why Oh Why — a deeply honest show on dating and relationships in the modern era hosted by the witty and relatable Andrea Silenzi. If you love her as much as I do, make sure to follow her on Twitter for more hilarity.
  • Revisionist History — Malcolm Gladwell graces us with his genius in a podcast that reexamines the overlooked and the misunderstood from humanity’s past. My favorite episode of its second season is “A Good Walk Spoiled” where he vents about the rich’s obsession with golf and how golf courses consume valuable real estate for a one-dimensional use.
  • WSJ’s The Future of Everything — I balance the news I get from the New York Times by also reading the Wall Street Journal. This series from the journalists behind their Future of Everything magazine delves into how our world will work in the future through intriguing interviews with the scientists, coders, engineers, and entrepreneurs that are helping to shape it. It makes me feel excited about the work I do in Miami Beach by giving it a broader, more long-term context.

What podcasts do you recommend? Leave them in the comments below or send me a tweet @margaritakwells! And now, for your quote of the day:

“The best ideas emerge when very different perspectives meet.” —Frans Johansson

Why Great Employees Don’t Always Make The Best Bosses (And What To Do About It)

Why Great Employees Don’t Always Make The Best Bosses (And What To Do About It)

Have you ever noticed that most people in leadership positions are where they are because they excelled in technical roles and were given opportunities for advancement? Take inventory in your office. What do the careers of the middle and upper managers look like? In the places I’ve worked, the majority of my colleagues have climbed the corporate ladder for exceeding expectations in past positions.

That has certainly been the case for me. My meteoric rise to department director has culminated from a promising performance record, a series of fortunate circumstances, and supervisors who have put their faith in me. If you look at my resume before this position, it left a lot to be desired in terms of experience beyond technical work. It has been up to me to sink or swim these last few months. Motivated by the desire to see our team and its members succeed, as well as to show my supervisors that they made the right choice, I have Michael Phelps-ed my way through it.

This Harvard Business Review article for new managers points out that, “just because you were a terrific producer before you were promoted it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a terrific boss.” You see, “for most newly appointed managers…the skills and qualities that earned them the promotion are very different from those that will serve them well as a leader, and they’re often left to figure it out on their own…” It is up to us—those lucky enough to be entrusted with leadership positions—to be conscious of this disparity and prepare ourselves for our new roles by acquiring (or refining) management, leadership and business administration skills required to be successful.

It has taken a village to get me in “boss” shape. It would have been so much easier to default back to my comfort zone: doing the technical work that I’m good at and got me my promotion. Instead, I have relied heavily on the wisdom of my mentors, my supervisors, my friends, my family, the experts at Dale Carnegie, books, and articles to foster the skills with which I am less comfortable. It’s going to continue to take all of these resources and a few life lessons (read, mistakes) to refine them as I move forward in my career. Nevertheless, I’m headed in the right direction.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are three Harvard Business Review articles I found particularly helpful in approaching my role as a new manager like a seasoned pro:

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” —Alexander Graham Bell

How 5 Shapes Can Help You Make Friends

How 5 Shapes Can Help You Make Friends

Making friends is easy for some people—not for me. I may be an extrovert but there are many people with whom I struggle to make conversation. I’m talking about interactions that, no matter how much the other person and I share in common, feel forced, are punctuated by awkward silences, or are just plain uncomfortable. Sound familiar?

Turns out our inability to jive with certain people may be out of our control, a function of incongruent personalities, attitudes, education, and/or past experiences. After all, it is the unique combination of these factors that make us who we are and that determine our biases. Each person can bring you a new perspective. You can improve your chances of getting along with them by understanding where it comes from and learning how they think.

The first step is understanding a person’s personality type, the most popular method of which is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. While it is appropriate and commonplace to use the Myers-Briggs in a work setting, it’s too expensive, too lengthy and overall impractical for making friends in a social setting. (Can you imagine pulling it out at happy hour? I didn’t think so.) Enter psycho-geometrics.

Psycho-geometrics is another—a quicker, simpler—analytical approach to narrowing down people’s decision-making, communication styles, and other traits based on their selection of one of five geometric shapes. My mentor Eric introduced me to the concept a few weeks ago and I can’t stop using it. (Ask anyone who’s met me recently. It’s become my most precious, potentially overused, “party trick”.)

Think fast! Do you prefer a box, a circle, a rectangle, a triangle or a squiggle? Write the first one that came to mind in the comments below. Once you’ve done that, check out this cheat sheet to each of the five shapes and what they represent. Did the characteristics listed for your shape hit home? What about the positive traits? The negative traits?

I picked the circle and, except for the claim that I am indecisive, its description was spot on. It has also been pretty accurate in categorizing my friends and colleagues. Most surprisingly, 100-percent of the engineers I know have picked the box (because “it’s so perfect,” claims my mechanical engineer sister Lucy).

It is important to remember that psycho-geometrics doesn’t paint a full picture of a person. I have my new friend Daniel and his skepticism about labels to thank for that reminder. He’s right—if you read through all the shapes, you’re bound to find traits in the ones you didn’t pick with which you can also identify. You should therefore only rely on psycho-geometrics loosely when making assumptions about others.

That said, asking a stranger to pick a shape is an excellent ice breaker. For me, it has opened the door to in-depth conversations at networking events, happy hours, and parties that I could only dream of having before. Most of these conversations have led to newfound friendships, proving no matter how you use it, psycho-geometrics is a great tool for making friends.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“You have to get along with people, but you also have to recognize that the strength of a team is different people with different perspectives and different personalities.” —Steve Case

Three Books You Need To Read This Summer

Three Books You Need To Read This Summer

As evidenced by my current commitment to read and apply the principles in Dale Carnegie’s How To Make Friends & Influence PeopleI’m really into books about human psychology and (*cringe*) self-help. It’s ironic because since I was a teenager, my mom has been trying to get me to read books in this genre. She probably gave me every version of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul which is not only a “thing” but also comes in four volumes. I was (and, as far as the Chicken Soup series, still am) completely uninterested in reading the books she gave me. They gathered dust for years before I moved out of my college dorm and donated them all to my local library.

I am unashamed at my newfound appreciation for this often dismissed category because there are hidden gems that are worthwhile and I’ve figured out how to mine them out. There are more than I could have ever imagined. In fact, my Amazon Prime account has been doing some heavy lifting the past few weeks, pleasantly surprising me with a new delivery at my door almost daily.

I started this post with the intention of sharing all of the books I’m currently excited about with you, but I feel overwhelmed with my too-long reading list and I want this to be fun, not give us anxiety. For that reason, I have narrowed down my book recommendations to my top three selections. I’m talking about the three books you need to read this summer, whether you’re tanning at the beach, lounging by the pool, or sipping your pre-work coffee.

I hope that you enjoy them as much as I think I am going to and that you’ll share your thoughts with me in the comments below or by engaging with me on Twitter. Please also share your must-read books of summer! Here are mine, in order of how excited I am about them:

  1. Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. When I told my mentor Eric that I was reading Dale Carnegie, his eyes lit up for five seconds before he asked, “Have you read Who Moved My Cheese?” I can see why he recommended it. The book provides insight on dealing with change in your professional and personal life, teaching you how to reduce stress and find success despite circumstances you can’t control. This advice is key even if you don’t work in a politically-driven climate like me.
  2. How Risky Is It, Really? by David Ropeik. Surprisingly, my work in the environmental field is centered on the concept of risk. Take climate change, for example—addressing it is essentially an exercise in risk reduction whether you’re talking about mitigation or adaptation. I therefore want to understand how the human psyche perceives risk and why our fears don’t always match the facts. Beyond my job, it will help me understand why I freak out on airplanes, but have no hesitation about getting behind the wheel in the crash capital of the world.
  3. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. This pick was courtesy of my mom and I am just as shocked as you are that it made it onto this list. That said, its focus is very apropos for where I am in life. As I catapult into my 30s this September, I am undergoing paradigm shifts in personality and what I want out of life that are rocking me to my core. I am looking forward to Sheryl’s personal insight on recovering and rebounding in the face of hardships, big or small.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” —Joseph Addison

How To Get Me (And Others) To Do What You Want

How To Get Me (And Others) To Do What You Want

I desperately want ice cream right now—but you don’t care, do you? You’re thinking about your own hopes and dreams. That’s okay. As Dale Carnegie points out in the third chapter of How To Win Friends & Influence People, “The rest of us are just like you: we are interested in what we want.”

So, if we’re all independently focused on our own wants, how do we even function as a society? How do we work together to meet our collective goals? Turns out the secret to influencing people is to think and talk to them in terms of what they want. You need to find the thing that is going to make them excited to do what you want them to do. As it relates to me right now, that “thing” is creamy, sugary, and frozen inside a 32-ounce tub.

Everyone has their “ice cream”. It can take the form of a personal, professional, financial or spiritual goal depending on the individual. As a manager, it is my job to know the underlying motivation(s) for each person on my team, just like I need to know their strengths and weaknesses. It allows me to set them and our team up for success by aligning their goals with those of our department. Furthermore, it is a tool I can use to motivate them when they have to do tasks they may not want to do.

It’s not always easy to know what people want. It takes a lot of communication with and observation of a person to fully understand what drives them across various situations. And, in some cases, people will strategically mask their motivations so they cannot be used against them. (As we previously discussed, these principles can—for better or for worse—be used manipulatively.) But, whether you can discern it or not, everyone wants something. Knowing and, more importantly, remembering what that is improves your ability to successfuly work with people.

Every decision a person makes, every word a person says reveals a little bit about what they value. With the right amount of effort and by taking the time to listen, you will start to pick up on these subtle clues, building overtime a robust database to help you frame scenarios on their terms. For example, if you were paying attention, this post gave you serious intel about my love of ice cream. Therein lies the secret to getting me (and others) to do what you want.

And now, for your quote of the day:

“If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” —Steve Jobs

The Best Career Advice I Have Received From My Dad

The Best Career Advice I Have Received From My Dad

My dad has been giving me career advice for as long as I can remember. When I was an undergrad at the University of Miami, he would drive down from Boca to run with me and spend the entire time telling me how I should study to be an engineer. “It is the highest paying job for hispanic women right out of school,” he would say matter-of-factly.

I don’t always listen to him. I definitely didn’t when it came to majoring in engineering. (I don’t have a facility for math, so the field didn’t seem prudent or enticing.) Instead, I ended up with a triple major in Marine Affairs and Policy, International Studies, and French Language and Literature. I also didn’t listen when he said to go into the private sector, choosing instead to build a career in government that is going on six years.

To my poor dad’s dismay, I ignore most of his recommendations. Everything he says sounds right—his advice to become a private sector engineer certainly worked for my younger sister Lucy, who found success in California building cool stuff—most of it just isn’t right for me. But, amidst his mostly maligned pointers, he shared one nugget of wisdom that has proved super valuable in my professional journey: to build and foster a network.

I don’t know why I decided to listen to and apply this one piece of advice—perhaps because I’ve seen it work successfully as I’ve followed my dad’s career. As he’s gone from a Mexican naval officer, to a telecommunications executive, to a business development and sales executive, he has formed relationships that have been clutch in unexpected circumstances. For example, he recently won a multi-year contract because an assistant he worked with in the ’90s, with whom he has since kept in touch, helped him secure a hard-to-get meeting with a Mexican mogul.

Motivated by his success, I’m trying to learn from my dad’s networking savvy. The man doesn’t let a special occasion pass without sending each of his contacts a congratulatory e-mail. Alas, I too try to reach out to everyone in my network during birthdays and holidays. He is also very good about passing along articles that his contacts (me included) will find useful. It is through maintaining regular, meaningful communication that he continues to strengthen relationships when most of us allow them to fizzle.

While I have never scored an elusive meeting with a powerful Latin American businessman, I have seen the worth of my network in action. It helped me get the interview that led to my current job and it helps me every day when I have to work with people in other organizations to solve problems. Heck, it occasionally even gets me access to free technical advice from consultants. For these reasons, having and maintaining a robust network is one of my most prized assets and the best career advice I have ever received from my dad.

(A huge shout out and a happy father’s day to my dad! Thank you for being patient and caring enough to keep doling out advice when I clearly have a track-record of ignoring it. I wouldn’t be where I am without you and for that I am forever grateful.)

And now, for your quote of the day courtesy of my dad:

“Work hard in silence. Let success make the noise.” —Frank Ocean

How To Give Honest, Sincere Appreciation The Right Way

How To Give Honest, Sincere Appreciation The Right Way

Deep down everyone wants to feel appreciated, to feel important. What drives that feeling of importance is different for each of us. For example, mine surges from making a lasting impact on our society, whether its at work (by contributing to projects that are redefining the future of my community) or at home (by sharing advice, experiences, and resources to help you be your best “you”). What drives your feeling of importance?

Dale Carnegie’s big secret to dealing with people is to satisfy their hunger to feel important. He claims that when we make people feel appreciated, we can get them to do what we want for two reasons: (1) the positive interaction helps us bond; and, (2) it reinforces the behavior(s) we’re seeking.

The problem I have with this principle is that it is difficult to apply authentically. There is an ultra fine line between using it for good and using it for evil. I mean, doesn’t it sound manipulative to praise others to further a personal agenda? It certainly does to me.

Dale Carnegie acknowledges this challenge, which is why he delves into the difference between appreciation and flattery for nearly four pages of this chapter. He explains that appreciation surges from the heart, making it sincere and unselfish. It requires us to stop thinking about ourselves for ten seconds to reflect on the other person’s good qualities. On the other hand, flattery requires little effort because you’re defaulting to saying what the receiver wants to hear, making it insincere and selfish.


I wasn’t very successful with Principle 1 but, man, this one was way harder for me. It had my conscience on overdrive all of last week as I searched for opportunities to show appreciation honestly and sincerely. I kept thinking to myself, “Am I complimenting my colleagues because I truly feel this way, or because I want them to keep doing what they’re doing?” It was a total mind trip and, in the end, I complimented no one for fear of being disingenuous!

So here’s what I learned: you can make giving honest, sincere appreciation harder than it has to be. If you’re superglued to your moral compass like I am, you probably already go around saying “thank you” and passing out praise when it is warranted. Plus, you can already tell when you’re forcing out untruths. (I get that tell-tale feeling at the pit of my stomach.) Instead of overthinking it and giving no praise, let appreciation flow naturally and shift your focus on avoiding the use of flattery in those awkward professional and social situations. Don’t use flattery as a crutch.

“Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.” —Mexican General Alvaro Obregón