By Maria Valdez Haubrich

The NAWBO-LA speaker series I attended last week was called Women of Influence, but perhaps it should have been called Women of Substance. Not only were the panelists highly influential but each one had fought her own battles and risen to the top in her field with perseverance and strength.

The most moving of the speakers was Gisselle Acevedo, president and CEO of Para Los Ninos, a nonprofit family service organization that helps Los Angeles children from impoverished areas improve their lives and education. She has been a teacher, a lawyer, an executive and now as the esteemed director of Para Los Ninos she’s changing the lives of thousands of Skid Row children for the better. So what is this mother/leader/advocate going to do next? Why, get her Ph.D., of course.

Acevedo explained, “I’ve always wanted my Ph.D. and now that my daughter is off to college next year, I think it’s time.” She’s going to be studying “depth psychology,” which is the study of the conscious and unconscious parts of the human experience. “Basically, I want to know why people do the things they do,” which makes sense from someone who sees the worst in children’s situations. She also admitted she had a very bad experience as a child and wants to explore how that affected her life choices.

Acevedo read a piece from the American poet Robert Bly about “The Shadow.” According to Bly, we all carry around an invisible bag on our backs in which we store our pieces of shame—things we do that, since childhood we’ve been told are wrong according to our parents, our teachers, our religion. As we grow up, the shadow bag gets heavier and heavier. Acevedo says at some point you need to open the bag and see what you have put away.

She believes there needs to be a new era of mentoring–one where instead of saying, “Things will get better” and “This is what you should do,” the mentor imparts less judgment and instead guides the person to a “place of permission” where it’s OK to have faults. Leaders should be less judgmental of other and of themselves.

Speaking to the many successful women in the room, Acevedo said, Yes, you are an important person here today in your nice dress-up shoes, “But I am just as good a person at home in my flip-flops.” She stressed the importance of not judging a book by its cover, and to helping everyone without bias because you never know where you’ll meet your next benefactor or who will be holding your next business opportunity.