Understand that the value you bring into a work space is your value — you bring this with you wherever you go. Some people may associate their value with their job title or salary, but your value is much more than that. It’s the special sauce that you bring into your work that makes you stand out from others, it’s the reason why someone would choose your company or your services over others. So make sure to own it!
Starting something new is scary. Learning to believe in yourself can be a critical precursor to starting a new initiative. Why is it so important to learn to believe in yourself? How can someone work on gaining these skills? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders, authors, writers, coaches, medical professionals, teachers, to share empowering insights about “How To Learn To Believe In Yourself.” As a part of this series we had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Fernandez.
Linda Fernandez is an artist, educator and advocate for community centered art in public spaces. In 2018 she received an award for her research on “The Role of Artists in Anti-Displacement” which investigates trends in neighborhood change and places artists in the role of community organizers working to prevent physical and cultural displacement. Linda’s artistic practice is rooted in collaboration. Her work involves coordinating the creative exchange of messages, artwork and personal artifacts between people across physical, social and cultural divides. As a result, interactions through exchange create solidarity, unity and a sense of belonging which are important human needs. These collaborative works provide a platform for a diversity of voices, ideas and dreams. Linda has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art Education from Tyler School of Art, a certificate in Contemporary Art from Metafora Escola de Arte Contemporaneo in Barcelona, Spain, and a Master’s in Public Administration from Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs. She is an alumni of National Urban Fellows and the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute’s Intercultural Advocacy Fellowship.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Teaneck and grew up in Manalapan, New Jersey to a multi cultural family. Both of my parents grew up in New York City with immigrant parents; Polish and Austrian Jewish on my mom’s side and Puerto Rican and Cuban on my dad’s side. Manalapan as a suburban town was not very culturally diverse and I often felt out of place and not quite knowing how to identify in a way that made sense to others. People would always ask me “where are you from?” or “what are you?” These questions were difficult for me to explain at a young age as I didn’t fit neatly into a categorized “box” and often I would allow others to provide their own labels for me.
As I grew older, I realized that I could proclaim my own identity and as a result, identity has become a focus of my creative work and expression.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Much of my the inspiration for pursuing my career came from friends and family who believed in me and encouraged me to make my dreams become a reality. My entrepreneurship journey started in 2009 in Barcelona, Spain. I was living there while participating in an international program for contemporary art and I needed to figure out a way to earn income. I really enjoyed cooking breakfast for friends; eggs, pancakes, bacon and coffee. One day, I was at a party and my friend Bertha told a group of people that I did breakfast catering. I was shocked but I went with it, and next thing I knew, they hired me to cook for their group of 12 business students and from that point on I had clients each weekend. When my student visa expired I left Barcelona and moved to Managua, Nicaragua because my friend Allison sent me a job posting and encouraged me to apply to be a Co-Director of an Art and Research Center based out of a hostel. In order to fund the programs and activities of the center we started a juice bar and cafe in the hostel. Out of necessity I learned how to create a budget and a business plan and the income generated through these two small businesses funded art programs for local kids and adults. When I came back to the United States I reconnected with a few friends who were starting an artist collective called Amber Art and Design. I was eager to join and be a part of something bigger than myself; to collaborate with others and build something together as I had done in my recent experiences in Spain and Nicaragua. So I joined the collective, helped them get an LLC and this year we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary! In 2020, before the start of the pandemic I had decided I wanted to take my artistry to the next level and become a full time artist. My friend Gregory encouraged me and helped me believe that I could leave my full time job and make my labor of love with Amber Art become my full time gig, and it worked out better than I could have ever imagined.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my mural painting career I was an assistant for two artists. I helped paint their murals for a few months but I wasn’t able to help with the final installation because I was leaving for Spain. When I returned to the US I was unable to find any jobs as a mural assistant. It took me 15 years to realize why! I didn’t realize how important my role was as an assistant and that even though I had communicated my plans and given enough notice, I still left those two artists at a very crucial point in their projects when they may have needed me the most. It took me 15 years to realize why I hadn’t gotten work from them again, but it was also something that propelled me to do my own thing and forge my own path. I wanted to create murals and I didn’t let not getting jobs discourage me; I just found another way to collaborate and create the opportunities I wanted.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Right now I’m installing a 5000 square foot mural as a Percent for Art commission through the City of Philadelphia. This mural is located in Fairhill, a neighborhood of Philadelphia which is predominantly Spanish speaking with people whose heritage comes from the Caribbean, Central and South America. What’s special about this mural is that the inspiration comes from my own research and explorations of identity and culture, and what it means to find your sense of home. Through the design and painting process I’ve been able to engage with hundreds of people from the community and the result will be a beautiful work of art that celebrates the diverse cultures, identities and values of the neighborhood.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to believe in yourself? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Someone once told me that you have to be your biggest fan; you have to believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. I think that oftentimes people can be too self critical, they may think “I’m not ready yet” or they may compare themselves to others and this mentality is a roadblock to your success. In 2016 I decided that I wanted to get a Master’s Degree because I was working full time in the non profit arts sector and I wanted to be able to grow and advance in my career. I found out about a program called National Urban Fellows which is a free MPA for women and people of color who want to gain leadership skills in the public sector. I thought it was a long shot but I believed in myself, put my heart into my application and applied anyway and actually got accepted! It was a life changing experience and helped to build my self confidence.
What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Set goals. Every year on New Years Day I write out my goals for the year. This includes short term goals and things I know I can easily accomplish as well as long term goals, things that might be a stretch but I know I want to accomplish them at some point. I also use this time review my goals from the previous year and cross off the ones I’ve accomplished and reevaluate what I want to carry over to the next year or what I can let go of. This is my way of keeping myself accountable and continuing to keep the seeds of thought alive in my mind so that even when I’m not actively chipping away at a goal, it’s still something that I am conscious of and working towards in the background.
2 . Find an accountability partner/ collaborator. Say you have a project in mind but you’re not exactly sure how to implement it. Finding someone to work with on a project will allow you to build together, support and believe in each other because your work is tied to a common goal. When someone believes in you it increases your ability to believe in yourself because you can see change and growth happening in real time and you can collectively take ownership of that.
3 . Think about the “What” and not the “How”. Think about what you want to do before determine how you will do it. Once you have really figured out what you want to do, the how will develop and take shape. Sometimes you will realize you don’t have all the skills required to implement your vision so you need to hire people to help you or find collaborators or partners. The important thing is not to let yourself get too bogged down by the details. Figure out what you want to do, set your mind to it and then can figure out the details of how to make it happen.
4 . Take your time and be patient. There are no shortcuts, it has taken me about 20 years to get to this point in my career where I finally feel like I am doing my best work. All of my many past work experiences have been integral learning experiences and I’m grateful for them because they have prepared me and allowed me to move with ease through the complexities of my work. I’m also really grateful for all the jobs and opportunities that I didn’t get because if I had gotten them, maybe I wouldn’t have taken the leap to become a full time artist.
5 . Understand that the value you bring into a work space is your value — you bring this with you wherever you go. Some people may associate their value with their job title or salary, but your value is much more than that. It’s the special sauce that you bring into your work that makes you stand out from others, it’s the reason why someone would choose your company or your services over others. So make sure to own it!
Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?
We need to learn how to be kind to ourselves. We will all make mistakes as we’re figuring things out. We’ll all have our good days and bad days, and its ok. One technique that can help is daily journaling to connect with yourself about your day, what went well, what you might want to do better tomorrow. Negative thoughts and self criticism can make us into our own worst enemy so it’s important to find things that bring joy to your life and your work and find ways to acknowledge mistakes or shortcomings and forgive yourself.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?
I think that whatever room you walk into, whether you were invited or you just happened to get there by chance you should make the most of it. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or have all the answers. Sometimes we are meant to be in a space so that we can learn from others around us. In moments where I have felt imposter syndrome I remind myself that I am always here to learn. If possible, find someone you can confide in and see if they would be interested in working together whether its a work project or school assignment, you can support each other and each utilize your best skills.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to inspire a movement for an arts centered public school curriculum. The arts are a universal language that allow people to express themselves in various ways. Many schools have art as an elective and it’s rarely if ever considered part of the core curriculum. I believe that arts are the core of culture and all subjects can be learned through the arts or with an artistic or creative approach.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have a chance to meet and chat with Abbott Elementary Executive Producer, Quinta Brunson. I love her sense of humor and fashion and I am inspired by her story telling and ability to shed light on the tough situation that our public schools in Philly are facing while also bringing humor and joy into the show.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can check out my website www.amberartanddesign.com as well as instagram @amberpublicart and @lindafernandy
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.