Learn how to tune out the external noise. This might be easier said than done, but it will truly be life changing! I didn’t start believing in myself until I began to tune out others. In a lot of cultures, it is normal to pay attention to the sayings such as “What will others say or think?”. Once I stopped paying attention to external opinions, I looked within myself for the answers. That is when I really started to believe and trust in myself!

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 Sara Diaz, The First Gen Madrina.

Sara Diaz, LCSW, is a dedicated First-Generation Life and Transition Coach and Workshop Facilitator. She serves as the visionary Founder and Chief Madrina at The First Gen Madrina, LLC. Sara’s unwavering commitment revolves around supporting first-generation individuals and fostering awareness about mental health within the community. Her diverse background spans child welfare, higher education, the non-profit sector, and the podcasting community.

Throughout her career, Sara has steered numerous workshops for various organizations, covering themes such as transitioning to college, effective mental health management, imposter syndrome, time management and navigating the unique experiences of first-generation individuals. Her expertise also extends to consulting on the development of leadership development curricula tailored to the needs of first-generation college students. Sara’s contributions have also involved training and supervising social workers to adopt culturally responsive approaches in their work within the Latinx community.

Sara holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her podcast, The First Gen Madrina, can be found on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Her overarching mission is to enlighten and empower the first-generation community, while also providing valuable resources to facilitate connections. You can find more information on how you can work with Sara by visiting her website thefirstgenmadrina.com.


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?

Sure! My parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba to search for better opportunities for their future generations. Due to the communist regime, my family knew that it was no longer safe to stay there, and it would also limit them from being able to support their families. My parents were able to study in the US but left prematurely due to financial challenges. I was born and raised in Hudson County, NJ and ended up being the first in my family to graduate college. I graduated from Rutgers University with a Masters of Social Work degree and later became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

What inspired me to pursue my career was the stigma and lack of education surrounding mental health within my community. The summer before I started college as a first-generation college student, I lost my great aunt Caridad. Tia Caridad was my third grandmother and second mother. Her death was very sudden and impacted me immensely. That September, I started my undergraduate journey. One night, midway through the semester, I woke up with heart papulations and cold sweats. I could not explain why I was shaking other than the feeling of having a heart attack. Thankfully my mom was by my side and was able to explain to me that I was experiencing a panic attack, something that she unfortunately knew all too well. This became the catalyst for my mental health journey and lead me to see a therapist for the first time. I felt so much shame and embarrassment because, although my mom was a support, the message that I had received about mental health growing up was that it only happened to crazy people. I never spoke about going to therapy to the rest of my family for fear that I would hear words that were invalidating. Once I learned how to manage my anxiety better, something that I still work on in therapy, I valued choosing a career where I can help others do so as well. This led me first to Psychology and then to Social Work, as I wanted to provide counseling to individuals. Mental health education and awareness is still at the forefront of my career. I now focus on supporting first-generation individuals, especially college students, in taking care of their mental health so that they can reach their full academic potential. I enjoy being that support (or madrina/godmother!) that I wanted as I navigated school as the first.

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?

One of the funniest mistakes I made when I first started my career was getting on the wrong train! I lived in NJ my entire life but visited NYC often. My first job was based in Harlem, and I had never really explored Upper Manhattan before. On my first week of work, while running late, I got on the wrong train and ended up in the Bronx! I was definitely frustrated back then but looking back, this is something that can happen to everyone! The lesson that I learned from that is that things may not go as planned, but that is totally okay. Sometimes we have to say it is what it is and move forward. I am still learning to be a bit more spontaneous!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Since I started my business full time, I have the flexibility to work on projects that I am passionate about. One of those projects is partnerships with colleges and universities. I am starting to build partnerships in hopes that I can provide programming opportunities for first-gen students through mentorship programs and workshops. The second project that I am working on is building my coaching business. I have been a mentor to so many that I figured I would turn that into a business! Through my background in social work, I am coaching individuals through a holistic approach while assisting them with navigating life’s challenges and major transitions. I truly hope this helps people, especially first gens, to realize that they are not alone and have support!

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? ‘

Let me start by saying this: It is extremely important to believe in yourself, because at the end of the day, you are the only person that knows what you are capable of. You are also the one that will be putting in the work!

Back in late 2022, I decided that I was going to leave my home state of NJ and move to Florida. This decision was a thought for a few months and was due to many reasons. My grandmother, who lives in Florida, is 95 years old. I decided that, if I could, I would spend as much time as I was able to with her. The other reason that I wanted to move was to push myself to take a leap that I have never done before. I wanted to find independence as an adult and to push myself beyond my comfort zone, something that was always challenging for me to do. I ended up believing in myself and taking the leap in March of 2023. Along with that, at the end of 2023, I decided to take the leap and pursue my business, The First Gen Madrina, full time with no plan and no safety net (in regards to finances). While I did have support from family and friends, I would not have been able to take the leap if I did not believe in what I was capable of. It is hard every day, but I continue to push through because I know my potential and what I am capable of. I feel so fulfilled now in my journey and all it took was to find the courage to embrace the unknown.

What exactly does it mean to believe in yourself? Can I believe that I can be a great artist even though I’m not very talented? Can I believe I can be a gold medal Olympic even if I’m not athletic? Can you please explain what you mean?

Believing in yourself means trusting yourself and your gut. No one knows you more than you know yourself. You know your capabilities from within, you just have to bring it to the forefront. Also, believing in yourself means finding what brings you joy and running with it. It is about mindset. Block out all of the external noise and be able to reflect.

Was there a time when you did not believe in yourself? How did this impact your choices?

There have been many times that I did not believe in myself. Unfortunately, it had a huge impact on my growth because it has hindered me from taking the leap and from realizing my full potential. Imposter syndrome is real, and it does not go away if you do not pause, reflect, and reframe. This is why therapy is so important to me because it reminds me of what I am capable of and allows me to continue to put in the work.

At what point did you realize that in order to get to the next level, it would be necessary to build up your belief in yourself? Can you share the story with us?

I was at the point where I was feeling unhappy and unfulfilled with my job. I had two choices: stay in comfort and stay unhappy at my current job or make some changes and find something new. Since I was dealing with imposter syndrome, I did not know where to begin. I started to believe that I was worth more and that I had the capability of reaching a different population that served my purpose. I was basically done living a life that no longer served me, and I knew I needed to make some moves. There were two things that I did. The first was reach out to my therapist. I knew I first needed clarity to help me find my purpose. The second was research! I bought the book Jefa in Training by Ashley K. Stoyanov Ojeda. This helped me combat my imposter syndrome of not feeling worthy of starting a business, and it actually helped me take the first step! Invest in yourself, and you will see the return!

What are your top 5 strategies that will help someone learn to believe in themselves? Please share a story or example for each.

1 . Learn how to tune out the external noise. This might be easier said than done, but it will truly be life changing! I didn’t start believing in myself until I began to tune out others. In a lot of cultures, it is normal to pay attention to the sayings such as “What will others say or think?”. Once I stopped paying attention to external opinions, I looked within myself for the answers. That is when I really started to believe and trust in myself!

2 . Celebrate The Wins! We are always taught to focus on the negatives and never the positives. We need to start celebrating the wins, even the ones that may feel very small! This will eventually become a motivator for us to keep going.

3 . Embrace Change. You cannot grow in comfort. For the longest time, this was my biggest challenge. I didn’t like change and was comfortable with my routine. It wasn’t until I was no longer comfortable that I began to implement changes. I transformed into a better version of myself and was finally able to see what I was capable of!

4 . Love Yourself. This may seem self-explanatory, but it is actually difficult for most of us to do! Society and the media are constantly sending us negative messages that can contribute to a lack of self-love. This could be extremely detrimental to our mental health. Believing in yourself starts at learning how to love yourself!

5 . Put in the work. Work on those limiting beliefs and know where they come from. Maybe therapy is not for you, and that is totally okay! There are many ways to self-reflect and make those necessary changes for growth. This could be meditation, being in nature and hanging out with supportive family and friends that will push you to believe in yourself. Whatever it is, you are going to have to put in the work, especially in the beginning!

Conversely, how can one stop the negative stream of self-criticism that often accompanies us as we try to grow?

I think it is very difficult to truly stop it. The first step to learning how to manage it and not let it affect us is to become aware of when and how it comes up for us. There are times that we practice negative self-talk, and we aren’t even aware of it. Here is some advice: find yourself a coach or an accountability partner that will help you become aware of it. With time, it will be easier for you to manage it!

Are there any misconceptions about self-confidence and believing in oneself that you would like to dispel?

Yes! The biggest misconception that I see is that self-confidence and believing in oneself makes you cocky or arrogant. This is not true! Being confident is beautiful, and it means that you are secure with yourself. This is extremely important, especially for women. It is time to take back this narrative and start showing up as our true authentic selves.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with imposter syndrome?

It is necessary for us to learn how to manage imposter syndrome and not try to overcome it. We often feel as though imposter syndrome is something that we can get rid of. It is extremely important for us to recognize that we might not overcome imposter syndrome, but we can learn how to manage it so that it doesn’t impair us from our daily tasks. Another piece of advice is although you may feel lonely, you are not alone. Most of us, especially those from marginalized communities, experience imposter syndrome and that is okay. There is a community out there to support you!

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.

This is a great question! If I could inspire a movement that would bring about good, it would be to de-stigmatize mental health within the Latinx community or to reframe how the community looks at mental health. I see way too often students that struggle with their mental health because they have no one to talk to about it, and they are not aware of the resources. This is why it is my mission to be that Madrina, or godmother figure, for individuals that are struggling and don’t know who to go to for help. We have to break through those barriers one piece at a time!

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 honestly love to have breakfast or lunch with Selena Gomez. I am so inspired by how open she is when discussing her mental health struggles as a Latina. Being in the public eye, this is no easy feat. She has created a company called WonderMind where she provides education and resources to individuals who are struggling with mental health. I would love to be able to interview her more about her story as well as to ask how she got the courage to be so open about her challenges. I truly commend her for the work that she is doing!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for this question! Please feel free to find me on instagram @thefirstgenmadrina. I also have a website thefirstgenmadrina.com where you can learn more about me, my services and even my blog! My podcast is also linked to the website, and it is a great place for individuals to listen to stories of first gens in hopes of making the journey feel less lonely. Feel free to send me a DM or email to connect!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.