Showcase~Authentic Women~ Nelida Santiago

Aligning Within ~ Diadel Ortiz talks to Nelida Santiago~January 2020

“My name is Nelida Santiago, better known to my family and friends as Naly, which is short for my middle name Nalyes.   I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in the spring of 1974, to Puerto Rican parents.  My mother’s 6th and last child and my father’s 4th. My father would have 2 more kids after me. 

What makes my story somewhat unique from other blended families, is that I was the only child my parents had together.  I have 10 half siblings, 6 brothers, 4 sisters, between both parents. Another piece that shapes my story and has shaped my life is that my father raised me, along with the woman he married when I was 3 years old.  This has been detrimental in my upbringing and the choices I’ve made growing up.

I’ve been in finance for 20 years, working with well-known domestic and global brokerage firms.  I was supposed to be a physical therapist, but I came into finance out of necessity and built a career in it.  I’m grateful for the opportunities and people that I have met along the way.

I have 2 children, Chayanne Andrea, 24 and Caleb Rafael, 13.  They are my world, the joy of my life and the momentum I need to continue forging ahead in this tough but beautiful world.”

My guest today is a businesswomen~Associate Director, Compliance, and Risk Assessment at UBS Financial, an incredible mother with a story that encourages us not to give up in finding your way. Please welcome, Nelida Santiago.

DKHello and Welcome Naly. I am so happy you could join us for this interview of Authentic Women. I know this was a far away challenge since you live in New Jersey and I am based in Vermont. So, I thank you, for taking the time to chat with me.

NS– Yes, Thank you Diadel for this honor.

DKTell us about yourself?

NS-I was supposed to have been the first to graduate college. I was my dad’s pride and joy, and I felt a lot of pressure growing up to make him proud of me. It came to an end when I had to admit to my dad that I had gotten pregnant from my then-boyfriend while I was away at The College of St. Elizabeth. I had to drop out of school and lose my full scholarship; deal with my dad not speaking to me for months; and feeling the embarrassment of being another pregnant college dropout. That was hard to bear. Then, my dad decided to retire early and move with my stepmother and their two kids to Puerto Rico.

DK-How did that make you feel?

My God Diadel, I felt so many things all at once. I felt disappointed and sadness; I felt like a failure that I had let everyone down, especially my dad. I felt humiliated, I was holding back secrets of an abusive relationship I was in. I wanted to leave my boyfriend but I felt torn and scared so I stayed in the relationship.

Through all this, I remained silent about the physical and verbal abuse my ex-boyfriend was putting me through, shielding my family from the truth. My ex found us an apartment where I had to learn quickly,  the responsibilities of becoming a mother and a housewife; I had to learn how to care for my family and cook simple meals. All of this was new to me at age 20. These were hard times, physically and emotionally.

In January 1995, I gave birth to Chayanne Andrea, weighed 8 lbs 9 oz.  By this time, I  decided I was leaving the abusive relationship and was going to find my way through the world without anyone’s help, not even my father’s.  The loneliness and rejection I felt had left me counting only on my love for my baby to push me through life.  It wasn’t easy, but I found resources, including Welfare, WIC, and Urban League, to help me make ends meet.  Friends from high school and college would pitch in whenever they could to help with diapers and baby food.  I found work through temp jobs and found an apartment I could afford.  Eventually, I was able to get a car, which expanded my job opportunities outside of my area.

Finally, I moved back to my hometown in New Jersey when Chayanne was 2 years old and applied for a position in financial services out of the necessity of a “good job.” That “good job” turned into an opportunity to learn and grow, and I eventually made a career in the field.  It is now 20 years later, and it has supported my small family and allowed us to have many happy moments I never thought I’d be able to provide as a single mother. Despite the trials of life, I was still the first to graduate college in my family and even earned my MBA…all while holding down my career and raising my 2 kids as a single mother.

DK- What an ordeal that was, and through it all you stayed focused on your ultimate goal which was to provide for your children.

DK– What are the challenges of being a single parent? 

NS-Definitely, those emotional moments when you are just tired or overwhelmed and feel all alone in the world.  The stressors of not having the same freedoms that non-single parents have like getting a haircut without having your baby on your lap, or doing groceries in the dead of winter without having to bring your kids out with you.  Also, the financial aspect is enormous.  As the sole provider and protector of children, you’re always worried about losing your income and home.

DK–  How do you handle family/children issues? 

NS-Through prayer and faith.  When I’m overwhelmed, I call someone, I trust to vent and let out any frustration. I also pray. I find prayer to be a powerful weapon God has given us.

DK–  What are some successes you’ve had in your personal life?

NS– I’ve been able to complete my education as a single mother and earn not one but two degrees from a traditional evening college program.  I have also advanced in my career by taking classes to obtain different licenses and establishing my career path. I am always learning.

DK–   What do you think is the most important thing that we can teach our children? 

NS-How to believe in their own abilities and never settle for mediocrity.  I always tell my kids to perform at their full potential.  If their full potential is a B and not an A, that’s fine, but when they know they can do better, it’s not acceptable.

DKWhat’s your favorite activity you do with your children? 

NSRoad trips for sure!!!

 We love to jump in the car and take a drive to new towns or parks throughout NJ, PA, and NY State. We’ve also driven to Florida for vacation which really turned into a fun experience.  In 2016, we ventured by car to Montreal for the Montreal Jazz Festival and touring of the historical city.  I returned with Caleb to the Jazz Festival in 2018.  This year we drove with my niece and her kids to the Outer Banks in North Carolina to meet my sister and brother-in-law on the beach.  Even when traveling to Puerto Rico or the Bahamas, we like to jump in a car and go exploring the island or what I like to call “urban hiking”, which is just walking and exploring for miles!

DKWhat’s your proudest parenting moment? 

NS-Watching Chayanne graduate college. Seeing her walk across the stage at the PNC Arts Center made my eyes swell up with tears, not just because I was so happy she achieved her goal, but because of her journey to get on that stage.  I kept thinking back to when she was younger, getting flashbacks of our tender and difficult moments together.  I felt like all the sacrifices I made to help her were so worth it.  I was thinking of how she was always so humble growing up, even through her teen years in high school and entering adulthood in college. She still remained so loyal to her friends, so respectful to everyone she met and so loving to her family.  I was just in complete awe of the young woman she had become, and my heart was bursting with pride and gratitude to God for allowing her to accomplish her dream of graduating college.

DK– What do you hope for your children’s future? 

NS-That they will have happy childhood memories. They will learn from my mistakes as a parent, and hopefully be amazing parents to their own children.  And of course, that they live a long and happy life.

     DKWhat kind of support network do you have? 

NS-The Lord, he is my strength. I also have a group of close friends that I can count on when I need help with my kids.  My pastor, his wife and family have always been an extended family. I could always count on them.

DKHow do you take care of yourself? 

NS I always make time to pamper myself.  I get monthly hour-long massages, an hour-long facial every 2 months or so.  I also workout 4 to 5 times a week to keep my endorphins moving and keep my mood swings at a limit.

DK-I agree with you, finding time for self-care and exercise is so important for the body, mind and spirit.

DKWhat have you learned about yourself? Have you changed your values and belief?

NS-I’ve learned that I was selling myself short way too often.  I always thought I wasn’t “good enough” or not smart enough or not pretty enough.  Until I had ENOUGH of that mentality.  I think 40 is the age when women really come into their own and learn their value and worth.  My values haven’t changed, but my perception of myself has.  My beliefs have changed. I’m more accepting and less judgmental of those different than me.  Again, that comes with maturity.

DK–  What do you enjoy most about your job field? What’s unique about the service that you provide? 

NS-I enjoy working with international and diverse colleagues and clients. I never overpromise and underdeliver.  If I say I am going to find a solution to an issue, I will.

DK– What is the biggest thing you struggle as a businesswoman? How do you handle adversity and doubt?

NS-Because I look younger than my age, I find that it’s hard to get that initial respect as someone who knows what she is talking about. I handle adversity and doubt by reminding myself of who I am. And that, I am not alone, God always has my back.

DK– Describe a major business or other challenges you had and how you resolved it. What lessons did you learn in the process? 

NS-I remember being approached by a very demanding Portfolio Manager to join his team.  It was a difficult decision because I knew our temperaments would eventually clash.  He yelled at me once, and instinctively I yelled back (I DO NOT suggest you do this).  He apologized to me, and ever since then, there was mutual respect, and our working relationship became much, much easier. I learned, people will only treat you as you ALLOW them to.

DK–  Do you think women feel intimidated in the business world? 

NS-Absolutely, and unfortunately, in my experience, those that tried to intimidate me in every situation where I was the “new girl” was another woman.  Businesswomen need to become mentors, not intimidators.

DK–  How do you achieve work-life balance? 

NS-I make sure that when its time for my family, its exactly that.  Work has its place, but I will not sacrifice memories with my kids, family, or friends for work. Also, being organized helps.

DK–  How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?

NS– I am grateful for the people along the way, whether they were managers or financial advisors. They took the time to teach me whatever I needed to learn.   I took advantage of the resources that were provided to me. I asked questions, gain knowledge and insight towards my work.

DK– What are some failures you’ve had in your professional life? 

NSI lost a job at a big firm only for not fitting in.  I took it as an opportunity to search for something completely different in the brokerage world. There are times you need to step up your game.

DK– Motivating words, “When something doesn’t fit, don’t give up, try a different puzzle piece.”

DK–  What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced? 

NS-Definitely being a single mother in a demanding field of work, keeping my stress levels under control.  I have been unemployed for 6 months at 2 different times and I still manage to keep focus on what is important. Hard times will come and go, staying focus is what’s important.

DK– What three adjectives describe your strength? And why?

NS-Faith, prayer, grace…I really believe my power comes directly from an extra dose God gives me.

DK–  If you had one piece of advice to give to a woman, what would it be? 

NS– Learn your worth, your value, and don’t let anyone give you any less than you deserve. Find the courage to ask for help, there are caring people out there willing to lend a hand. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship seek help, find a way to get out. Remember you are not alone. There are many resources out there that can help. Don’t give up on yourself and your dream.

DK– What does it mean to be an authentic woman? 

NS– A woman who stands on her own two feet, but isn’t afraid to fall to her knees and cry out to God.  One that knows who she is and doesn’t apologize for it.  One who lifts other women up rather than kick them down. And lastly, one who accepts her own story as one that shaped her to be who and where she is today in life. No matter how ugly the story may sound to others, it’s your own unique, beautiful story, OWN IT.

DKNaly, thank you so much for speaking bravely and sharing your story with us. I know others woman who share your thoughts and opinions, but maybe unwilling to speak up because of fear. By expressing your hardship and sharing your ordeal, you are encouraging others to voice themselves loudly and know they are not alone. Speaking up is hard and scary but can be positive for promoting awareness. You not only shared your story and difficulties to people’s attention, but you also positively educated others. Your life-story is one to tell. Thank you for sharing your tribulation with us. Sending you love, light and many blessings.