How a Few Chance Words Can Change Your Entire Career Path

what-is-stem-saundra-bottsAll it can take is a chance meeting, a few words from a stranger, or an opportunity to cross your path to completely shape your career.

Noramay Cadena is an accomplished engineer with an impressive resume: she’s worked at Boeing, she’s the Co-founder of Make in LA, the co-founder of Latinas in STEM Foundation, and has been a featured panelist for World Summit on Innovation & Entrepreneurship. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to talk to her and ask her how she achieved such successes.

My initial thought was that she had been raised with the attitude that anything is possible, but that was not necessarily the case. Her father was a cook and her mother was a factory worker, and they worked very hard to make ends meet. Noramay explained that as a kid, watching her parents labor so hard made her feel that if she could just get a job in and air-conditioned office then she could be at least comfortable. However, when she became a teen parent in high school, her goal of going to college seemed daunting.

One day, in high school, she was pulled out of class by a visiting high school alum who was currently studying engineering at MIT. This alum was from the community, and therefore relatable to her. Noramay trusted his story when he said: “If you like science and math, you could be an engineer.”

It was as simple as that.

Those few brief words completely changed Noramay’s career path. Of course, Noramay fought the idea initially, but the more she thought about it, the more she was inspired to do as this young man had done. After graduation, she applied to MIT, and was admitted. She notes that the decision to attend, with her daughter in tow, completely “changed her life.” She went on to earn a total of three degrees from MIT – a BS in Mechanical Engineering, a Master’s in Engineering Systems, and an MBA. She also went on to have over a decade long career at Boeing, and she co-founded a company in Los Angeles.

I asked her if she ever had a fear of failure. She said that she did, but she was more afraid of the life she and her daughter would lead if she didn’t try to change the status quo in her family.

You might be thinking, “Can it really be that simple? Can a few words really change somebody’s life?”

I’m here to tell you that, yes it really is that simple, and yes, they absolutely can.

Fortunately, Noramay was looking for options and was open to the idea of trying something difficult and risky. In fact, the secret sauce to most people’s success is that they are open to opportunities. This coupled with diligent hard work, is the where true talent is made. Of course, a learning curve will always exist when you are starting off. For instance, you may always hear doubtful voices, or go through your fair share of failures…but if you truly enjoy pushing yourself and you don’t quit when it gets hard, your intellectual curiosity will kick in and you will excel. With every challenge you face and triumph, the positive experience will feed your confidence and energy for the next challenge, and the next challenge.

Noramay’s story teaches us that every day you have the opportunity to inspire someone by sharing your journey; you also have the opportunity to be inspired by the passion and mission of others. The fact remains that your words are powerful. If you take the opportunity to tell someone else, “they can,” the course of someone’s life can be completely changed for the better.


Saundra Botts

Saundra Botts

Saundra is an ExecuNet Career Strategist and Career Coach. Working 1:1 with high-level senior executives, Saundra provides strategic guidance and coaching to help ExecuNet members land their next great opportunity. This includes uncovering their unique personal value proposition and defining competitive differentiators to advance their careers. Additionally, she provides detailed feedback for improving a personal marketing collateral—well beyond their résumé. Leveraging her expertise, Saundra guides executives through the entire process from entering the job market, which for most is their first time, identifying the path to success, to onboarding with their new company and beyond to create job security.

Saundra is known for “opening doors” and has also facilitated Job Search and Transition Workshops for universities, FENG (Financial Executive Networking Group), and various executive leadership groups. Her depth of experience includes has over 15 years in Retained Search and contingency placement within corporate accounting and finance sector with First Call Search, Dubin & Lee and WinterWyman Search. Saundra has consulted with clients, ranging from start-ups to multi-billion-dollar conglomerates. She has worked with $12 billion companies building accounting and finance teams, succession planning, and hiring, as well as filling key positions at many medium-sized, publicly-traded companies; non-profits; and universities in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles.

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