Michele Ruiz is an accomplished entrepreneur, public speaker, blogger, author, and award-winning journalist. Born to a Panamanian mother in Glendale, California, Michele had a rough childhood dealing with abuse, racism, and poverty. Despite the odds, Ruiz put herself through college and went on to have a successful career in broadcast journalism. From there, she had the idea to start her own business with the motto, “Empowering Entrepreneurs to Empower Themselves.”
Michele is now the President and Chief Strategist at Ruiz Strategies, a strategic communications firm that motivates and influences leveraging new media and technology. For her hard work in business, enduring spirit, and passion for the Latino community, Michele Ruiz is this week’s Inspiring Latina.
Tell us a little about a typical day in the life of Michele Ruiz?
As many women entrepreneurs, I juggle family and the needs and priorities of the business, employees, and more hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute. There is really no typical day. Some days I spend more time on what’s important for my children and sometimes I spend more time on the business. My day starts everyday no later than 5 a.m. and the first thing I do after I brush my teeth is to meditate for 30 to 45 min. That’s a constant. When I meditate I focus on mindful living – the practice of bringing awareness into everything we do and how we conduct our lives as opposed to being on “autopilot.”
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? What drew you to that line of work?
During the later part of my broadcasting career I had a business idea. I ended up sharing this idea with two Angel Investors over a lunch – without a business plan. After walking them through my idea they called me later that day to tell me they loved it and they would put in the seed capital to start the business. That was my “Oh sh*t” moment. I guess if I want to be an entrepreneur this was the time. It was scary and exciting. I took about two months to really research my business idea and make the decision I was going to leave broadcasting behind for good. I realized that many entrepreneurs live and die trying to raise capital, and this opportunity landed in my lap and I needed to take it.
You came from a challenging childhood. How do you feel that your upbringing has shaped you as a person?
My childhood experiences have instilled in me the awareness that I am resilient and that I also needed to be self-reliant. My life experiences have also influenced me to not take anything for granted. I have lived without food in the refrigerator, necessary clothes, electricity and I have also lived a very privileged life after achieving professional success and I don’t for a minute take anything for granted.
My childhood experiences also made me “scrappy” – out of necessity I have had to be very resourceful and creative. I’ve always been the type to see what I want or want to accomplish and then I figure out how to make it happen. One of my skills is that I am quick learner. And I will turn over every stone to figure out what I need to do to accomplish my goals.
And when I became a parent and lost my 8-month-old son and survived that, I would add I also became fearless–because I have been to hell and back, so nothing scares me. I am fearless to take risks and I know I can survive anything. I can make tough decisions and know deep down that I would be okay.
Besides your work as an entrepreneur, you are also an award-winning journalist. What advice do you have for Latinas who want to follow in your footsteps?
You have a mindset that you will never give up. Television broadcasting is a hard career to get into – I worked in the second largest market in the Country (New York being first). You just need to keep your eye on what you want and don’t give until you accomplish it. You’ve heard the saying: you fall down seven times and you stand up eight times… You learn from the challenges and you keep on going. If you hit a road block, find the detour and be flexible enough to pivot . Don’t settle for immediate gratification at the expense of your long-term goal.
How do you hope to influence the Hispanic community?
I feel by sharing my story, people can relate. If they can see that I have been able to overcome (sobre salir) and achieve everything I’ve set out to do, anything is possible. It’s the ability to see that they must not let unfortunate circumstances define their lives.
Sometimes it takes seeing someone else being successful to give someone the encouragement to become successful too – it’s the “if she can do it, I can do it.” And even though we as Latinos are a big population there are still not enough of us telling our story publicly as role models. We need as many role models as possible!
What makes you most proud about being Latina?
It’s funny how things come full circle. The first language I learned was Spanish. I didn’t learn English until I went to school. And then I was bullied mercilessly for being Hispanic. So, much of my early life was about trying everything possible to be not Hispanic–refusing to speak Spanish anymore, and not wanting to be associated with any Hispanic, as if I could blend in with the crowd. I denied who I was because I was bullied so badly, so it was not until my early adulthood that I realized that it actually was a positive… And that is when I learned that other people’s labels are just that – labels. In other words, they are their opinions and I didn’t have to believe them or adapt them as if they are truth.
And if only I could have seen early on how important Hispanics are now to every facet of our communities, economy and country, I would have stuck with the Spanish – and I would speak it so much better today! I hope I can make a meaningful impact by sharing my story as a Latina and Entrepreneur— and that is now my mission.
Do you know an Inspiring Latina? Nominate them by emailing InspiringLatinas@Latina.com!