In the last year, two things have changed about me that directly affect my leadership: my responses to ‘What’s your name?” and “What do you do?”
I can’t remember the last time, before 2021, that I had used my real name.I think about this a lot…
After 21 years of living in the U.S., last summer was the first time a lot of my friends and colleagues heard that “Patri” is just a nickname and that my full name has two last names — and that neither of those last names belongs to my husband.
I stopped using my given name when I left Puerto Rico to attend college in upstate New York. I wanted to make life easier for my new friends and avoid being called “Patrisha”. And to avoid having to correct their pronunciation, to avoid having to spell out my name every time. But also, so I could get by and not feel like a burden. This is why most people didn’t know that I’m not just Acevedo, but Acevedo Fuentes and that my name isn’t actually Patri, but Patricia.
But as it turns out, my name wasn’t the only thing I adapted/adjusted to fit in.
I am an architect. Our profession is plagued by a lack of diversity and limited representation. I started my professional career in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I worked alongside another female architect, and I didn't meet another Puerto Rican female architect until 2019, two decades after entering the profession. For context and scale, there are approximately 110,000 architects in the US. While roughly 1 in 5 architects is a woman, less than 1 in 100 are Latin, meaning Latin female architects are less than 1 in 500.
It wasn’t that throughout those 21 years I felt like an impostor. It was that I was always the odd one out - I didn’t keep time like everyone else, I didn’t like the transactional feeling with no time to build relationships with clients, and I didn’t feel comfortable separating emotions from work. I could do all these things like the other architects, but they weren't what felt right to me. Like that Sesame Street song … one of these things is not like the other… And while it took me 21 years to use my full name, it took me 22 to realize that it’s not that I don’t fit into traditional architecture, but rather that traditional architecture doesn’t fit me.
During this first year of the fellowship, I learned where I am grounded, what I am made of, and what I stand for. I realized that I would never fit into the mold of what the profession told me I needed to be. A few months ago I left the traditional architecture job I assumed would be my “forever job”. I am in a place of growth and my new job is one that allows me to affect real change in the community. And I still get to call myself an architect.
In the last year I have learned that more than one truth can co-exist - in fact, more often than not, two truths happen at the same time.
I learned that I can both be an architect and I not have to fit into their idea of what an architect is and what an architect does.
I can be both Patri in the U.S. and Patricia in Puerto Rico and feel authentically me in both situations.
This season of growth and evolution has allowed me to grow into who I authentically am. And my leadership has changed into more actively creating belonging and having others feel seen. Feeling seen feels bold and scary at times. I feel more vulnerable, for sure. But I can now relate to friends, colleagues, mentees, and the community from a place of greater authenticity. I am creating a space within me and in my relationship with others for people to show up not only authentic but open to receiving where others’ authenticity lies.