For the tenth week in a row, I woke up with my eyes inexplicably swollen shut and my face and body covered in welts. I looked like I’d been attacked by a swarm of bees. Over the prior 12 months, the list of my health issues had multiplied with no promise of a forthcoming medical diagnosis. I understood that a diagnosis would never come. It was time to confront what I had been avoiding – a spiritual and existential crisis that had been brewing for several years. The pressures of my career and personal life had manifested physically in my declining health. I was burnt out exhausted, and beginning to understand that I had to leave a career I spent my entire life chasing.
Undeniably, I had been on the achievement treadmill for over a decade: college, law school, the bar exam, and work as a junior attorney at a top law firm. I had successfully achieved every goal that I had set, but I never stopped to consider whether or not it was what I really wanted or needed. In fact, I told myself that I had no right to change my mind. As a woman and Mexican immigrant, who, as a child who struggled to learn the English language, I had worked past many obstacles to eventually attend Yale University and University of Chicago Law School, ultimately landing a prestigious (and very lucrative) job. Yet, that success was not solely mine: it was inextricably my family’s success too. While I was the picture of an American Dream, I realized that I didn’t want that dream after all.
I feared the free fall and the likely failure of whatever came next. I was confused by the loss of identity – who was I if not the immigrant-girl-turned-lawyer whose story fit neatly within an Americana narrative about education and achievement? I knew I would disappoint many people, most of all my mother. I felt ashamed and ungrateful for having been given so much that I now wanted to turn my back on it. The angst was overwhelming. I fantasized that someone with authority over my life was going to show up to take responsibility for redirecting me to a different career, to give me permission to change my mind, or even to rescue me. This fantasy of a career knight in shining armor of course never manifested. I would have to take complete responsibility for my decision to end this chapter and accept all its consequences.
I decided I would devote myself to a year of soul searching. I spent that time paying close attention, without judgement, to what made me feel aligned and happy. During this period, I kept coming back to how much I enjoyed doing my makeup in the mornings – by far the most entertaining and therapeutic part of my day. Since I was a little girl, I had been empowered by the ritual and the creative freedom of self-expression that it represented. Moreover, I realized that I wanted to be in service of women, particularly those in our community, who I believe are underestimated and often overlooked.
My depleted battery quickly supercharged. I finally felt alive, full of energy and purpose, like an amped-up version of my childhood self. And I knew then that I was on the right track. Unsurprisingly, my body knew – my health issues started clearing up on their own, paving the way for me to push forward in this different direction. A few years later, these a-ha moments manifested into the makeup brand that I founded: Reina Rebelde.
Through Reina Rebelde, I applied all of my learnings from my year of soul searching into my products, my branding and the way we speak to our customers – empowered, honest, messy, and fun. Regal but rebellious. Makeup for the way life is supposed to feel, rituals that are there to remind us of our awesome, feminine power and our daily choice to harness that power and channel it in whatever direction we see fit. I wanted to celebrate how wearing a certain shade of lipstick could actually change your entire day. With names like Brava, Azteca, Zapatista, and Malinche, I was celebrating my heritage. But more than anything, I wanted people to be reminded of the resilience that came from those before us, many of whom have shaped and inspired so many of our journeys.
Reina Rebelde was a life shift that has come to represent a spiritual homecoming for me. It’s a rallying cry for all women to unapologetically embrace their dualities and a reminder that we always have the right to change our minds. When I reflect back to the beginning of my journey, I think about how powerful I felt when I would experiment with a new makeup shade. How that one small, seemingly inconsequential step would alter my whole day. Those little moments of autonomous decision making, gave me the courage to confront the bigger changes in my life and to charge forward towards other uncharted territories.