Thriving in an international career whether you are a migrant worker or expat, requires a great deal of self awareness, personal and professional development. It’s not simple but it is rewarding.
In this session I talk to one of my longest friends, someone I consider a sister, based on our shared experiences travelling throughout Latin America together as part of an internal audit team.
Lupina Valdes de la Pena is a dual national of Mexico and the Netherlands, holding an accounting degree and an MBA and currently working in Internal audit and risk with an international operation.
In her words: “For me it’s easy to see a process and its opportunities and from there build a vision on how it should look.”
Let’s see how she applied this philosophy to her adaptation to life in the Netherlands as well!
Katherine Ann Byam 0:01
What advice would you give to young women who are looking to explore their horizons outside? What are your thoughts on what they should look out for, how they should prepare themselves, etc.
Lupina Valdes 0:15
I would definitely say, don’t be afraid to move to a new country. You cannot expect to have different things happening to you. If you continue to the same things, living in the same way. Give yourself the chance to live this opportunity. And if it doesn’t work for you, it’s fine. But you, you had already lived this experience. So don’t be afraid. Go for it.
Katherine Ann Byam 0:39
My name is Katherine Ann Byam, and I’m your host. What’s your purpose? And how does it integrate with sustaining life itself? For some of us this question is a deep ache that we spend a lifetime trying to find, perhaps shifting direction as we learn and grow from one path to another. For many of us our children give us a clear definition, providing for them becomes our reason for being. For others, it’s about enjoying the present moment; ever so fleeting, and ever so beautiful. For still others it can be financial, status, contribution or impact. In this podcast, my guest and I will share with you tips, ideas and methods on how to build a career that integrates with who you are and the life you want to lead. We will explore the social foundation on which to build your transition and an ecological ceiling, above which we need not climb, so that we live not just for ourselves, but for our collective ability to thrive. Welcome to The Purpose Driven career podcast: Do What Matters. Today, we have a really exciting guest, a longtime friend of mine from oh my god, I don’t even want to tell you how long ago but Lupina Valdes de la Pena is an internal auditor and professional from Mexico, currently resident in the Netherlands since 2012. She’s an accountant and an MBA graduate with a passion and positivity for change and digital transformation. She’s experienced business from, as they say, the three lines of defence; as a process owner, an auditor and control design advisory within the international organisations she has worked with. Lupina, it is such a pleasure to have you on the show with me today.
Lupina Valdes 2:19
No, thank you for inviting me. And thank you for your time. And I hope we have a nice conversation.
Katherine Ann Byam 2:23
I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been, it’s been a while since we’ve actually had a, a long nice chat. So I’m interested to get into this. And I’m also excited about what you have to share about your journey and about your life in the Netherlands coming from Mexico. So I think that’s really what I’m going to start with what inspired you to leave Mexico and build your career in Europe?
Lupina Valdes 2:44
Well, since I was a kid, I heard that my father had some opportunities to come to the Netherlands. And he didn’t take it because he was shy and his English was not good. So since then, my mum said some things about the Netherlands and I started reading about this place and look that it was a very inclusive place to live, so when I got married, and later on in my career, I just shared with my husband that we both wanted an opportunity to work outside Mexico in a place that would be more supportive to women pursuing a career and not only on a country that would expect me to be married and have kids and then maybe afterward just leave my job and look after my kids. So yeah.
Katherine Ann Byam 3:28
No, it’s interesting. It’s interesting as a as a rationale. And I guess how does that compare in Mexico?
Lupina Valdes 3:35
I think at that point in time, where I decided to leave together with my husband to the Netherlands, I was at a point in time in my marriage, that the expectation from my boss was at any time you’re gonna come and tell me you’re pregnant. And afterwards, you’re gonna leave your job. But I had always had this in my mind that I wanted to grow in my career. My mum was a great example for it. And I always felt encouraged. So this was just not matching with my principles.
Katherine Ann Byam 4:05
I hear you, I totally hear you. What challenges have you faced, though, in adjusting and settling in a country with very different sort of values and views of your own?
Lupina Valdes 4:15
So I will say two things. The first one is dealing with the preconception of how Mexicans are, you know, like, the concept of you for sure, have a siesta every day, and everything is just a little bit later and you’re gonna come late to the meetings and everything will be Manyana Manyana. So we’re definitely not like that, like, we are all as I would say, in different countries, you have different personalities, and you just want to deliver and I, I consider myself an achiever, and an activator. So I really like to be busy and to deliver things and this keeps me engaged and motivated and self fulfilled. So dealing with this preconception was, was a challenge, the other challenge that I’ve been facing is being considered an expat when I’m actually not an expat, because I changed, and I was localised. So since the first time I came to the Netherlands, this, I’ve been changing jobs. But since the first time I came with a local contract, so it was kind of feeling that I didn’t really belong here. But when I was going back to Mexico, and seeing, my friends and my family, I neither belong fully back there. So it’s kind of being in the middle.
Katherine Ann Byam 5:34
I think about it, like the expats to dilemma, right, it’s like you know, your neither, you’re neither here nor there, you’re, you’re sort of a child of everywhere, and, and it’s a struggle sometimes to find your community and find your home. Tell me, tell me about how you’ve navigated that safety for yourself to find that, that comfort and friendship.
Lupina Valdes 5:53
So I was very lucky that when I was coming to the Netherlands, I had shared this notice with my sorry, my news with my friends, and one of them had a friend, Mexican friend, married with a Dutch guy. So he introduced me to her by Facebook. And since then we have been best friends, both her husband and my husband are really true friends now. And actually, she helped me a lot navigating this, but as well, one day, you know, just sitting on a tram, going to actually a housewarming of an ex colleague, my husband heard somebody speaking Spanish. And he just turned around, and we start having a chat with that person. And since then, we have been friends. And he already was in the Netherlands for maybe four years longer than us and had a network of friends and colleagues, which he introduced us to. So those two have been our pillars to help us navigate in this country.
Katherine Ann Byam 6:53
Well, it’s interesting, because I like to believe that when we show up in countries that are different from our own, because as you know, I share your story and your journey that we can find a home within the people that we meet here. You know, and you know, certainly we both have shared a quite phenomenal experience when we worked together and internal audit, where, you know, I almost feel like like you’re my sister. And it’s because we shared something that other people probably didn’t experience, which is that we were uprooting ourselves moving to different countries all the time, and sharing our space with different cultures like 24/7. I mean, what are your thoughts on on how that experience has sort of helped you to navigate culture situations where you are now and, and also, like, what are your thoughts on on how to help the locals embrace this diversity more.
Lupina Valdes 7:55
So as you were saying, we shared a lot of projects, let’s call it like that. So different audits in different locations for different processes. It was 24/7, having conversations with people that you don’t usually meet from cultures, which are very different from yours and different ages as well. But that gave me the chance to be more tolerant, and to be more open and to as well remove my own preconceptions. You know, like when, when you were born and raised in Mexico, I’m an only child, my friends were always my my group of support, they were my extended family. And when I joined the team in all that, because we were having so much time together, then that then became my extended family. But it was different because we were not sharing the same value, sometimes, costoms. We were not used to eat warm foods three times a day. So you become more open and more tolerant and more appreciative of the differences. And then you understand that those differences actually are the ones that bring you together. So living in the in the Netherlands, which is a country that from history has been very open and very international. That as well helped me to put myself in the shoes of others and to understand that what I’ve learned about Germans, or French, or UK people are so different when, when you have this one on one, face to face conversations, and it’s just to say, okay, give them the time and give them the space and it will all work.
Katherine Ann Byam 9:30
And how can we help the locals embrace us much, much more?
Lupina Valdes 9:35
Well, I think as well recognising that you live in their home country, right? So you need to be appreciative of their costoms. You need to participate in their festivasl, for example, or in their traditions and actually start adopting those traditions yourself. Just showing that you want to be part of, you are not trying to bring and impose your own things, but you know, like we can all live together. And as I said, those differences complement each other and enrich us in our day to day. So I think just by accepting each other that that will already be a way to help us navigate with the locals and have locals adapting or adopting us. In their country.
Katherine Ann Byam 10:22
I love it, I love it, what does success typically look like in internal controls? So I know that you have really grown a lot since then. And you know, your role is a lot more significant. Now tell us a little bit about how that success came about and what it looks like.
Lupina Valdes 10:39
So the word itself, right, internal controls is already big. So when you say what does success look like is; having things under control, being able to anticipate issues that would come and being able to find more effective and efficient ways of working that when you found them. So a success would typically be understanding what the process is, what the risks are, and identify and mitigate the controls, are ensuring that those mitigating controls are working in the right way. It doesn’t mean that you need to have 100% of things being done in the way that they should, but you just need to ensure that there are some mitigations. And there are some processes around it that will support the business in just delivering better in a more timely way in a more cost effective way. For example.
Katherine Ann Byam 11:37
Yeah, yeah. And what do you think has been your greatest achievement and your career to date and why?
Lupina Valdes 11:45
I think my biggest achievement has been able to live with a diverse team, and giving them opportunities to grow and learn. I think this is just the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. When I was working in, back in Mexico, the majority of the teams were, I don’t know, if you say 80% men, and 20% women, when I came to the Netherlands, the gender diversity is so different in race, gender, age, religion, you name it, and, and being able to lead those diverse groups. And as I said, giving them the opportunity to grow and progress in their careers. This for me has has been the greatest achievement.
Katherine Ann Byam 12:34
And what about greatest failure and how you overcame it?
Lupina Valdes 12:39
Well, I think my greatest failure was questioning myself on my accounting knowledge, then at that point in time, what happened, although I didn’t see it as such, at that time, is that I was dealing with an environment that was having a lot of strong personalities, which were not open to gender diversity, and new and different ideas. So it was not that they were questioning my knowledge on accounting, which I actually started accounting, but it was more that they didn’t want to understand me and cope with new ideas or ways of working. Maybe at that time, they were not ready or not emotionally intelligent. But I was very happy to find a mentor that helped me overcome these difficulties. And, and these failure and actually understand what I just told you, right? It was not that people were questioning my knowledge of accounting, but it was that at that time, they were not ready to deal with my personality.
Katherine Ann Byam 13:46
It’s, it’s such a real experience, I think, coming from, from Latin America, Caribbean slash, because that’s me, you do bring a difference you do bring a different way of interacting and of looking at things. It’s an, it’s, you know, I don’t want to go into cultural stereotypes. But there’s definitely a different way we approach solving things that, you know, you need to almost break through a kind of glass ceiling when you come to Europe around approaching that. So I totally get that. I share that. So what advice would you give to young women who are looking to, you know, explore their horizons outside of Mexico, for example? And what, what are your thoughts on, you know, what they should look out for, how they should prepare themselves, etc.
Lupina Valdes 14:36
So I would definitely say, don’t be afraid to move to a new country. You cannot expect to have different things happening to you if you continue to do the same thing, living in the same way, acting in the same way, right. So don’t be afraid to move to a new country. Give yourself the chance to live this opportunity. And if it doesn’t work for you, it’s fine, but you have already lived this experience. So don’t be afraid. Go for it. And ask questions. Just have the courage to say what you want. And when you need it, right? Most people are just not mind reader’s, they don’t know what you’re thinking they don’t know what you need, but just say it. And when you say it out loud, then two things will happen. Either you will get what you want. Or they will tell you, I cannot give you what you want. But then, that way, you know, you will understand then what is it that you need to do differently? Or should I adapt? Or should I continue to in the same road? Right? So both are gifts. You are not always looking for a yes, as an answer, a no is an answer as well.
Katherine Ann Byam 15:47
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I love it. And I have one final question. And this is probably more of a personal question. But, you know, we’ve, we’ve been now 18 months into this pandemic, and probably you like me, have not been able to go home and see your family. Tell me a little bit about what that’s like.
Lupina Valdes 16:07
So definitely, you start questioning, right? Was this the right decision to be here at this time, should I decided a different way and go back to my home country, Mexico when I could, right, but I think just being in contact with your family using the different means with your cell phone, WhatsApp, Zoom themes, you name it, it’s just take that as that advantage, and every time that you have the chance, just tell them how you feel that you love them how much you appreciate them. Because it really doesn’t matter. If you were back in your home country, you are still not living in in your parents house, right. So if there’s something happening to you or to them, the chances that you are there at the time that you are needed, are, might not, might not happen, right like, today I am 14 hours away on a flight. But if I was in Mexico, I am not even sure that I would be living in the same town. So every time that you that you get with them, just show how appreciative you are, for being in the moment and tell them that that you love them. I think you, yeah, you’re just getting concerned about everything that is happening and what you’re listening and my father comes into an age that it’s much more natural that people are passing away. Yeah, because of COVID. But just in general, they’ve reached that age. And, and I just need to be conscious about that and accept that and continue to accept as well that he and my mother, they were always open for me to live this opportunity.
Katherine Ann Byam 18:02
Just step in to it.
Lupina Valdes 18:04
Yeah, step in to it, so, I don’t know if I really answered your question or not but I hope you get the message that I’m trying to provide.
Katherine Ann Byam 18:11
I do, I do. It’s been it’s been such a pleasure talking to you Lupina, it’s, it’s really nice to reconnect first of all and also to like have you share your journey with with all of the people who are watching and listening to us. Thank you so much for joining me Lupina
Lupina Valdes 18:27
No thank you for your time and it was great to reconnect and wish you the best of luck and stay safe.
Katherine Ann Byam 18:36
This episode was brought to you today by the Courageous Career Club. Have you picked up your own copy of; Do What Matters: The Purpose Driven Career Transition Guidebook. To find out how you can get your copy, as well as resources that go alongside it, visit my website, www Katherine Ann byam.com or engage with me on the socials. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.