Mary Polanco

Mary Polanco is a Leadership and Personal Growth Consultant and Trainer. She has two great passions in life; leadership and wellbeing. 

She tells us that, “I first found a passion for leadership during my 23-year career in the U.S. Air Force. As an instructor for the service’s leadership school, I became enamored with the complexity of leading others, which inspired me to complete my graduate degree in Strategic Leadership and currently pursue my Doctorate in the Psychology of Leadership from William James College. I am married and a mother to two wonderful children.”

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania as the youngest of 8 children. I had a good childhood, always had friends (siblings) to play with, and attended a Catholic School my entire academic career. I was a bit sheltered to the world, but I remember from a young age, feeling like there was more to explore, which is why I wanted to be an astronomer most of my childhood. I played high school sports, ran cross country and played basketball. I had a fantastic group of friends whom I still share life’s journey with. I was antsy to get out and see the world though, which is why I joined the United States Air Force at the age of 18.

Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say YES, go for it!”

I started Live and Lead Well, LLC because during my experience as an instructor, I saw a gap in conventional Leadership Training. Oftentimes, the focus on how to grow as a leader is done through training steeped solely in caring for others; courses such as leading compassionately and building healthy team dynamics. While these concepts are an absolute necessity to our leadership development, the foundation of personal development is often overlooked. When we revector our training efforts to increase the focus on our own self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall wellness, we will truly show up as the best version of the leader we aim to be. I knew after my retirement from the Air Force I wanted to work for myself so my motivation to start my own company came from my core desire for autonomy and creative freedom.

Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?

We have a wellbeing crisis around the world. People are struggling on a large scale and the spectrum of hardship varies greatly. The impact I want to make in the world is to encourage people to begin their journey inward in order to rediscover purpose and passion for their lives. The freedom that accompanies living an authentic life, enhances our quality of life exponentially. We all deserve to live a purpose-driven life by our own design.  Through my leadership training seminars, we start here. I believe if we cared more deeply for ourselves, we would have the energy and focus to care for others in a more meaningful way as leaders.

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?

I’m very proud of my journey, both the successes and the failures and I approach each with the same level of appreciation. I think that’s my greatest achievement; to have a profound sense of wonderment at all the ups and downs and to meet each experience with gratitude instead of regret. 

I’m also extremely proud of my 23-year career serving in the military. It was not easy to have certain rights stripped away while serving. There were many hardships I faced while serving, and while I may have lost myself for a while, getting caught up in the grind and hustle of a busy career, I never lost my integrity or my heart. I remained loyal to some of my greatest values; connection with others and moral courage.  

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

I’m actually seeing the change I want for the world happen right before my eyes. I see young women asserting themselves in ways we did not 30 years ago. I see women standing up for what’s right without fear of personal consequence, and I am witnessing women taking advantage of the advancements in technology in order to create independent opportunities for their financial and professional gain. Something I would love to see more of, is the discussion surrounding self-worth versus the grind culture. I grew up thinking the harder I worked, the more I could prove I was worthy. I realized in my forties that sacrificing “living” for money and status, and seeking constant external validation won’t grant you what you are truly seeking. We don’t have to break ourselves in order to be worthy; we are worthy because we are here, living, trying, learning, and loving. And if we all made the conscious choice, followed by a daily commitment to love ourselves, we would probably heal the world.

Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women leadership today?

I think stigmas and stereotypes still exist with regard to women leading at the highest echelons of organizations. The wage gap is still an issue and even more so for women of color. We have a lot of work to do to continue this conversation. It’s not a matter of qualifications for women. We all have the capacity to be phenomenal leaders. I believe it’s a matter of self-efficacy. Knowing that if you are at the table, you belong there. It’s up to us to denounce negative internal dialogue that doesn’t serve us in our leadership capacity; things like, “I’m my own worst critic”, or “I have imposter syndrome”. Dialogue like this reinforces the doubt others have placed on us over the centuries and does not accurately reflect our true capacity to lead.

What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

You’re going to get a lot of advice from incredible leaders on your journey. All the leadership books will tell you to lead with confidence, operate from a place of humility, and be sure to build meaningful connections with the people you work with. I will second all of that advice and I will add this: Work on your personal growth as much as you work on your professional competencies. Invest in yourself as much as you invest in others. Be kind to yourself so that you can show kindness to those around you. And embrace the journey of life you are on, loving yourself here and now, not “when”. Don’t wait until you get promoted, get in better shape, or start a relationship to love yourself. Start now, meet yourself where you’re at, and look back on your journey with admiration instead of regret. Lastly, always remember that you create the reality you live in so be sure to set intention with your design. You deserve to live this life unapologetically authentic. The world needs THAT version of you to show up!