The Success of Being Eccentric: An Interview with Ana Santillan

Ana Santillán TravelAna has never followed the pack. At 31 years of age, it comes as a shock to other Peruvians when she reveals that she doesn’t own a home yet, she isn’t married yet and that her first and current boyfriend who she’s been with for a year is seven years her junior. People are equally surprised that she holds two positions of power in a largely male-dominated society and through them, she has learned an important lesson about breaking down barriers in her life.

Check out this video of Ana comparing her two jobs as an architect and president of an NGO. A multitalented woman, she also recites one of her original poems in the clip:

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Different from All the Other Kids

“I remember, as a child, everyone talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up,” Ana recounts. “I told them I wanted to be a revolutionary.” She was an intelligent child, winning first place in academics almost every year, although she was a little odd and very unlike the other children who came from rich, right-wing families. The other children didn’t spend their free time reading Karl Marx and Carlos Mariátegui, and writing political poems.

On career day, she found herself drawn to the architects. “I identified with them because they were creative, they wore different clothes from the other professionals in suits and they were a little bohemian,” Ana recalls.

Overcoming The Three Strikes Against Her

Ana has spent her professional life overcoming three types of prejudices:

  1. She’s young in a world where older professionals with more experience are given more respect.
  2. She’s a woman in a position of power in a career and culture dominated by men.
  3. She takes a more relaxed approach to her work, choosing to wear street clothes instead of formalwear to meetings.

“People judged, especially in that first year,” she says. “Sometimes, they would even hire another person for a second opinion and I would debate with the second architect to prove myself.” There are very few female architects involved in construction in the Central Andes and Ana admits that she had a difficult time getting the men in her team to accept her as a young, female boss. Now, they show their respect by addressing her as “Architect” instead of by her first name and without the typical Peruvian greeting of a kiss on the cheek. Ana has learned to find that delicate balance of maintaining authority without becoming authoritarian.

Ana Santillán Work

Two Positions of Power

In addition to her position as an architect, Ana is also the president of T’ikani, an NGO specialized in social development projects. Although worlds apart, she applies the same problem-solving and creativity skills in both roles. “As an architect, if there’s a wall that I don’t like or agree with, I’ll take it down,” she explains. “I apply the same philosophy as a president, showing others that yes, it’s possible to change concrete things.” Her experimental approach has helped the NGO survive amidst recent financial troubles as she showed that they could do more even with less money. Her plan is to develop T’ikani into a prestigious name before passing the NGO on.

Ana also has her heart set on traveling the world. “I’ve been all over South America and I’ve been to the Netherlands, but I want to visit India and more of Europe,” she dreams. “I have a mental map with points set at all the places I’ve traveled to and I want to fill my map with tons of points!” And there’s no doubt that she’ll achieve her dreams because she breaks down walls to make things happen for her.

How are you breaking down the walls in your life?

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2 Comments

  1. Abe
    Posted July 14, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Ana seems to be on the right path and setting a remarkable pace. I can relate with the obsticals she has faced to get to the point she is in her carreer. I have found that many of those same obsticals come back to life later in an established carreer. I was once told NOT TO change employers or consider a carreer change after the age of 40. Once at the top of my game working for the same corperation for 11 years I choose to make what I thought would be a lateral move with upcoming opertunity age the age of 44. Even with my experiance, knowledge and Managieral positions for 28 years. No one knew who I was or what I could contribute to the operation. Talk about walls going up that need to be taken down. Five years it took me to finally bring them down again. It was well worth the sacrifice.

    • Posted July 14, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      Wow! You continually inspire me, Abe! I love how you break the norms and work hard for what you believe in! =) You give the perfect example of walls that you needed to break down and I”m so glad to hear that it all turned out for the better in the end. It’s a great lesson that it’s always worth it to fight for our dreams. =)

      Thank you so much for your continued support, friend! =) Hugs!

2 Trackbacks

  • […] about her relationship with Deiby, seven years her junior.Ana Santillán Muñoz is 31 years old and has made a name for herself as an architect and the president of an NGO, gaining the respect of her peers and employees despite being a young female in positions of power, […]

  • […] contracts all over the world, building new trains and signaling systems.” She continued breaking down barriers when this “born and bred French” met her passion in Bali at 23 years of age and “discovered […]

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