Anita Henestrosa, Mission: Inspiration

One woman’s dedication to help students around the globe go after their dreams

By Antonia Naje Allsopp
Celebrate National Latin-American/Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Through October 15, we’ll be sharing various stories from the Latinx community — be sure to read them all here.
In an adorably straightforward cartoon to explain his Mexican-American, bicultural, mixed-race heritage, cartoonist Terry Blas clarified the confusing terminology: “Hispanic” defines
language, while “Latino” defines geography. (“Latinx” is becoming popular, too, as it eliminates the male-female binary inherent in the original term.) None of these distinctions are defined by race. Let’s explore the many shades of Latin that grace us each day.

Anita Henestrosa is on a mission to inspire students to create their own maps of success — literally (but more on that later). With first-hand understanding of how fear almost stopped her, Henestrosa shares powerful lessons to help today’s youth own their futures. Her goal? For students to believe in themselves, so they can achieve their dreams.

A bicultural, biracial Adult Third Culture Kid, Henestrosa grew up in Switzerland (having a Mexican father also allowed her to travel to Mexico), and while in third grade there, she set a goal to pursue a full tennis scholarship at a top university in the U.S. “So that became my dream very early on,” she says. But the path wasn’t easy. “I made it into high school,” she shares — an important step as typically only the top 20 percent of students make it into secondary school in Switzerland. “I’m so bad at school. My GPA from Switzerland translated to a 1.8,” she continues. “I want kids to understand it’s not what defines you because I failed so many times.” Now, Henestrosa believes failure can actually foster success and achievement.

Dealing with constant bullying for her lack of physical stature (she stands a whopping four feet ten inches tall) and learning how to handle her poor grades taught Henestrosa how to persevere. By believing in herself, she eventually made it to a small U.S. university in Kentucky, eventually continuing on to Purdue University in the state of Indiana, where she earned a full tennis scholarship, as well as Most Valuable Player and Player of the Year honors.

Volunteering in Rio de Janeiro after graduation sparked in Henestrosa a strong desire to help others, but her sister reminded her of another dream: to live and work in San Francisco — one of the most expensive cities in the world. Nothing a one-way plane ticket, couch-surfing, eating only rice and sleeping on a park bench couldn’t solve.

Frop top left to bottom: Henestrosa speaking to students in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nepal, and the Phillipines.

Determined, she thought to herself, “This is my dream. I have a few months to make this work.” Landing 40 interviews in 30 days, she began an entry-level sales job cold calling — the company sponsored her temporary work visa — and just in time, too, as Henestrosa had a mere $4.36 left in her pocket.

And although Henestrosa speaks seven languages, she recalls her fear in the beginning of making those calls in English. With TCK-level resilience, she dug in, and within in a year was the company’s most prolific salesperson, besting her self-imposed two-year deadline to accomplish that goal in half the time.

Then passion called.

“So many people are like, ‘I’m not happy. I don’t know what to do. I hate my job,’ and it breaks my heart,” she says. “I want to set up kids to do something in life and support them. They can really dream big — it’s really our thoughts and beliefs that hold us back.” Determination to share this with others presented her next big goal. “Growth mindset is always believing you can achieve something. Growth mindset says, ‘I’m not good at this, but I can learn.'”

Enter MapIt30k, an audacious project to inspire 30,000 students in 30 countries over 300 days. “My first talk was to seven students in Iceland,” Henestrosa says. From there, she amped up her offerings, learned how to network cross culturally and booked larger gigs across the Americas, Asia and Europe. Having recently ended her 323-day marathon to 31,321 students in 30 nations, she’s now writing a book for teenagers to learn essential life skills and achieve personal goals — a topic in which she is definitely an expert.

1 comment

  1. Anita’s message of success born out of failure is inspiring to me as a homeschooled kid, I felt the same. While academia wasn’t my strong suit, I was able to jump into the world I do love — travel and writing. I am so glad to see that she is teaching young people these valuable mindsets and skills. Go Anita!

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