Former Director of Project Management at MRM, an award-winning agency part of IPG, Shantal Gonzalez, shares how she’s gone from no boundaries to pushing back as work-life balance grows increasingly important.
Shantal Gonzalez always knew what she wanted to do for a living, pretty much since she was five years old.
“I was just one of those unicorns that I kind of knew what I wanted to do when I was five. Or well, I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life and I knew that I wanted to be in an area where I could be creative and build things. But, obviously, I didn’t exactly know what that was gonna shape into because again, I was just five,” she laughs.
As she got older she was drawn to the arts and her family encouraged her to be an artist.
But that didn’t appeal to Gonzalez. She chuckles and says, “Well, I didn’t want to just ‘survive’ and live like a stereotypical starving artist. I wanted to build something different for myself while staying in a creative field.”
She continues, “I asked myself what is my future going to look like? What profession could I be in? And then I heard about advertising.”
Trial and error
When Gonzalez first tried her hands at advertising, she explored every role the industry had to offer through different internships.
“I tried everything from media buying to copywriting, but nothing felt right at the time.”
Then Gonzalez was introduced to a woman who ran an advertising agency in Miami for the Hispanic community. She suggested she’d go into account services.
“I hesitated because my idea of account services at the time was ‘door-to-door’ selling, which I knew wasn’t for me.”
So instead, Gonzalez kept working on events and promotions during college, and after graduating, she had the opportunity to work in radio in Florida with the promotion and traffic team, a space she really enjoyed.
From there, Gonzalez moved to California to continue working in promotions as well as market research.
But soon, New York came calling.
And if you’ve ever been to New York, you know darn well to pick up the phone.
Finding her footing in the Big Apple
Gonzalez moved to New York to be an account executive (discovering it’s pretty far away from door-to-door selling). Soon, she became close friends with the president of the agency. One day she told Gonzalez, “Listen, you’re really good at getting things done, have you ever considered project management?”
Gonzalez figured that as she’d spent the past four years gaining experience in accounts, why would she make the move? But then another recession hit and Gonzalez found herself thinking, “Well maybe I should listen to other people?”
Fast forward 10 years, and she’s a seasoned project manager who’s worked for some of the biggest agencies in the world on brands like Macy’s, IBM, and Smirnoff just to mention a few.
“Going into project management felt like a full circle moment,” Gonzalez recalls. “When I started out as a freelance project manager and discovered that I was really good at it, it reminded me of when I was growing up, always working in the background, making things and building things, and getting things done.”
Paying her dues
When Gonzalez embarked on her professional career, work knew no bounds.
She laughs and says, “Maybe it’s because I’m an oldie, but I think you kind of have to put the work in when you first start out, and not really complain about it. When I started I had so many late nights. I worked until 11 pm some days.”
And personally, I can relate to her and that lifestyle. I remember moving to New York at 25 and working in my first startup. It was exhilarating, exciting, and of course, it was New York City.
While we take a moment to reminisce about our experiences, we also both agree that would never happen today. Are we older and wiser? Has there been a paradigm shift in the work culture? Are younger generations better at setting boundaries? Has the world finally realized work isn’t all there is to life?
Whatever the answer may be, for Gonzalez, work-life balance only stepped onto the scene a handful of years ago.
When it comes to work-life balance, Gonzalez admits it took her a while to set boundaries—and stick to them.
“It took me a few years after college to land ‘my dream job,’ and when I was finally there, I felt the pressure to always be ‘on’ and available,” she explains.
Subconsciously, this resulted in constantly feeling like a “yes” person. And Gonzalez felt this way for many years.
But then, the economy took a turn for the worse.
“After you experience a recession and layoffs and you start honing in on your strengths, your self-worth increases. And with that, you get a whole new perspective.”
Gonzalez admits that this didn’t necessarily mean that she was an expert on setting boundaries overnight, but it allowed her to test the limits.
“For example, I was taking actual time off, disconnecting, and most definitely leaving the office before 11 pm. I’d also let my team know if I needed a minute to ‘walk it off,’ and I became more comfortable with reaching out for support.”
Gonzalez adds, “Of course, there are always times when demand is high, deadlines are short, and those long nights will still occur. But then I make it a point to check in on myself afterward.”
She emphasizes that “As you become a manager, you want to make sure your team feels supported, and for me, that meant covering for them so they can take the time to reset or allowing for that ‘open door’ policy to be available for them.”
Perspective and prioritization
In the early days of her career, Gonzalez thought that the more hours you worked the better of an employee you were.
Today, she knows better.
“As you get older and you become a manager and then you become a director, you soon start questioning things. Why are you working this late? Why don’t I have a personal life? How much does this really matter?”
Gonzalez continues, “I realized that everyone is replaceable, and that shifted my focus and priorities. Today, I try to create daily goals by identifying the project priorities for that day, mentoring my team to think creatively, and empowering them to have a voice and be future leaders—I’m aiming to become the mentor I never had.”
When we wrap up Gonzalez says, “You have to allow yourself to shut down for the day. Tomorrow will be another day. The email you sent at 2 am can wait until 9 am.”
And she’s right. Because has anything good ever come from a 2 am email? I don’t think so.
So what’s next for Shantal? She’s currently getting re-energized and planning for a future outside of those 2 am emails.
Connect with her on LinkedIn to find out more.
About Shantal Gonzalez
A highly motivated, seasoned project manager with complementary experience in marketing, advertising, operations, and leadership. Skilled in managing and directing the work of high-performing project team members, crafting high-impact, driving productivity, and cultivating a culture of best practices and compliance. Possesses an empowering leadership style, leveraging strong critical thinking strengths and keeping risk management front of mind.
Executes an ethos of integrity and inclusiveness while being an advertising disruptor. Shantal has demonstrated the ability to support company goals and objectives by applying creative and innovative strategies and sound judgment when driving large-scale, cross-functional, and complex initiatives and utilizing clear communication and interpersonal skills to build strong stakeholder relationships and coalesce team members toward a unified goal.
She has a proven track record in developing business-to-business (B2B) proposals and ensuring alignment within the operational budget. Champions continuous process improvement, process development, and project governance, directing project closure requirements and capturing lessons learned at the post-mortem stage of the lifecycle.
At FCB New York, Shantal supported the FDA team on award-winning campaigns for The Real Cost, which has created awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco use on teen health across our nation. While at VSA Partners, she helped establish strategies with senior executives, associate partners, and key stakeholders to plan for expected growth, implementing project management methodologies in alignment with the company goals and objectives and optimizing processes as part of the project scoping and resource allocation. Most recently, at MRM, Shantal supported the Verizon Business Group, ASOS, and Smirnoff team. Outside of Advertising, Shantal has enjoyed traveling, submerging herself in different cultures and languages, and spending time with her family in Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States.