1) Who is your greatest inspiration?
My daughter. She came from incredibly difficult circumstances and had experienced more before I met her at age five than anyone should experience in a lifetime. She is now an A student at New Mexico State University, majoring in social work and Spanish. Her goal is to help kids who are going through what she went through. Nothing in her life has been easy, yet she is always strong, compassionate and positive. She is my inspiration for everything.
2) What has led you to the work you’re doing today?
Hard work and good luck. In late 2014, I was in Washington D.C. with an old, dear friend of mine when I got a call from then-Senator Keller. I had just left my former law firm and was doing well in solo practice. He asked if I wanted to make half as much money and work just as hard, as general counsel in the Auditor’s Office, to which he had just been elected. Hard work created the reputation and track record that led to the call. But being in the car with a friend who had chosen a life of public service and who convinced me I would love the job – that was good luck.
When I look back at my whole career, from international development and planning to corporate law, I made a lot of choices that seemed odd at the time. Mostly I just followed my gut. But now I feel like I couldn’t have planned a better set of experiences to prepare me for the broad and varied responsibilities of being CAO. Again – a lot of luck and a lot of hard work.
3) What issue gets you out of bed in the morning, and how do you make a difference?
I drive down 3rd Street every morning. It connects Coronado Park with St. Martin’s – homeless people and people in need of social services are walking up and down and across the street in every direction. It reminds me of all the work we have to do to help people lead lives of safety and dignity in our town, in the few short years with which the people of Albuquerque have entrusted us. The magnitude of these problems in the abstract is overwhelming, but the individual people who are struggling keep me motivated and focused.
I try to lead with compassion and kindness. Every day I see the difference that kindness makes. If I have a really terrible day but have treated everyone with kindness, I can still go to sleep knowing I made a positive difference.
4) How do stay brave in the work you do and in your day-to-day life?
It’s an interesting question but honestly I have a great job and a home and health insurance and family and friends who love me. Compared to the situation of so many other people, or even to other times in my own life, this requires such a minimal amount of bravery. I do my work to the best of my ability and feel damn lucky to have the opportunity.
5) What advice or inspiration would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
I would tell me to do whatever it takes to be happy. At that age I did not recognize the true value personal, day-to-day happiness. It felt almost selfish to consider my own happiness to be a goal. But when I finally figured it out and reprioritized my life around happiness, my personal life became peaceful. That allowed me to seek work that was more challenging. Ultimately prioritizing basic happiness gave me the energy and desire to pursue a life of public service.
Sarita Nair, JD, MCRP, is the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the City of Albuquerque. She is the first woman to serve in this position in Albuquerque’s history.