Dear Former Employer,
Welcome to my independence day. You actually instituted it. Three years ago I walked into your suite on the seventh floor of that glassy office building as I had every workday at 9 a.m. for nearly two years. Before I could go to the kitchenette to fill my water cup, I was summoned to a conference room I rarely stepped foot in to have an awkward conversation with a co-worker I even more rarely talked to and learned that my position was being eliminated.
I’m sure the bearer of that bad news didn’t expect me to smile. An outburst is typically in order after an announcement like that, and that’s what I’m sure he’d braced himself to endure. A random woman I’d never seen was in there with us, and my guess is that she was brought in to help maintain order should I go rogue black girl and dole out some table flipping and paper tossing, sista-girl style.
In hindsight, it was probably wise of him to stay extra woke as, one by one, he reduced folks’ years of skill sharing and problem solving and project management and long nights and short lunches and compromised work-life balance down to canned corporate rhetoric and meticulously calculated severance dollars.
Your company let go of 19 staff members that day, three weeks before Christmas, some of them just a few years shy of retirement. (Way to keep it classy.) The office looked like a fallout shelter. People were crying, if not for themselves, then for the co-workers who had returned from their walks of doom. Others were stuck on dazed, and still more sat forlorn and helpless at their cubicles, wondering if they were awaiting an inevitable slaughter.
My heart ached for all of them, but I’d smiled because I was free.
For years before I came under your employ, freelance writing had been my side hustle. I tried doing it full time once before, turning my love of journalism, storytelling and reporting into my day job, but I failed and had to retreat to the certainty of a corporate job and stable biweekly paychecks. Trying it a second time was twice the gamble, especially since my daughter was older, needed more expensive stuff and was more perceptive of Mommy’s mess-ups.
And mess up I have: I’ve made dozens of outright mistakes and done things I wish I could redo better or, at the very least, do differently. I struggled to charge what I knew I was worth because I worried about being nice, then worried about how I was going to pay rent. I questioned my abilities and bludgeoned myself through comparisons with other women who were doing the same thing I was doing but seemingly better. I almost burned my fool self out working 18- and 20-hour days because I was terrified that there wouldn’t be enough money coming in to survive on. And, for a long, barren while, there wasn’t.
I’ve cried more frustrated tears than I’ve had dollars, and been brutally, might-have-to-move-back-home-with-my-mama broke. When things got really real, I’d apply for a job and never hear back, even though I knew I was qualified. It signaled to me that I needed to press on. Honestly, there was no other option but to do that. This is what I know now:
1. Your purpose doesn’t unfold in a tidy checklist of milestones or a neat timeline. It moves forward and backward. Once in a while, it stalls. Occasionally, it thrusts forward. But it’s always happening, always in process.
2. No one will take care of you better than you. You have to be deliberate about making downtime for yourself, or you run the risk of burning out your spark, losing love for what you want to do or wearing yourself down (and also looking scary haggard and gross).
3. Fear is the natural companion of risk, but it motivates in a way that meme affirmations and catchy quotes don’t. Don’t aspire to be fearless. Aspire to make that fear productive.
4. Business relationships can be unhealthy, too, and you have to make your standards clear up front because ultimately, the only person looking out for you is you. Especially as a woman. Especially, especially as a black woman.
5. When you’re discouraged because your career isn’t where it should be, the universe will introduce you to someone trying to get to where you are to reassure you that you’re moving along more than you think, and maybe also for you to be a blessing to someone else’s journey.
6. Prayer and meditation are as valuable in business as they are in your personal life. They’re directional and clarifying tools for major decisions, next steps, new ideas and fresh creativity.
7. Being afraid to turn down ill-fitting jobs, assignments or clients because you’re scared to miss out on an opportunity is the same thing as working at a job you hate. Politely decline. You’re allowed.
8. You can paralyze yourself with too much reading and research and inundate yourself with too much information about doing it instead of just doing it, whatever “it” is.
9. People who try to make you feel as if you’re not important enough aren’t important at all. They’re easily dismissed.
10. You’ll work longer and harder for sometimes less money, but the value is measured differently.
Thank you, former employer, for the platform to grow and launch into the unknown as I hit the praise button for my first profitable year. Thank you also for firing me and for firing me up so that I can show my daughter how to let passion lead.
Entrepreneurialism is a journey. It’s not better or more noble than employment, but it has shown me the most authentic version of not only myself but also my ultradope support system, starring my best friend and my mom. There is great joy in making a living doing something that matters to you and not having to cram it in, around, above and between the time constraints of a job that doesn’t.