I had to memorize this Robert Frost poem in the seventh grade, and it made a strong impact on 12-year-old me. Something about those two roads diverged in a yellow wood seemed like a sneak peak into this young and unfolding life of mine. And I tell you, it has been a thrill ever since. With that said…
I quit my job. This is my last day.
As of today, I leave a perfect, stressful, fun, restricting, diverse, high-profile, unknown, high-paying, underpaid job with a corporate non-profit. I left on my own and was pushed out, and i’m so very ready to leave but haven’t yet unlinked the national Twitter account from my phone.
Yeah, what the hell? This doesn’t make any sense. That’s because these are called mixed emotions and i’m very much “all up in my feelings.”
In summer 2011, I was an impoverished, ambitious, high-potential MBA grad on the temp job circuit, trying to get my big break in Jacksonville. By day I worked on my resume, read books, stole away to Betsey Johnson to try on clothes that I couldn’t afford, prayed, or ate fruit on the St. John’s River. By night…I cried. I slept in the homes of several strangers, and drove my parents stark mad in pursuit of an awesome anonymous something.
One afternoon while I worked as an admin at Ethan Allen, my mentor, Dr. Sandra Lewis, sent me a job announcement saying “I think this is the one.” I chased that carrot of opportunity with a new zeal, practicing for weeks and weeks on how i’d reveal to my mother that “I got the job!” I got that chance in September 2011, and just a couple of months later found myself with a corporate card and in a rented Mustang, zooming through Miami to a corporate recruiting event. I bawled down I-95, thinking to myself “How the hell did I get here? I was just homeless…”
I became the best at my job, and had the support of teams and managers who refined my many quarries of talent. I was promoted in a little over a year to become the company’s Marketing Manager at the tender age of 26. The day I told my father, he cried so hard that he dropped the phone and disconnected. I thought he’d crashed the car, but when I called him back he admitted that he had in fact pulled over to the side of the road, overcome with emotion. He instructed through tears –
“Never lose your joy, Danielle. Your joy and your light is the finger of God on your life.”
I held this new job during my spiritually-driven Year in White. And because my team was so culturally & ethnically diverse, I never felt the need to hide myself during the highly sensitive time. I’m probably the only iyawo who has ever entertained on the 50th floor of the McGraw-Hill building! To make it sweeter, Dr. Lewis was right there with me…from Ethan Allen to a high rise in Manhattan.
But as things so happen, I began to grow out of my role. I’d become so committed to the work, the mission, and the people, and really battled with the growing pains of disenchantment. Everyone who knew me knew that I was unhappy, even my nail tech! But to look or think elsewhere felt like treason. My job started to look like a tragic version of this famous episode of I Love Lucy (minus Ethel Mertz). But by a series of events and some personal queries of faith, the contractions began and pushed me out. Helping me to nail the coffin on my decision, one staff person told me –
“Here, we don’t have the luxury of dreaming. 80% of what we do is reactionary.”
In a few days, this dreamer submitted my resignation letter. And to further drive my family and friends up a wall, I stopped looking for new corporate jobs altogether. I gave myself permission to be honest with me – nothing that I want to do with my life would be found on a corporate job board. So my panic subsided into fear then unto curiosity unto peace unto excitement! I am an unemployed young American, and I couldn’t be more peaceful.
Why do professionals often accept our job discontent as the norm? Despite displeasure and unhappiness, we are told and convinced to stay…rarely challenged to be creative problem solvers, when the problem is the state of our own lives. I find, with increasing commonality, that my fellow Millennials question this paradigm time and time again. I think of this Queen Bey line –
“All these people on the planet working 9-5 just to say alive…how come?” – Beyonce
So in the spirit of joy & closure, I really want to express gratitude for a few people that made a distinct difference in my young professional life. –
Andre: For saying “You’re hired”. For driving to Atlanta to Nashville and back in a night for your daughter’s basketball game. #commitment For making us all love you, and always telling a joke. For simple leadership, and endless good stories and advice.
Jay: For making me love you since the day of my interview. For being hilarious and a friend. For being resourceful, selectively tactful, and equally ratchet. For always being available. For always having something to teach me, from a big-brother space. For trusting, nurturing, and expecting my expertise. For gathering my tears and rants, and giving digital hugs.
Marcos: For being a great manager. For being respectful and protective. For being thorough. For being kind when I went rogue, but lauding me when those crazy plans worked. For listening. For supporting and fighting for me. For Puerto Rico, cigars, coqui, and dinner with your parents.
Cebien: For being silly and sharp. For being the solution for every question. For teaching me how to promote myself. For making family life look thrilling. For never complaining and never being a doormat. For walking with me, when you were the only person in my life that I could literally walk (and talk) with.
Eli: For answering my first email. For working harder than anyone i’ve known. For being synonymous with excellence and style. For “going rogue” time and time again, and making it look GOOD. For all of your teachings, infectious smile, and always being down to ride. For becoming a McKinley household name. For being indeed “That Guy”.
Vincent: For telling me what you needed, and giving me the freedom to do it. For always respecting me as a peer and a professional. For giving me a seat at the table. For our one-on-ones. For your strong leadership and all of your praise. For being “The Godfather”.
Florida: For being my family and my teachers. For being the best of the best, and being the fertile soil for me to grow as a professional. For the FAMU trip, that was a huge effort and couldn’t have been done w/o your support. For endless laughter and great food. Lourdes – for being a mother and the hostess with the most-est. For being thoughtful, supportive, and thorough. Maria – For always looking out for yourself, your health, your brand, your sanity…and reminding me to do the same. For being a confidant, for big sister moments, and for being unapologetically honest. Sams – for always having a dream, a connection, and a plan. For all of your stories and 3-times the laughs. For never sitting still and always building something new.
Val & David: For challenging me to be better than myself. For showing me the challenges of being an executive. For your confidence in believing that I could indeed run the world…or at least a department! For always having a new strategy for new (or even old) problems. #BeCreative
Forest: For every one-on-one. For your inspiring words and surprise visits. For your vision, eloquence, and commitment to the organization.
And out with a bang at our 2014 conference this weekend in Jacksonville, back to the city where it all started for me. For the new interns and the students I once recruited who are still here. For every tweet and every alum who keeps coming back. For fancy plates and greasy fries. For twelve different conversations over cocktails and wine. For “no dollaz” to diversity. To sponsors and dreams and opportunities. To giggles and arguments, whining and declarations. To team dinners and solo meals. Night bathing and beach meditation. Life stories and belligerent fun among professionals. Fence hopping and celebrity salsa and more…….