The year 2020 has been quite a train wreck for everyone.
As I was partying in Ghana during the end-of-year countdown… with cool sand under my toes…. raising a cold tropical cocktail in the air and panning the beach party with my iPhone for my Instagram story… the biggest smile on my face… friends laughing and swaying alongside me… I had no idea I would walk into one of the most rattling years, yet clarifying, of my life.
I’ve dealt with plans gone awry before – just take my abrupt divorce (and fleeing across the country) for example. It was the first time in my life that my meticulously crafted life plans flew out of the window with no certainty or off-the-shelf, quick-fix lever that I could pull on. I made a huge life pivot, putting in the work (along with much-needed healing practices) to start anew. I’ll mention, I had to start from a base that was pretty low.
But 2020 was different. I mean really different. There are things that have changed for me that I DID NOT see coming – and I believe they’ve changed me forever.
1. I Got Tired of Waiting
“Just look at our numbers against our competitors,” a Black mid-level manager said at a conference room table. “The increase in Black mid-level managers in our division has grown 4-5% in the last few years. That’s higher than our peers in the industry who are at ~3%.”
If only you could have my face as these pitiful stats were touted as if this was something that Black employees were to be proud of.
I proceeded to articulate (for the room, not just the speaker apparently) that those numbers were nothing to be proud of, as they would never be acceptable if we were talking about per annum revenue growth for the firm (or the lack thereof).
I noted that we would have been given a fierce call-to-action in such a case and we certainly wouldn’t be touting such pitiful stats in a gleeful tone on a Quarterly Earnings Call.
I closed by saying that I’d only worked with the firm for 7 years up until that point, but was that that Black representation figures for the division were as low as 4% years and years prior. (At this comment, there were agreeable mummers and head nods in the room. “That’s right, it was… just as low,” someone whispered to themselves).
I couldn’t believe this type of complacency was being instilled in brilliant people. Just thinking about that day gives me a headache. *shivers* But all of this was in late 2019!
Stepping through 2020, my tolerance and patience grew much thinner. I’d come back to the United States after two weeks in the motherland (Ghana + Cape Town) where I’d experienced an epic sense of belonging that I’d never even conceived in my entire life. In my entire life.
I left what felt like a perpetual family cookout that spanned a vast and beautiful region, with different backyards – but the same understanding… the same good food produced by aunties who could throw down! I gazed at hairstyles that were absolutely beautiful and nostalgic. Styles that I freely wore as a child… as a teen… as a young adult in college.
Styles that I’d somehow come to associate with unprofessionalism rather than culture.
Styles similar to the one I was rocking in my own hair given I was in Africa for two whole weeks, thus felt I had a reasonable amount of time and discretion to wear faux locs!
It’d been more than 7 years since I’d worn the cultural styles that I loved. I’d been careful to always rock my sassy, bone-straight, relaxed haircuts since I’d graduated college. A damn shame.
I left all of that magic in Africa and came back home to the United States.
I was met with a pandemic and then the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. I was gut-wrenched and then re-traumatized by the account of police phone call against Christian Cooper… a black man who was asking that a white woman follow the rules in a public park. Asking that she follow the rules.
I became so fatigued. I grew so tired of waiting. So tired of explaining the obvious to counterparts who really couldn’t give a damn about acknowledging the fact that a literal war had been waged against black bodies since the inception of this country as we know it.
I was fatigued of being expected to power through spontaneous VIDEO calls and back-to-back meetings as if nothing was going on.
My favorite (read most disgusted) moment of breaking my silence in the office around these brutal killings was when a woman responded, “Oh, these things must be happening because of the change in weather.”
“Huh?” Again – imagine my face. *palms forehead then slides finger tips down to my chin*
“You know, it’s getting hot outside. That must be making people cranky and causing them to have this irrational behavior.”
I’m just going to let that type of oblivion and not-giving-a-fuckness sink in.
Okay. We’re back. I just grew tired. Tired. And I didn’t have another ounce of effort to give towards corporate hashtag efforts that those with power were so accustomed to throwing around without actual reciprocity. So when my colleagues and superiors began reaching out to me to check-in and/or mobilize a response – I was absolutely honest.
I was honest about the fact that I’d supported in-house feminist-oriented efforts over and over and over again without seeing women who looked like me on the stages. Without hearing anecdotes that I could relate to in panel discussions. I mean come one, clearly the women who made 70 cents to the dollar of what men made were not reflective of Black women.
Clearly these stories about women finally being able to enter the workforce were not considering the Big Mommas of how lineage who had labored and toiled for centuries in this country. Women who continued to raise white women’s babies when “American women entered the workforce in the 1960s while male soldiers were away fighting in WWII.”
I hadn’t been included – but I had shown up! I had shown up. I’d exercised solidarity – the solidarity that so many people understand the principles of when we aren’t considering Black issues.
I can’t tell you the number of marches I’ve attended and meetings I’ve engaged in for movements that I knew Black people wouldn’t be the benefactors of… not in the short or intermediate term.
But I showed up with consistency. I cheered with empathy. I engaged with fervor. I strategized with commitment. I donated… real American dollars. I spread the word within my network. I educated myself in order to have deeper understanding of the plight and disadvantages of others. Because that’s what solidarity is. It is action.
I extend a huge measure of gratitude to Mikki Kendall’s book, Hood Feminism, which gave me vocabulary around my already-existent feelings and awareness.
There is something powerful about being armed with data and vocabulary… and sprinkling that in with affirmation?! Whew! *cues fireworks*
When folks reached out to me in these times of “heightened awareness” and call-to-action around racial inequality, I extended honest answers. I made it very clear that I expected action immediately. That I expected to hear the slain referenced by name. That I expected to hear the term “Black” and not softer, broader terms meant to keep people comfortable in their complicity. Broad corporate terms were in place to hide the fact that adequate progress was not being made.
I genuinely feel that most colleagues and leaders were receptive. They appreciated the sobering feedback. They gave me platforms to facilitate powerful events that were just as honest about the Black experience. They made visible strides in leveraging their own privilege to hold space for the long-overdue acknowledgment of oppression that permeates our society and systemic constructs.
Intentional, more pronounced strides were being made, but I was still so tired. There was an urge scratching at me that never seemed to go away. A question that I tried my best to leave unanswered as I worked to continue charting towards my career goals.
The question being, “How long are you going to expend so much of your energy teaching and convincing leaders to see and protect us when you can exert that energy towards directly edifying our people today?”
“You get it today,” the voice said. “You understand what the lack is today. You understand what the rules of the game are. Your acumen and technical skills are on point.
Why wouldn’t you build your own table and define the rules yourself – free of these systemic barriers working overtime to slowly chip away at?”
2. I Moved from the Bay to the A
I’d expected to relocate from Oakland to London in April of 2020. As you can imagine, 2020 shitted on those plans as the spread of the coronavirus made headlines in late February 2020!
I was in mental limbo for a few months, continuing work with my existing team (thankfully with zero risk of being pushed out)… but really hoping to be able to get to London… at least before things turned worse!
I’ll admit, my line of thinking wasn’t the wisest in hindsight.
I had a secure job… during a pandemic
A nice roof over my head, that was central to everything I needed
A strong support system around me
And… people across the globe were shut-in, without a license to move freely.
Isn’t hindsight always 20/20? Lol!
I’m pretty fortunate to not have been transferred to London with no… anything… in the midst of a global pandemic. Not to mention it would have been incredibly difficult to scale in a brand role without an in-person team to learn from.
As continued my line of work in credit underwriting for large corporations in the technology industry (who were very much in need of credit + liquidity solutions), I was tapped to manage a team in a brand new division being propped up to service the loan forgiveness phase of the government’s relief package that banks had serviced on its behalf for small businesses.
Given London was on hold and there was still a promise that I’d move there on the back-end of my management assignment, I accepted the incredible opportunity to manage a team, play a meaningful role in strategy and try something completely new in order to take my mind off of the month-to-month worries I had around the timing of my move across the pond.
I decided to move to Atlanta for my new assignment given I was no longer tied to my San Francisco office and it would put me within reasonable driving distance of my families located in Alabama and South Carolina. I saw this as a great opportunity ahead of such an eventual big move.
3. I Realized Mental Illness Wasn’t One-and-Done
For background, I battled chronic depression during a large chunk of 2017. My condition was so chronic that I had to take a four-month leave of absence from my job (huge shout of to my employer for taking such incredible care of me during my times (yes plural) of crisis).
I recovered from that bout and came back to work on fire! To my surprise, I was just as sharp, quick-thinking, effective, and tenacious upon my return as I was before I’d left. Only this time, I was even more effective because I led with a more genuine authenticity given I was no longer afraid of what might happen if I removed the guise of invincibility.
I was back… and back for good – or so I believed.
After my return to the office in late 2017, I experienced more mild episodes of depression from time to time. It wouldn’t occur often. Maybe once or twice a year. The good thing was that I could detect the symptoms when they came and attempt to quickly change my behaviors to protect my mind and allow healing during those moments. Those actions usually included letting my boss know that I was not my best self and needed a lighter load + understanding for a period. This tended to do the trick most times and soon enough, I was always back to being my effective-, constantly-moving-, juggling-13-balls-in-the-air-with-precision-self.
A few weeks after the pandemic hit, I began having therapy once a week – after much annoyance from my best friend... though, I’m extremely grateful for her pestering today. Thanks, Monnie! 🙂 I kept those sessions up for months as maintenance. I didn’t want to hit a low that would be hard to climb out of… and the added routine seemed to be effective.
In September of 2020, however, I began sinking. Depression was clouding over me and it was really hard for me to pull myself out of it. I was mourning things… memories… a previous life… feeling trapped… suffocated… the desire to run. On top of that, I was struggling with anxiety and the inability to focus. I was able to recognize the symptoms of these issues and had vocabulary around them, given I’d experienced them during my more chronic bout in 2017.
Please go to therapy and see a psychiatrist if you are struggling with mental health! It is your business and no one else has to know about it – ’cause you don’t owe anyone an explanation for anything – but it is imperative that you seek the professional help that is vital for healing.
It was a few weeks into my recent (and current) bout with mental illness that I realized that this will be frailty that I will need to manage for the rest of my life. It dawned on me that the best (and seemingly only) way for me to cope with my occasional periods of sickness would be to release myself of mental strain and exertion and give myself protective space and time to recover.
I’ve learned that the body does heal. That just as broken skin on the arm closes up after being severed… just as a broken bone heals in place if it is protected and aligned… so does the mind.
In September of 2020, I realized that I needed to take a serious look at my current lifestyle, the lifestyle that I was tracking towards, and the lifestyle that would be most conducive to me pulling back completely in the times of mental illness… as often or as infrequent as that would turn out to be.
4. I Realized I’m Dope AF!
What a statement right? But I mean it in every sense of the phrase. I realized… I found out… that I was dope as fuck! It’s like I was able to step behind the curtain and see that the Wizard of Oz is not this huge, intimidating ghost of a God. The Wizard… or Wizards in my case… were people. Smart people – yes. Capable people… absolutely. But they were people. And it wasn’t any harder for me to excel in my new role of managing + shaping strategy.
On the contrary, it was quite natural for me. I was given an even greater opportunity to construct things, influence leaders, and lead logistics. Much greater opportunity than I’d experienced at any other point in my career – and I was absolutely grateful for the opportunity to be utilized to my fullest potential – but what I discovered was that I was excelling in real-time. I entered through the doors fulling capable of crushing tasks + projects, then would leave people impacted, motivated and inspired. Every. Single. Day.
I can’t count the number of times that I received one-off emails from people that I’d not directly interacted with, letting me know that they were moved by simply observing my delivery and effectiveness in meetings. They expressed how much they’d stretched in knowledge from listening to my flagging and outlining solutions for roadblocks that posed threats.
What I found out in 2020 was that I was powerful beyond what I’d previously understood. I realized that I had the skill and effectiveness of some of the greatest leaders who continue to shape companies today. I had a transition in mindset where I went from thinking, “Omg, they think this of meeee” to “Whoa… I can absolutely lead and manifest dreams today. I’m built for it. Like… I really have the chops.”
5. I Left Corporate America for Entrepreneurship
Here we are with the final item on the list. This item is presently revealing itself to me. The area that I am currently evolving into and already learning so much from.
After asking myself very serious questions about the life that would best lend itself to my securing + maintaining optimal mental health…
After realizing how powerful my gifts are and digesting the sobering notion that I can deploy those gifts in a direct fashion to make real-time impact on the people that I so vehemently desire to edify…
After considering whether an immediate sacrifice on luxury and plush living would be a shift worth navigating in exchange for a life of continual adventure, risk, globe-trotting, and pivot…
After leaning into the inclinations of my soul, I said, “I’m betting on me!”
I literally shouted it aloud… over and over… for days. “I’m betting on me!” Each time I said it, there was a stir in my belly that was full of emotions that I am still unpacking with my therapist (shout out to my dope ass therapist!).
But they were incredible feelings. Feelings stirred from being fully aware of the implications and risks of being an entrepreneur; yet being unable to find any reasons fulfilling enough not to.
And so, I did. I resigned from my corporate job to pursue entrepreneurship full-time.
A new journey lies ahead and I’m so thrilled.
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