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According to the Oxford dictionary, the word resign is defined as to voluntarily leave a job or other position. But I find it’s second definition to be far more interesting—to accept that something undesirable cannot be avoided.
The day I submitted my resignation, I wasn’t aware of this second definition and looking back I wish I was. Because if I’d truly understood what it meant to resign, managing my emotions and reactions throughout the process would’ve been much easier. The weeks leading up to my resignation were some of the most stressful periods of my life. Having seen how Michelle handled other employees and based on the general tone of the department, I suspected something was awry and that I might be targeted. And this lead to some pretty alarming reactions.
I was having trouble sleeping, I’d developed a persistent eye twitch and I was experiencing digestive issues. These were all stress-related ailments brought on by a dog-eat-dog work environment that turned otherwise kind people into killers. Even after resigning, my health improved a bit but I was met with a wave of exhaustion. For weeks, a simple trip to the grocery store would trigger deep fatigue as if I were experiencing jet lag having crossed multiple time zones.
Finally, as the smoke began to clear, an intense focus on wellness and nutrition, I found some clarity. And after several close-but-no-cigar attempts to land a comparable job, I decided I was done trying to convince hiring managers I was good enough to work for them. Instead, I decided to take all the energy I was giving to other corporations at a discount and pour it into myself, my family and rich & REGULAR which at the time, was just a blog. In short, I made the decision to pursue digital entrepreneurship full-time.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous or that I didn’t harbor anger for years. That whenever I’d drive by the old office building, see my old employer’s brand somewhere or hear from an old co-worker that I wasn’t sent reeling back into how I felt and was treated during my final days. In truth, there were few things in my life that have left such deep feelings of betrayal and heartbreak—this was one of them. But it could’ve all been avoided had I understood the second definition of resign. If only I’d seen an undesirable exit as inevitable.
One day in 2021, as Kiersten and I wrapped up one of the final writing sessions for our book, my phone rang. It was Will. We hadn’t spoken in years and I was curious to see how he was doing. I knew the company had fallen on difficult times due to the pandemic and I heard through the grapevine he was furloughed along with several others I knew. The beginning of our conversation was easy as we meandered through small talk, reflecting on parenting during the pandemic and him generously heaping praise onto us based on some recent press. But as the small talk faded, I could hear tension in his voice and he began to open up.
In short, Will apologized profusely.
He said he couldn’t stop thinking about how everything went down in my final weeks. How after I left, he had an opportunity to work directly with Michelle and saw firsthand how difficult she was to work with. How she even had the audacity to list him as a referral afterwards and for the first time in his life, he didn’t respond to the request because he had nothing positive to say. Perhaps most importantly, he admitted that his handling of my situation was the worst mistake of his professional career. And that through it all, I’d actually taught him a lesson about character, leadership and integrity in my refusal to accept the PIP and underlying accusations.
A small part of me wanted to tell Will to stick his apology up his ass, but I didn’t.
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A small part of me wanted to tell Will to stick his apology up his ass, but I didn’t. Honestly, I was relieved for him. The shakiness in his tone told me he was living with such deep regret that it was causing him pain. If his household is anything like mine, his wife knows every detail of that chapter and pushed him to make the phone call long before he actually did. Perhaps, he was triggered every time he saw Black Panther or was greeted with the Wakandan salute and it reminded him of his failure, toxic positivity or even worse, cowardice. Or maybe– just maybe—the snipping of a corporate umbilical cord helped Will find his voice. All I know is, in that moment, for both Will and I, an incredible weight was lifted.
Or maybe– just maybe—the snipping of a corporate umbilical cord helped Will find his voice
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Three Lessons to be Learned
You want to hear something weird? While all this was happening, I’d frequently tell Kiersten “this is great content”. I was coming into my own as a storyteller and growing increasingly curious of how money shaped our lives. I’d find myself specifically interested in how the exchange or pursuit of money made people justify mistreatment, injustice or abuse. And how it was all considered normal or even admirable to tolerate it.
Somehow, I knew the only element that made my story unique was that I had the privilege of walking away comfortably without concern of how my family and newborn son would survive. At the time, we were completely debt free having also paid off the mortgage on our primary residence and had grown accustomed to living on less than one paycheck. We also had a cash flowing rental property that had doubled in market value and plenty of momentum on our blog as an additional source of income. Back then, we could afford to look at the situation from a birds-eye view instead of from the confines of the trenches. And we knew that if we could tell the story effectively, we just might be able to help others who found themselves in similar mud.
So where do we go from here? What is the moral of this story? Well, four years and thousands of words later, we believe there are three key lessons to be learned from this experience.
First, for workers/employees, we can’t stress how important it is to participate in an employee resource group [ERG]. These groups are designed to create greater employee engagement and a sense of belonging. If your employer has one, we recommend making an effort to participate, networking with your fellow colleagues and building genuine relationships with them. This way, you’ll have several shoulders to lean on whenever a situation in or outside of work may be impacting you. You’ll gain the visibility I was searching for early in my career ten-fold and you can use that to guide you as you attempt to climb the corporate ladder. With that, you’ll learn what parts of an organization may be a good fit for you and which parts you should steer clear of.
In our forthcoming book, Cashing Out [June ‘22], we write that early in our careers, we struggled with managing excessive work demands while also coping with social issues that impacted us outside of work. Back then, admitting fatigue, sensitivity and burnout was viewed as unprofessional, taboo or weak. But today, ERGs serve as a safe space for people to bring their whole self to the workplace and a platform for under-represented groups to gather and discuss the issues that may specifically be impacting them. The result is a truer sense of belonging, team connection and a vehicle to communicate concerns upward to leadership.
Secondly, for Black leaders in predominantly white corporate environments, our hope is that this story helps to humanize you. We understand [now] that you aren’t superheroes and that despite your amazing accomplishments you often have the weight of the world on your shoulders. We know that in addition to your immense job responsibilities, you’re likely expected to be the [un]official spokesperson for diversity, equity and inclusion. And that every single day is a balancing act between pushing for change and towing in line.
…every single day is an impossible balancing act between pushing for change and towing the line.
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We know you can feel the hope, fears and expectations of every Black employee you come across. And above all, we know the true cost of being the first, is being the only which means you don’t have many people you can trust or rely on that understand what you go through every day. Because of this, our hope is that you find a balance that serves you, that you financially insulate yourself from difficult times and that you don’t put your work family ahead of your real family. In short, we need you to be healthy and honest with yourselves.
And lastly, for all leaders of both public and private corporations/organizations, we urge you to remain open to feedback and research, though it may sting a bit. As leaders, we know that every year, the bar for success grows higher. And when you fall short of revenue targets, market share growth, cost reduction or any other publicly stated ambition, these shortfalls are either used as ammunition to replace you or motivation to improve.
In that vein, our wish is simply that you give diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals comparable degrees of weight and attention as you do any other organizational objective. You should do this knowing that “diverse teams have a 60% improvement in decision-making”, that diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee, that inclusive teams improve team performance by up to 30% in high-diversity environments and that companies with diverse management have proven to deliver a 19% increase in revenue compared to their less diverse counterparts”.
And when you’re done believing this set of data, we ask that you tap into your creativity to improve workers rights, benefits packages, pay and flexibility so that all employees feel more connected and engaged at work. Otherwise, stories like mine add to the ground swelling of employees looking to quit their jobs, and turning off prospective employees to work for you.
There’s a lot to unpack from this story. But underneath the story, characters, supporting evidence and vision for a brighter future, we hope a key point wasn’t missed. And that point is that I’d put myself in a financial position to walk away from a bad environment without causing harm or major disruption to my family. Prior to this, I’d never thought of managing money well as a form of self care, but in this case it absolutely was. By living below my means, choosing to save and invest consistently over the course of my career, I was in a position to accept resignation comfortably. And that single act of earned privilege has been the catalyst to this new creative, fulfilling and purpose-filled phase of life.
I want that for everyone.
I want everyone to know what it feels like to put their personal and family needs ahead of their career ambitions. I want everyone to be able to invest in themselves courageously, and to have the wherewithall to speak up in the midst of personal or professional turmoil. And I want everyone to reclaim some of the power they’ve given to leaders and institutions so they can dictate the terms and timeline of their own resignation.