“If you can’t just do your job without any push back for your remaining time, then we don’t need you here.”

This is what my former supervisor said in response to ideas I presented to her two weeks into the final four weeks at my job.

Push back? Just do my job?

Though appalled by her words, for once in my life I held a poker face. Every thing about her statement told me I was making the right decision to leave. I was working in an environment that did not value me as an employee or the skills I brought to the organization. Therefore, I stood up and told her, “You’re right, I don’t need to be here. Today will be my last day.”  And I left.

Like many young urban professionals, the pressure to ‘be somebody’ consumed me post-college.  I lived off the confidence that my alma mater, North Carolina A&T, instilled in me. I was told failure is not an option and I believed it. However, the road to success wasn’t necessarily paved with my name on it. That part I had to find on my own.

I spent the first three years of my professional career at MTV and BET Networks. While I really loved my job, I could not deny the internal struggle I was having with myself to do more with my life. So in 2008 I took a leap of faith for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help elect the first Black president. While courageous to join the campaign trail, I didn’t plan the exit strategy from my job well. Nor did I want to listen to anyone who tried to help me be strategic about my departure. Silly kid I was. I was anxious to chase my dream of making the world a better place. What I didn’t realize was that without a plan, I only made it harder for myself to get to that dream.

Post-campaign I struggled more than a little bit to get back on track. I cried and kicked myself with every random part-time and freelance gig I found. I wasn’t supposed to be struggling with my career at 25! I had a degree and I was smart! How could I have been so stupid?!

When I finally got a new job (while not my dream job) a year later, I decided to make it work for me. I enrolled in graduate school part time. I increased my community service. I joined a junior leadership board. I rallied a community to help save a historic restaurant from closure. And I started a blog. The more work I did outside of my job, the easier it was for me to see what made me happy.  With graduate school, I was also starting to see myself as a communications consultant for public sector organizations.  Finally, it was all coming together. But how was I going to make that transition- the smart way this time?

  1. I started with research. I found all I could on consulting and communications for non-profits. I immersed myself in my soon-to-be new world. The more information I found, the better equipped I was for my next step.
  2. The next step was creating a plan. I created a solid preliminary business plan for the consulting business I wanted to start. I also mapped out a separate personal plan that included saving and budgeting, plans for completing graduate school, housing, etc.
  3. Then I put my plan to the test. While still having my full-time job I took on a few pro-bono clients to build up my portfolio. I also made sure to select clients whose relationship would be mutually beneficial. For example, Adrienne Nicole Productions, a production company specializing in non-profit video, was key is helping to spreading the word about my services. Through A. Nicole Productions, I was introduced to another client and I continued to meet organizations as a result of my work.
  4. After three months of testing, I implemented my plan.  I had the research, the plan, and now enough client work I could use as leverage to procure new clients. I was ready to go out on my own- again.

I resigned from my job in the summer of 2011 with my success plan. It felt great…that is until I got scared. I feared that I made yet another mistake by leaving my job.  I’d done this before and failed miserably. I told myself I needed a job because what I was doing was foolish.

I wanted a job far away so I didn’t have to face the same people who watched me fail before. When the opportunity for a job in Washington, DC came, I took it. I pretended that I was thrilled to be employed full-time again. You know because that’s what smart people do. They have full time jobs with benefits. Duh. By uprooting my life in New York for a new job in DC, I sacrificed all of my hard work and planning. (I also let go of a banging apartment in Brooklyn. If you have lived in New York, you know what finding a gem of an apartment is like.) Mostly though, I short-changed myself. I reneged on the commitment to do better and be happy.

Three months into my new job I knew I made a grave mistake. The more I tried to make the DC job work, the worse things became. The role was stifling, my boss was unsupportive and I was becoming the unhappy person I let die a long time ago. Not to mention, I really missed New York. Instead of proving anything to anyone, I proved to myself that I was better than what I was up against. I resigned eight months in.

They say with great risk comes great reward, so here I am…again.  I am headed back to the plan I should have never abandoned a year ago: freelance writing, consulting, and philanthropy. This is what makes me happy and I cannot run from it. The career lessons I’ve learned thus far have given me the confidence to be an entrepreneur and believe I will succeed. This last chapter was just what I needed to show me that failure is relative.

We all walk different paths and we are the only ones that can define our success. As my career mentor Jodi Brockington said on a recent panel, “you aren’t accountable to any one but yourself.” I fully understand that now.  Everything before this was just a rehearsal. Now is my time.

Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a freelance writer and young philanthropist. Her energy can be read weekly on Friends of Ebonie. She enjoys long walks to nowhere in particular and she is a Cancer. Home is Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on @EbsTheWay.