I Quit My Job! Part I

June 8, 2021

I can hardly believe that it has been nearly two years since my last post, there is so much to catch you up on! As the title states I quit my job back in January and took some time to process what I went through. The first month following my resignation was the hardest for me both emotionally and mentally. I knew that I needed to seek professional help to help me sort out all that I had been through and all that I was feeling in order to begin the healing. I've been in therapy for three months now and it has been a God sent. (I am grateful that I have health insurance to cover the cost, but I will take a moment to say that it shouldnt be a luxury given to a few. Healthcare is a RIGHT!) Therapy coupled with books on spirituality, mindfulness and love (yes love) has helped me tremendously and I will share my reading list with you in another post. About this entry, I am splitting the story into two posts 1) what led to my resignation and 2) what has happened since because its a life changing event with a lot of moving parts and attention spans are limited. Let's go...
Two year hiatus First, I never officially announced a haitus because I really didnt know exactly what I wanted to do with this community I created. I recognized a shift within that I had to lean into and knew I had to do it without the distraction of metrics and keeping up with the joneses but I wasnt ready to say goodbye. When 2019 started I set off on a 30 books in 2019 challenge for myself, I didnt fully understand why I set the challenge but with each book read I could feel an internal shift. In September of 2019 I announced on Instagram that I would be entering what I coined my "slow season", which meant after years of overly packed schedules both professionally and personally I was burned out and needed a break. I began to feel like everything I was doing was a major distraction to the work I had to do within that only stillness and solitude could bring focus and clarity to. So, after a wild summer filled with lots of travel, my best friend's wedding and all the festivities that entails, an untold number of meet ups and drink dates etc., I said, enough. I would start to say no to invitations in order to carve out some time for myself. It was hard at first, especially excercising my right to say no without explanation but I needed a break and I didnt want to be made to feel guilty about it. I wasnt in a space that I could give as much of myself, I needed a break. At the time I was also mentally preparing for the arrival of a new boss which meant that we wouldnt be able to vacation for at least the first year of her leadership and that I would have to work longer hours, some evenings and weekends to get it off the ground. After having interim leadership for nearly 4 and 1/2 years and exclusively working with white men I was finally going to be working with a Black woman from Ghana who was educated in the UK, had founded her own graduate school in Johannesburg, authored 10+ novels and was just an international super star. I wanted to totally committ myself and grow professionally and I instinctively knew her leadership would be transformational to not only me but the entire school and oh how right I was! First, Context December 2019 rolled around and we hit the ground running, there was excitement and curiosity buzzing in the halls of our school, everyone wanted a piece of our new Dean and I was trying to find my footing and figure out our working relationship. There were growing pains for sure, but I stuck it out and committed. Personally, I was fighting demons of my own with the closing of a decade that was filled with so many wonderful events and moments and a fair share of heartbreak. The 2010's started with the end of a near five year relationship with an emotionally and sexually abusive boyfriend, it was also the start of a new and important job (the one I would later quit, keep reading), I met my future husband and best friend, got married, traveled, purchased our first home, started graduate school, graduated from grad school, got promoted and was making a six figure salary and of course I had started this blog. I got everything I had ever wanted and was so happy and loved, I had achieved so much so what could a new decade possibly have in store for me? Wasnt this as good as it gets? Fear of the unknown was beginning to cripple me. As a way to escape my fear I purchased tickets to the Friends pop up happening in Boston, booked a two night stay and hit the road on New Year's Eve. I remember sharing my fears with my husband over a beer. I asked him if he was scared of ending such a life changing decade and entering into a new decade, what would this mean for our marriage? Our lives? What next? He responded, "I am excited for whats next. I just want to enjoy the fruits of our labor, our boys are growing up and moving out and we will get to enjoy a new kind of life together filled with adventure and travel. This is good Erica, not bad." Ha, I hadnt thought of it like that. Why did I fear all that I had achieved being suddenly taken away from me? Where was this fear coming from? I had no idea but I remember that was when I started to journal. Ironically the last journal entry had been exactly two years before to the date, holidays have always filled me with anxiety. I filled the page with all the darkness and fear I felt in my heart and it felt really cathartic. It was in that moment that I decided I would committ to journalling. I knew I needed an outlet, a safe space to release all the fear, pain and anxiety I had swirling around in my heart, consuming me most of the time but also a space to share some lightness, thoughts and joy. The journey to clarity and builing a deep relationship with myself began. The Job In January of 2020 work was tough, the administration was going through what is called the "storming phase" of this new leadership. I am sure you have experienced change in your life whether it was graduating from school, starting a new job, embarking on a spiritual journey or moving to another city, you know change is hard. The administration had been left on their own with little to no guidance, the administration had trauma-bonded, faculty formed cliques and were unhappy and abusive, lack of confidence and no clear path had left us all deformed, passive aggressive and toxic. It wasnt anyone's personal fault, this happens without leadership and woeful neglect. The trauma was deep, the confidence was low and an outsider shining a light on a team who had always placed blame on the "other" instead of acknowledging our own toxic behaviour was a lot to navigate. The new Dean persisted. We had tough but honest conversations. Some took it in stride and looked at it as an opportunity for growth and investment while others took it personally and began to shutdown. This is true for most people, myself included, that when you are forced to confront yourself and your messiness the ego's instinct to self protect is great. You feel justified of course, beyond reproach. This isnt my fault, it is her fault or his fault or this leader doesnt get it, she doesnt understand. We stay stuck in a loop of victimization and blaming. It can be hard to take a look at your own actions, our ego wants to seperate us from any culpability. I will admit I retreated and all but submitted my resignation in those early weeks of this new administration. I even started clearing out my office, ie brining home my office plants. That memory makes me giggle because that is how much my ego wanted to protect me, I was ready to quit. I would have rather quit then do what I knew I was capable of doing or more to the point confront a deep seeded belief that I was NOT capable. I was scared of what was being asked of me. I sat my husband down and told him I would be resigning. He smiled and said he would support my decision but ended by saying, "Do you not know who you are? What you have accomplished? You are a lionness, why are you running away like a scared mouse." In this moment I am reminded how important the company you keep is. Are you surrounded by people who really believe in you? Are you surrounded by people who can be honest with you even when it is hard? Or are you surrounded by people who dont really care either way? Are they just sound boards who parrot what you say? This isnt a read but at pivotal moments like this the company you keep can mean the difference between growth or stagnation. Sure, you are responsible for your decisions but also we are not alone. We have family and friends in our life they influence us in ways seen and unseen, that's just the truth. I am grateful to have a partner who believes in me when I dont. He has made me realize just how much work I need to do to see in myself what he sees in me. In that moment, I decided to be brave. I would stick it out and do the absolute best I could do even if I failed. I needed to challenge myself, it was the only way to know who I was, so I did. The new Dean and I were having honest and difficult conversations, she invested in me. Her critiques and radical honesty about my performance helped me to adjust and confront parts of myself I had neglected or avoided. This honesty became the foundation of the working relationship we were developing. In February and March I spearheaded a major project and a huge event. I hired assistants and charted us on a new course. Things were looking up. March 13, 2020, COVID hit and a fragile team was sent home to work. Working From Home March-May 2020 Our new Dean had only been in place for two months when Gov. Cuomo sent all CUNY and SUNY administration, faculty and students home, unable to return to the office due to the huge infection numbers in NY. We were the epicenter of the fast moving disease and the best we could do is isolate. The first few weeks were a blur. I still havent fully processed the fear, trauma, and loss we all faced. The new Dean took no breaks, she was fearless. The definition of a leader. She tried to keep the ship above water while everyone took turns throwing their hands up in pure exhaustion and fear. I am not blaming anyone here, this was an "unprecedented event" no one had ever lived through this, ever, so what is the "correct" way to respond? I dont think there is a correct way or a wrong way, we were all just trying to survive. Often times that survival mentality means reverting and doubling down on just surviving, just making it through. There is no mental capacity for looking past your own pain and fear. We are humans after all. As I reflect, I am able to fully acknowledge and marvel at the fact that our new Dean was ALSO feeling all of these emotions and in some ways a bit more than us. She was, after all, new to New York, her family and friends were miles away and her new work family was still trying to adjust to her leadership and the relationships were too new for any true depth. In spite of these odds, she perservered. There is no bullet point in a leadership manual that she could refer to to help her make sense of what we were collectively facing. For my part, I was trying to keep my head above water. I decided to invest in an actual workspace and converted my dressing room/workout room into a home office. No one knew how long we would be working from home but I knew that work demanded a clean space to meet demands and I needed to lean into and accept this new life. Our Dean continued to think big, we kicked off a fundraiser to help students who's family were facing financial ruin with small grants to help them cover some costs for food and rent. We started to build on our Instagram account as a means of communication to both our internal and external audiences. We canceled our lecture series and pivoted to an online ZOOM series. We kicked off a newsletter and started to plan for a Virtual Summer Show. I managed all communication and marketing strategies along with my newly hired assistants. It was a lot. I was isolated and felt alienated from the staff as I am sure the staff felt alienated from one another. I spent hours in front of a laptop with little human interaction. Every interaction was planned and scheduled with agenda items. Gone were the casual interuptions and requests to take a walk and grab a cup of coffee. We were all alone, but in stillness we all grew in different directions. The codependency that had calcified was slowly coming undone. I no longer needed constant contact with the team. I had time and space to be creative. I began to pitch ideas for articles, rethink organizational practices and event management. I took on important projects bringing what I knew to projects instead of defaulting into, "I dont know or Ive never done that before" which is safe, but doesnt help you to develop those skills. I was editor of the first student led publication, I conceptualized, researched and scripted a video for our summer show. I was working with other creatives from all over the world to create this film. It was a real professional highlight and I felt so grateful for the opportunities I was given but also saw the confidence in myself and my capabilities grow with each successful milestone completed. Please dont misunderstand the road was not paved with gold, I still wrestled with my deep seeded fear of not being enough. Sometimes I won, sometimes the voice inside me won but I never gave up. The Dean and I continued to have hard but enlightening conversations. I understood that these truths would help me succeed so I adjusted and grew. May 25, 2020 George Floyd It is still hard to process these feelings, they still bring me to tears even a year later as they should. A man was murdered in the street in broad daylight by an officer while others watched in horror and fear. The pain was palpable. A life was stolen. While this is nothing new in this country, it felt like a watershed moment. A moment where everyone finally or so it seemed, took notice and couldnt look away. I remember the first time I saw BLM publically acknowledged by corporate america was on the Paramount channel and my jaw dropped then my email box was flooded by empty statements by other coporations who fell in line for the sake of their bottom line, profit. White America uncomfortabely and clumsily started to engage in conversations that were difficult for them to face, having always had their comfort centered while people were brutalized and murdered by the state. But I digress. This was a pivotal moment for our instituion too although the extent of this conversation was also a blanket statement from the leadership touting us as a diverse and inclusive university while never, really examining that too closely. For my Dean's part, the request, the SHEER volume of requests that I fielded on her behalf was monumental. Every single day, multiple times a day, we were turning down invitations to speak, to give a quote, to chair a committee, to basically educate all of academia on racism and how they can be better more informed allies. I wont dive too deep into the labor this placed on two women of color but it was a lot and felt like more of the same. July-October 2020 With Floyd, mass protests and what felt like the apocalypse approaching, work continued. The administration was barely holding together. Isolation cliques were forming and without face to face interactions, the isolation began to fertilize seeds of misunderstandings and miscommunication. Times were really hard, I felt even more isolated. While my self sufficiency was starting to shine through me I missed the ease and support of the codependent relationship we had formed. Old habits die hard. We needed each other to get through a very difficult transition and I know personally it was a lifeboat for me. I feel so grateful to have had these people but all things have to come to an end. Everything must change and while it is scary it is absolutely necessary. I have been here before and I survived the change and I knew I could again. Interactions were few and far between and often tense. I felt I was outgrowing the administration and felt that unless there was a drastic change my days were limited. In July, our finance director went out on a three month medical leave without about a week's notice with no preperation or hand off of work. These duties became my duties. I had no background in finance, we had no clear or up to date budget and we were just left to muddle through. This nearly broke me, and at times it did. My hair started to fall out, my skin broke out, my sleep was affected, my appetite was non existant and I found myself yelling and screaming to my husband because of the lack of support we had. If I felt this way, can you even imagine how the new Dean was feeling? She received no support from the school's leadership, we were stone walled, delayed, gaslit, buried in endless paperwork and justifications, unclear emails and misinformed phone calls, you name it we faced it. Times were hard. We kept trying to pivot, reass, strategize, regroup and approach it differently, but the weight of it all was debilitating. We had vendors coming out of the woodwork with outstanding bills, months overdue. We had no system we could refer to in order to verify their claims. We were in the dark and needed to work, under extraordinary circumstances, to close the gaps. The stress was so great that I hardly thought of anything but work. I couldnt enjoy anything that I was once did. I woke up with anxiety and went to bed with anxiety. I might have been facing a depression and with the despair all but swallowing me whole, I knew I had to act to perserve my sanity and restore some kind of balance.
Some Clarity In August, I set my intentions for change and established boundaries. I implemented a morning routine that included waking up earlier, journaling, stretching, reading while enjoying a cup of coffee before starting my work day. This time was all mine and it gave me a clear boundary between work and home life. I started to pencil in actual lunch breaks which I protected like a lioness. I would fix myself a delicious meal and eat it away from my laptop and phone. I would head outside for some sun. I would take pictures and kicked off a second instagram page @_booksandblooms where I would share my growing plant collection and plant tips, along with my book recommendations. It was an opporunity to build something from scratch, take my own photos and immerse myself in two things that were saving my sanity, plants and books. I founded a book club and started shooting food reels for IG. Armed with this new outlook, I felt hopeful. I felt like I had a life outside of work that couldnt be touched. My life felt just a bit bigger and I was grateful for it. Work was still difficult, every day was a new challenge. I was either breaking down secretly or I was helping someone else with their own breakdown. It wore me down, more hair fell out, sleep was still sketchy but still I was at least starting my day with a full cup which made it impossible to absorb too much more. The fall semester was upon us and we hadn't had a moment's rest. I took a few three day weekends over the summer but not a long sustained vacation which is what I really needed but considering the circumstances couldn't possibly indulge in. We were rolling out a new curriculum and as I said earlier; change is hard. Even when it is in our best interest, we resist. We cant see the path and so we resist, making change nearly impossible. This burden was shouldered by the Dean and she took it very seriously. Her own health suffered. During the six months we were on lockdown she had been hospitalized twice and on a few rounds of antibiotics for various infections. This is what stress does to the body friends. The body reacts to stress because it demands a release. She was jeopardizing her life and that is NOT an exaggeration. I bore witness. September gave us some highs but a lot of lows. We hired a consultant to help with our finance issues but the damage was already done. On October 1st, the Dean informed me and a colleague that she had submitted her resignation and would be announcing it to the rest of the admin and faculty the following day. I was gutted. October 2020 - The Resignation Where do I start? I was gutted. I cried. I weeped for my loss. Our collective loss. Having been pulled to my own limit, I understood that what she decided was the right thing for her to do. I supported her. I admired her but still I greived her loss. She officially submitted her resignation to the entire school community and I signed off and weeped. It happened. It was real, we lost her. There were so many emotions I felt after her resignation, disbelief, grief, anger, rage, resentment, and finally my own truth was revealed to me. It was time for me to part ways with a school that I had dedicated nearly ten years of my own life to. Her resignation forced me to face the inevitable, it was time to move on.
I will end this post here so I can publish and start working on part II. In the next post I will share the fall out of the Dean's resignation, my stages of grief that led to my deepest knowing, how I prepared for this next chapter, how foolish I was to think I could prepare for the transition, therapy, growth, finances and next steps! Thank you so much for sticking around! IF you are new, hi! Please subscribe to my blog so you can receive notification of new posts and follow me on instagram @lifestyledbyerica See you next week.

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