I Hired A Career
by Danielle “Ama” McKinley
It was December 2016, and I underemployed yet again as a means to an imagined end. Two and a half years before, I’d been wrongfully terminated from a high profile job and was bouncing around erratically between unemployment, part-time jobs and contract gigs with no end in sight. This was made worse by feelings of shame, isolation, hopelessness, and an overall lack of direction. The struggle was real! I had just turned thirty years old, and I was full of angst, unsettled pain, and corporate distrust from a shattered professional identity.
One afternoon, while working a temp job (where I was criticized repeatedly for dressing “too nicely”), I stared at LinkedIn in-between menial projects and thought “There has to be a better way…I think that I need a coach.”
I’ve been around the networking and conference circuit long enough to know that the career coach is a common adulation reserved for the professional elite – senior vice-presidents, c-suiters, and ambitious entrepreneurs. But what about broke, jaded, underemployed, early-stage managers? We never get invited to present in front of paying conference crowds, so is career coaching even an option for us?
On the slight chance of a “Yes”, I combed my professional network for help. The first person I spoke with came highly recommended, but I knew within fifteen minutes on the phone that she wasn’t my person; I told her my current professional state, and she asked for my 10-15 year goal. She then offered up “What if I told you that you could live that 15-year life NOW?”
Ma’am, don’t sell me my own dream. I have an MBA, but I’m a temp by day and hostess by night. I don’t want to be an international speaker and published author right now – that can wait. I need to be gainfully employed NOW!
So I knew immediately that I needed an empathetic coach who would be all about accountability, actionable steps, and able to hear the present…not a motivational speaker working to Walt-Disney-up a future.
Enter Deborah T. Owens of The Corporate Alley Cat. She jolted me when she asked early on “Do you need to be coddled?! Because I don’t coddle…”
I think that she’s the one…
In my first conversation with Deborah, I knew with my whole self that she was the coach and partner that I needed to shift myself out of career hell. She was very clear that she was not a Career Coach, but a Career Activator. The distinction between the too is just what I was looking for – concise, actionable growth within a given time period. The discovery questions that she asked were textbook empathy –
“How are you sleeping? Are you grinding your teeth at night? Have you spoken to a therapist about what happened with that company? You are not crazy…you know that, right? So many people have been where you are, but just don’t talk about it. I call it Corporate Trauma. Remember…this is temporary. It doesn’t feel like it, because you are in it, but this will not last.”
At the end of our first official session, spent going over my detailed career history, I began to cry. It was a video call, and there was no hiding.
“Why are you crying, Danielle?” She was concerned, but patient.
“Because I’d forgotten myself,” I replied, wiping my face. “What I’ve done, what I can do, what I was great at, and why I’m still good.”
After ninety minutes with Deborah, I saw myself for the first time in almost three years.
Over five more sessions together, Deborah’s guidance activated me more and more. Each week provided intricate instruction, allowing me to grow by leaps and bounds with unimaginable speed and accuracy. She held my hand and elbowed me in the ribs all at once. She kept me in uncomfortable places, for the sake of my best growth. There was more crying, but I started to feel an emotion that I’d forgotten – I was beginning to feel excited about my career for the first time in a very, very long time.
I write this now four active months into my job search. While she never claims to predict when the shoe will drop, Deborah taught me that the quality of the search immediately responds to the quality of the new position. Because of the skills she’s given to me, I well know that I’m taking all of the right actions to find the job of my dreams.
When we consider the great athletes of the world, we should also remember the coaches who helped to draw out and refine that greatness. The quality of our success is directly correlated to the quality of the work done in the trenches, in the workshops of our lives.
Deborah’s ministry, through The Corporate Alley Cat, is the work of bringing professionals of color back to life, helping us to remember our gifts when Corporate America tries (and sometimes, succeeds) to delegitimize our worth. Everything that she says and directs is for the express intention of moving us out of stuck places.
If you are at your career best, work with Deborah T. Owens and stay that way. But, if you are where I was several months ago – Career Rock Bottom – invest, and work with Deborah T. Owens. Because it is impossible to grow beyond yourself alone. But now that professionals of color have The Corporate Alley Cat, we don’t have to.
The Corporate Alley Cat is a guide and lifeline for professionals of color navigating corporate America. Join our community today and get support at every stage of your career.