Danyelle Thomas, founder Unfit Christian, a digital brand that centers Black faith and spirituality, left her job at the top of this year. The first in our series about Black women and The Great Resignation, Danyelle shares her story.
I am a former HR consultant for a large, private telecom company. Honestly, it was a dream corporation in the sense of it was a large household name brand that I felt would give me a stepping stone into larger household brands.I knew I didn’t want to work in that culture forever but it was job offer straight out of school and I wasn’t about to be crazy and not take an offer.
I know the exact moment that I became a disengaged employee. Ironically, a month after I closed on my first house in 2018, I got notice that my role was being done away with. They were basically putting us all on notice. We had to reapply for new roles that had been restructured and redesigned. It was at that moment that it started to go downhill from there.
It shook out a lot my colleagues who I had been very close with, had working partnerships with, who I felt comfortable with.
It felt very much like family to me. So to have this shake up that caused me to lose so many family members and put so many of us in positions, doing work that none of us really loved, that was the moment I knew this ain’t it. But I had just bought a house. So I also needed to pay my bills. It put me in a tight bind. But at that point, I just resigned myself to the fact that things were changing. But my hope was I could just put my chin down and bear it and hopefully things would get better.
This ain’t it.
The pandemic actually made me realize how draining this particular job was for me. Part of the reason that I wanted to work remotely was because I felt like it would help me make peace with the job.
I was doing so much bargaining.
I was bargaining with myself like, ‘Well, if I could just get this particular facet taken care of, then maybe I can keep working here.’ I thought if I can work from home, then I’ll be okay.
But even working from home, I had anxiety getting up every morning to turn on my laptop. What emails am I about to get? Because now they’re really breathing down my neck about productivity and are you at your computer. Chile, I could cook a full meal and still get these emails done and meet with you. We learned that people could multitask. But that overseer mentality didn’t stop. When I realized not even being home permanently remote was making me happy-- At that point, it was costing me my peace.
In 2018, I remember coming into my brand new house and crying. Two weeks before closing on my house, I was sitting in my therapist’s office and I told her my biggest fear is getting this house and not being able to pay this mortgage. I grew up with poverty. I grew up in the working class. I grew up conventionally homeless. I have lived in hotels. I have lived in places without utilities. I’ve done that.
And I worked so hard to get these degrees and this job. My biggest fear is that I’m buying a home and I can’t pay for it.
I gave that job my power. I trusted it as my provider, my be all, end all.
By 2021, financially, I knew I could take a leap because I had a 401k that I had been matching since I started in 2013. If I did nothing else, I paid myself that way. I knew I had a nest egg there, I knew I had a bonus coming. There were pockets of money coming. And I said, ‘I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if this money will last. What I know is this is enough. And I’ll figure out the rest later.’
Because of what I had experienced in 2018, [them walking in and telling her her position didn’t exist anymore], I knew that at least if I was making the choice, then I could at least make a plan.
I trusted [the job] as my provider.
[After the layoffs], I transitioned to a new leader who was like oil and water with me. And before you ask, yes she was. So that brought with it, it’s own new set of complications and personal dynamics. The lack of cultural competence. The lack of shared cultural nuance that made things difficult.
It became this fight and battle for power. She was under the impression that I was trying to undermine her. When I didn’t even want her position, never have. I don’t even want to be committed to these 40 hours I do here, so I’m certainly not going to take a role that’s going to have me committed to 45-60 hours. That’s good for you. It ain’t good for me.
She wasn’t teachable. If I would tell her something was a something and it would come to pass that what I said was right, now she’s in her feelings. When I would tell her, I think of us as a team unit and I feel like I should be able to teach up as well as I manage down.
And it just became a deeper dissatisfaction from that point.
It occurred to me that here I was developing Unfit Christian outside of this employer. I’m sitting on stages, leading. And I would come into this office on Monday and shrink myself. I would shrink myself so I wasn’t the angry Black woman. I would shrink myself so I wasn’t aggressive, unapproachable, or intimidating.
I was doing all this stripping of myself, trying to survive a Monday-Friday place and then trying to re-engage the wholeness of myself on Friday evening.
I couldn’t continue to live a double life, especially when one of those lives was making me severely unhappy.
I would shrink myself.
What happened was I was in the middle of my performance review. For four years, I’ve gotten nothing but excellent performance reviews. And for the first year, I got a note that said I was inconsistent.
I remember she said, ‘I’m just going to tell you Danyelle, overall it was inconsistent.’
I said, ‘I’m going to stop you right there. Effective March 5, I’m going to resign. I feel like I’ve met the end of this role. It’s clear that my needs are no longer being served and neither are yours.'
I just remember this sense of satisfaction of being able to say, ‘You didn’t get to walk me out of here. I made the decision to leave.’
I remember them being so stunned. And I just thought it was audacity. The audacity to sit here and criticize me, constantly dump on me and constantly make me feel inferior. The audacity to think that I was still going to stay here and take this continued abuse.
I told them I would rather quit than stay here. I took my power back and that made me feel like I had conquered one of the biggest mountains that I had been climbing in my life, up until that point.
You know we always ask each other, what do you do? And one thing about leaving the job is that I could no longer walk up and say, ‘My name Danyelle Thomas. I’m an HR consultant for insert big company name here.’ That rolls off the tongue so easily and no longer having that meant I had to redefine myself outside of labor. That has been the beauty of this journey for me. Instead of asking what do you do, I can now ask myself what is the work that you love to do?
It means that I’m building my business and my brand around work that I love to do. I no longer have that stress of I got to get this up because I need to put some content up. I need to get this and book that. I need this number of clients.
Honestly and truly, that’s corporate mentality still. That’s still employee mentality. When we assume I have to have all these KPIs (key performance indicators) to define success. I’m not saying you don’t have to pay your bills. What I am saying is when we build our business around a KPI versus building our business around this is the work that I love. This is the work my soul loves. You find yourself in that same cycle again. It wouldn’t matter that you quit the corporate job. Now, you in a business you own that you’re unhappy about and can’t manage and maintain.
The audacity to think that I was still going to stay here and take this continued abuse.
Leaving the job is the first step. There is so much shit you have to let go after you leave your job, especially if you’re planning on going into business for yourself and don’t plan to punch somebody else’s clock. There’s going to be so many behaviors, mindsets, narratives, subconscious shit you’ve got to purge. Quitting the job is the easiest part, in retrospect.
Unpacking and unraveling has really been the soul crushing work. That has been the work that has made me cry real tears and go through depression and anxiety. But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
If you feel like Danyelle did…
I would say it’s not going to get better. If you’ve been contemplating leaving your job for more than three months, you’re already disengaged. It takes 90 days for an employee to become fully disengaged. By day 90, if you’re still disengaged, it’s not going to get better and the longer you stay, you continue to put yourself in harm’s way.
No matter what you do and how you rationalize it, the fear is going to be there. And I hate to sound cliche but the answer is to feel the fear and do it anyway because you staying is not going to lessen your fear. You staying in the role is only going to increase your anxiety, your unhappiness. And it continues to placate your fear. When you make the leap, you lose the fear. What are they going to do? They can’t keep you there. We compared it to slavery but literally we get to write our own Emancipation Proclamation when we leave in this way.
It’s not going to get better.
Trust yourself. Trust that your job is not your provider. If you’re a person of faith, know where your help comes from. The same skills and assets that put you in this role will also sustain you in whatever you decide to do for yourself. You don’t leave those skills, talents and abilities with the job. It goes with you.
Even if you bet on yourself and you leave and you exhaust all of your money, a job is the easiest thing to get, I promise you. You know how to get a job! If you don’t take that leap and say I am worthy of being treated well in every aspect of my life. You wouldn’t stay in an abusive relationship, an intimate partner relationship. And we see what happens when people stay with intimate partner violence. Sometimes they don’t make it out alive. And that’s what happens with jobs too. Sometimes it’s a literal, physical death because it has made you so sick it killed you. And sometimes it’s a spiritual and emotional death because you are so downtrodden and beat up emotionally. It’s not worth it. You are worth more than being abused in any kind of situation. Bet yourself. Take the leap sis, you can do it.