It was January 06, 2020 maybe around 10am, it definitely was some point in the morning. I know this because;
1. I wouldn’t have been able to have the knots in my stomach for the whole day.
2. I knew if I put it off till the afternoon, I would not be able to send it, I would have talked myself out of it.
At lunchtime I went out with a colleague and as we left the building, I said it, I spoke life into my words.
‘I’ve handed in my notice’.
He ignored me and kept talking about whatever work-related issue he was having that day.
He was not being rude, it’s just after 9.5 years I was a veteran, the second longest standing employee in the organisation, the thought of me leaving was preposterous, it had often been proclaimed I’d be a ‘lifer’. I also had made multiple statements about handing in my notice in the latter part of my employment, I became a bit like the boy who cried wolf. Only I was the woman who cried ‘I am leaving’.
I stopped him and said, ‘I’ve actually done it, I’ve handed in my notice, I will leave in April and before you ask, no, I don’t have another job lined up’.
This was probably the biggest challenge I have made to date, at least in my adult life, and it was terrifying. There may have been other challenges, but in the haze of youth who notices these. Not only had I handed in my notice, but I had done so without another job lined up (how I managed to drown out the screams of ‘what about my mortgage’ in my head I will never know).
For some handing in your notice may not be a challenge it may seem like part of everyday life, but this was a big deal for me, for the following reasons:
1) By nature, I am a pretty risk adverse person. I weigh up the pros and cons of everything (and I mean everything) and cons always seem to win, trying new things is scary and often I’d prefer not to be uncomfortable. I order the same pizza at Pizza Express (it was a Padana before I went vegan and now, I am vegan it is a vegan Padana). Recently I deliberated for about a month on whether to get a stove kettle or an electric kettle, even though I really wanted a stove kettle (I have bought a temporary electric kettle whilst I continue by deliberation).
2) I was comfortable and I like comfort. I loved my job, I loved my colleagues, and I loved my audience but like every classic love story, love was not enough, like Samantha Jones says in the second Sex and the City Movie to Smith, ‘I love you, but I love me more.” I needed more. I owed myself more. Towards the end of 2019 I started (well seriously started) feeling like I needed a change, I won’t bore you with the details but if you are interested you can have a read here.
3) I feared how I would be received, was I good enough? We live in a world where having my background does not always make it easy for doors to open. I went to an inner-city state school, there were no bells and whistles to my education, (we were not even taught grammar), my language is different, and I do not mean I do not speak English I mean how I use my language is different. I grew up in Brixton when the crime rate was high and there was no Starbucks. Brixton market was not a place to socialise with friends, it was where my mum dragged me to buy snapper, oxtail, and yam on a Saturday morning when I would rather be watching television.
4) Finally, but maybe the most important for me. I am Black and a Woman, and battling assumptions and prejudices that may or may not come to people’s minds is exhausting, did I have the strength to do this? Did I really want to put myself out there and face rejection, where I was wasn’t so bad, maybe this was the best I could get? My name is ambiguous it does not give much away but I have seen the faces of recruiters fall when they realise that Leah Carter is not a white woman like they may have presumed, and they would probably not get the commission they had already spent in their heads. Did I really want to put myself through interviews where the feedback is, I seem great, but they are worried I will not be strong enough (my old CEO almost choked when I told him this).
Very early on I saw clear camps of women who were labelled ‘fiery, passionate, outspoken’ vs ‘aggressive, rude, confrontational’, and quickly realised I’d be regulated to the latter (even though men aren’t often given these types of label – they’re just men, confident men). Every day I battle with being confident but not aggressive, assertive but not bossy, whether I bring my whole self to work and wear my large hoop earrings or will this be considered unrefined. My old organisation knew me through and through (and vice versa), I knew how to make my voice heard without ruffling feathers (in fact I often think the issue there was quietening me down), they knew if they got a short email or message from me it was not rudeness but because I try my best to get back to people as soon as possible even when I am on the move (back when travel was a thing). How would it be going into a new space where I would have to find my feet all over again.
But despite all these points, I took the challenge, because what scares me more than all of the above is living a life filled with regret.
Am I glad I took that challenge? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. This past year I have learnt so much about myself and how much I can handle. A global pandemic did break out whist I was job hunting, but I can tell you working in an industry that was dying during a pandemic gives you a certain type of resilience and confidence that I never knew was possible. I learnt things about myself that I did not know before, and I am also still learning. I am learning how to give my voice in a new setting where I am not seen as the institution, I am learning how to navigate situations where I do not feel comfortable and challenging myself to quieten my inner imposter syndrome that rises. I am also learning that perfection can also be damaging and its ok to be flawed, a quote from Queen and Slim (great movie, I recommend you watch it if possible), by Slim; ‘Why do black people always feel the need to be excellent? Why can't we just be ourselves?’. I think the same thing can be applied to women.
I am also reinventing myself; I get to be a different Leah in a new organisation which has me at a different stage of my career than I did in the organisation I grew up in.
So, whatever your challenge looks like, it may be going for a new role within the organisation, putting yourself forward for a new project or even trying something new in your personal life, go for it.
There’s comfort and familiarity in staying in the same place but there is no growth. #choosetochallenge yourself.