I had this blog post up for awhile about my transition into New York, but then this little self-doubt gremlin told me to take it down over the summer. (NOTE: If your favorite SoulFlakes posts are now missing, you can blame it on her NOT me!) I was thinking, “People are probably tired of hearing me talk about my New York journey by now. Leah, nobody wants to hear your story anymore.”
But as I now approach Year 2 in the Big Apple, I realized that the person who needed to be reminded about this story the most was ME. In the middle of the hustle and the grind, I needed to remember the big, bold, bodacious, bad-ass woman who took a leap of faith to follow her dreams and leave nonprofit America after nearly 12 years. I needed to be reminded of the woman who packed up her entire life and moved to Canarsie, Brooklyn when she had NO IDEA where the hell Canarsie was. I needed to get back in touch with the woman who was audacious enough to believe that she could create an editorial empire.
The picture of me in the montage was taken on November 21, 2013 at 9:05 am by one of my co-workers. Just 55 minutes later I would have THE CONVERSATION that completely made me change the direction of my life and my career. I’m so glad that the woman in that picture believed enough in her God and herself to gamble on a future she couldn’t even see, and I hope that she inspires you to do the same.
September 20, 2013: I’m exhausted. Between Alfred Street (ASBC), Landmark, and preparing for my job’s annual conference, I’m beat. Most of my days over the last month have begun at 5:45 am and typically don’t end until midnight. Regardless of how I felt, today was my day to attend a few sessions for the Congressional Black Caucus nearby at the Washington Convention Center. Everything in me wanted to just hop in my car and drive to my temporary haven in Annapolis where I was graciously sharing a beautiful home with my good friends, Jess and Max, and their adorable son, Cameron. All I wanted to do was sleep, but something in my spirit said, “Just give yourself an hour to walk through the exhibit hall, poke your head into a few sessions, and then you can go.”
I arrived at the convention center 10 minutes later and I made a beeline for the exhibit hall. Once inside the hall, I saw a pop-up bookstore right in the middle. Books always make EVERYTHING better. I picked up a few books and made my way around the display. A friendly, older, distinguished Black woman started asking me about the books I was considering buying. I gave her my opinion on a few books and before I knew it, we were chatting for nearly 30 minutes. I really liked her energy and her passion for books. She seemed really nice, so I asked her if we could exchange business cards. I handed her my card first, and she gave me her card second.
It took my brain a moment to register exactly what was on her card. The only words I could see were “Editorial Director” “HarperCollins,” and “New York.” OK, God, I don’t know exactly what’s happening in this exhibit hall right now, but you don’t have to slap me upside my head to recognize that I was standing in the middle of an LIFE-CHANGING moment. Before I knew it, my entire editorial career came flying out of my mouth. I told her about how desperately I wanted to do exactly what I was doing in DC, but only bigger and better in New York. I shared with her just how hard it had been for me to make the transition between the DC publishing world and the New York literary scene. She looked me right in my eye and said, “Well, consider me your connection to New York.”
She continued and said that she could tell I was extremely bright, had an exceptional knowledge of African American books, and that she knew I could do really well in New York with the right opportunities. We ended our hour-long conversation with a hug and she said, “WHEN you get to New York, CALL ME.”
I tucked her card safely into my day planner and floated out of the convention center. Any exhaustion I felt before that moment was replaced with pure elation. I don’t remember driving home to Annapolis, but I do remember bounding through the door and screaming so I could find Jess and tell her what had just happened. One thing I loved the most about my friendship with Jess is that she always shared my excitement regardless of what it was. After I shared my experience with her, I remember her saying, “I swear that God always gives you the clearest signs. I hope that she will be a good connection for you.” I hoped so, too.
October 7, 2013: My former supervisor calls me into her office to discuss my performance at the annual conference the previous week. I am woman enough to admit that my performance was at best a solid B+. This was my first conference with this organization and I wasn’t 100% in agreement with how some things were done. Those differences led to me to shut down and become obstinate at some points. My supervisor asked me outright, “How did you enjoy the conference?” I told her that I enjoyed the experience of meeting the members and seeing the organization in action. She replied, “I think you are lying.”
WHAAAAT? I have NEVER had a supervisor say such a thing to me before. I was completely astonished that she challenged my interpretation of my performance and basically called me a liar. I sat through the remaining 20 minutes of that conversation and could not wait to bolt out of her door. I ran to my office, grabbed my purse, and headed straight for a nearby restaurant. I barely ate the food I bought and I called my sister-mommy, Diane. I was crying so hard into my phone that she could barely hear what I was saying. Fortunately, she calmed me down enough so that I could return to my office in a somewhat professional manner. I spent the next six weeks stressed out, terrified, and on edge.
October 8-27, 2013: My head was on an emotional rollercoaster every single day. My original plan was to be at this job for at least two years, and I was depending on the stability of this opportunity because I was in the beginning stages of purchasing a house. Now everything was up in the air. I couldn’t see myself staying at the job beyond the end of the year, and I couldn’t fathom trying to find another job again so soon. Job hunting is exhausting and I was worried of how unprofessional it would look to leave a job so soon. Beyond the job, I moved in with Jess and Max to save up money for a house, and I although I knew they didn’t mind having me there, I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with uncertainty about where I would be next.
October 28, 2013: As the emotional rollercoaster churned faster in my head, I kept thinking about the editor’s words and hearing her say, “Leah, I could see you doing a great job in New York.” The more I prayed about it, the more it seemed like God was bringing every sign possible to get my head and my heart moving in that direction. But I didn’t want to just get hyped up over one conversation and a few seemingly random signs. I need to know for sure that New York would be the next chapter for my life and career.
Fortunately, that night, Alfred Street was holding its monthly “Praying with the Pastor” prayer service. I loved this prayer service because it was a free space where you could pray however you felt most comfortable. That night, I decided that I would pray with my feet. I walked from one side of the sanctuary to other at least three times. The words “NEW YORK” were getting stronger in my spirit as I walked throughout the sanctuary. As I continued to walk, I kept my eyes focused on my feet, and I continuously prayed, “God, I just need you to order my steps.” Without my knowing it at the time, that’s exactly what God was doing.
November 1, 2013: After “Praying with the Pastor,” my spirit felt settled and I was focused every day on getting to New York. I decided that I would resign from my current job in early December and start making plans after that to transition to New York in January. I actively applied for EVERY job that I believed that I was qualified for in New York, and I also emailed everybody I had ever worked with and told them that I would be taking on more freelance editing in the next few months. I didn’t know what would pan out, a full-time gig or more freelance opportunities, but I figured that it would be best to take every path possible to make my dream come true.
November 11, 2013: I made a surprise visit to my old office in Leesburg . With all the turmoil I was having at my current job, the person I wanted to see the most that day was my former boss. I ran upstairs to her office and gave her a HUGE hug. God, I missed her. She was truly the supervisor who helped me to come into my own as a professional and she gave me the confidence I needed. I sat in her office for an hour and told her what was going on in my current office and she reassured me that what I was describing was a lack of leadership and not a reflection of my talent and skills. I gave her another hug on the way out the door and kept her words buoyed in my spirit.
November 20, 2013: I worked from home that day so that I could take care of a repair on my car. I got word from one of my close colleagues that there was buzz in the office that day about the projects I was currently working on and questions about should I have been trusted to work remotely. Why the hell do some people have so much time to worry about OTHER PEOPLE?? Argh!! I was pissed.
I decided to walk down to the dock by Jess and Max’s house to blow off some steam before dinner. I got to the end of the dock just before sundown and I looked up at the evening sky. In that moment, I started thinking about my Daddy and my beloved Uncle Tommy. They had both grown up in Harlem until they were teenagers, and I truly believed that God put their hearts, their courage, and their New York fire into my spirit at that moment to get me prepared for what was coming next. As the sun disappeared into the early evening sky, I looked up to heavens once more and said, “God, I’m ready.”
November 21, 2013
4:15 am: I woke up and could not go back to sleep. Instead of fighting with myself, I got up and started praying. As I got about five minutes into my prayer, I felt my spirit rising higher and going deeper. It felt like one of those prayers that my father used to pray in the middle of the night. I finished praying and decided to just keep going and get into work early. I put on a fabulous new outfit and felt like I was armed and fabulous for the day ahead. Armed was definitely the right verb for what turned out to be a pivotal day in my life.
9:05 am: My co-workers compliment me on my outfit of the day and insist on taking a few pictures of me. Well, I’m not going to refuse a moment to be glamorous!
9:45 am: My former boss asks me to come into her office for a meeting at 10.
10 am: I walked into her office, and she asked me to shut her door. As soon as I saw that blond wood door shut, I knew EXACTLY why God woke me up at 4:15 to pray. This meeting turned out to be EPIC.
The next 75 minutes can only be described as the most disrespectful and demeaning professional conversation that I had yet to experience in my life. The centerpiece of that verbal lashing was, “There are people in the world who are great with big picture ideas and there are people who are good at small details. Leah, you aren’t good at either.”
WHAT. THE. HELL.
I took a pay cut and left a great job with an amazing supervisor who trusted me to run an ENTIRE communications department and now I was being called incompetent? I didn’t have to use my two hard-earned degrees to come to one resounding conclusion—I needed to resign. NOW.
6:00 pm: I arrived at church early for choir rehearsal so that I could have some quiet time in the sanctuary. One of the things I absolutely LOVED about Alfred Street’s sanctuary is that if you arrived there at just the right time before anyone else came inside, you could feel God’s presence vibrating off the walls. It was a pristine, holy quiet that my soul was desperately longing for that day.
A few moments later, my favorite deacon at Alfred Street joined me in the sanctuary and we started talking about my future. I told him that I was now in prayer about how much longer I wanted to stay at my current job. I told him about my conversation with my boss, and he encouraged me to stay prayerful and stay open to where God was leading me.
8:45 pm: The end of choir rehearsal. Something in my spirit told me that I needed to tell my choir members what was going on with my job situation and to let them know that there would be a high possibility that I would be leaving in the New Year. My choir was my the center of my joy at Alfred Street, and I’m glad that I had what turned out to be my last night with the people that I loved the most.
November 22, 2013: Fortunately, my former boss was working from home that day, but my spirit was still ill at ease. Everything in my mind was telling me that I needed to move full steam ahead and give an immediate resignation on Monday, but I was TERRIFIED. This would be the first time in nearly 11 years without a full-time job. What the heck was I doing? What would I be walking into? Who knows if I’ll be able to get a new job in New York?
I thank God for angels on Earth who are conveniently disguised as friends. My girl, Tiffany, was my most trusted work confidant at the time, and she was quickly becoming one of my new friends. She took me to lunch that day and clearly asked me, “What do you need right now?” I said, “I just want a clear sign from God that this is the right thing for me to do.” She said, “Alright, then that’s what we are going to ask God for.”
November 23, 2013: I spent most of the morning and early afternoon on the phone with trusted mentors and colleagues from my church, former jobs, and my Landmark community. Some said, “Go! Now!” while others advised me to give at least a two-week notice. My final call was to my sister, Wanda, who said, “Make this your LAST call. Don’t ask anybody else what to do. Make your decision and trust God.”
November 24, 2013: When you are making the biggest decision of your life, you wake up at 5:30 am and get to church for 8:00 service AND Sunday school. I was so pressed to make sure that I was on one accord with God that I got to church at 7:25. Both the messages from Sunday service and Sunday School were just what I needed to hear to keep me moving forward.
I attended a friend’s birthday brunch after church and I drove down to my former office to clear off my desk. That was the most nerve-wreaking, 45 minutes of my life.
November 25, 2013
5:30 am: I’m not sure if I slept at all. But I knew it was time to get up and do the boldest thing that I had ever done. God bless Jess for waking up earlier than I did that morning to make me breakfast so I could have something to cushion the jumble of nerves forming in my stomach.
8:00 am: I arrived to office early but of course my former boss was late that day. I sat at my empty desk for an hour as my stomach churned into knots.
9:00 am: She finally arrives. I give her five minutes to get settled and I walk down the hall with my resignation letter. I sat down at her desk and asked her could I close her door. When her door shut, I simply said, “After our conversation last week, I determined that this job is no longer a good fit for me and I don’t think that you and I can work together successfully. Therefore, I am resigning effective today.” She looked at me, slightly astonished, and said, “If you are that unhappy here, you can go.”
I gracefully and professionally hugged my closest co-workers and I gave an extra firm squeeze to my girls, Tiffany and Lauren, and I promised them both that I would call them in a few days. I gathered my bag, walked out the door, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as the crisp autumn air washed over my face. This chapter of my career was now officially over.
10:00 am: I drove across the GW Bridge from DC into Virginia to the headquarters of my second job, ASCD, and into the arms of my friends, Adriane and Daniela. I’d never been so happy to see two people I loved in all my life. They both gave me a hug and told me how proud they were of me for making such a brave move toward my future. Daniela agreed to let me stay at her apartment for a few hours to rest. She gave me her keys and I arrived at her apartment about 15 minutes later. I shut off my phone, and I fell into a beautiful, tranquil, and much needed sleep.
November 30-December 2, 2013: I decided to spend the weekend after Thanksgiving in New York. I thought it would be a good idea to do some apartment hunting so that I could prepare to move to New York, regardless of whether a future job panned out of not. It was a great trip, but I was honestly overwhelmed with the experience. It felt like finding an affordable apartment in New York would be impossible.
December 12, 2013: One of my favorite brothers from ASBC called to see how my New York plans were coming along. He asked, “Are you still looking for an apartment?” I told him, “Yes.” He said, “My mom has an extra apartment above her house in Brooklyn. If you want it, you can have it.” I think I blubbered something out that sounded like “Thank you,” and I cried myself to sleep with tears of joy that night.
December 15, 2013: I got the key to the apartment today! I don’t know where in the world Canarsie, Brooklyn is, but quite frankly I don’t care. The word “New York” is at the end of it, and that is all that mattered. I sit in my car for nearly an hour just staring at that piece of metal and being grateful that my dream is about to begin.
December 25, 2013: I drop the bomb during Christmas dinner that I will be moving to New York on January 8th. I strategically tell my siblings at the last possible minute about my move so that no one can stop me from moving ahead. There are copious questions and concerns, but definitely more support than I anticipated and I appreciate the love.
December 27, 2013: I completely and totally lose it. I don’t know how I went from age 34 for 5 in 60 seconds, but here I am sitting in my sister Diane’s house bawling my eyes out. She says, “What’s wrong, baby?” I tell her that I am scared. What if I am making the wrong move? She tells me, “Lea-Lea, you will ALWAYS have a place to call HOME. We’re going to pray that you get up to New York and make some great connections, But if things don’t work out, don’t you be ashamed to come back home to Baltimore. I will always be here for you.”
January 6, 2014: I officially launch Fresh Eyes Editorial Services virtually as my full-time business. I had already secured my first client of the year right before New Year’s Eve (Thank God!) and I am excited to see what comes next.
January 8, 2014: TODAY IS THE DAY I BECOME A NEW YORKER! I leave Maryland at 10 am and I arrive in Brooklyn right before 2 pm. I open the door to my new apartment and the first pieces of mail to greet meet me are my Fresh Eyes business cards! I checked my email before I took a nap, and what do I see, not one, not two, but THREE new inquiries for business. Well shut my mouth and call me blessed!
January 9, 2014: I email the editor from HarperCollins who I met way back in September just to say “Hello,” and to let her know I am now living in New York. I figured that she would take a few days to respond if she responded at all. She emails me back within a few hours and replies, “YOU’RE HERE? Let’s meet up for breakfast next week.” WHOO-HOO!
January 16, 2014: I meet my editor for breakfast the following week, and she gave me a big hug. She REALLY remembered me! She and I sat down and she gets straight to the point. She says, “Leah, I need someone to work on an expanded edition for an upcoming book. She gave me a figure for completing the chapters and asks if was it OK. Being that I moved to Brooklyn with exactly three months worth of savings, ANY figure over $1 is just like hitting the lotto at this point. I politely respond, “Yes, that will be great.” She gives me some advanced materials and she tells me to give her an outline for the new chapters on Monday. She apologizes for having to rush back to the office for another meeting but she tells me to stay and enjoy breakfast. Woman, I can’t eat NOTHING! You just changed my life!
Really, God? REALLY??? Did I just quit my job less than two months ago and move to New York on a wing and a prayer and NOW I’m sitting in a fancy 5th Avenue restaurant about to work on the largest project of my career thus far??? Where they do that at, Jesus??!!??
I walk out onto 5th Avenue on this cold, brisk January morning completely astonished and amazed. Once I get my bearings together, I can tell that I am exactly two blocks from the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I know that I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I hope the Virgin Mary doesn’t mind if I spent a few moments in this sacred space to tell God, “Thank you.” I give myself a few moments of beautiful calm and quiet and then I call my sister-in-law, Kisha, to tell her the good news.
I share this story because I don’t want anyone to think that this leap of a faith was all rainbows and sunshine. It came with a LOT of fear, anxiety, and trepidation. To be quite honest the fear has been hovering just under the surface since the day I resigned. But you know what’s greater than fear? Faith. Living in Brooklyn. Love. Broadway Plays. Joy. Junior’s Cheescake. Peace of Mind. Really good New York bagels and cream cheese. And the most treasured gift of all—CONFIDENCE IN LEAH.