This Career Coach Gave Up A $103K Salary To Live In Her Purpose

Would you leave a six-figure gig with a minimal plan because you were unhappy?

Workin' Girl

Would you leave a six-figure paying gig with a minimal plan and only one company you've ever worked for spanning almost two decades on your resume because you were unhappy? Well, Joyel Crawford, owner of Crawford Leadership Strategies, did just that.

After 18 years with Verizon in various management roles and a checkered bill of health from being overworked, Joyel took her transferable skills in management and turned them into a business in life and career coaching. She now warns her clients, both individual and corporate, against making the same mistakes she did and witnessed working in corporate America. I spoke with the Elon University alumna about how a woman with a Bachelor's in Psychology and a Theater minor with secret dreams of Broadway ended up in a career she felt stifled her for so long before stepping into her true destiny.

Joyel Crawford, Owner of Crawford Leadership Strategies

Through our chat, I discovered that the saying "Money and success doesn't buy happiness" was all too real in her case.

You took a job unrelated to your studies, why?

Most women in my family are [in] social services and mental health so that was a natural and safe concentration. My passion was always the creative arts, hence my theater minor – but my parents weren't supportive of that as a focus. My cousin had recently gotten a job at Bell Atlantic Mobile (now Verizon) in customer service. I wanted to get my MBA and knew the company did 100% tuition reimbursement. During my new hire orientation, they presented on their commitment to professional advancement and that's when my love of leadership clicked in. Throughout my academic career, I was very active in leadership roles and was impressed by their commitment to employee development. My main focus when I first started working at Verizon was not the actual job but obtaining my MBA.

How did you climb the corporate ladder?

Networking. Even as a customer service rep, I spoke to colleagues and managers about my goals. They liked my work ethic and personality and encouraged me to go through the ranks within the company. Within five years, I got my MBA in management. I was promoted to a national accounts manager, to a coach for new hires, to finally an HR admin. From there, I settled into being a leadership development training consultant.

When did you notice you were unhappy?

Looking back, I was never happy because I wasn't doing exactly what I loved. I overcompensated by getting promotions. My knack for leadership allowed me to co-create a new leader orientation program, which was something that came out of frustration of having employees complete eight hours of online training. We consolidated it into just two hours and through that, I certified over 100 employees through that program. At one point, I was responsible for leading development and training for 30,000 employees. But I was coming to a ceiling there.

"Looking back, I was never happy because I wasn't doing exactly what I loved. I overcompensated by getting promotions."

Did you develop an action plan? 

No, I just knew that my time was coming to an end there. I was exploring different options but nothing planned out. A friend suggested that I start doing public speaking and telling my story to other professionals about how to move up the ranks within their jobs. I realized that's where my passion lied. Simultaneously, I began to get sick and later discovered it was work-related.

What was going on health-wise?

It started with insomnia. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression but thanks to my theater background and being a great actress, no one knew. At home, I was miserable and crying with no motivation outside of work. I started grinding my teeth and cracked a tooth and had to get an $800 mouth guard. I was put on antidepressants and a cocktail of different drugs – one to stabilize my moods, one to put me to sleep and so on. At one point, I was singing, acting, and auditioning while working full-time. On my way to rehearsal, I had extreme abdominal pain and discovered it to be a fibroid. I had to have surgery. The process of discovering the fibroid, scheduling, and having the operation and being back at work was done within three weeks. The surgery didn't help. More fibroids developed. The final straw was when I was five minutes late for a conference call and my manager called to give me an earful while I was sick from the fibroids. I quit on the spot and explained why. He was empathetic and instead, suggested I go out on emotional and medical leave.

How’d you get through that period?

My last salary was a base of $103,500. I also had my pension, 401k, and over two consecutive months of unused vacation. I rolled my 401k into an IRA. I knew I wanted to quit and had saved enough money to survive as far as living for rent and other expenses. A year before I quit, I was contemplating what was next. My husband was consulting and suggested I do the same. I had the skill set and the education but didn't recognize it. He did. So I started Crawford Leadership Strategies in 2014.

"A year before I quit, I was contemplating what was next."

How did you start?

I invested in professional memberships for networking purposes. Thankfully, I had credentials under my belt from all of the trainings I completed at Verizon. Although I had a good amount of savings, I didn't take into account the startup costs of a business. Building a website, membership fees, additional certifications, paperwork, and even business cards added up fast. My survival money was running out within six months. Things were getting bad financially.

How bad did it get financially?

My survival money was gone and I resorted to state assistance and food stamps. I couldn't claim unemployment because I left my job voluntarily – regardless of the fact that I could have attributed it to my health and said I left for medical reasons. I couldn't be modest anymore.

How did you work to get your business booming?

Letting go of pride first and advertising to family and friends. My first paying client was a woman who my aunt was mentoring. She worked in government and desired assistance with a new career and my aunt referred me. I came up with an hourly consulting fee. She hired me for a six-hour session. Through that experience, I figured out pricing and packages because she needed me to travel to her in another state and paid for my accommodations. I ended up working with her for six months and she actually became a test client for a practicum I was doing for a certification. That snowballed into other business.

How do you feel you’ve been able to sustain your business?

The great thing about my work is that I can do it virtually so I'm not limited in the clients I can take. Because of my certifications, education, and background, I can do webinars, life coaching, and career coaching. I can build curriculum and I can facilitate programs. I have a variety of what I offer.

You gave up a six-figure salary. Do you see the return on your investment? 

Yes, but I made poor investments in advertising in the beginning that cost me. Now I stick to social media and utilize my network of colleagues and clients for work. My certifications help and I'm a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. I've had a small feature in Essence Magazine and I write and coach for The Muse.

Was it worth the risk?

Absolutely. My father passed this year and one of the last things he said to me was, "If you have the chance to do what you love, then do it." I was in a career that was taxing but had skills that I loved and was able to apply them to what I do now full-time. Revenue has gone up yearly. My health is in tact and although like many, I work to find balance, I am happy!

"If you have the chance to do what you love, then do it."

How is life different now?

Before, I never went on vacation and as mentioned, cashed my vacation time out when I quit my job. Since then I've gotten married to the man of my dreams, I've been traveling, and I make time for the things I love.

Joyel on her wedding day

What advice do you give to those looking to transition?

Put yourself out there and network. It's about who you know, that's how I've landed all of my clients dating back to my first. Stay the course and have patience. I contemplated quitting because of the financial stress but my clients encouraged me and I ultimately decided to continue my business because I refused to regress into what I'd experienced before. Know and show your value and know your WHY as it won't lead you wrong.

For more information about Joyel and her coaching business, check out her website.

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Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

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A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

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