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.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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