Episode 34: How to Negotiate Your Salary, Ask For a Raise, and Ace Your First 90 Days, with Larnell Vickers

Episode 34: How to Negotiate Your Salary, Ask For a Raise, and Ace Your First 90 Days, with Larnell Vickers

On Episode 34, Larnell Vickers (Career Coach) talks to us about what you need to know about asking for a raise, negotiating your salary and acing your first 90 days on the job!

How to Negotiate Salary, Ask For A Raise, and Ace Your First 90 Days, with Larnell Vickers

On this #careercoach spotlight, Larnell Vickers comes on the show to chat about all things salary negotiation, asking for a raise at work, and building relationships at work. Larnell is helping countless folks win at their careers, and he doesn’t hold back on this special episode.  Want more of this podcast?

On this #careercoach spotlight, Larnell Vickers comes on the show to chat about all things salary negotiation, asking for a raise at work, and building relationships at work. Larnell is helping countless folks win at their careers, and he doesn’t hold back on this special episode.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Why you need to start having money conversations at work, 6-8 months prior to your raise 

  • The importance of building  sponsors that will advocate for you behind closed doors as well as socializing (sharing with others) the great work you’re doing 

  • The value of building relationships with others as you create a brand and reputation for yourself at a new organization in a new role 

  • The importance of negotiating salary and benefits for a new job offer – NO MATTER WHAT

Ready to make a career change?

I got you! Download our 20-page FREE guide to get career clarity on where you want to go next.

Full Episode Transcript:



Hey, are you thinking about changing careers? Then you need to head over to my website, priscillabulchacoaching.com, and sign up to get your free 20 page guide that I wrote with YOU in mind. I wrote this guide to help you change careers and get really clear on what it is that you want to do next. Career clarity is key to a career transition journey. All right, can’t wait to hear what you think about it. Have a great week.

Episode 31: How To Persevere Through the CPA Exam When You Feel Like Giving Up, with Priscilla Suggs

Episode 31: How To Persevere Through the CPA Exam When You Feel Like Giving Up, with Priscilla Suggs

On Episode 31, Priscilla Suggs digs into her journey to pass the CPA Exam as a Black woman in accounting! We talk about the power of mindset in achieving your biggest goals. 

Do you have a big goal that feels “unattainable” for you? On this episode, Priscilla Suggs tells us what it was like to finally reach a goal that she almost gave up on: passing the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam. We talk about what it was like to be one of the few Black women in her accounting major at UT Austin, how she shifted her mindset to achieve this monumental goal, and the many pathways that the CPA opens up for her as a budding entrepreneur.


What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • What it’s like to become an accountant, the types of jobs available and what you can expect to earn in this role

  • The process of becoming a certified CPA

  • How Priscilla overcame being one of the few Black women in her accounting program at UT Austin

  • The mindset shift that Priscilla made that got her to take MASSIVE ACTION towards her goal

  • How getting a CPA has opened new doors of possibilities for Priscilla’s entrepreneurial dreams

Ready to make a career change?

I got you! Download our 20-page FREE guide to get career clarity on where you want to go next.

Full Episode Transcript:

Guest Teaser: I feel like, sometimes, chasing this carrot of chasing titles, or chasing a leadership role just for the sake of the title versus “is doing this going to mean satisfaction? Am I interested in the work that I am doing? Do I have a passion about this like”? It is hard to have passion, or it is hard to be incredibly passionate about jobs that are not yours.
Welcome to the Early Career Moves podcast. This show that highlights remarkable BIPOC young professionals killing it on their career journeys. I am your host, Priscilla Esquivel Bulcha – Latin X career coach, corporate consultant, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday, as we either dive into a special guest story or I’ll share my own career gems. If you’re a BIPOC professional feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Host Intro:
Hey everyone, welcome back to season 2 of the Early Career Moves podcast. I am so excited to be back and I am just really excited to share all of the new guests coming up over the next few months. All of the content is batched, baby boo, so that means all of my episodes are edited and done for the rest of the year. Why did I do that? Because I want to enjoy the rest of 2021, and I want to start career coaching. So that is a new exciting development. I am now taking on one-on-one private career coaching clients so if you, or if someone you know is interested in doing career coaching, go to my website ECMpodcast.com. I have a free coaching call that you can sign up for. You can discover if working with me is a fit for you.
But anyway, other than that, welcome back! I am so excited for you to be here. It was great to take off 3 months to just live my life (laughs). I did so many things and I am filled with so much gratitude over just all of the wonderful experiences. Whether that was my wedding, my honeymoon in Hawaii, my bachelorette, my birthday in August, there were just too many wonderful things happening and even though things were stressful, it’s not like life is perfect, right? Like things got stressful with the Delta variant and with COVID. I still was able to find time to really enjoy those big life moments that, that happen for me in the last 3 months. So, thank you for allowing me to walk away, rest, recharge and come back feeling much more refreshed.
Host Intro:
Great. So let me give you a little preview into today’s episode. So, on today’s episode, you’ll hear from Priscilla Suggs. That’s right, Priscilla – we share the same name, and it is even spelled the same. But I met a few years ago through mutual friends and when I met her, she was on her journey trying to become officially certified as a CPA. And this was a multi-year journey for her that was very challenging, and there were many moments that she didn’t think it would happen.
And I wonder if you have something in your life that you felt like you could never achieve something that you really wanted. That’s what this episode is about. Priscilla will talk about what it took for her to finally shift her mindset and what clicked for her so that she finally was able to achieve this big, big goal that she had in her career. I cannot wait to hear what you think. Enjoy.
Hey before we head into today’s episode, I want to encourage you to follow us on Instagram at ECM podcast. Also head over to ECMpodcast.com where you can get freebies, read the latest ECM blog post and sign up for our monthly newsletter. And if you or someone you know is looking for a one-on-one career coaching, you can sign up to work with me on my website. Lastly, if you’re a big fan and supporter of the show, please make sure to leave us a review on Apple podcast. It’s how we can reach other people.
Okay let’s head into the show.
The Interview
Priscilla Bulcha: Great. So, really excited to have Priscilla Suggs on the podcast today. Welcome Priscilla.
Priscilla Suggs: Thank you, Priscilla (laughs). It’s always like, interesting when I meet another Priscilla and hearing my name, yeah.
Priscilla Bulcha: It’s funny because it, it is such an uncommon name.
Priscilla Suggs: Right.
Priscilla Bulcha: So, when you do see someone who has that our name, it is like very strange, right?
Priscilla Suggs: Right (laughs). I have only met one other person growing, her name was Priscilla, so it’s, it’s kinda nice.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, I love our name, so.
Priscilla Suggs: Me too, me too.
 Priscilla Bulcha: Cool. Well, so I’m super excited to have you on the show because I want you to share your story about becoming a CPA, about what it means to be in accounting, and I just have so many questions for you but before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself like, where did you grow up? What was your upbringing like? Yeah, just tell us about how you identify and everything.
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, absolutely.  So, I identify as, gee, I identify as a black woman. I grew up in a two-parent household. My dad was in the Army and he retired, and my mom cleaned homes. So, I grew up in a very humble household. I learned at a young age the value of hard work, and just to having a strong work ethic. I grew up in Fort Hood Killeen, which is about an hour north outside of Austin, and my mom is from Germany. My dad was from North Carolina. And so, growing up in a blended household, I got the southern hospitality from my dad, and I got the regimen from my mom. Germans are very organized and disciplined and hard-working, and I knew growing up, seeing how hard my parents worked, that, and, education was always stressed in the household.
So, I’m the youngest of three siblings, but I was the first to pursue college and so I didn’t know what I was doing. But I knew it was something that I was always, always going to go to, but I wasn’t sure of the path and how that looked. What, I just went from step to step. So, I actually applied to UT and Texas State. Those are only universities, and that process was interesting enough of, in and of itself just because as the first kid in the household to pursue this route, and so my mom wasn’t quite sure what to. So, we just stumbled through it together.
I remember her dropping me off at UT. And I remember the process of choosing which college. When I was looking at the application I was like, I applied to the business school because I thought, well, I wanted to give myself opportunities, I want to make sure that I have a lot of open doors, and so that is literally how I approached the application process. I looked at the type of degrees offered in the business school and I figured, it was between Finance and Accounting because the other degree options, Management, Marketing, I felt like what couldn’t I teach myself on my own. If I have the opportunity to go to college maybe picking up a skill that wasn’t an easily teachable outside of the University setting, and so I was like well it’s either accounting or Finance (laughs). And I said accounting. And so that is what started my career path in this direction. I just remember wanting stability, and wanting security and wanting to be able to have options as far as jobs, and that kind of steered me down this path towards accounting.
 Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, I love that you use those words stability and security, because I feel like when you are like the child of immigrants, or you are the first in your family to go to college like that’s what we are seeking a lot of the time. It’s just like, I just want to be okay. Like, I just don’t want to struggle anymore and so
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely.
Priscilla Bulcha: I think that really informed your career decision right?
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely. I watched like, my brother, he took the, uhm, route of going into the military, and my sister, she had different jobs. And I was kind of like, I was the guinea pig watching their lives play out, and then I just took that as lessons of what do I want for myself – how can I move forward in life. I didn’t have a lot of examples of people that did go to college and I remember after I graduated from UT my mom sat me down. And I, I just got my first job, it was with a state agency and it was an audit role.
And I was making pretty good money, for at, at that time, it was I think like $45,000. And my mom was like you need to understand how blessed you are (laughs). There are four-membered family households that don’t make this much money, and you are a single person coming out of college and you’ve got your head on your shoulders, and you need to understand what a blessing this and try to do right by, try to make good decisions. And so that kind of started my career path in accounting.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, and I just want to say like, congrats on getting into McCombs Business School as an undergrad because it’s so competitive. Like it’s so hard to get into the BBA program. It tells me a lot about you like you really… I’m assuming you were very studious or like maybe you were strong and just good at school.
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, yeah, so academics was my thing growing up, I was an athlete, and academics. And fortunately, this high school that I went to, it had those College Prep programs, so the Ivy program that really prepped me for college. And I was always a straight A student, I was the third in my class. And then when I got to UT, it was regrouping really, and trying to find people that looked like me. That kind of started the reality of, it’s a privilege to be able to go to university, and have access to the quality of education, and to be a person of color, because there’s not a lot of people that went to McCombs and graduated through their accounting program. And it really opened my eyes to, I have a great opportunity here and I need to take advantage of it.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, that is huge. That is such a huge opportunity and I’m assuming there were not a lot of black students or like Latino students in your accounting classes and your track.
Priscilla Suggs: Yes. Like so, I remember some of my core accounting classes, there would be maybe like, two or three other people of color that were not Asian. So, I was like always spotting out the other individuals of color in the classroom, be like, all right, we are going to be group buddies (laughs), so we are going to help each other with the homework. And so it was that part of the experience at UT. It was, it was different, cause I was used to having friends from all walks of life, and just having a really diverse circles of, of friends growing up. And then going to UT and being in my core courses where literally I was the one splash of color, that, that was challenging. And so, for me like I know that helped frame my mindset when I chose to continue down the career path and becoming an accountant. I think I read recently the Journal of accountancy, they were publishing stats on the percent of black CPAs, and it is less than 2% – and that was the stat of April 2021 I believe.
Priscilla Bulcha: Wow.
Priscilla Suggs: Right. And so (laughs), being in this space, that taking all of this into consideration, and that not a lot of people of color have access to accountants and if you don’t know how to manage your money or if you don’t have a lot of access to professionals that can help guide you that is one thing that kind of helped me decide that this is a career path that I want and this is space that I want to work in and I wanted to start my own side company so that I can get people access because there’s a few of us. And a lot of times when you don’t have somebody to go to that is relatable you don’t seek out that advising, or those services.
Priscilla Bulcha: So, when you were going through your college courses and you decided okay, accounting is what I want to major in, were you naturally pretty good at accounting, did you struggle through the classes, because I struggled through the classes (laughs).
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely (laughs). So, I, there were moments where I was like, oh I need to just change my major this is not… I think managerial accounting was so annoying for me.
Priscilla Bulcha: Oh my God
Priscilla Suggs: But intermediate, like getting consolidated statements, all of that just bring some awful memories (laughs). So my journey in accounting was not an easy one. Accounting did not come easy to me (laughs). I had to put in a lot more work I think, than the average person. Sometimes, different subjects come easy to two different people, and I generally chose the harder path (laughs). But more because I just recognized like the benefit of having this type of expertise, it fascinates me.
So early on in my career, when I had started out an audit, I got lucky and I found, I identified this fraud, and, that was happening in a local non-profit here in Austin. And that kind of really sparked my interest and it was the moment where I recognized I have to get my CPA if I want to make this a career. I just, year after year, I’m working, I realized my potential’s limited if I don’t get the CPA. And there are a lot of fields where it’s like you either need a license or certification to qualify to move up or to be in leadership roles and ultimately like I realized I got to buckle down and just tackle the CPA. And so, I had to go back to school and I got my MBA, did additional accounting course work.
Priscilla Suggs: And then started down the course of studying for the exams (laughs), which that in of itself was a journey. It’s four parts and I took all four parts, one year and then there is one part – the financial. I could not pass it. For the life of me like, like I said accounting is complicated and it can be you know, more complicated if you don’t break it down into like the bare basics that make up financial accounting.
And so, I was in this position where I had taken all four parts. There was one part that I could not pass and so I took a break. I took a year off from studying and I did other audit certifications just so my career wouldn’t stop and then I sat back. One day I was like okay what is the biggest regret that you are going to have in 10 years and it always circled back to this stupid CPA (laughs). I felt like that was the one thing where like, if I had my CPA, well I could choose to start my own business. I could move up in my career path. This was the one thing that was stalling me, and I got into a situation where the other passes were slowly expiring.
And so, I basically had to start over. And so, I legitimately in January 2019, I was like okay I need to make the decision. Am I going to do this again? And so I just literally within two days, I signed up, paid for the exams, scheduled it for February, had like exactly maybe a month and like 20 days of the study materials still active. And I just, I powered through it. I got on a regimen. I woke up at 3:30 and 4 AM in the mornings, and I was working full-time and I was like I just have to make this work (laughs).
And then after that test day I get my score and I passed that stupid section finally. I did not know whether I should cry or like jump for joy because I was like, now I got to retake the other three sections (laughs). Yeah, so it was like literally one of those, one of those moments in life where I’m so happy that I just I sucked it up and I just powered through it because now it’s hindsight, when I started to, or when I scheduled to retake that section that just kept being the reason that I couldn’t pass and move forward in my life, I think I had reached a point where I was like screw it. I just, I’m doing this and I’m going to put myself on a regimen and we’re just going to see where this goes and I just had a different confidence about it that I didn’t have I think when I was going through it the first time.
Priscilla Bulcha: So, I am curious about that piece because obviously something changed in your mindset, right? Like…
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah
Priscilla Bulcha: Like what you were telling yourself changed.
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely.
Priscilla Bulcha: And that changed your energy, it changed how you showed up for yourself during that test, and I feel like we all have a story like that where, for a long time, we’re just like, oh I want to do this but maybe we weren’t 100% committed. What did you start to think? What was it that really changed everything and you started to show up differently?
Priscilla Suggs: I think for me uhm, switching gears and getting to getting a different certification, it was an audit certification that helped boost my confidence. And then I did a lot of traveling in between that time. Until I start exploring the world, going to Europe, I think I went to Bali at some point. I was trying to like just learn myself, and get comfortable in my skin. And if there’s one thing that I’ve just learned navigating the workforce as a black woman, you’re always facing stereotypes, right?
Some of my old co-workers, they would say you, “Oh you’re so fearless, like you just say whatever you want” (laughs). And then at some point I got into this stage of where I was trying to mold myself to be what I thought people expected of me. And then I think going through the test, and trying to pursue the CPA and that not working out exactly how I had hoped, it brought me back to having that attitude of just owning my truth. Owning who I am, not trying to live up to other people’s expectations, or to move the way other people may have counseled me to move, or encouraged me to move; got back to being me (laughs).
I think like throughout your profession, like there’s something to be said about being young and bold like you just, cause don’t know what you don’t know, and then I think while you’re in workforce, you’re conditioned to being told that certain behaviors are expected for certain types of roles, or to advance your career, you can’t be too aggressive, but you can’t be too complacent because if you want to move to the next step or move, or advance to another position and you can get lost in that.
I feel like, uhm, sometimes chasing this carrot of chasing titles or chasing a leadership role just for the sake of the title, versus, is this, is doing this going to mean satisfaction do I, am I interested in the work that I’m doing? Do I have a passion about this like, it’s hard to have passion, or it’s hard to be incredibly passionate about jobs that are not yours.
Like when you are working for somebody else like you’re working for their vision. Their goal, there’s always somebody telling you this is what our shared goal is going to be; this is what we are working towards.But like does that align with you and the person that you want to be? And how you want to live your life? And for a while I was working in one office where one of the executives, she would sit me down, and say you can’t really just communicate openly like that. She was trying to mold me into what her vision of what I should have, should act, and how I should move, versus just letting me be.
And I think that’s, that was a really good experience for me because it reminded me that there are going to be people that may be threatened by like, your perseverance and how you want to move forward and advance your career. And then there are going to be other people that pick you up or pull you up with them and recognizing like what space you’re in.
And for me, that was a very critical moment of my career where I just realized, I took a step back and I thought about like what do I want? And it all went back to getting the CPA and opening more doors for myself. And for some people, it’s not going to be a certification I’m learning now, uhm, navigating this entrepreneur space – it’s just a whole new world (laughs).
And it is almost like I am absolutely loving it because I’m meeting people that they don’t have the wild credentials, or they’re not coming from Ivy League schools, or top-tier schools. They are sharpening their craft, and they communicate, and they relate, and they’re building a platform that people can buy into, whatever their choices. Like for example you and starting your own podcast. You had an interest and a passion for this and you’re doing it (laughs). And I have so much respect for that like, when I feel like meeting other entrepreneurs that are chasing their dreams like they have an interest, they have a skill, and they are just pushing forward like that. And I just… it’s fascinating to me, like…
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah. Tell us about, so getting the CPA becoming officially licensed like what did that mean for you in terms of being able to build a business? And then what are you building your business around? What are you trying to build now?
 Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, so I think for me getting the CPA, it meant having credibility, right? Like, so, which this just happens to be for the space that I’m working in – something that adds greater value to being able to advise and coach people on running their small businesses and managing their finances, and preparing for their taxes. Right now, I’m figuring it out. This is the first year and I’m running my own small company and so I’m actually, you know how I mentioned that you can plan all you want but things just don’t always shake out exactly like how you envisioned?
I feel like this is my opportunity to really do work that interests me. So, I had a career in audit and eventually, I transitioned and now, I’m a forensics accountant, and that’s what I do in my nine to five, and I really enjoy it. Like, I’m dealing with fraud (laughs), and it’s really interesting tracing money. And I support, in my nine to five role, I support 5 prosecutors, and 16 investigators for insurance fraud. And you, I had no idea like just there were all that insurance fraud (laughs) how big of an industry it is, like you wouldn’t think that there were that many criminals out there that are just out to commit fraud, whether it’s like insurance, auto fraud, facilities, medical, all types of insurance fraud out there but, in that space, I’m subject to the rules and regulations for supporting those types of investigations.
And with my own company I can do whatever I want. And though it, there’s a certain liberty that I feel being able to choose who I work with and what I do and right now a lot of the work that I do I advise for individuals and small business taxes, and then small business consulting.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah. So, I actually have some pretty basic questions I’m hoping you could answer for me and for any listener who doesn’t know a lot about the accounting career path. So, like rapid-fire, what is accounting? How do you describe that? Can accountants expect to make a lot of money? Cause I think sometimes people assume, that I’m curious if that is you know, he case? And then what do the career paths look like for accounting? Like what are the options that you have?
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah. Okay so, I would start, I would say accounting is, it’s a broad field. You can either be a bean counter which you do journal entries for companies, and it is literally you’re logging in your transactions. Or you can go a different route of being on like the other side going into audit or financial roles, where you are reviewing the work and the reports that are produced by accountants. So, you can either be doing the leg work or being, be on the other side of actually reviewing and understanding the legwork. And accounting is just classifying transactions. It’s really at its core that is what it is. But as far as career opportunities I would say it is pretty broad. You can work in government, you can work in industry, you can work in nonprofits. Most companies, they need accountants.
That’s the person that’s doing accounts receivable; they’re doing accounts payable, and a lot of times I find that for those types of roles, most people working those roles don’t even have an accounting degree.
And the state agencies I work for here in Texas, a lot of times people just find themselves in, they can be learned roles but having the degrees a game-changer. Like most accountants starting out nowadays they are starting at 50k and up. And if you’re a licensed CPA then you know, your salary can go into the low one hundreds, I would say.
Priscilla Bulcha: That’s a pretty big jump.
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, yeah, it is a lucrative uhm, career. Again, every company has an accounting function, so it’s something that the job opportunities are going to be very available, and as compared to other types of roles.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, that’s good to know. And then another quick question about around that is what are the kinds of like personality types or a like strengths that people have that makes them really like really successful in this profession? And then what are the kinds of people who you have seen like they struggle? Like
Priscilla Suggs: Oh yeah. I would say that for this profession, very analytical detail-oriented individuals tend to perform well. This is not for the dreamer, the spacer-outer, the person, the creative. This is not for the creative, yeah. Like I would say that because creatives frustrate accounts (laughs). Creatives are the ones that, they want, they have all these visions, all these ideas, and all the accountants are like look, we have X dollars. This is how this needs to work. I’m telling you; you can work whatever magic you want, but within this budget or these are the actual numbers.I definitely so this career path, the pandemic changed the whole work from home and I feel like a lot of companies it’s going to be really hard to not provide some hybrid option. One thing it’s, I always remember like some people don’t like being behind the desk, and don’t like staring at spreadsheets all day cause reality is, that’s this profession. Like it is very sedentary. It’s very, you are powering through spreadsheets quite often so that is something that you have to consider. Like, is that what you want for your life? Or do you like to be up and moving?
And it’s very collaborative because you are working with other areas within the company or the agency, helping steer them in the right direction. But we’re having conversations and going over reports and performance, so in one, aspect you need to, having the skill set of being able to communicate well, articulate things to simply state facts, and recognize actual.
Those are strengths for accountants and I would say for people that are very creative, and want a lot or flexibility, this may not be a career path that would fulfill them.
Priscilla Bulcha: Great! Well, Priscilla, this was such an amazing conversation. I’m excited for people to hear your story, and also to just understand what is accounting a little bit better, so that people can find their way with this career if it’s a good, fit you know?
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah. And if I have a last or a final comment it’s people of color like if accounting, if numbers interest you, and you want to be able to paint the story of what is, and we’re tracing money and, or helping people with personal wealth or just helping a company run and understand how to manage its operations, this is a really, it’s a rewarding career in that gives you that stable income and it’s always a function that is going to be needed and there are less than 2% of black accountants out there, and black CPAs specifically so. This is a career path that help advance a profession like, if you’re a person of color, seek this out if this is something that interests you because the rest of the world needs you.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah. Amazing! Well, thanks so much for your time, Priscilla.
 Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Priscilla. I really appreciated the opportunity to share my story.
Hey, are you thinking about changing careers? Then you need to head over to my website, ECMpodcast.com and sign up to get your free 20-page guide that I wrote, with you in mind. I wrote this guide to help you change careers and get really clear on what it is that you want to do next. Career clarity is key to a career transition journey. All right. Can’t wait to hear what you think about it. Have a great week.
Episode 25: The Benefits of “Job Hopping” & the Work-Life “Balance” Myth with Cecilia Harvey

Episode 25: The Benefits of “Job Hopping” & the Work-Life “Balance” Myth with Cecilia Harvey

Show Notes:

Have you ever thought that changing jobs “too quickly” or “too often” is seen as a red flag and must be avoided at all costs? Or, have you ever felt like you’re “cheating on” your employer for considering other jobs and interviewing at other companies? Have you ever struggled to negotiate for higher pay? This episode is for you! On today’s episode, you’ll hear from Cecilia Harvey, CEO of Hyve Dynamics, dish out some real-talk when it comes to creating options for yourself in your career!

Links Mentioned in the Episode:


Cecilia Harvey: But that was a lesson for me in that it’s go out there in the market, get that offer, and if you get countered, you make a decision: do I stay or do I go to that? But give yourself that opportunity. Don’t stay stuck waiting for somebody to tell you what you’re worth, not waiting for somebody to tell you what your options are. Go out there and create options for yourself.

Welcome to The Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.

Hey everyone. Good morning. Well, it’s good morning for me. It might be any time for you, but yeah, so it’s hard to believe that we’re already in June of 2021. This year has been flying by, but it definitely has also felt like, I don’t know, like a soap opera, telenovela, like, there’s just been so many things going on everyday in the news, and yeah. Anyway, thanks for joining. today, we have Cecilia Harvey on the show. She is a Wellesley College alumna. She went to the same undergrad that I went to and she’s amazing. I have not had anyone on the show that is quite at her level. Typically, my guests are in their late twenties, early thirties. Cecilia has just so many amazing professional and personal experiences to share. Cecilia is the CEO of Hive Dynamics and she has over 20 years of experience in finance and tech. She started her career in Wall Street doing iBanking and worked her way up the banking industry, eventually becoming COO of Citi Group Markets and Securities. She also worked at Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and IBM,a nd she’s also the founder and chair of Tech Women Today, a professional organization focused on connecting and advancing women across various areas of technology. So, this is a Renaissance woman, Cecilia was such a joy to interview. What I loved about her is that even though her resume might sound a little intimidating if you’re in your early twenties or figuring out your career, she was very approachable, she was very down to earth, and she shared some really honest thoughts on compensation, on knowing your worth, on “work-life balance,” on what it’s like to figure out a career that is really aligned with what you want personally for yourself, and she also talked a little bit about job hopping which she did a lot of in her twenties and she said that people would look down on that, but we talk about how job hopping is actually a great tool to quickly increase your income. So, I loved that part of the conversation because I think we’re often shamed into wanting to switch jobs or there’s like this weird loyalty that we have towards a company when really, no one’s going to look after our interests, but ourselves.

So anyway, I don’t want to spill the beans too much, but definitely excited to have Cecilia, and a quick reminder, we’re five episodes out from the end of the first season. We will be ending season one at episode 30, which will air sometime in July, but yeah, thanks for being part of the ride and enjoy the show, bye.

Priscilla: Hi, Cecilia, welcome to the show.

Cecilia:  Hi, Priscilla, I’m so excited.

Priscilla: Yeah, I’m so excited to have you here. So, for the audience that doesn’t know this Cecilia and I share our alma maters in common, we both went to Wellesley College. Cecilia is a little bit older than I am, but that’s also why I’m so excited to have her on the show because she is at a much higher level than most of my guests. She’s a CEO and has a lot of work experience, so I’m just really excited to have you, Cecilia, have you reflect on your various roles and experiences from a little bit of a different lens, and so yeah, just really appreciate you being here.

Let’s start off with talking a little bit about your college experience, so let’s rewind to Wellesley College when you were studying there, how did you end up choosing to go the finance route and starting intern in finance?

Cecilia: My first year at Wellesley, I was friends with, well, still my friend to this day, Tanya Ziglar, and so I remember Tanya, she was a senior and I was a first year and she was going on this trip called the Wall Street Trip, and usually, it was only open to seniors who needed a job, and so she said, “Why don’t you just come along?” and I thought, no, like, I’m just a first year, and she goes, “Well, just come on,” and I went on that trip, and we met with three different banks that day. It was JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs, and we met with all alumni from Wellesley and to be around that I thought, wow, that is, one, these incredible women went to a university, same university I went to, and then two, just the energy and the dynamic nature of the trading floor, I thought, okay, that’s what I want to do and I just spent the next four years doing every single internship I could that was aligned to banking, doing any bit of coursework I could, any sort of research I could to just learn more, and by the time I got to my senior year, I already had a job offer after graduation.

Priscilla: That’s amazing, how one little conversation, one event, one trip led to you being exposed to this industry, this career path, and it changed a lot for you, right?

Cecilia: Definitely, and that’s, I think, the amazing thing, it’s always open yourself up to different opportunities. You never know who you’re gonna meet, the impact that you’re going to make, I remember one of the key things was for me on that trip and that experience was that I met another black female alumna who went to Wellesley and she was pretty much the lead for the Merrill Lynch team, and when you see someone that looks like you and when you see someone that has a similar background and experience as you, that representation means so much, and right then, I knew, okay, this is something that’s possible for me, because I didn’t grow up with an exposure to banking careers and really understanding that can even be a possibility for me. But when you see that, somebody that has that similarity to you, it’s so powerful, and it definitely was for me.

Priscilla: Totally agree. So, let’s talk about those first few years out of college when you were in finance and banking. It’s an industry that’s notorious for just being really tough given that there’s not a lot of women and there’s definitely not a lot of women of color, black women, so how did you handle that part of it, that piece of getting adjusted to that industry and the pace?

Cecilia: Yeah, I think one of the first things was, yeah, the pace, it’s, oh, my goodness, like when you go from university to proper job and the hours, it was like, oh, my goodness, like this is tough, but then, when you get over sort of the physical adjustment, I think, definitely, yeah,  the mindset has to be there. I think the first thing that you have to realize is that you are no different from anyone else and getting out of the mindset that you are different from anyone else. Yes., it’s male dominated. Yes, there aren’t many, especially when I first started, many women of color, especially on a trading floor, so the second it gets in your head that you’re different from anyone else, that’s the first step to defeat and you really need to step into your power and really have a firm sense of identity and who you are, because no matter what the situation, whether you’re male, female, whatever, you’re going to be challenged on that every single day in terms of, do you belong here? Do you have what it takes even getting in your own head? So, you really need to be quite firm. And understand who you are as a person and not let anything shake that, so so much of it is just having a strong mindset.

Priscilla: Yeah, and I think that self-talk that we engage in every day is such a big part of that because when you’re doing something new, you’re a beginner and you’re learning, and at some point you’re going to maybe feel behind other people or feel like you’re not enough, but I think the way we speak to ourselves in those moments can make such a big difference. Was that something that you practiced, was like the way that you talked to yourself about what you were doing or did you seek out mentors that also helped you with that?

Cecilia: A key part of it was definitely, and to this day, it’s being very careful with your environment, who you surround yourself with. I think that you need to make sure that you are surrounding yourself with people who want to understand where you want to go and who’ve probably done it themselves and have the experience that they can share with you in terms of how to handle certain situations, I think that’s very important. I think also you need to surround yourself with people that have a realistic view of what it takes to get to where you want to go. I think that I’ve definitely surrounded myself with people who were going to be honest and who were going to check me when it was necessary and say, “No, Cecilia, you need to grow up, this is what you need to do.” You don’t need somebody who is just going to tell you what you want to hear all the time. I think also, it’s important that we protect our environment. Sometimes, people that you used to be around, those relationships don’t serve you any more in terms of, they’re probably not a positive influence. You’re probably going in different directions and you need to make sure that you’re surrounding yourself with people where it’s going to be a positive, supportive environment for you, and then that’s tough sometimes, but it’s something that really needs to be done.

Priscilla: So tell us about how you navigated deciding when to leave a company and when to seek another opportunity. Sometimes, there’s a lot of pressure to “show your loyalty” and stay at a place for a long time, and then I think with younger people these days, you’re seeing less and less of that, and people are being more willing to move around. How did you think through making those early career moves and changing roles or changing companies?

Cecilia: Yeah, no, it’s an excellent question because I remember everybody thought I was crazy when I wanted to leave a role and go somewhere different and people said, “Oh, you don’t want to be accused of being like a puddle jumper and jumping from one thing to another,” and for me, when I got to a point, and actually, it’s great advice I got from my mom, when I saw that I wasn’t going to be compensated in the way that I knew my peers were and what I deserved, where I knew that I wasn’t going to have the sponsorship in an organization in order to get promoted to higher levels, I sought that out at other places and I wasn’t afraid to make that move, and because of that, I think my career definitely took a trajectory where I wasn’t stuck and I kept things moving at a speed where I was comfortable and I knew where I deserve to go, I earned it; there was no imposter syndrome. So, I think that was very important, that I wasn’t afraid to make a move, and if somebody, if another company was going to give me that opportunity, why wouldn’t I take it? What did I have to lose? And I wasn’t going to be held back by somebody else’s judgment of, oh, you know, what if you’re going to be considered a puddle jumper?

Priscilla: I love that because it is so true. I mean, there are studies that are done on people who are willing to change jobs versus people who stay at a company, and the compensation increases are so significant, and it’s unfortunate that it is that way because you would think companies would want to keep their talent and really be more aggressive with the compensation offered and the raises, but it’s just not set up that way, and so I’m sure you probably saw that firsthand, just the raises that you got changing roles as opposed to if you stayed in one place.

Cecilia: Absolutely. I remember I even had a boss. He was one of the best bosses I’ve ever had and I went to him and I said, “You know what, I’ve been here a couple of years. I definitely think that I deserve a promotion and a raise.” I remember, I think I got the promotion by didn’t get the raise, and so he said to me, he goes, “Okay, you want a raise?” He goes, “Go get another job offer and we’ll match you,” and I thought, what? Why would I have to do that? And I took his advice: I went out there, I got another job offer, and I said, when I got this offer, “I don’t want to leave but this is what it is,” and not only did he match me in terms of that offer, he beat that offer, and he said, “You know what? I just want you to make sure that you stay in the company at least for the next couple of years and really do your best,” and I said, “Absolutely,” but that was a lesson for me in that go out there, it’s go out there in the market, get that offer, and if you get countered, you make a decision: do I stay or do I go to that? But give yourself that opportunity. Don’t stay stuck waiting for somebody to tell you what you’re worth. That’s so important, I mean, in terms of recognizing your power and not waiting for somebody to tell you what your options are, go out there and create options for yourself.

Priscilla: I love that, yeah. So, what was the first role for you where you felt like, wow, I have made it, or I have made it to a level where there’s just not a lot of people who look like me with my background, what was that first kind of big promotion for you?

Cecilia: I think it’s almost every role. I think in some ways, I think even from my first job, because I was graduating from Wellesley, starting a role at an investment bank, and this is something where definitely nobody in my family had gone into that career, going into a role in an environment where, yeah, there weren’t many people that looked like me, and I always was so, there’s different ways in which you can receive that, and I think for me, when I walked into a room and if I’m the only woman there, if I’m the only black woman, I embrace it, I love it because I know I deserve to be there, and I think that’s how we should all feel. I know that I worked hard. I know I deserve to be here and because probably before you, there were none, so you need to celebrate that. And it’s given me perspective and I’m so grateful and I feel so blessed and it’s something that I just don’t take for granted.

Priscilla: How have you learned to brand yourself in your roles, different companies? Have you given a lot of thought to self-branding? And I ask that because I do feel like people who get ahead are often people who are very self-aware about what is their brand and how do they talk about their own accomplishments, and a little bit of self-promotion that I think can be seen negatively for women, but it is part of what you have to do to get ahead. How have you thought through that?

Priscilla: When I think of your brand, I think that it’s so important to, especially as you becoming more and more of a leader in organizations, you need to be the type of leader you need to be the type of person that people want to follow, that people have trust in, that people put belief in. I think that’s the most important part to your brand, it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. For me, I’ve always wanted people to say, no matter whether they liked me or not, this is somebody who has integrity. This is somebody who we can trust. I think that’s just paramount for me, and this is somebody who, when she says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it. I think that’s key in terms of you’re putting out the behaviors and the actions that give a sense of you’re somebody of integrity, you’re somebody that we can trust. I think that’s paramount for any type of brand. So, no matter what you’re putting on social media, no matter what you’re trying to portray in terms of lifestyle or who you are or what you do, I think that’s the most important thing and that’s the most foundational thing of any brand integrity. Trustworthiness, transparency.

Priscilla: Yeah, yeah. When you became a COO at Citi, I’m sure that was a huge accomplishment, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced at that level? I think, yeah, when you get, as you move further on in your career, a lot of people will think that certain jobs are the dream job, but I think it’s making sure that it’s aligned to ultimately where you want your life to go. I remember when I got promoted into Citi and of course, it was a great accomplishment in itself, but then also at that time, I really wanted, I took a think about, okay, well, what do I really want to do next within my career? And many times, we get caught up where we’re on this hamster wheel and we can get so caught up in terms of here’s a job title, here’s the salary, here’s the company, but ultimately, making sure that you have that alignment between personally and professionally what you want to do is quite key, not necessarily balanced, but I think definitely alignment in terms of who you are as a person, the job that you’re walking into every day, the environment that you’re walking into every day, is that an environment that you feel is nurturing and ultimately where you want to go within your career? So, for me at that point, it was a turning point in that you definitely reach a certain pinnacle in your career but also, you want to ask yourself, okay, what’s next? Like, where do I go next? And do I have that alignment between not only the career that I want to have but the life that I want to have.

Priscilla: Yeah, and so I think we probably get to a point where you’re like this checks the box in terms of maybe compensation, maybe fulfilling exciting projects, influence, but then, I’m sure that it, what you look for in a job changes over time. So, at what point were you like, okay, I think I’ve gotten what I need to get out of this experience, and decided to leave that role, which I’m sure people would probably stay in that for a while.

Cecilia: Yeah, I think that we all evolve as people in our values, what we want in life, what matters to us, what doesn’t really matter to us, we mature, and for me it wasn’t about corporate title anymore. It wasn’t about the name of the company. It was about, am I happy each day waking up and going into work? Do I feel like I’m learning? Do I feel like I’m in an environment where I enjoy coming into every single day? And I think that also in terms of what I wanted to do, I love technology. I loved the idea of essentially working towards creating a company and a culture within that company, that really was something that I completely believed in, and I knew that I had to eventually get on that track if I was going to start working towards that goal. I knew that I wanted to be somebody who was a leader, not only within a company, but within the broader technology industry. I knew that I wanted to be someone similar to what I had when I was at that first Wellesley on Wall Street event and saw somebody that looked like me, I wanted to be someone that could be a role model of where people can look at and say, “Wow, if she did that, maybe that’s something that’s possible for me,” so I had to be honest with myself about wanting to pursue that dream and start getting on that track and not looking back.

Priscilla: Yeah. So, tell us about Tech Women Today: how did this idea come to be? What is it? Yeah, just tell us about it.

Cecilia: Yeah, Tech Women Today started, I’ve been involved in so many companies and initiatives that focused on diversity inclusion and definitely being in the tech industry, wanting to encourage more women to join the industry because I absolutely loved it, and I thought, wow, this is a great career path for so many women. Of course you see that the numbers aren’t very high when you look at new terms of women in tech. So, I started Tech Women Today because one, I wanted to really broaden the definition of what it meant to be a woman working in technology. You don’t have to have a STEM background; I was a political science major at Wellesley, you don’t have to be a programmer or a hardcore engineer or some developer, you could be a project manager, you could be a business analyst. You don’t have to work at a technology company per se, you could work in fashion and have a tech career. You can work in art and have a digital career, you can work in healthcare, all of these different sectors because tech just penetrates all of these different areas, of course, all these different industries. So, I really wanted to expand the definition of what it means to be somebody in tech and give visibility to what those different career opportunities are, and then also I want it Tech Women Today to be a resource for nontechnical female entrepreneurs and female founders that really need to understand how they needed to use technology in order to grow and scale their businesses and connect them with the various resources that can do that, and recently, one of the things that Tech Women Today has been doing is helping companies with their diversity and inclusion plans and strategies. So, in order to create and cultivate a pipeline of strong, diverse talent that grows within that organization and ultimately prepares people for successful opportunities and leadership within that organization, so that’s so exciting for me because it’s something where one, anybody’s going to agree that diversity in any organization is going to create the best technology, the best services, and ultimately serve clients in the best way, but really, to help organizations strategically create that is so exciting and being able to leverage all the experiences that I’ve had over the years in order to advise on that is an exciting opportunity.

Priscilla: Yeah, that’s really cool and I love that you’re doing this on the side of your full-time job and that you’re able to balance your passions and your impact in different ways. I think sometimes, people think that their full-time job has to check all of the boxes for them when in reality, there’s different ways to find fulfillment in different, it doesn’t just have to be your full-time job.

Cecilia: No, definitely, and when I think of so many impressive women that I look at as role models, when you look at Serena Williams, amazing tennis champion, but there’s so many other things that she does. There’s so many other businesses that she has, but she’s still on top of her game. When you look at a Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, there’s so many other initiatives that she does that focuses on female empowerment and other activities. So, I think it’s so important for me in terms of being a leader and an authentic leader is not only just focusing on my day job in terms of the technical aspects of that, but also being a good leader to my organization within the tech industry and leveraging my skillset and my experience in order to bring broader impact the tech overall.

Priscilla: Yeah, so you bring me now to this next question that I have around “work-life balance.” Do you believe in work-life balance? Yeah, I’m definitely a realist and I don’t believe in balance. I think that you’re not going to have, especially if you have very ambitious goals and you want to do so much, you’re not going to have everything all at once  perfectly balanced at the same time or even for a few weeks here and there. I do what I call, I fiercely prioritize, so there might be a situation where I am very full-on with work at Hive and there’s a particular project or a client opportunity where it requires me to have absolute tunnel vision on that and be very focused on that. That’s my duty and that’s my responsibility to my team, is to be at my best for that particular initiative. So, there will be no distractions. I’ll say to friends, “You know what, nope, have time for that dinner. You’re not going to see me for two weeks,” and then I know that once that passes yeah, of course, I’ll make time. Nope, not going to be able to go on holiday for the next couple of months, but I make sure that okay, in a couple of months, once things calm down a bit, absolutely, I’m going to take that two-week holiday. So, I think it’s about fiercely prioritizing and realizing that you know what, no, everything’s not going to get done. No, you can’t multitask all over the place. A lot of times, you do need to have laser focus on things and it just is what it is, and I think that you will have those people in your life that will understand that, you will have that support system that will be able to get you through and encourage you. That’s so important because balance is a myth, in my opinion.

Priscilla: Yeah, totally, agreed, especially as women and especially people who are balancing child-rearing and family obligations, life, like you were saying, we evolve over time and all of those things shift, and it’s not going to be the same every year.

Cecilia: Exactly.

Priscilla: Our priorities shift, right?

Cecilia: It’s true, and I think you need to really prioritize your mental health, you need to really prioritize yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup and you need to make sure that you’re doing the things necessary so that you are not completely depleted. I think that’s so important to do, to really make sure that you’re focusing on those things where ultimately, you’re not juggling too many things. I think that we need to stop trying to glorify multitasking all over the place, burning ourselves out. To what purpose? It’s not necessary, and I think that’s why I’m really about focusing on those key priorities that you really need to focus on. Other things, okay, it’s going to be pushed to the side for a bit. It doesn’t mean that it’s not as important. It doesn’t mean that you’re never going to get to it, but we’re only human and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Priscilla: Totally. Awesome. So, my last question for you is, what do you think is something you wish you had known about your career years when you first embarked on your first job ?

Cecilia: My goodness. Yeah, if I could go back and do things differently, I guess, I think one thing I would do is have more fun. I think that I was so serious about everything and I was just trying to be so professional, and I think, I wish I would have spent more time hanging out with my coworkers, having fun just in life, hanging out with my friends a bit more because ultimately, we’re not going to get a second chance at this thing called life, and I think I could have really learned a lot from people on just different aspects of just life and living, and also career, so I wish I would have just took more time and just been less serious and just had more fun, and I think people could have also gotten to know the real me a lot sooner also. So, that’s definitely one thing, and I think the other thing is that I learned over time was create options for yourself. Don’t wait for somebody to tell you what your options are. I remember so many situations, and I see it now, even where people are like, “Oh, well, I’ll wait to see what happens at year end,” and then they’re disappointed once year end comes and they have that performance review and they get in that room and they don’t get told what they were expecting to be told and they don’t hear that number that they were expecting to hear, and it doesn’t have to reach that point where you’re just going to explode. Constantly explore your options, interview even when you absolutely love your job, understand what’s out there, keep in contact with at least two executive recruiters that will constantly tell you what the going rates are for people in your industry with your years of experience in terms of salary and compensation. I think that’s so important. You owe it to yourself, and I think sponsorship is so key also. If you don’t have the right sponsorship in your organization, so those people that are going to champion you for promotion in different opportunities for you to really showcase what you can do, then I think it’s one of the things where you need to start exploring your options.

Priscilla: Awesome. Thank you so much, Cecilia, for being with us today, you dropped so many gems and I can’t wait for people to hear your story.

Cecilia: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Priscilla, it’s been great.

Thanks for tuning in to The Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit ECMpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community, and if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.

Episode 24: How I Became a Management Consultant at McKinsey, with Aaron Wilson

Episode 24: How I Became a Management Consultant at McKinsey, with Aaron Wilson

Show Notes:

Have you ever thought about the story that you’re telling others when it comes to your career? On this episode, Aaron Wilson tells us about the career story he’s been crafting ever since he graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in business. As a Black-Asian child of working class parents, Aaron’s story has included: moving to the West Coast to change functions and industries, navigating the ad agency world, deciding to pursue elite management consulting, and eventually landing at McKinsey, post MBA, as an associate.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:


Aaron: I remember I had a mentor at Capital One. He was Asian so he looked out for me. He knew I was half Asian. But he told me like some people at the company knew that I used to play football and I’m black. So if I walk around slow, people might think that you’re not super energetic or something like that. To a 21-year-old, coming fresh into a job, you’re just like, “What does that even mean?”

Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color, and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration. You’re in the right place. Let’s get started.

Priscilla: Hey, everyone, how’s everyone doing? I am really good, actually. You know, yesterday, the CDC came out saying that you don’t have to wear a mask anymore if you’re vaccinated, which my brain still can’t really compute that. I feel like we’ve been through such a roller coaster ride in the last year in terms of guidelines. It’s been a trippy year where we don’t even know what to do or whatever. So But anyway, I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel and so that brings me a lot of joy because I do feel excited to start to incorporate some socializing and just seeing people in my life again, safely. And so, anyway, that’s just on my mind. But welcome to episode 24 of the first season of the early career moves podcast. Today, you’re going to hear from Aaron Wilson, who went to UVA Darden School of Business, he is an MBA, and he also went to UVA for his undergrad, his bachelor’s in business where he focused on brand management and actually worked at Capital One after he graduated in brand marketing. But later made a series of pivots that took him to work for Sony Pictures and for an ad agency, but the whole time you’re going to hear in his story that he was always sort of thinking about his next move in a very strategic way, even if he didn’t know exactly what that would look like.

So I think Aaron is a really great example of someone who stays ready, like he was doing the work, whether that was building a super marketable skill set that he could use later, or asking himself, you know, did he get what he needed to get out of a sort of experience? Where was he trying to go next? Not everyone is like this and that’s okay. But, you know, Aaron is someone who you can tell his story, is very much thinking long term, playing a game of strategy in his career, and it’s definitely paid off. Aaron is an associate McKinsey, one of the most elite management consulting firms in the world. And I won’t be surprised if one day we see his name as CEO. Okay, I’ll stop here. Enjoy the interview. Let me know what you think. So I’m excited to have you share your story of how you went from brand marketing to analytics to working at an ad agency all the way through Business School, and now working at McKinsey. But before we get into that, will you share a little bit about your own personal background?

Aaron: So, yeah, hello everyone. I’m originally from Washington, DC. My family are from the Northeast area of Washington, DC. But my father, he was originally from Chicago, the West side of Chicago, father’s black. My mother’s Korean, she’s actually from South Korea, so she was an immigrant. So most of my time, I was raised in Northeast DC, but also spend some time in Washington, Maryland, which is PG County, and then Alexandria, Virginia. So like a real full around DMV. So I went to high school in TC, played football, track, basketball as well and then played football at the University of Virginia in the ACC. When I first started, I studied Business Commerce at UVA, which was a pretty prestigious at that time. And then, once I graduated, I actually went to Capitol One for brand marketing.

Priscilla: Okay, so brand marketing was your first job. How did you ended up deciding to go down that path? And what was it like being in that program?

Aaron: So, yeah, I originally did brand marketing for Capital One straight out of undergrad. One of the reasons why I chose to do brand marketing was more of like, my mother was a cashier. Father, he was in the military. So I’d never saw what professional jobs looked like in the past. So for me, it was like, “Oh, marketing, would love it. Would love to do that type of job. It has a lot of outreach, a lot of influence.” And then if I ever got to the position high within the company, then I could be the one making decisions of how we’re utilizing that budget, and making differences in the world beyond just adding additional profits for the company. So that was my original thought trying to go to Capital One doing brand marketing. And on the other side of that Capital One was a heavily invested sponsor for the University of Virginia, so there was a big relationship there. A lot of alumni that came from the University of Virginia so it just made sense at the time. I oved it, great people, gained a lot of skill sets that I never had before, thinking strategically as well as working with advertising agencies. So I worked at Capital One for two years as an Associate Brand Marketing Manager. During that time, I was actually exposed to advertising agencies and seeing how they work. So it was very interesting in that time, because at Capital One, we were doing a lot of the strategy, providing a lot of the insights from data that we have within the company. But the cool things that usually think of as marketing goes is usually what the advertising agencies do, the advertising and the media agencies. They’re the ones who actually create the actual creative based upon the original strategy, and execute to expose it to the consumers. And in a way that makes sense. So there’s a lot of components to that I was intrigued, very interested, I wanted to see what that side of the world was like on the agency side, and additional opportunity popped up to move to Los Angeles. As I mentioned before, I’ve always been from the Washington DC area, went to UVA. So DC, in Virginia, Maryland, that whole scene is something that I knew majority of my life. So I thought, “Hey, why not? Let’s try something new and get exposure to a whole another area.” Who wouldn’t want to go to West Coast to do a little LA action, surfing and all?

Priscilla: Yeah. So before we get into you moving to LA and changing jobs, I would love to hear just your first job at Capital One. What were some of the stumbling blocks that you faced entering corporate America for the first time? What was challenging about it? How did you manage that?

Aaron: Sure. So one thing I want to start with is capital was an amazing place, very smart people, high caliber. But with that, I don’t think there will be one company that’s perfect. There’s always a lot of good things with it, but and then sometimes some setbacks. So one thing for Capital One, everyone was super high performing. But with that, it’s hard to get promoted, right? It’s hard to move up within the company if everyone’s high performing. The company treats everyone well. No one really wants to leave. You don’t really find that many opportunities that fast. And then beyond that, it’s like, how do you separate candidates who are all doing their job well? So the thing that I would say was, like separating people is more of like, how much do you like this person, right? Do they seem like they’re fully energetic? Do you feel like they’re super nice and willing to help each other? A lot of those things that aren’t pretty subjective. And honestly, like me, coming out of college, black Korean guy, there was maybe two other black people in the whole brand department of Capital One at the time. Right now, this is Sunday, so I’m feeling energetic. But when I was at Capital One coming out of college, like, I wouldn’t jump out everyone like, “Hey, how’s your day going?” And those are the things that can cost you at moving up in the company, or standing out as someone who’s 14 players, fully smart, etc. So those are some of the things that I struggle with, some of those things that it’s not on paper that you learn you should do to move up in the company or in the world, so I struggle with that. And this is probably even more personal level. I remember, I had a mentor at Capital One. He was Asian so he looked out for me. He knew I was half Asian. But he told me like some people at the company knew that I used to play football, and I’m black. So if I walk around slow, people might think that like, you’re not super energetic or something like that. A 21-year-old, coming fresh into a job, you’re just like, “What does that even mean?” So those are some things that I dealt with just trying to like navigate through like, the political system I will probably say within corporate world. I didn’t really fully understand that at the time. But I think that was just also just being young in my career.

Priscilla: Totally. I really liked that story because I remember when I was young, getting similar feedback like that I seemed disinterested, or that I didn’t seem enthusiastic. And later on, you realize that’s really highly valued. So totally understand that. But yeah, so let’s jump back into your story and what was the job that you moved for in California? Like what happened next?

Aaron: So I went over there for this media advertising agency called OMD. So that’s an agency under the umbrella, Omnicom. So similarly, like consulting firms and similar to some law firms, just like a big four of agencies. And Omnicom is one of those big agencies that’s worldwide, very prevalent in New York City and Los Angeles and Chicago. So I switched to that side and I was very purposeful with what position I picked. The position was for Marketing Analytics. So this is what like, end of 2014 beginning of 2015. I definitely wanted to get exposure to analytics because I knew that big data was going to be a big piece for all types of marketers out there, whether you wanted to be on the brand strategy side, or whether you wanted to be on the execution side, or whether you had aspirations to become an executive, big data was always going to be important. So I switched over to work for OMD in Los Angeles. There I worked on two accounts, I worked on the activation Call of Duty account, so think like Call of Duty Black Ops 3. I work on that campaign. So I did everything from what is the strategy like, what type of partner should we use in media? And what that means is like, yes beyond just like the Google search and featuring advertisements there and working with YouTube, via Google for YouTube videos. There’s a component outside of social media, which also includes like programmatic channels, where it’s a little site that people go to whether it’s blog sites, whether it’s a website site for video gamers, they may know like IGN, you’re featuring advertisements where people go to, and that’s kind of like what the media agency job is.

Priscilla: Okay, cool. Yeah, that’s sounds like such a huge change, right? Like, not only did you move from the East coast to the West coast, where you didn’t have any routes, but you also changed industries a little bit and also function. So what was that like making those switches and what was maybe hard about that?

Aaron: Yeah, I remember telling some friends that, “Hey, I’m going to move to Los Angeles in a month.” Some people thought I was joking. It was just something that I had to move with before I second guessed myself, because I knew I just wanted to change for myself, just because I’ve been in the DMV area for so long. So that’s what just prompted me and pushed me over the edge in order to do so no matter what the challenge is. As far as how I dealt with, like the switch, functionally in and from an industry standpoint, I think it was just pure curiosity. One thing that I think stands out to me no matter who I worked with and in any industry, any company is, if a person is intelligent, and they have the will to learn and work, I think you’ll be fine anywhere. When I started working at the media advertising agency, very different world than a financial bank, especially like a fortune 100 company. So the media advertising agency, I mean, was totally different from a culture standpoint, like we had a basketball Court, inside our building, you can have your dogs at work, we were working with entertainment companies left and right, Disney was another client of ours for the advertising agency, etc. So it was a shift, but hey, I’m not going to complain about those things like, I loved it. I think the biggest thing was more the fact that just showing that I was passionate and which was authentic like, I was excited to work at this advertising agency and try something new. I think that’s something that people have heard over time, who are very successful, when they make transitions, it’s usually because they felt like the position, they were previously in felt stale, or they weren’t learning anymore. I think whenever you’re in a position where you’re not learning anymore, like it will come across to other people that you really aren’t learning more, and then your passion and curiosity might falter. So I really leaned on that when I was starting a new function in a new company. I showed that I was curious, I was attentive, I learned and picked up fast. And then, I just let that kind of carry my weight all the way through. Put in the beginning, it’s obviously going to be more time and effort, but over time, started gaining more expertise, and then just kept trying to push the boundaries of what we could do at some of these media advertising agencies, and even leveraging my past experiences working at Capital One, knowing that I was on the client side of advertising agencies in the past. That kind of gave me like, a leg up of oh, this is probably what they may want to see or what they’re looking for what type of insights will be most helpful? So, again, I think two parts, really leaning on that curiosity point, learning fast. And the second point of utilizing past experience, whenever it fits, I think that’s always shows like a unique perspective, and showing how you’re a unique asset.

Priscilla: What are some things that you think people should know about the advertising agency world if they’re considering entering and breaking into this work? Sure.

Aaron: So I would probably say there’s probably like three different things. One, I would say location does matter, especially, if you’re thinking entry level. The cities with the most agency activity and opportunity would definitely always be Los Angeles and New York City. So I’m just going to be very straightforward on that front. That’s not to say that there aren’t advertising agencies and other big cities in the US like, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, there are, but nine out of 10 there’s way more opportunities and job openings in New York City and Los Angeles. So that’s just a very direct piece of advice, at least from my perspective. The second piece, I would say is, there’s different types of positions they’re looking for in agencies. One, they’re looking for creative, so that’s what you think about as graphic designers, people with artist in skill sets, and craftsmanship, photographic or video recording skills, that creative sector. They’re also looking for analytics. That’s actually a growing space in advertising agencies. Utilizing data and measuring especially for digital media just, because everything is gravitating towards that. Budgets increasing, advertising spend in the digital space, so if you have any type of analytic skills, that’s working with Excel, working with SQL, working with Tableau, it’s huge. So we definitely highly recommend leveraging some of those skills and those platforms in order to get a leg up in the advertising world. And then, three, which some agencies are known for are more of the strategist. So those are the people who don’t have as much heavy analytic skills. But I would say and pre-warn like, that’s more based upon pure experience. Strategist can move up and become VPs, executives, etc. But the road from the beginning is going to be a little difficult because in the beginning, I don’t think that pays huge for strategist coming in to agencies. But as far as like, how to get in, it’s literally more of just like, making sure your resume matches up finding the right opportunity and the right timing, if you want to come in as a strategist.

Priscilla: Okay, so you were saying that you were at the ad agency, what ended up happening next, how did you end up moving up and getting to the point of going to business school.

Aaron: So then, I got promoted, worked as a manager within the media agency where I shifted. And there, just working on different accounts really shine light on how you have to change your strategy and the tools that you utilize to reach out to the consumer. A video game, for instance, like they release once a year, annually. So what you’re doing is you’re trying to build hype and engagement throughout the year slowly but surely until the person like, unconscious things like, I have to get this game, versus Levi’s and Dockers, where you’re dealing with retail, people are usually thinking about buying clothes two times the year, at least, which is usually spring and fall. Preparation for the wintertime and spring when you’re preparing for summer, as well as getting close for that spring and fall season. So that’s how like campaign shifted, the type of sites and partners you will utilize, the way we were analyzing engagement was totally different, and that was one of my responsibilities was at the agency OMD. Before, I actually shifted again to work for another agency, a media agency called Universal McCann. And that’s where I was contracted out to Sony Pictures. So that’s where I spent my last year and a half two years before going back to my MBA program. I am working for Sony Pictures, doing audience targeting for all the different Sony Picture movies like, Spiderman Homecoming, Jumanji, Welcome to the Jungle. So this was back in 2017. That’s what I was doing before the NBA.

Priscilla: So when you were making all these career decisions in your 20s before you went to business school, what were the things that you were looking for in your next opportunities? Like how did you think through that?

Aaron: Yeah, for sure. I was thinking about if probably from a 3.1. I was like, “Where did I want to live?” As far as city position, what type of lifestyle that I want as far as what job I was going to choose? People I think automatically guys like compensation, what account, is this any work. So that’s like the short term. So that was like the bare top superficial things I was looking at for jobs and switching jobs. The second piece I’ll probably say is, I was thinking about what story like my resume was telling and how I wanted to grow. And it wasn’t just literally like jumping back and forth from like a zigzag standpoint, but more of like, it didn’t have to incrementally stack up on top of each other as far as how my experience was building. But how was I growing? How was I evolving as if I want to be as an executive. I think I have a very heavy marketing background, but also marketing and strategy. And I knew that something that I wanted to be a part of my core of what I would be known for whether it’s five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. So from that standpoint, I always wanted to make sure I had a little bit of piece of what I did when I first started working way back when I worked for Capital One doing brand marketing. And I did Sony Pictures was a little bit different, because every movie is going be totally different, right? The way you’re marketing a movie for Spiderman is going to be very different than you do for Peter Rabbit kids movie. So that changed a little bit. But that job, for instance, was still connected to my previous job doing marketing analytics. I was building upon what our to learn about data. And then, I was targeting audiences, so I was building further from my previous job working with Sony Pictures connected to OMD working at that agency. So that’s that second point, I was talking about is how was my resume building over time, incrementally, from position to position. And then, the third piece, I wanted to mention was like more long term, the thing I was thinking about is, how could it put me in a position. For instance, I knew I wanted to eventually switch to management consulting will put me in that position. I was thinking about that probably since 2015. And I graduated from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 2020. So there were some thought into that, will put me in the best position, what would tell that story of why did I want to get there. So that was the third piece that I think played a role in how I was choosing positions and companies.

Priscilla: That’s really cool. It seems like you were really intentional about your strategy throughout the years, which is I would say pretty rare and unique, but obviously it really served you well once you were in business school and you knew you wanting to do consulting. At what point did management consulting get on your radar? How did you know that that was something you wanted to pursue?

Aaron: From the undergrad business school from UVA, there’s actually quite a few people who go into consulting. I wasn’t exposed to it just during that time. I didn’t even know what to look for. So my mind was always brand marketing. But soon after, when I was at a Capital One, and I started talking to some more friends, meeting more people and find out, “Oh, that’s pretty cool.” Like consulting, you get exposure to multiple different companies, you get to travel, something that piqued my interest, not something that I was sure that I wanted to do, but it was something that was like, potentially in the future. And on top of that, before I move on to the second time, I want to say like, at all times, when I was building my career, I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be. But it was more of thinking about, I wanted to leave room where it made sense if I went that way. So like if, say, if I wanted to go into music with Spotify, I will want to have works that could connect me to be able to go that direction. So I never exactly knew like, hey, I always wanted to be at Sony Pictures when I was at Capital One but it was more of a thing like, I was always incrementally building upon my past experience, so that I could be able to go that direction. So just wanted to make that clear. So after the first point of when I was exposed to consulting the second point, I was actually exposed to one of the MBB firms when I was working with Sony Pictures. And that’s when, you know, I was fascinated. The team was very smart, very intelligent, structured, high performing, move fast, and I learn more about them. The fact that the type of work they were touching, even at a young age, I just knew like beyond just the opportunities that were open for management consultants at high prestigious firms was the soft skills that they developed. How exact and professional they spoke with their client. Every meeting wasn’t just a meeting just to have or cover track, it was always with intention in mind to move the problem solving and trying to find the solution faster and forward. People know. Sometimes I imagined who’s listening to this podcast. Sometimes you have meetings where it’s just kind of cyclical. And then, there’s just another thing you have that meeting but then no one steps back and as like why like how are we pushing, you know, the solution in these 20 minutes to make sure that we are further along than we were 20 minutes ago. This is what this firm did. And that really spoke to me. So I would say that was time I was like, hey, like whether something I will want to do for the rest of my life afterward. I know that I will want a career in consulting because I want to develop those skills almost at an unconscious level. So that’s probably the second time I got exposed and I was like, Oh, I could see myself in the consulting industry.

Priscilla: Okay, so now let’s talk about your MBA journey. You decided to go to UVA Darden, you had other options, you got a McKinsey internship offer, you accepted a full-time offer to join McKinsey. And that’s where you are now, McKinsey is one of the top three management consulting firms, one of the most elite, right? A lot of people would say, it’s the best one. MBB, for those who don’t know, stands for McKinsey, BCG and Bain. And so, yeah, like what did it feel like for you to get that internship and to now be in this full-time like, that must have been like such a huge accomplishment.

Aaron: I was ecstatic. It was a hard road. I’m not going to lie. The networking and the case prep, I was extremely excited. One, just the amount of work I put in but two when I was working at Sony Pictures and even applying for the MBA programs, my thought process as far as like applying. What I will want to do post MBA was always like consulting firm like McKinsey, right? Like, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the opportunity to work for McKinsey so it was always a consulting firm like McKinsey. So at the back of my mind, like it wasn’t only the hard work that I’ve done, but it was also the fact that I felt like it was a dream come true. The people I met at McKinsey were amazing folks that well, they weren’t just smart, they knew how to engage how to influence and I was very happy about that Atlanta office, in particular, there are already three women black partners, so they mean to just say they were about diversity, they actually had them in leadership. So a show like this company actually stood behind what they said. So I was Yeah, I was very happy about getting that offer.

Priscilla: That’s amazing. So switching gears here a little bit, I want to talk about imposter syndrome. We talk about it a lot on the podcast and I just want to hear like, did you experience imposter syndrome throughout your 20s? How did you manage that?

Aaron: Sure. So yeah, I’ve had it a few times across my career. I think the first time ever was when I first started working for Capital One doing brand marketing. At the time, I was working on the Quicksilver credit card so I was pulling it then. I was working with all this senior leadership that’s had excellent past experiences and expertise in the field and I’m the one trying to add my piece to make this national campaign happen. I started second questioning myself. Oh, is this work? Absolutely. 100% unequivocally correct. I don’t want to be that black guy who got something wrong, but over time, it was just trusting myself. I had mentors and sponsors who spoke up for me And when you keep Hearing it again and again, you start thinking like, hey, you’re right, I did do good work. And I did it again. And then again, like maybe I am fit for this. So that was probably the first time. The second time was probably when I first got promoted to manager at OMB, the advertising agency, and I was actually managing someone who’s about the same age as me maybe even like a year older. So one, there’s different dynamics going on there from how comfortable they feel talking with someone who’s their age, and then trying to walk that line between should I be doing this? I am the manager. How do I do this? Am I even cut out for this? Maybe I got promoted too soon. These are the things that were running through my mind. and managing is not easy. Like I think that should be highlighted a lot more in a lot. A lot of corporations like management is not just about being able to do your job. Well. It’s also about being able to build relationships and adapting to the working styles of the people that you’re managing. So it was definitely a learning curve. And I would like to say that I got it correct. The first time I don’t think I necessarily did. But I think maybe like the second year, when I started managing a new person, I started learning how people’s personalities were different and how it could adapt. That’s when I started thinking like, okay, at least I think I’m somewhat competent at it and something that I can definitely do in the future. And then the third time was definitely here at McKinsey. There’s like Olympians walking around everyone’s valedictorians, etc, definitely felt some of that. But I was very happy because even at McKinsey, we have affinity group called the McKinsey black network. And I cannot state how many times people have reached out to me to for support, or even on a higher level for the entire new NBN class of like we do good work like we’re very special people before we got to the firm. So not to ever lose sight of that because the firm did make a special, we were like that before we even got there, getting those reassurances were definitely helpful. And then again, sometimes just given a time, like, I definitely feel in a much better place than I did when I first started working again full time, even after the entire internship. So I think that feeling is always there. But it’s more of just like having patience, giving it time. And then building that support network around you to get that gain reassurance.

Priscilla: I totally agree with everything that you just said. It’s almost like learning how to live with it and creating systems of support to slowly build our confidence over time. But yeah, so my last question for you, Aaron, what kind of advice would you give to someone who was in your shoes maybe a few years back and is trying to move forward in a similar path to yours?

Aaron: Yeah, I think my one piece of advice would be what do you want to stand for? And what I mean by like, what do you want to stand for? This could be at a personal and professional level? Like, do you want to stand for hard work, then come to consulting? Because you’re going to be seeing a lot of hard work? Do you want to be known for impact? Like what type of impact do you know. I’m saying like what really resonates and matters most to you, because I think whatever you choose to do, as far as what you want to stand for, your curiosity is going to run wild. So you’re going to do good work, you’re going to learn you’re going to progress, you’re going to get better, you’re going to evolve. And then, if you’re finding out like what you stand for, I think that’s going to be good for you. When you’re even building your resume. You’re trying to pitch in interview with the different companies because if you know what you want to stand for, you can build, you know your brand of like what you’ve done in the past and what you will do in the future, it will start becoming a lot more clear when you start from there, like knowing like what you want to stand for, that will help you dictate what jobs what industries you want to work in, that will help you even focus on like what you’ve done in the past. Because no matter what, there is a path behind you and ahead of you that is connected. So I think knowing what you want to stand for is that connector to making sure that whole thing tells a story.

Priscilla: Yes, and storytelling and branding, like truly your own career path is so key to a lot of this is like, how do you sell yourself? How do you tell your story? So I love that you ended on that note. Aaron, thank you so much for being with us today. You’re such a great example of what’s possible when you work hard and have a plan. And so yeah, thanks for being with us.

Aaron: Absolutely. Thank you for having me much appreciate.

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into the Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit priscillabulchacoaching.com to join the conversation, access the show notes and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.

Episode 23: Leaping from Investment Banking to Wharton, as an HBCU grad, with Timka Lockheart

Episode 23: Leaping from Investment Banking to Wharton, as an HBCU grad, with Timka Lockheart

Show Notes:

On this episode, you’ll hear from Timka Lockheart, a Georgia native and proud graduate from Alabama A&M University who ended up on Wall Street for her first job out of college and eventually with an MBA from Wharton. As the only Black woman on her team as a first-year analyst, Timka had to quickly learn the ropes and come to grips with her insecurities to perform at a high level. Today, Timka works as a Career Coach helping young professionals make “courageous leaps” and she spills the tea on how she made some of her own leaps.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Management Leadership for Tomorrow – Career Prep

Management Leadership for Tomorrow – MBA Prep

Management Leadership for Tomorrow – Professional Development

SEO – Seizing Every Opportunity

SEO Career Program – SEO Career recruits and trains high achieving Black, LatinX, and Native American college students for challenging summer internships that lead to coveted full-time jobs

Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Courageous Leaps LLC



Timka: It just took me getting comfortable with the job and saying you don’t have to be perfect. You will not get fired for small mistakes. You have to take the risk to learn. I think that we forget that learning is risky. You’re learning to do something you haven’t done before. And so, that requires a commitment to not being perfect.


Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color, and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration. You’re in the right place. Let’s get started.


Hey, everyone, welcome to episode 23 of the Early Career Moves Podcast. Today, I’m so excited to be sharing Timka Lockhart’s story with you. But before I get there, I want to just give a quick reminder that we are going to be wrapping up season one of the podcasts at episode 30, which will air early July. And at that point, I’m going to be taking about 10 weeks off to have my own little summer break. My birthday is coming up in August. I’m also getting married at the end of summer. So really excited to unplug a little bit. But don’t worry, I’ll definitely be back in September. And I have lots of fun exciting episodes in the works and just looking forward to continuing to improve upon and make this podcast the best young professional BIPOC resource out there. So today’s episode features Timka Lockheart, she is an amazing woman who is also in the career space, she is the founder of Courageous Leaps, and she’s also a Wharton MBA grad.

She is a career coach on the side and helps people transition into new roles. But her full-time gig is at American Express where she’s in a leadership development program. On this episode, Timka shares what it’s been like to be an HBCU grad who’s originally from Georgia and was able to crack into one of the most elite industries for her first job in investment banking. I will make sure to link in the show notes the different programs that she mentioned that she was a part of that helped her get there. She talks about what it was like to be the only woman, the only black woman in the room. How she had to kind of get over her own fears, insecurities, self-doubt to be able to perform at a high level. And she also will talk about how her Wharton MBA pushed her to become a stronger version of herself. So really excited to share her story with you. Thanks for listening, y’all.


Priscilla: Hey, everyone. I’m really excited to have Timka Lockheart on today’s episode. Welcome, Timka.

Timka: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to join you today.

Priscilla: Yeah. So before we jump into introductions, I want the audience to know how you and I connected. So Timka and I actually crossed paths this summer before we both started our MBA programs through MLT, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, where they were helping us kind of prepare for the recruiting process that would take over in business school. I’m sure we’ll go into that a little bit later. But it was just really cool to cross paths and we both have a passion for helping people navigate their career paths, especially as people of color. So really excited to dive into this conversation. But yeah, Timka, why don’t you just share with the audience a little bit about yourself, just anything to kind of give the audience a sense of your background?

Timka: Sure. So I’m Timka, everyone. I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia, just where I’m currently recording this podcast. I’m a black woman. I think that’s actually pretty integral to my story and the story we’ll walk through today. I got my undergrad degree in Finance from a really small HBCU, Alabama A&M and HBCU being a historically black university. And then, went on in my career to work in Finance and a couple other things we’ll talk about later today. And yeah, I would say, major theme in my life so far has been resiliency in showing up for yourself, because I believe if you show up for yourself, you literally can do anything in the world, but the half of the battle is showing up. So that’s about me.

Priscilla: Yeah. So let’s kind of rewind a little bit to those HBCU days. Tell us where you went. And also, how did that experience impact you being in a historically black college university?

Timka: First, let me say I grew up in Atlanta and the neighborhood I grew up in Atlanta was actually pretty rare compared to the average American, and that my neighborhood was all black. So we had black police officers, black teachers, black government officials, like everyone was black in this little town. And so, I think that first that shaped my worldview, and that it was an understanding that you literally can be anything you want to be. And so, I think that’s something that a lot of minority black and brown kids don’t see. And I was fortunate enough to grow in this kind of environment, so that’s one.

And then, going to HBCU, I feel like it was just a continuation of seeing people that looked like me and having a level of support that I’m not sure that everyone gets at a predominantly white institution. So my teachers would call my cell phone, if I miss class, right? And say, “What happened today?” Or would talk to an administrator that I was close to and say, “Hey, Timka didn’t come to XYZ.” Right. And so, you knew that you had people looking out for you, and what pushed you to be your best in an environment that was really small and tight knit, which I think is we can’t measure the impact of that.

Priscilla: Yeah, so I went to an all-women’s college and it’s a similar concept of being in this environment that is not really representative of the real world. But what’s really cool is that it kind of flips everything on its head, right? Everyone who’s a leader on campus was a woman. And so, for you, it was like a black person. And so, it’s just so it was freeing for me to be in that environment. And it made me fearless when I did go into the workplace after college, because I was like, “Women speak up, like women are just as capable as anyone else.” Did you feel like you also reap that benefit?

Timka: I did. And I do think that on the flip side, I also was very naive in terms of going into internships and being like, “Oh, this is what the real world is.” And realizing that you, in fact, will probably be the only black face in the room. And dealing with that reality, I think was something else I had to kind of tackle. And I joke and say that while I was in college, I worked at a local mall, and I worked at the Ann Taylor store. And working at that Ann Taylor store gave me a much bigger viewpoint of the world and allowed me to experiment in a different way. So I think that, yes, HBCU life, absolutely, 1,000% would do it again, do not regret. And I’m grateful to also have some of those other experiences that helped prepare me for the world too.

Priscilla: Yeah. Okay. So tell us about your first job out of college. How did you find it? How did you end up going in that direction?

Timka: So my first role, full time role out of school, I actually went into investment banking. So I worked at Barclays full-time where I worked in debt capital markets and I covered tech media and telecom companies. And so, my journey to investment banking was one of– was very interesting. We mentioned MLT earlier in this conversation and I want to plug MLT again because I did management leadership for tomorrow’s undergrad program just called Career Prep. And that program, you apply the summer during your sophomore year, and you start before your junior year, and they kind of carry you through graduation. But that program, on top of a couple of others that also mentioned really opened up the world to me, so I did MLT. I also did another program called Thurgood Marshall College Scholars, and that program focuses on public HBCU students and opening up internship opportunities for them. So I did that program.

And then finally, I also did SEOs, career prep program, which is SEO standing for sponsors for educational opportunity. So I guess a real quick thing there is I found places and resources to help me and I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know that investment banking was working on and where I was going to end up. However, I was like, I know I need to get out of Alabama, and I need to find places to help me do it. So I went through those three programs. And I think that game changer for me was having intense mentorship and in some ways sponsorship across those three programs to support my career and thinking about what I wanted to do after school. And so, investment banking came up as something that my MLT coach, Valerie Griffin was like, “You should actually, I want to challenge you to apply to do this.” The way she did that was applying to SEO, I got into SEO. And at the time, SEO, if you got into SEO, you were guaranteed an investment banking internship. And so, they don’t do that anymore but back then that was how it worked.

And so, I got into SEO, I got the internship and SEO gave me a network of mentors who literally held my hand throughout the summer experience. And I was also fortunate enough to get placed on a desk with another black woman which was very rare. And so, all of these forces came together. I got the full time offer. After graduating, I moved to New York City and joined the investment bank full-time. And that was an entirely different experience. I think being an intern versus working full-time is two very different things. But that was my journey into getting on Wall Street.

Priscilla: That is such an incredible journey because those spaces are so elite and closely guarded. Like, I remember when I was in college only, like the top of the top, like GPAs could even be considered for ibanking. And I’m sure you encountered that when you finally started full-time, it’s just like, your peers were coming from these probably very elite institutions, maybe there wasn’t a lot of diversity. And so, I just remember in college being like, “Wow, that’s intense to try to get into ibanking.”

Timka: No, I think that’s exactly right. So I will say SEO did an excellent job preparing the interns like we had to move to New York two weeks early before our internship, and they put us through like a boot camp. And it was like, “This is what you have. This is what you’re going to expect.” And so, I feel, like even that preparation gave us a leg up, right? Like, we knew how to use Excel. We knew the basics of accounting, like they were ensuring that all of these black and brown kids knew exactly what was going to happen. And, of course, I was prepared for the fact that I probably would have been one of the few black women in the room at that young of an age. And so, I think that preparation did carry forward into full-time. But I underestimated how different it would be, right? So an investment banking, the culture really depends on the group you’re placed in. It’s not necessarily the bank, it’s really about the team that you’re on. And so, one team could be very different from another team and I think it was something that like, bopped me upside the head, when I started working full-time.

Priscilla: So there are a lot of things that are very challenging about working in investment banking and working in finance, and so some things that come to mind are the hours. I’m sure you worked weekends, there’s just an incredible amount of time you’re putting in. And then, secondly, the fact that it’s not only a white space, but it’s also a heavily male dominated space. So I’m curious if that played into at all your experience. And then, of course, just like all of the skills that you had to probably develop really quickly to be successful. So what was the biggest challenge for you?

Timka: I would say, so when I joined full-time, I was joined a team that was majority white in all male. I was the only one on the team. I was reportedly the first five woman that had been on that team in five years. And quite, frankly, it really was a boys club, really. And so, this was back in 2013. So this was right before some of these regulations that they have around investment banking were coming into place. And I said regulations like, no Friday staffing, right? You can’t get put on a new project on a Friday or you have to sign out X amount of times a week or something like that. And when I joined, those regulations weren’t necessarily in place. And so, the team was really small, and we worked really hard.

We had a lot of volume coming through this desk. And it often felt like, I was– and they’ll describe it to you this way, joining an investment banking or starting this career is almost like drinking from a firehose. There’s so much coming at you. And on top of that, I was the only woman of color on my team, I was the only woman on my team. And so, I often felt isolated in a lot of ways. And some of that being, my own self-isolation, right, not feeling confident in my abilities. And I think on top of that, some of that was just understanding that I wasn’t necessarily as prepared as I could have been or should have been to take on such a large role. And, especially being a woman, I often felt like I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, they probably think I’m dumb, I can’t laugh at their jokes, I don’t know anything about football, like all of these little things that compounded upon themselves, and I think really affected my first year in terms of performance.

Priscilla: Yeah. So what ended up helping you overcome some of that? Was it like a specific coach or a sponsor? Or like, what helped you get out of your head a little bit?

Timka: It definitely took me– let’s say, it wasn’t a six-month learning curve for me. It was like an eight- or nine-month learning curve, I’ll be completely honest. It just took me getting comfortable with the job and saying, “You don’t have to be perfect. Right? You will not get fired for small mistakes. You have to take the risk to learn.” I think that we forget that learning is risky. You’re learning to do something you haven’t done before. And so, that requires a commitment to not being perfect. I felt like in my career, I was trying to be perfect so much that it was holding me back from actually learning what I needed to learn, because I was so worried about doing the things that I actually knew how to do. And it was almost like, analysis paralysis. So for me, it was time that helped me get up to speed. It was time and it was having other women, even the women at Barclays and some of the folks that I knew pour into me and say, you can do this, right, just relax and listening to that advice.

Priscilla: Yeah, I like that term analysis paralysis, because, yes, I think that when the mindset is not there, our minds can go into panic mode. And then, when you’re panicked, you actually start making more mistakes than you would normally have, right?

Timka: Yeah, that’s exactly it is. We allow panic to literally override our common sense and we have to be able to calm ourselves down and I think the other piece too, was like, am I able to ask for help, right? I should be able to admit that I don’t know something, I think that was a huge thing for me, was that when I was learning new things, I was so focused on being perfect, that I would then forget what I learned three or four months later, and it was like, we’ve gone through this, right? And you learned it the first time, but you were so nervous, so afraid that you didn’t really marinate on what you were taught. And so, I think that also hindered me a lot in those early months was, the fear held me back from even growing into where I wanted to go.

And I’ll add this, I think that the game changer for me was when I started in the group, I had a co-analyst, and we were on the same level, and a year into the so this was technically a two-year program, in the analyst program, and he left a year early. And so, when he left, it was literally like a sink or swim situation, where it was like, well, Timka, you are it? You either have to give up the program or not. And at the time, of course, I was really upset that he was leaving, because I felt like I was just getting my sea legs, I’m just now getting it. And at that point, it was like, this is the point where you have to turn it up, he there is no option here unless you want to quit too. I think that was it was really what caught and put the battery in my back in terms of you can do this. And I proved to myself, I was able to do it. And so, I left the bank feeling great about my performance, and I’m not sure that would have happened if he had stayed, because I would have been able to rely on him.

Priscilla: Okay, so tell us about your decision to leave ibanking. I know that a lot of the times people try to go into private equity and like hedge fund work or whatever. I’m sure there were lots of options you could have considered. What did you decide to do maybe at the end of those two years?

Timka: Sure. So I realized that I’d spent two years learning a lot about capital markets, a lot about debt and bonds and any kind of Treasury work. And I wanted to learn more about overall company’s like, what is the company’s strategy, right? And so, I realized that I started to look for jobs and like strategy development, ultimately, because I did not see myself continuing to work, as hard as I was working in investment banking, I just couldn’t, I wasn’t in love with it. And I also did not want to get what they call the golden handcuffs. So when you start to get a certain amount of money, it’s harder to walk away, right? It’s the feeling of, well, I can’t leave, right, because this is the amount of money I’m making, and especially being that young. I started to look for strategy roles. And I’ll tell the story of how I got into my next job. Basically, I was like, I’m willing to take a pay cut and just to learn. And actually, one of the jobs I applied for was with MLT, I applied for strategy partnership role.

And so, when I interviewed with for the job. And I interviewed with this person, this amazing mentor of mine named Marcus Shaw, and he’s a mentor now, but at the time, I didn’t know him. And I interviewed with him and I explained my story and what I was looking to do, looking to learn, and he basically told me during the interview, he was like, “Listen, I don’t think this is the right role for you.

However, I know the right role for you. I know somewhere where you can go.” So he connected me to some folks over at a firm called the Brunswick group. And the Brunswick group is a small crisis management and corporate public relations firm. And at that firm, I was able to really grow and learn about corporate strategy, overall. Corporate PR, how do we respond to these broad issues companies are facing. And in that connection, I was able to immediately get a first round interview and really apply some of the skills I learned in banking and a completely different skill set. And it wasn’t something I ever thought I was going to do. didn’t know that I was interested in it, but it was this is an opportunity to learn something new and to grow your skill set, don’t turn it down.

Priscilla: Wow. And it’s great that you were open to something different, right? Like, I think sometimes people get really caught up in like having this very linear path about, oh, well, this is what I should do next. But it sounds like you were pretty open to exploring and that’s what took you to that next opportunity.

Timka: Exactly.

Priscilla: Okay, so was this like a Olivia Pope type situation like, what kind of century are you working on?

Timka: So I think that everyone external thought of it as Olivia Pope, but in reality, maybe the partners at the firm were Olivia Pope think, you know everything. But at my level, it was more of writing documents, drafting talking points, doing a lot of research, supporting, especially C suite executives from across industries. In terms of– I need to get my CEO on CNBC, for example. What does he say, in response to Bill Ackman trying to take over his company? What exactly does he say? Or my CEO, their company is releasing earnings next week. What does she say to CNBC host about their earnings performance? What a reporter saying? What is the general news that these companies need to be aware of? So in a lot of ways, I’ll be honest, I worked just as hard as I did in investment banking. But it was just a different kind of work. I think it was the kind of work that required a different brain in terms of critical thinking, and especially around being able to write and write well. I don’t think that I really learned that ability in banking. But, of course, in corporate PR, you’re talking points need to be perfect. The press release needs to be on point., you have to be really on top of the details, and it taught me a different skill that I did not get in banking.

Priscilla: Okay, so now let’s transition over to the MBA journey chapter, which I’m sure was like a whole thing for you, as it was for me, were you always sold on the idea of going to business school and getting your MBA?

Timka: I did not realize business school was an actual thing until I started working in investment banking. And my director, at the time, Luke was at Harvard grad, he was ex-military. He left the military, went to Harvard, and then worked in investment banking. And I think he was one of the first people that I ever met, or was really like, oh, whoa, this is actually an option. So for me, it was always curious to me that he was always so close to his Rugby Club, he was like, “I’m going out to drinks with the rugby friends.” From his Harvard Business school days. And I think that was something that really made an impression on me was like, Oh, he’s still really close to these folks from grad school. That’s interesting. And then, I felt as I met clients from both investment banking, and even in the PR world, a lot of them had these really impressive grad schools. And then, finally, when it came time to kind of really get serious. I had done investment banking, right, I had worked in PR. I was like, I need to continue the through line, right? If I want to do something different, how do I get there? And so, for me, it was going back to school.

Priscilla: Yeah. So I’m assuming you did MLT’s MBA prep program. Is that right?

Timka: Yes, I did MLT MBA prep, correct.

Priscilla: Yeah. Like that’s like a two-year program. Is that right? Or is it a year and a half, almost, or–?

Timka: Similar to the undergrad program? It really– I think, I would say is two years, I guess all in and I kind of joke and say that was actually one of the hardest points in my career, was being great at the PR job. Because I’ll be honest, I think, again, just like investment banking, it took me a while to get up the learning curve, and to be really good at the PR stuff. So doing PR, responding to clients, working on a client schedule, right? So it’s not like a regular nine to five, you got to be up at six, you’re going to be up at six, right? And studying for the G mat while working was just incredibly difficult for me. So I’ll share this. I took the GMAT five times to get to school.

Priscilla: I believe you, yeah.

Timka: My goal was not just to get into school, my goal was to get in with a scholarship. And, yeah, maybe the third time I could have gotten into somebody’s school, but was that good enough to get some money? No. So it was just really, I think, it really came down to time management and being extra disciplined about how I did everything. So I think when I got really serious about the G mat, those last couple of times, I stopped going out. I stopped drinking. I would show up to work early, to do my work early, to be finished with work by five so then I could sit at my desk for three extra hours and study like, it was no joke because I knew if I did not leave the firm, I probably would have been kind of pigeonholed into PR forever. And that’s not what I necessarily want.

Priscilla: Yeah, it’s I had a similar experience. So I did not take it five times but I took it twice. But there was like a pretty significant difference between those two scores. And you’re right, it’s the balance is so hard. I remember getting up early, doing two or three hours before work, doing work. And then, in the evening, you’re doing that, again, the weekends, it’s a lot.

Timka: Yeah. And so, there’s actually– I’m reading this book called Win the Day by Mark Patterson. And he said something in the book that I wanted to call out, but I don’t know if you’re religious, or anyone out here is religious, but I’ll say this in the book, it’s a book about the top seven habits we need to develop, so on, so forth. And one of the habits he has, it’s called eat the frog. So doing the hardest things of your day, first, ensuring that you’re really intentional about these hard things. And the tagline for Eat the Frog is if you want God to do the super, you’ve got to show up in the natural, you want the university, the super, or whatever you believe in, right? If you want these super amazing, awesome things to happen, you still have to do the work to get there. And I feel that kind of beam is underlining during that that period in my life where it was like, I have to be really intentional about where I want to be. And I don’t want anything that I’ve done to hold me back, right? I want to control all my controllable. So I can control how well I do on the test. Right? Like I can control my effort. I can control how well I write my essays. I can control the people are after recommendations, I can set them up for success to write really positive things about me. And so I had to take the mindset of I don’t want to count myself out the game by not giving my best.

Priscilla: Yeah, absolutely. So you made it to Wharton and congrats. I’m sure that was such an amazing milestone to hit for you. What was it like when you like were making your decision? I remember you were feeling a little split between Wharton and another school. I don’t remember which one it was.

Timka: Yeah, so I applied to seven schools. I got into six, in all six that I got into I got money to go, whether it be a full ride or half ride or some kind of scholarship amount. And so, I think for me, it really came down to the deciding factor was where will I be challenged and pushed the most to grow? Because I knew, for example, I came to a school in Atlanta. Well, I’m from Atlanta, I could just go home every weekend, right? Like, I needed to be sure that I was going to be pushed. And I felt like Wharton was really the place that would push me, and it did. I’m not going to lie to you. It really did. And I absolutely do not regret my decision. I think it was the best decision I made for myself.

Priscilla: Yeah. While you were at Wharton, did you ever feel like imposter syndrome come up for you maybe as you were like recruiting or in the academic field. Did that come up?

Timka: Definitely came up. I would say in the summer before Wharton. So, summer before Wharton, I really was like, I’m going to be a human capital consultant. I wrote my essays about it to get into business schools. I was like, that’s what I’m going to do. And then I realized, Oh, actually, since you don’t have the skill set that you need to be good at that job, right? And this was pre-Wharton. And so, I think that was my first run in with Oh, maybe I’m not as smart as I thought. And then, even at Wharton, there are some classes like microeconomics, where I was felt completely underwater. And I have a finance undergrad. And I was like, “I have a Finance degree. Why is this so hard?” But the reality is, it’s just hard, right? And I had to get comfortable with the fact that you might have been a big fish in a small pond, but the pond will get bigger, right? And so, you will not necessarily always be the big fish and you need to get comfortable with not being the expert all the time. And so, I felt like imposter syndrome just came up a lot in the classroom. Not to say I didn’t get pretty okay grades but that also goes to show that I just had to work really hard to get those grades and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

Priscilla: So tell us a little bit about Courageous Leaps. Tell us how it started and what you do now with clients?

Timka: Sure, so Courageous Leaps is my side baby. It’s my little side project where I run a small boutique career coaching business supporting clients across the country, and helping them think about transitioning their careers, positioning themselves and really focusing on the near-term detail in our resumes or cover letters, and even on LinkedIn and how we present ourselves in the digital age.

And I started this business because as we mentioned earlier, I’m the product of like SEO, MLT, Thurgood Marshall fund, like all of these different programs, which have helped me really pushed me along the way. But those programs aren’t necessarily open to a lot of people, right? You have to apply, you have to be selected, and you have to know about it. I feel like there is a lack of knowledge around our careers, around the stories we tell, and how we tell them to other people. And so, I feel like that is one of my purposes is to help people tell their stories, right? And help people figure out what is the next step. So that’s Courageous Leaps. That’s why I started it and I’ve been able to help 50 something people so far in terms of resumes, cover letters, narrative development, digging into what is it that you want to do and why do you want to do it?

Priscilla: And it’s that work is so needed, especially for people of color that are navigating this space, or when they’re like the first in their families to be doing career stuff, right? I think that’s great that you’re doing this. Where can people find you online?

Timka: Sure. So I am on Instagram @courageousleaps. You can also find me on my website, www.timkalockheart.com and then I’m also on Twitter at timka_lockhart and, yeah, those are the major places.

Priscilla: Thank you so much, Timka, for being with us today, really appreciate you.

Timka: Of course, thank you so much for having me.

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning in to the Early Career Moves podcast. Be sure to visit priscillabulchacoaching.com to join the conversation, access the show notes and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.

Episode 22: Why I Decided to Follow My Calling to Teach Social Studies, with Joseph Frilot

Episode 22: Why I Decided to Follow My Calling to Teach Social Studies, with Joseph Frilot

Show Notes:

When Joseph Frilot graduated as his high school’s valedictorian in southeast Houston and started college at the University of Houston Honors College, he always thought he would become an attorney one day. In his mind, attorneys were considered prestigious and made a lot of money. After his LSAT instructor pushed him to question his ideas about a law career and he had an opportunity to speak to his sister’s graduating high school class, his entire career vision changed before his eyes. On this episode, Joseph tells us what it’s been like to follow his calling to become a social studies educator working with predominantly Black and Brown kids in Austin, Texas.



I know I’m doing, like, 50 different things right now, but these are things that I actually enjoy doing and I found a way to juggle all of them, and it all aligns with everything that I wanted to do in life as far as being a teacher, being an advocate of others, fighting against the school to prison pipeline, fighting for social justice. I’m doing all of those things right now in the classroom.


Welcome to The Early Career Moves podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, proud, Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.


Hey, y’all, welcome to episode 22 of the first season, we are going to soon be wrapping up our first season of The Early Career Moves podcast. We’ll be wrapping up after episode 30, so just keep that in mind as you’re listening that we are going to be wrapping up the first season at episode 30, but so excited to keep this going.

So today, we have Joseph Frilot on the show. Joseph is a teacher leader out of Austin, Texas and I actually crossed paths with him about five years ago when I was a talent recruiter working for Idea Public Schools which is a national charter school district.

Joseph is a social justice leader. He has personal lived experiences that a lot of our students at Idea shared with him, and so it just makes his conviction and his why for the reason he’s doing the work that he’s doing so much stronger, and as you listen to this episode, there are a few themes that are really strong, but one of them is that your career doesn’t always have to look like vertical progression. It can sometimes be horizontal progression, and towards the end of the episode, Joseph really goes into what that looks like for him and why he’s so happy remaining in the classroom as a teacher. So, I thought that was a wonderful perspective that he brought to the table, and Joseph also talks about being a religious person and being spiritual, and how that has also helped him release like a need for control over his career, and instead, he spends a lot of his time listening to God and what he believes God is telling him to do and that is what has led him to pursue his calling in teaching.

So I hope that that resonates with some of my listeners. Our careers can be very personal and because of that, I think if we are people who are religious or spiritual, that plays a big part too. So, if you identify with that, I hope that you find that part of this episode very validating and reassuring.

So with that, I’m happy to introduce Joseph Frilot. He is a University of Houston 2014 grad, he’s from Houston, he also has his Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from UT Austin. It’s a program called UTeach Urban Teachers and he has a secondary social studies certification. Joseph has been teaching sixth and seventh grade pre AP humanities at Idea Public Schools in Montopolis and he’s been doing this for five years. He’s also a humanities course leader. He’s a teacher policy leader, and he also works with Austin Community College as an upward bound academic success coach. So, Joseph has a lot of plates spinning in the air, but he is very passionate about being an anti-racist educator and just advocating and pushing for Black and Brown kids. So, I hope you really enjoy his story.


Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger: Welcome, so Joseph, will you quickly introduce yourself to the audience? Tell us a little bit about where you live, what do you do today? Tell us where you’re from.

Joseph Frilot: Alright, my name is Joseph Frilot and I am in Austin, Texas. I am a sixth and seventh grade social studies teacher at Idea Montopolis College Prep. I am also a great team leader, course leader, teacher policy leader, and also I work as a academic success coach for Austin Community College Upward Bound Program. I think that’s everything, that’s everything.

Priscilla: Yeah, you have a lot on your plate for sure, really cool to hear that. So, for the audience, Joseph and I actually crossed paths maybe five years ago, I want to say, when I was a talent recruiter at Idea Public Schools, and I just remember looking at Joseph’s resume and being like, oh, my God, we have to have him at the school teach humanities because you had such a strong emphasis on social justice issues, and so it’s been so cool, I’ve left Ideas since then, but it’s been so cool to see your journey growing into a full-fledged teacher leader and so excited to hear about that journey, but yeah, so tell us where’d you grow up? Where are you from? Tell us a little bit about that story.

Joseph: Alright. So growing up, I went to schools in Southeast Houston where it’s predominantly Black students, In elementary, I used to get in trouble a lot, and then in fifth grade, I joined band and I joined this math club with this teacher who actually made math seem way more fun than what I thought it was, and so from fifth grade, I just continued to be more of a student that really cared about academics and wanting to do better.

I ended up graduating at the top of my class in high school, so I was the valedictorian of my high school class. This was another predominantly African-American Latino field school, and at that moment, I actually decided to go to U of H and mostly because of the fact that I didn’t want to move outside of Houston because my mom was sick at the time, so I decided to stay in Houston because I wanted to be close to my mom. While in college, I always planned on being an attorney, but then during my senior year, my sister was at the same school that I graduated from, and so I was asked to come back and speak to her high school graduating class and that made me realize that I wanted to go into education, being able to speak to her class. So, after taking the LSAT and trying to convince myself that I wanted to go to law school, I shifted gears and decided to go to grad school instead because I found this amazing grad program at the University of Texas, where it really focused on providing more critical social justice-aligned education to communities that I grew up in like lower income minority communities I grew up in. So, moved to Austin in 2014 and graduated in 2016, and at that point, that’s where, I think, Priscilla, you found me or I found them, and I’ve been working with Idea ever since.

Priscilla: And what was your experience at U of H like? I know you did really well academically and everything, but what was that experience like? What was hard about it or was it pretty straightforward kind of thing?

Joseph: Definitely wasn’t straightforward, and so that kind of influenced what I wanted to do as well, like when I graduated from high school and going into U of H, I wasn’t aware of the. Um, oppression that existed in, we didn’t learn about oppression in high school, and so when I went to college, first off, even if I graduated at the top of my class, I did not feel like I was prepared for college at all. At U of H, I was a part of the honors college and I was probably one of the few African-Americans that was a part of the honors college, and those that were a part of the honors college, there weren’t African-American or that were White, they went to a more affluent schools like Lamar High School in Houston and other schools that I was aware of that was way better than my high school, and so here I am in college, my freshmen year feeling like I don’t belong. So, I felt like I didn’t belong there, I was having a fight through imposter syndrome.

In college, I was a political science major, and so I took social policy classes that informed my thinking on the issues that my school and my classmates went through as far as not receiving the best education and I started to learn that like, this is systemic, these issues that I went through, that I’ve witnessed my classmates going through were systemic, this whole emphasis on tax tests, and students not being motivated and encouraged to think beyond post-secondary education, as far as like, a lot of my classmates were just encouraged to pass the tax tests, and they weren’t encouraged to go to college, especially those that weren’t in AP classes. I learned that this wasn’t just my school, that this was happening, again, in a lot of these schools across our country, and so that kind of motivated me even more to become a teacher and actually want to make a difference. Our education [00:08:40] students because ultimately, I feel like education is one of the great equalizers of upper mobility in our country.

Priscilla: Yeah, so there’s so much that you just said that honestly resonates with me, so I was also a poli sci major in college and it sounds like for you, college was a time where you were able to take a step back and realize how broken the system is, especially in terms of education, opportunities. At the time when you were a Poli Sci major, were you still thinking attorney? Was that kind of where your head was at or when did the teacher thing happen?

Joseph: Yes, I was so focused on being a lawyer. I did a lot of internships with the government, working with congressmen and representatives, and council members. One of the main reasons that made me want to be a lawyer was, like I said, a lot of it was about the money and the glamour that I thought went behind it. During my senior year, I took the LSAT class, I took the LSATs and everything, and I was still thinking about going to law school and it was still looming over my head, like okay, we have to start applying for law school, Joseph, at some point, and when I took the LSAT class, the LSAT teacher made me move away from being a lawyer, too. He was like, “You don’t want to do this. Don’t do it. It’s not as glamorous as you think it will be, It’s long hours, a lot of long hours, you may think the pay is going to be amazing, but it’s really not,” and so that made me question, do I actually want to be a lawyer? Is this actually something I’m actually passionate about? Do I really want to go to law school and pay all of these student loans for something I’m not really passionate about? And when I spoke at my sister’s school, it just really made me change gears completely and made me realize that, oh, I feel like I can definitely thrive in education. Speaking to those students really made me feel a level of inspiration and it gave me the tingly feelings that I didn’t really feel before. I really felt very proud of myself. I was like, dang, I feel so proud of myself. I came to and I just motivated these students to go to college and spoke about college to them. I can actually see myself doing this long-term and I truly felt like education was that path for me.

Priscilla: Yeah, I think that when you were saying that tingly feeling, I totally know what you mean because, so I taught high school in Miami, Florida before becoming a recruiter and I just remember, even though it was really hard when I was a teacher at the beginning, there was just this really intense feeling of fulfillment and connection to students, and so it sounds like you got a little taste of that when you gave that speech or you talked to them, and you were like, okay, how do I get more of this, right?

Joseph: Yes, I didn’t feel like law school was for me. Like I said, I feel like it was something that I was willing to do because I felt like it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t like I was making a decision based on what I wanted to do in life. It was because I felt like it was something that was put on me in, even at a young age, and I also told myself like, do I want to work long hours? Like, do I want to live my life like working long hours unhappy? I didn’t want to do something just for money and to not have a level of comfort and happiness that I feel like I should have. So yeah, when I found the grad program at UT, it really just like, I don’t know, it was like so many things were set in motion because really, that grad program really made me believe that education was the right path for me.

Priscilla: Yeah, and what’s funny is that now that you’ve been a teacher and you have all of these other things going on, you probably realized, you’re still putting in a lot of hours, right?

Joseph: I am, yes.

Priscilla: Like, you can put in so many hours but it’s different when there’s a purpose and a mission behind it, your why is so strong, like, you’re like, I know why I’m doing this versus being in a law profession where you are working those hours but you’re not motivated at all behind the why, right? Like, trying to support a company from getting sued or something, you probably wouldn’t get very excited about that.

Joseph: Exactly. I’m putting in work towards a greater goal of helping others and not just trying to help myself, and that really, that brings the most happiness to me and sense of pride to me, is knowing that I’m making a difference for someone else. I’m not totally doing everything for myself. I’m helping my communities that I really value and want to see grow.

Priscilla: And so when that moment came, when you were like, you know what, I think I’m going to apply to this graduate program, I want to be a teacher, how did your parents or your family members, or your partner, how did people around you respond when you told them, “I think I want to be a teacher”?

Joseph: They were supportive for the most part. At that time, my mom actually passed away, and so it made the transition to Austin easier because I don’t believe I would have ever move. If my mom didn’t pass away, I don’t think I would’ve ever moved out of Houston because she passed away in 2013. I was a senior when she passed, I was starting my senior year, it’s October, 2013 when she passed away, and so it made the transition to going to graduate school to Austin, move to Austin a little bit easier and for the most part, like I said, my family was supportive of that decision, but I did get questions like, “Oh, what happened to law school? I thought you were going to law school? You should go to law school,” and I was like, “I can’t live my life trying to do what people think would make me look good in their eyes,” because I think a part of my wanting to be a lawyer was I know that people look at this in a more upstanding way if I go this route versus this route, but I had to really follow my life’s purpose and follow what I believe the path that God set for me. I can’t live my life according to society’s standards and rules, and I’m so glad I didn’t because when I think back over everything is I followed the path that God has led me to, not the path that I wanted to leave myself too, so that kind of brings me the most pride then and the most sense of value than anything else.

Priscilla: So, your spirituality played a big role in you also making that decision in terms of what you’re supposed to be doing, right?

Joseph: Right. It’s just a lot of things that happened that didn’t seem like it was a coincidence. It was just so many things that happened, but senior year, that, I can just be like, oh, this happened by accident, like for example, speaking to my sister’s graduating class. It was just so many things that, so many opportunities that presented itself to me that led me to follow these paths. I wasn’t doing my own thing at that time. It was like, alright, God, I’m gonna do everything, whatever path you set me up for, I’m just gonna follow it, and that’s what I’ve always done for the most part, like I’ve never just like chased after something; things have always come to me for the most part. So yeah, I definitely believe that God led me to where I’m at right now, as far as my life.

Priscilla: Yeah, yeah, that’s really beautiful. It’s like being open to life and where it takes you and listening, like the ego can be very much like, I should have this, I should do this, or really concerned with what other people think, and it sounds like you’ve successfully silence that voice and followed what you believe God is telling you to do.

Joseph: Yeah, and funny story, actually, my senior year too, I was actually given the opportunity to do an internship. It was a paid internship too, in Washington, DC. It would have required me to pretty much give up me going to graduate school and doing a career, doing a two-year internship in Washington DC, and this was at time of like when Barack Obama was president, and so I was like, oh my gosh, like here I am being presented with another opportunity. In the midst of me going to grad school, here I am being presented with this opportunity to do a paid internship in DC, which I had the chance of actually visiting DC before that and loved the area and everything. It was another fork in the road decision to have to make and I ultimately chose grad school. I was like, okay, no, I am going to grad school, I’m following, I do want to be a teacher, this is something I actually seriously want to do.

Priscilla: So that happened your senior year of college also? That is wild to me. So, it’s like, that year really was pretty pivotal for you career-wise because of what happened in your personal life and then this huge opportunity in DC, and then you speaking to your sister’s graduating class, thinking about teaching, finding the UT program, it’s almost like that was just such a huge moment for you to really be really clear with yourself about what you wanted to do.

Joseph: Yes, it definitely was. It was a huge year.

Priscilla: Yeah. Okay, so those two years in Austin, you did a Master’s in Education. It’s called the UTeach Urban Teachers Program. What did you do during those two years and what was it like?

Joseph: Oh, during those two years, we took a lot of classes, a lot of training when it comes to writing curriculum that focused on how do we teach students in a more critical and engaging way within the teaks? So, pretty much gaining a lot of training in that area and also allowing us to learn about researchers and philosophers that pretty much were more geared towards learning about the oppression that exists in our country and globally, and the ways in which we can resist, and I’m learning how to deconstruct the dominant narrative that’s typically taught in history. We’re taught a dominant White narrative in history. How do we make this more diverse? How do we make the stories in history that we tell more inclusive of other voices that are also left out of our history? And we learned how to teach too. Our first year, we had to intern at actual schools in Austin ISD. I was a student intern at various schools where I had the opportunity to gain a lot of teaching experience before I actually stepped into the classroom.

Priscilla: Okay, so one thing I’m really curious about is for your graduate level program, you were in the classroom, I’m sure, in some way doing like student teaching. What was it like going from what you imagined it would be like to teach versus the reality of your first year teaching at Idea/? Was that a rough transition for you?

Joseph: Oh, my God, it was really a huge transition. I thought that my grad program prepared me for everything. I really thought that I was like, okay, I’m ready, I’m prepared, and my first year of teaching at Idea, it was not the best. It was good, it was better than what I heard other people went through, but it was definitely what people described the first year to be, like, it was definitely a first year of teaching for me. After my second year, I was like okay, I have great classroom management and great culture of achievement in my classroom, but one of my struggles was that I wasn’t building relationships with my students. They looked at me now as like the authoritative figure, which I was happy with, I was okay with that, but like I said, each year, I always reflect on what I can do better. That second year, I reflected on how I can actually build better relationships with my students. I wanted students to not just see me as the authoritative figure, I want them to see me as someone that they can trust ad also someone that’s fun because I wasn’t the fun teacher. So, between these years now and then, it’s been my challenge to find a sweet spot between being this classroom management guru that has high culture of achievement and also being a fun teacher that students can trust on. I want to be the best teacher that I can be, and part of that is reflecting and growing on everything that you experienced as a teacher, and that’s something I just try to do continuously.

Priscilla: Yeah, and so are you someone who’s thinking about staying in the classroom for a long time? I ask because I feel like teachers, when you get to a solid place, there’s a lot of pressure to consider school leadership and just a lot of other roles. How have you thought through that decision about like, do I stay in the classroom or do I leave kind of thing?

Joseph: That’s a great question. To be honest, I have been asked to go into leadership roles. I’ve had people on LinkedIn even reach out to me, and for me, I went into education to be a teacher, I didn’t go into it to do anything else, and that for me, I really enjoy being in the classroom. I’ll  tell myself, like I’m going to teach until I can’t no more, pretty much, until I physically can’t anymore, and to be honest, I never imagined that my job would be as lucrative financially as it is because of all the roles that I play and having another job, like I’m not feeling pressured as far as financially-wise to leave out the classroom. Pretty much, if I was to leave out the classroom, it would be a pay cut that I would have to take a pay cut and more people I’m responsible for, and so that’s just something that don’t really excite me, is like, do I really want to take on a responsibility that requires me to be responsible for more adults and more people, if it’s not paying significantly more than what I’m getting paid? I make around the same amount of money as a principal, so it really just doesn’t make sense as far as my mental wellbeing and as far as for finances, like my happiness comes first and I just don’t want to be the person that’s working late nights or thinking about too many different things that I don’t necessarily have to. I know I’m doing, like, different things right now but these are things that I actually enjoy doing, and I found a way to juggle all of them, so as long as I’m able to like juggle all the things that I’m doing right now, and it all aligns with everything that I wanted to do in life as far as being a teacher, being an advocate of others, fighting against the school to prison pipeline and fighting for social justice. I’m doing all those things right now in the classroom and I’m also able to do things outside of the classroom, too. It’s just like I’m in a very blessed and fortunate position that I don’t really have to think about wanting to progress vertically career-wise.

Priscilla: Yeah, I really appreciate that answer because I can tell that you have thought about this a lot and you have weighed the different factors that contribute to career fulfillment, and one part of that is finances. Another part of that is what gives you energy? What excites you? And then, another part is that mental wellbeing piece, and yeah, if you move into a school leadership role, it is really cool, I’m sure there’s a lot of growth there, but you do give up other pieces, and like, my mom was a school teacher for 30-something years, never wanted to become a school leader, and so she didn’t, and she was just like, I don’t want to work with adults, I love working with kids, that’s what gives me energy in life, and I just think that’s so cool because society will tell you, “Why don’t you just move up? Like, move up to the next level?” And sometimes, success doesn’t look that way.

Joseph: And I’m a huge proponent of horizontal growth. You don’t have to progress vertically to maintain, to make money or to grow in your career, especially one thing at Idea, that’s one thing I don’t have to necessarily worry about, it only makes sense to me if I’m looking for a higher title pretty much, and like I said, I don’t really care for titles that much anymore, I still do, but not really to the point where I’m willing to give up my mental well-being and comfort for something that doesn’t pay significantly more. So, I feel like I’m good where I’m at for right now.

Priscilla: Yeah, awesome. Thank you so much for being with us today, Joseph. It’s been really cool learning about your story, how you got to where you are today, so yeah, thanks for being with us.

Joseph: No problem, Priscilla, thank you for having me.


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