After a long and winding career journey (from eLearning designer, PM, to UXer), during March 2020, I landed myself my dream role. I was leading research at one of the longest running edtech companies in the world during one of the most transformational periods of education. A company that set me out on my very own career path years earlier. It felt like my entire career had led me to that moment.

I onboarded into my role at the end of March 2020 (back when COVID was still in its infancy). From the moment I stepped foot into my role, I hit the ground running. I spent my time building partnerships with team members, talking to customers, evangelizing what I was learning, and training my teammates on the value of being customer-centric. It was during one of the most tumultuous times in online education and I was fully aware of it. I wanted to do anything and everything I could to advocate for learners and their experiences. 

The trouble started during Summer 2020 when I was approached by a university to become a potential adjunct professor.  It was such a transformational time in education. I wanted to give all that I could to the mission and put my skills to use; not only inside my organization, but outside as well. I reached out to HR at the company to see if I could pursue the option of being an adjunct. After weeks of talks and synching with legal, I was informed that employees were strictly prohibited from doing any outside knowledge sharing with others.

My heart was completely shattered. How could a learning company that talked about democratizing education have an archaic policy that said it’s employees couldn’t teach? It truly didn’t make sense to me. 

After that moment, I knew the ball was in my court. I took a step back and tried to shift perspectives and think of alternatives as much as possible. I consulted with a selected group of friends and I only saw one path forward. I made the abrupt decision to step down from my role and the request of management, I never shared the real reason why I left with many of my team members or wider friend group. 

Why leave?

For over ten years, teaching and learning has become the foundation of who I am.  To be an educator is to be of service. It is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have in life. Teaching is also a beautiful way to continue deepening your own personal practice.

When I was told that continuing to work at a company I loved would mean not teaching, it felt like going against who I was as a person. It felt like I would be repressing a piece of my soul and no job is worth that.

The Fallout 

After leaving, I spent a few months dancing through some consulting gigs trying to figure out my next steps. When I had began in 2020, I went into the role thinking I’d be there for at least a few years and in the blink of an eye it had ended. 

My experience at the employer always felt unfinished. I felt shame and frustration that I never got to stay and realize the full vision that I set forth. At the same time, I felt betrayed by a company I had given so much to. I kept asking myself whether it was a mistake to leave or not. It became difficult to trust myself and my own decisions. 

After leaving, even though I had left the role, I saw my passion of teaching start to fade.  I stopped writing on my personal blog and stopped creating content. I questioned whether I was even worthy enough to share things with others. 

Why share now?

Last weekend I watched the documentary The Wisdom of Trauma and the Dr. Gabor Mate described trauma not as the bad things that happen to you, but rather what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you. In other words, trauma means disconnecting from our authentic selves. 

In that moment it hit me. I had been through a workplace trauma. I was still responding like the threat was still there even though it was removed. 

The truth is our capitalistic societies put profit and growth over everything, including the employees who get the organizations to where they are. As someone with a background in organizational development, I’ve had some hard realizations over the past few months. For instance, despite all of our good intentions that departments like HR and legal are there for one simple thing: to protect the business. 

At the same time, I’ve also been spent the last few months reading countless articles about the experiences of women of color In the workplace. From Timnit Gebru, Vivianne Castillo, and most recently Naomi Osaka. Their experiences have showed me that I am not alone. That no job is worth giving up a piece of your soul.

The unfortunate reality is that is not the first workplace trauma that I’ve been through and it likely wont be the last. Above all, it has taught me about the value of sticking to your instincts even in times of difficulty. It has taught me the importance of gauging company values before joining a team – not only what is said, but the actions that are carried out on a daily basis.

The truth is, I’m still healing from my experience. I’m 4 weeks into adjuncting a summer course for the OPWL program at BSU and I’m learning to share, coach, and guide others again. I am truly grateful for the students. Each time after I speak with a student from the program, I always make sure to pause and find myself thinking “This is what it’s all about”.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones way”

Vikor e. frankl

5 Comments

  1. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and your wise words, Ted. It was definitely a learning experience that allowed me to reflect and recognize my own values and how they may relate or conflict against an organization I might work for.

  2. Beautifully said, Roberta. Company resources are designed to protect company assets, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it can set difficult conditions when trying to live in alignment with personal values. Teaching is at the heart of it for you, and anything directly taking you off that true North is something to question.

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