Minding My Black Owned Business: Creating a Life Not a Career
As a kid, maybe around eight or nine, I remember attending family gatherings, where one of my many uncles would summon me to bring them a drink. Upon my return, they would ask me in their loud and half-drunk tone, “What are you going to be when you grow up? Go ahead, tell them!” In these moments, I knew there were only about three correct answers to this question in an African family. Any other answer would potentially get me some kind of lecture about the value of education and aiming higher. So, mostly to get out of this awkward male banter, I stuck with my answer of becoming a doctor.
At some point at an earlier age, possibly around five or six, I must have told my parent or another family member I wanted to be a doctor. I don’t have any recollection of this, but I am sure it wasn’t organically my idea, but something my parents tried to implant in my spirit.
Like many other kids, before the age of 16, I had no idea what it would take to become a doctor besides declaring it. I definitely wasn’t getting this information from my half- intoxicated uncle, who inquired about my life only to prove to a family friend that all the kids in our family were ‘smart’ and headed somewhere. Despite these sometimes-uncomfortable moments at family events, I enjoyed my family having pride in my abilities, even if it was mostly to show off how good they were. Their pride in me did make me very sure of one thing: I was going to college and maybe, even possibly, going to be a doctor.
Senior year came, and I did just that! I went to college, and not even before I finished my second year, I abandoned the ‘dream’ of becoming a medical doctor. The pursuit didn’t end in some kind of dramatic, I felt like I gave up on a dream kind of way. My change came from exposure to a world of options I wasn’t aware even existed. With a refocused energy, I earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Rutgers University, Livingston College. I went on and completed a master’s in mental health counseling and behavioral medicine at Boston University, School of Medicine.
Fast forward to 2017. The year I relocated to Maryland, and had worked in academic advising for almost five years at Rutgers. With a new position at Johns Hopkins as a health professions advisor, I started to do so much self-reflection on how I even ended up in the world of advising, a position and life I never thought of until it happened.
Over the years, I have come to realize my story is a common narrative. The pressure felt about knowing your life plan is not one only felt by students of African descent or first-generation students. For many, there is this pressure to have your life planned out before you even have a chance to live it.
For some, that child-like awe of a profession or career seamlessly turns into purposeful living. This is awesome! Congrats to the 2% of society that applies to (not an accurate stat, so don’t go googling it). For the 98% of us left in society, it is not that simple. Though I have first-hand experience, working with students from minoritized and marginalized communities has further proven that career development is even more complicated when you don’t even have a ladder to start your climb. I remember speaking with my research advisor in my senior year of college, and he encouraged me to be ‘curious’ as I thought about my career. In my head, I thought, “that sounds nice, but I can’t afford to be curious.”
It was an odd concept to think I could prioritize my curiosities. Finding purpose sounded more like a luxury to those who did not need to show financial fruits of their labor or their parent's labor, as we were often reminded.
If I knew then what I know now, I would say he was right; it pays to create a life and not a career. This realization and many other impactful moments helped me put my thoughts, ideas, and passions into starting my advising and consulting company this past January.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in our world in so many ways. I think we hear about the negative shifts in the news enough, so I also believe it is worthwhile to highlight some positive shifts. For so many, 2020, and continuing into 2021, being restricted in travel, communication methods, and interaction has pushed us to change. We have shifted in our perspectives, been forced to reprioritize our values and needs, and helped many see opportunities in challenges.
Starting Powerhouse Connect, LLC| Advising and Consulting was an idea brewing for over three years. What was different about 2021? Almost EVERYTHING. But if I had to narrow it down to significant moments, it would be:
Serving as a strategist for a social entrepreneurship start-up for three years. Not really knowing what I was doing, but using my skills gained and connecting with the mission to empower others in creating change in the ways they were most passionate.
Finding myself frustrated and exhausted by social injustices taking place in communities, and though I served on committees to address issues in diversity, equity, and inclusion, I didn’t feel like I was enough to be part of the change I wanted to see.
Having a job while working from home, allowing me to clear debt, plan for the future, then getting a stimulus check that I felt somewhat obligated to do something besides buying myself things with.
Yes, I started my business with my “stimmy!” When times get hard, play smart.
My business idea stemmed from my experiences, and I am simply trying to bring solutions to complex problems. I believe great ideas and goals turn to reality when people can think through new ideas with someone who has information about how to make their plan work. As an advisor, I hope to join people on their individual career development journeys while also making it a priority to help create opportunities that tackle complex issues in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Powerhouse Connect’s vision is to build a better tomorrow by causing a disruption to how it’s always been done.
Gone are the days of just standing and shaking my head at all that I see wrong with the world. I now have some skin in the game, and I aim to energize people and communities to play an active role in this dynamic leveled human experience that is social change.
Zuri Obado, Founder/Prime Mover of Powerhouse Connect and Pre-Health advisor at Johns Hopkins University