Zollyann Howell

Walking Away From My Fulltime Career Saved My Life

Before my 30th Birthday, I spent my many days asking myself, “What do you want Zee?”.

I had spent most of my twenties checking off boxes. Went to college, Started Graduate school. Worked fulltime as a teacher, had my own car, home, and what I thought was a happy life. Oh, and not to forget had three whole kids! I thought I had life together because growing up, especially within a Caribbean family, having a college degree and working a decent job was goals.

For women, especially women of Caribbean decent, we are rarely allowed the space to deviate from expectations, those of our loved ones, society, and everyone else in between. So, I tried to make it all work.

There I was a new college graduate with tons of internships experiences and notable references I’d racked up from professors and other colleagues before graduating. I was offered a fulltime position at a major network in Chicago but was terrified of moving solo to a new state, so I turn the position down. Yeah, now I think about it, I can add it to my list of life regrets.

Just months after graduating college, I found myself jobless, back in my mother’s home, and pregnant. I was unhappy and spend many nights crying asking myself “how did I get myself to this point?”. I could sense the disappointment from my mom’s stares and slick comments each day as I got dressed and walked out the door on my daily job hunt excursions. I eventually found a part-time job working as an after-school teacher. Nothing happened as planned! And to be honest, becoming a new mother was incredibly hard for me. I wasn’t happy with the relationship I was in, but I felt as if I had no choice but to settle because I am now a 22-year-old pregnant college graduate. Not to mention, going into labor two months early due to stress. My son spent about three weeks in the hospital before coming home. After bringing my son home, I often felt lonely, isolated, and exhausted. I really needed my mother in those tough moments and to be mothered myself. I needed a whole system of support. I needed a village, but I only had myself.

Six months later, my son’s father and I got into an altercation, and I used it as my opportunity to leave out of the relationship and never looked back. I remember fighting and screaming for my life while my son was screaming crying laying in his crib. I decided in that moment that I’ve had enough. It was a little past four in the morning and I called my mother crying asking her to come pick me up while I started throwing whatever I could in a suitcase for my son and me. I was happy to be back in my mother’s home, arms and in her presence. But our relationship was still a bit rocky. Eventually that excitement left, and I started to feel stressed and overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children deeply, but something happened to me after becoming a mother. I lost myself for a little bit. I think this is probably normal, but I wasn’t prepared for the experience. I was trying to manage raising my son while working part-time, living in my mother’s home, and dealing with your typically relationship, baby daddy and mommy drama.  I felt both internal and external pressure to make a choice about who I really was when the truth was, I was more than the sum of all parts of me, a daughter, a mother, a teacher, and a creative who wanted to make a real difference in this world. So, while I was just trying to figure out how to exist and take care of my son, I was also dealing with a toxic environment within all the relationships in my life.

A year later, I decided to enroll in Graduate School. While completing my registration on campus, I ran into an older woman, and we got to conversing about our life and goals. She mentioned she knew somewhere that was looking for full-time teachers and she thought that I would be a great fit. It was that moment my life started to change for the better. I took her up on her offer and went in for an interview with her connect. A week later I had a fifty-seven thousand job offer letter sitting in my inbox waiting for my signature. That job became the start of me acknowledging that I deserve more in life and most importantly I had a child I deserve to give the world to. Just months after starting that job, I was able to move out of my mom’s home into my own apartment and enjoyed the finer things in life with my son. It felt like my life was getting better. I started to go out more with old friends, entered back into the dating world and truly started to enjoy life.

After a year of working as a teacher I felt proud. Being a teacher should hold a sense of accomplishment and pride, being able to work in service to others, especially children. However, that wasn’t always the case for me. As a teacher, I was working in a school environment where I felt like they never truly valued me or my sometimes my students. They valued their data more. I felt unworthy and unappreciated at work. Because of that, I questioned myself and whether or not my talents were good enough. I absorbed the burden of not just having to do my job as a black teacher but doing it while also facing bias and racism from some colleagues, as well as the mental toll of watching my Black students and parents experience it, as well.

My mental and physical health started to take a toll on me. The pressure got to be too much. I couldn’t show up to work as my authentic self. Ultimately, I made the difficult decision to leave that environment. Only to end up in several environments that felt just like it. I felt like a runaway teacher. Going from schools to schools each year trying to find the perfect work environment. I always try to stay and give my all because I knew my presence made a difference for my students and parents

Several years later I reconnected with an old high school love, and we started to spend a lot of time together and decided to give our young love another shot. It felt real in those early moments, I thought he could have been the one. But I was blinded. I ignored every red flag that was thrown at me because I desperately wanted companionship. A year after being in that relationship I got pregnant and gave birth to my second child. Then two years later my third and last. A lot happened within that two-year time frame that really broke me mentally, physically, and emotionally, including my dad passing away. At that point I think I had given up completely on life but there’s was always something in me that just won’t let me call it quits. Then of course, I now had three beautiful faces staring at me each day smiling innocently and giving me unlimited hugs.

When I left, I left teaching entirely. I left to focus my time and efforts on a venture at I wanted to do my entire life and that was to have my own school. So, I started the process to open my own in-home daycare center. I was finally able to do what I always wanted to do and on my own terms. I entered a new identity: I became an entrepreneur.

Sadly, as Black women, we’re not often given much wiggle room in terms of who or what we choose to be. I felt like I had to choose. Either be a mother or be an entrepreneur. I remember when I told my mother that I quit my job, she said, “again?”. Then she asked, “Well, what are you going to do now?” When I told her about my plans for the daycare, she felt a bit more relieved. But I thought to myself, why did I have to make a choice because of what other people thought I should be doing with my life? We are conditioned to believe that we’re checking off boxes for success when we are actually boxing ourselves in. I realized that just being a mother and a teacher was not enough for me. I wanted and needed the space to just be me, all of me.

Leaving my career and starting my journey of being an entrepreneur was not an easy road, but I kept driving. Stopping at every intersection, slowing down on those bumpy roads, dusting the snow off my windshield when things got cold and fueling my tank up just enough to keep me going.

I knew I was about to hit a new decade of my life and I needed change. I needed to experience Zollyann. I love my children. I love my work. But I also knew that my purpose on earth is meant to help others and I wanted to help make a better world for my children, too. I have spent the last two years rediscovering who I am, experiencing the grief of a parent, loving up on my children, trying to co-parent and building the businesses that I’ve dreamt of as a kid. I refuse to settle and keep myself stagnant. I am living wholly, fully, and intentionally. Finding myself and discerning my true passion saved my life. Today, I am ready to enjoy Zollyann, love Zollyann in a different way and that is one of the most precious gifts I could ever give myself and my children.

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Thank you for sharing! There are many women experiencing everything you did, hopefully they can apply the lessons early


Such an inspiration, always! Please continue to share your story. It is inspiring so many of us who follow you.


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