It was my dream job out of graduate school. Then, I got fired.
Since my junior year of college, I thought I was destined to work as a minister. I dreamed of starting a church in New York City. But, I had never started a church before and needed more experience.
Then an opportunity to work at a recently formed Korean-American church in Queens fell in my lap, and I took it. I was one step closer to my dream.
After graduating with my master’s, I packed all of my things and moved to New York. A year and a half into working at the church and living in Queens, something happened.
There was a staff meeting where the lead pastor, another full-time person, and I met to discuss our work. We met at a Dunkin Donuts.
I just arrived, and I don’t remember how the conversation started. I do know the pastor was criticizing me. And, something inside of me snapped.
Before I knew it, “You’re a control freak!” flew out of my mouth. The lead pastor was shocked, and his face turned red, and he asked me to repeat what I said. So, I did and got up and left.
A few days later, the elders summoned me to meet with them. I went to the church’s office. They called me into the conference room and just slid a letter to me. My eyes scanned it, and I saw that my position at the church was terminated.
Of course, there were other issues that led me to that place: Cultural differences, my arrogance, the lead pastor wanting me to report to him all of my activities (work and personal) for the whole day in fifteen minutes increments. But, that didn’t matter.
I felt like I was robbed of my dream, and I wanted to sit in my bitterness and anger. After months of stewing in those feelings, I realized how useless they were.
The trajectory of my life wasn’t going to happen as I had planned, and I needed to accept that fact. The dream, as I knew it, was over.
How did someone pivot from working at a church? I had no idea where to start. The only thing clear to me was that I wanted to stay in New York. But, I needed to find a job.
Right when I needed one, a job found me.
A few months after getting fired, a woman from church told me that there was an opportunity at the bank where she worked. I immediately told her that I’d take it.
It was a temp position at Citigroup, which, in 2004, was the largest bank in the world. It was my first “office job” ever. And, at first, I was terrible at it. Working in a cubicle just didn’t suit me.
Then, I started to see how exciting it was working in a company with a global reach. And the person who hired me also gave me a few tips. She told me to learn how to help people around me, no matter if they were above or below me. She advised me to add value wherever I was.
My work was a mixture of data entry, customer service, and data analysis. It was an entry level position. It was the furthest thing from sexy.
Regardless, I started to work hard at it. I asked my co-workers if there were ways I could help them with their work, and many of them took me up on it. I was thriving and even enjoying what I was doing.
After more than a year, I was hired on full time. For this position, I was doing only data-entry. I took piles of documents that had the same data points and plugged the information into an old software program. I did that all day, every day.
And, I worked hard at my job, putting in twelve to fifteen hours a day. My ability to focus on details vastly improved, and I became the fastest and most efficient person on the team. That’s right. I became great at data-entry.
Meanwhile, I was also learning from those around me. I was noticing how people set up processes, communicated to one another, and led change and improvements. It was there that I saw how to run and operate a business.
One day after work, I met a person at a happy hour. She and I became friends. Eventually, we grabbed lunch, and she told me she was getting promoted.
I told her that I would love to work with her if her current position was still open. A few weeks later, she got me an interview that lasted ten minutes. Two weeks after the interview, I got the job.
It was a huge leap upward. It was a revenue generating position at the bank. I was going to become a licensed financial advisor, working beside people who mostly went to ivy league schools for business.
I went to a small state school in Missouri that no one knew, and got a master’s that trained me to become a pastor. Now, my clients would be some of the country’s wealthiest and smartest people. I had no idea how I was going to learn how to talk to them about their money and investments. But, I was determined to do it.
Working with the clients was great, even though I must have sounded like an idiot to them at first. There were countless times I told a client that I’d get back to them when they had a question because I had no idea what the answer was. But, I worked and studied and became more knowledgeable every day.
After a few months, I started to perform well. Toward the end of the year, I brought in a thirty million dollar client. But, by this point, I was growing restless. I had a great job, with a seemingly bright future, but there was something missing.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to pursue something different. But, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just thought that I should try something new.
So, I quit the bank.
I took a pay cut and started work at a three-person company that designed high-end retail space. The owners were world-class designers in their field, and I wanted to try working at a small business driven by great design.
They wanted some business help and offered me a position. It was a six-month trial. But, after six months, there wasn’t much for me to do. So, we agreed that it was best for me to leave.
By this time, we were in the Great Recession. I took a month off to think about my next move and pray. That was when I was struck with the idea of starting a company.
I asked myself what is the worst that could happen. What I came up with was: lose all of my savings, move back to my mom’s place, and look like a loser.
That didn’t sound too bad to me, so I committed myself to becoming an entrepreneur. I had no idea if I was ready but believed it was something that I needed to try. What I discovered was surprising.
When I formed a company in New York, I was amazed at the amount of paperwork that was required. But, since I worked countless hours in data entry, handling the legal paperwork and slugging through the details was pretty easy for me.
The experience working with the bank’s clients gave me my first customer. He needed a website for his hotel in Ireland. And, since I knew how to communicate with clients and pitch them ideas, it helped me win my first project.
As the company started to grow, I had years of experience of working in a professional context, setting up processes, and working through change.
When our proposals were rejected over and over, I was able to bounce back from it. I had learned how to face rejection from getting fired from the church.
I was led on a path that I didn’t plan. And what felt like wandering, in fact, was preparing me to become an entrepreneur. I couldn’t see that while I was going through it, but when I look back now it’s clear to me.
There were years when I had no idea where was going. It looked haphazard, but, in reality, I was getting the experience to do what I love.
My dream was never to start a church, but to grow a company. I was never destined to be a pastor but an entrepreneur.
The death of one dream gave rise to a new one. And, getting fired from my first real job gave me the opportunity to find my true calling.