Plain old fired.
Duanecia Evans, a rising star in Connecticut’s education space, learned how that felt, being lost and unemployed for the first time in her life.
The overwhelmingly relatable fail, Evans said, can only be understood with this piece of context: “From Jan. 5, 2004 on, I have always had a job.”
For Evans, who now serves as the senior managing director of national black community alliances at Teach For America (TFA), what came after the comma following her name has always defined her.
“It was the thing I prided myself in doing,” she said during the final edition of #FailMonth episodes on WNHH FM’s “Werk It Out” program with Mercy Quaye. “Both out of circumstance and necessity, but I think hard work was instrumental in who I began to identify myself as.”
In 2015, at the age of 26, Evans left “a very comfortable job” at the Connecticut branch of TFA to gain direct service experience with youth at a not-for-profit organization in New York.
At the request of a mentor and family friend, she jumped into a position where she was told she’d have to hit the ground running. And she did just that.
“I came in really green and mad excited to take on a bunch of different projects and really prove to myself that I could stand outside of a comfortable space,” she said. “Until nine month later [when] I fell flat on my face.”
Evans said just a month into her new role she wrote down a date, Oct. 7. On that date, she promised herself that she would quit her job, which had quickly proven to be a bad environment for her.
As Oct. 7 approached, Evans was tasked with firing a number of her staff – something she said was traumatic in its own right. Then, on Oct. 7, she was called into her supervisor’s office and let go in the same abrupt fashion as her staff.
“I felt like I had gotten dumped by a boyfriend I knew I had to leave,” she said.
On her way home that day, she said suddenly she was faced with a new, uncomfortable narrative for herself: “It was the first time is 12 years that I didn’t have a job to make up my identity.”
This failure, Evans said, reshaped how she would view herself. She spent the next six months unemployed and at odds with the publicly successful personal brand she had created for herself.
“[That time] could have been traumatizing, but instead it was so healing,” she said. “I had rid myself of everything that didn’t serve me. By the time I [was] starting working again, not only was I gainfully employed, I was ironically back at Teach for America – a space that I had known I could be an ‘intrepreneur’ in and do work that was connected to my passions.”
An intrapreneur is someone within an organization who has the flexibility, autonomy, and expertise to bring innovation to a space both systemically and programmatically, Evans said. Being gainfully employed and an intrapreneur is critical to her theory of leadership.
She said she believes in building change from within systems and organizations, which in her opinion is how lasting societal change is built. Having the strategic and programmatic autonomy to impact change within an organization, for a cause she care about, is instrumental how I define success, she said.
Evan’s story of being fired isn’t wrapped up as nicely as that, she admitted. She said during that time she was forced to do the things she wanted to do. And while collecting unemployment and going to therapy, she found clarity in being forced to slow down.
“There was struggle in the meantime,” she said. “It was hard, it was incredibly difficult, but to date, it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I know now that I can navigate it…Diamonds are created under pressure, and I came back clearer than ever.”
After the ordeal, Evans has some advice to those who find themselves fired and failing: Don’t wait for the ball to drop to learn a valuable lesson.
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full episode of “Werk It Out” on WNHH FM.