How to Quit Your Job and Create a Life on Your Own Terms with @KandiaJohnson

Are you currently working in corporate America? Are you ready to quit your day job and finally work for yourself?

If so, you’re definitely not alone. The desire to quit one’s job is one that I encounter a lot in my line of work. The drive to be one’s own boss and live life on one’s own terms is one of the most common reasons people have for wanting to build their personal brands.

This is such a hot topic which is why I’m so excited to bring you the story of a woman who is sure to inspire you – especially for those of you who are working in corporate America. If you’re currently working in a job that you don’t love and craving to strike out on your own and explore entrepreneurship, please keep reading.

Kandia Johnson is a communications strategist and freelance writer with over 15 years of experience in strategic communications, public relations and project management. I met Kandia on Twitter, as I meet so many fabulous people. I became intrigued after I heard her story, and I knew that you would want to hear it as well.

Kandia is the author of the new ebook, Wake Up, Slay, Repeat: An 8 Step Guide to Quitting Your Job and Creating a Life on your Own Terms.  Get ready to learn how she struck out on her own, created a life on her own terms, and how you can do the same. Enjoy the interview.


AML: Give us a brief snapshot about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

KJ: I’m Kandia Johnson, a communications strategist and content creator. In a nutshell, I’m what you might call a fixer and a builder. I help companies fix barriers to communication by guiding them through what has to happen now, in six months and even in five years to grow their businesses. And, I love helping people build their personal brands and turn their ideas into reality using social, print or digital communication channels.

AML:  You left a six-figure job to strike out on your own. You were successful career-wise and yet you turned your back on the previous career success you’d achieved  How did you muster your courage?

KJ: I always tell people that for about 10-15 years, I was climbing this corporate ladder of success but my ladder was placed on the wrong building. I was at a top tier consulting firm specializing in strategic communications and adult learning. I was flying across the country helping my clients with everything from how to adopt the latest technology to how to promote a new product or service. Throughout that time, I never fit into that corporate structure and I was thinking “Okay maybe it’s this job…” and I would switch jobs. And then I would think “Okay, maybe it’s this project…” because I was in consulting at the time and I would switch projects but I was still left incredibly unhappy.

But I continued to climb. I had the salary, the house, the luxury car, but behind all of that, I was miserable.  Like many people, I was told to go to school, go to college, get a degree, get married, and get a good job with benefits. My parents encouraged me to get a good city or state job, and get a good pension.  I did all of that but I was completely unhappy so I struggled with that up until 2013.

I struggled with it until I just got tired of feeling that way, and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I decided to take a trip to Africa with my family.  I was on safari and I told them that I felt like I was living a double life. None of these material things mattered and I wasn’t happy. So I made the decision that I would not go back and I returned to the states and gave my employer 3 weeks notice.

AML: So, when you gave your employer 3 weeks notice, what did you have lined up in terms of employment and income? 

KJ: I had about $11,000 in the bank which, in hindsight, definitely isn’t enough. My plan was to build my contacts,  go to a temporary agency or contracting agency and take on short-term projects until I could figure it out.  I returned home and I had my savings. Then I put my house up for rent.

AML:  You put your home up for rent? Or you put a few rooms up on AirBnb?

KJ: No I fully rented out my house. Each state has Section 8 which is a government assistance rental housing program and that’s guaranteed income [for landlords]. I gave up my house and opted to go back home to live with my mom in her second bedroom until I could figure it all out.

One of the biggest mistakes that people who want to leave their jobs and work for themselves make is they go right in wanting to market something and create something. Often, they forget that there are two steps prior to that. First, you have to get really clear about who you are and what your definition of success is. And then you have to realize that there will be some sacrifices. You will have to not only curb your expenses, but sometimes even your lifestyle. You will need a whole different mindset when making this transition from being an employee to being self-employed.

AML: I think that’s powerful that you say there has to be a sacrifice because that is one of the things that I see most often with people who are reaching out to me for personal branding support in a coaching capacity or just people I meet in passing at events and conferences. So many people are not prepared to make a sacrifice. People might look at your life now and say “Oh wow you’ve got it so good…” but there was a period of extreme sacrifice and for you, having your home and knowing that “Okay my mortgage is a financial liability for me right now that’s going to stress me out during this period of transition….”  But you had the foresight, the courage and the humility quite frankly, to rent it out.  That’s  incredibly powerful.

KJ: To be clear, it hasn’t been an easy road. That is one of the hardest things that I have ever done.  But I have been been so happy and I am incredibly excited about my life right now.

AML:  You had a lot of things that people are working their whole lives to get. You had the nice car, the nice home, the six-figure salary, and you worked pretty much your entire life to get all of that. What was it like to turn your back on it?

KJ: For me, I really had to get clear and get quiet and be still on what it meant for me to be successful. That meant logging off and shutting down social media, just to really figure out what I needed to do. I needed to understand what really made me happy.

I had to figure out what was the body of work that I wanted to be known for. I was certain that it wasn’t working for a top tier consulting firm, handling a six-figure or seven-figure account. That just wasn’t it. I knew that I belonged in communications and I love helping clients figure out how to get from point A to point B but it just wasn’t in that setting. I didn’t care about getting promoted and having a title and all those things. That meant something to society, it looked good on paper but it wasn’t important to me.


AML: So you made some personal sacrifices. You moved back in with mom, but what happened next? How did you figure out how you were going to move forward and how you were going to start to rebuild?

KJ: One of the things that I did poorly while I was employed was I was only concerned myself with branding myself within the company. At that point in time, I wasn’t on Twitter. I hated Twitter because I didn’t understand it. I was on Facebook only because I wanted to find my college buddies, but I didn’t use social media at all to brand myself. So one of the first things that I did was I joined Twitter and I started to learn how to use it. I started to just share articles about communications and things that I liked.

At the same time, I still loved to travel so I had my own travel blog and continued to write on my own platform. Then I began to reach out to other blogs to guest blog because I knew I needed to build my online visibility. At the same time, I was applying for contracts in my consulting background and working tirelessly to build my online visibility.

During that time, I saw a tweet from Black Enterprise about needing writers. So I pitched Black Enterprise. They reached back out to me and said they loved my pitch so they brought me on as a contributor.  And so that started my connection to the online world and really helped me boost my visibility quite a lot.

AML: I find it funny that one of the things that you said you really hadn’t done a great job of was building your brand and that’s something that I see a lot as well. Why do you think that was? Why do you feel like, was it because “Oh I’m making the six-figures, what do I need a brand for?” What was your blockage on personal branding inside the company?

KJ: Well, I think that I was just focused on growing inside of the company. I was making the money, so I was thinking I would be there forever. Or at least I’d be in that industry for some time so for me, I was more focused on networking people within the company. I was doing networking events for the company, not outside of the company.  I just didn’t really see the value of networking on Twitter or Facebook because I didn’t understand that I needed to really brand myself outside of the company.

AML: So you saw this tweet from Black Enterprise and you started writing for them. With that move, you go from zero personal brand to writing for one of the most well-known business publications in the world! That’s a nice boss move to make. So what started to happen for you to let you know that it was working to grow your brand?

KJ: So honestly I started writing for Black Enterprise for free, during that time. It began to get really hard for me financially.  But I continued to move forward promoting myself.  I got a temporary contract, and I landed my first client.  About a year and a half later I was able to move out of my mom’s house, on my own and I’ve been moving ahead ever since then.

It’s an amazing feeling and I’m still figuring it out every day. But I feel so incredibly empowered. Jumping without a net made me challenge everything that I knew about what I was taught as a child, and it helped me create my own reality. And for me, I know that I would not have been able to do that with the  comfort of a six figure job.

AML: You talk about in the book that there are 8 steps to quitting your job and finding that life on your own terms. One of my favorite steps – building relationship currency – has been critical for you.  Talk to us a little bit about how you began to identify people that were key influencers. How did you begin that process of making connections outside of the industry that you’d always known?

KJ:  I used social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, and searched for key players in the prospective industry, and I  would learn about the events they were having. I would actually attend that event, even if it was in New York or Washington D.C. or Atlanta.  I would go, I would meet people and I would introduce myself.  Sometimes I would send them a follow up note to say how much I loved the event.

Then the second part of that is I volunteered a lot. Volunteering for nonprofit organizations was really a way for me to get out there.  The first organization I volunteered for was focused on helping girls in inner city areas see the world.  Since I love travel, I volunteered to help them write press releases and get press coverage. I helped out with events in Philadelphia. So the relationships that I built using social media as well as volunteering my time really helped me develop credibility. It showed what I was passionate about and about what I could do.

AML: Not only were you developing relationships and credibility, you were also developing evidence of your work. That’s one of the 5 Elements of Personal Brand Positioning that I share in the Package Your Genius Branding Box. Especially if you’re moving into your industry, you have to be able to show a track record and evidence that you can in fact do the work that you’re saying you want to be paid to do. So I think what you did was brilliant. You realized you needed to switch gears, you needed more evidence, more case studies, and to be able to point to projects that you had successfully completed. Volunteering is a super smart way to do that, a great way to meet people and build up that track record.

Kandia, thank you for sharing your story! Please tell our readers – how do you package your genius?

KJ: I package my genius by helping others discover their super talents. I like to think that each and every person has something within them that makes the world a better place to live.  My genius is helping people discover their superpowers and figure out how they can share them with a wider audience.  

AML: Any closing thoughts?

KJ: Get out of your own way.  You have the power to learn to write or re-write the story of your life.

You can find Kandia on Facebook at Kandia Johnson, on twitter @KandiaJohnson and also instagram at Kandij. Also visit her website

Grab the new ebook, Wake Up, Slay, Repeat: An 8 Step Guide to Quitting Your Job and Creating a Life on your Own Terms on her site.  






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