Corporate Ladders and Contentment
I’ve known Rohan for 14 years. For the first six, I knew him as the boy who occasionally sat at the back of my parents’ church with his mother and brother. Then we became friends. Today, we’ve been a couple for eight years, married for six and a half. We have weathered three pregnancies and parent two children.
In some ways, Rohan’s childhood prepared him to be one of the only Black people in a corporate space. Until the age of 12, he was one of four Black kids in his elementary school and was one of two Black families on his street. Today, typically in meetings, he is the only Black person (or man) and is one of the few in a management role in his department.
Q: What kind of work do you do?
ROHAN: I’m a manager in an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) department at a financial institution.
Q: Do you like the work you do?
ROHAN: I do like my work. It’s a good blend of coaching people to pursue their career goals combined with making a difference by finding evidence of potential criminal activity.
Q: Did you expect your job to be what it is right now?
ROHAN: No. I hoped for something like this, but I didn’t expect it.
I failed 5th grade…well almost. My teacher wanted me to repeat but my mom was adamant about not holding me back. My teacher was concerned that I wouldn’t understand some of the concepts. In hindsight, I think my mom made the right decision.
In 8th grade, my teacher put me in the special education class. I learned differently and slower so my teacher thought I couldn’t read. I felt powerless to defend myself. I was there for about a month. The special education teacher was the one who advocated for me to return to the normal stream. She told them I knew how to read and I knew what I was doing.
I’m thankful for my mom and for that special education teacher. They advocated for me when I wasn’t sure how to advocate for myself. They gave me hope that those experiences wouldn’t define my future and by God’s grace, they haven’t. My present job involves analyzing and solving complex situations daily and I was told that potential, the clarity of my assessments, and productivity contributed to my promotions in the last few years.
Q: Did you have any childhood dream jobs?
ROHAN: From the age of nine, I had my heart set on becoming a basketball player. I was crushed when I realized that it wasn’t happening for me around age 19. I had to start from scratch. I took the next best opportunity at the time: working as a Customer Service Representative (CSR) at a financial institution while in school, taking 100 calls a day; better known as telephone hell. Now, I just live vicariously through my best friend who still plays basketball professionally. He was also one of the four black people at our elementary school.
While working as a CSR, I thought about becoming a police officer. I thought about this when I was younger but basketball always overshadowed it. Originally, the idea of the uniform and being an example to the community was what drew me. That dream ended too when I failed one section of the written exam twice. After the second time, I decided I wouldn’t pursue it anymore. Plus, it became a point of contention at home, especially after hearing some incredibly sobering stories from the Black officers I met.
Q: You didn’t become a police officer but now you work in an AML department at a financial institution. From time to time, it assists law enforcement from a distance. It sounds like you got some elements of what you wanted?
ROHAN: I did. I was hoping to work in the financial crimes unit eventually as a police officer, so I would say it’s relatively close.
Q: What are some of the tensions you’ve experienced working in the financial industry over the last 11 years?
ROHAN: The first is the tension between moving up the corporate ladder and cultivating contentment. I think I felt it most after we got married, and especially after we had our first son. On one hand, there’s this underlying motivation to prove that Black people can do this too and pressure to outperform, especially since management is generally majority-white. Then tied to that is the motivation to earn more, not necessarily for the money itself, but the access and security it provides (as fleeting as it may be).
On the other hand, when you move up and you’re paid more, they expect more from you. That means more time away from my family and other meaningful things or projects I would like to do. In the last year, I’ve had to make a number of career decisions that support the balance between my family and my work.
The second is the tension of keeping silent or voicing my opinion. Working in a call center for years taught me that. I maintain that if you can work in a call center, you can work anywhere. Throughout my career, others have tried to humiliate me personally, or in front of my co-workers. As a Black man in this line of work, I have to choose my battles and words carefully. It could mean career suicide. Reading body language and the book of James have been invaluable to me. God has always validated being quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (1:19) in my life. Anytime I’ve been quick to speak and slow to hear, I’ve regretted it.
As Rohan’s wife, I’ve learned to balance caring about Rohan’s work by reminding him that his work doesn’t define him; God does. I’ve seen his sadness, anger, or hurt when a happy day gets numbed because he had to “clench his buttcheeks,” his term for keeping his mouth shut in the midst of someone ignoring, disrespecting, misleading, or taking credit for his ideas — for the sake of professionalism. It shouldn’t be that way.
Through all of this, I’ve witnessed the grace of God in every moment of Rohan’s journey from a CSR to a Manager. God has carefully reminded us not to put our trust in our work through a series of scares, opportunities, and disappointments. When we are tempted, we remind ourselves that work is a gift for provision and that, “there is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from him (Eccl. 2:24-25 CSB)?”