How I Went From Being a CEO to an Ordained Minister in 3 Years

I’m an early riser. I think I have always been. It was probably that saying the early bird gets the worm that started it. And later as a teenager it was definitely FOMO. During my career I was back to the worm. My life in Corporate America is a compelling story, though I wouldn’t say it was divine. Although, what is a story if not divine.

My first job was as a Rape Crisis counselor in Joshua Tree, California. I was trained to counsel women who had been raped while they underwent the process of collecting a rape kit, preparing for trial, testifying and creating a life for themselves after. While my primary job was to prepare marketing materials for the center, I found myself gravitating towards helping these incredible women who had forgotten who they were long before the current event. Many were addicted to drugs or prostitutes who walked down the highway in this tiny dessert town in search of something new. Some were from encounters with soldiers at the nearby Marine Corps base. One I remember was particularly gruesome and went unpunished by the Marine Corps for lack of evidence. It was the quintessential she asked for it defense held as truth by a line of soldiers with nothing but stern looks on their faces. She wasn’t an addict. She wasn’t a prostitute. She was a fellow soldier.

This was when I realized humans could be trained to become machines with no emotion. It was something I grappled with for some time and as a resident on the base I started to view soldiers differently. I had first hand witnessed what happened when the violence they were trained for came home with them. A clear sign of untreated PTSD at the hands of another oorah from the platoon. The client that stuck with me most and still makes it into my thoughts often was a 16 year old girl. She was the story that helped me to find gratitude in my own molestation as a child. I thanked God I didn’t have it as bad as she did. Her Father had been having sex with her since she was 3 years old. Every day. And sometimes multiple times a day. When she finally got the strength to turn him into the police, they were only able to charge him with 3 counts. Why? Because she could only remember 3 exact dates…all holidays. He walked away with probation. This was the first time I realized our justice system isn’t as just as I thought it was. I was thankful to move to Maryland and smart enough to pick a new profession. Living in other people’s pain every day was something that was affecting me deeply. I hurt with them and yet felt powerless to help them heal.

I got a job at Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown as an executive assistant. I was assigned to the Healthcare Investment Banking division and handed three investment bankers to work with, one of which was considered to be incredibly demanding. He would ask you to do things like ask the airline to hold the plane when he was running late. He was a high volume producer and he needed an assistant who could handle his volume. I was transported into a lap of luxury. Everyone around me earned more money than I could even imagine. I watched as my “demanding” banker wrote $100,000 check for a Ferrari like it was nothing. He wondered why I quit shortly after he offered me a $5,000 bonus check. And stood there in shock when I didn’t respond to the blank check he offered when I formally resigned. I saw the concessions society gives for the rich, white and powerful. The men who can throw money around and buy anything their heart chases. Fortunately, one of my bankers was a woman. She was super chill and didn’t even try to run with the big boys. She was happy with her nice home, husband and ability to travel. I looked up to her and wish I would have thought of her more often when I started to climb the ladder. The team was miserable, overworked and returned home from their IPO pitches to a brittle existence. This was the first time I realized that money couldn’t buy happiness.

From there, I moved companies every two years. I quickly learned that the fastest way to climb the ladder was to company hop and I mastered respectfully hopping. My first marketing position came as a referral from an Alex Brown transfer. I worked as an event coordinator for a Sylvan company called Caliber Learning Network. It was a start up that focused on distance education that used satellites to conduct meetings with participants from around the world. Their prime competitor was Blackboard who focused on the online component of our capital intensive model.

I found myself helping the marketing team and quickly was put in front of a camera to help train the sales team. I learned about auditory, visual and tactile learning. I mastered creating the experience online. When a position in the marketing team came open, I was recommended for it by a fellow employee. I took the opportunity and captured the flag if you will. I had secured my first management title, Marketing Manager. And I was rocking it…we redesigned the entire website and I found myself mastering the ability to write marketing copy. It was a gift, but what I loved most was being in front of that camera and helping our sales team understand how they could meet their sales goals. I loved helping most.

This was when I realized being a start up could end a perfectly good ride. The company was bleeding cash and they brought in a guy who clearly was there to decide who to lay off and when. They called him something else and did their best to pacify employees as they told us eventually everyone would be laid off. I was in the last big group. A testament to the value of my service. This was when I learned about what they call survivor syndrome. The guilt you feel when others are let go and the anxiety of knowing your time is coming but you don’t know when. I ended up looking and finding something that started the day after I was laid off. This is when I realized that everything was always working out.

Within a few months, I found myself at the Federal Reserve Bank in Baltimore as a public affairs specialist in a part-time position. I decided I wanted to go to school and get my Bachelor’s degree since the economy had taken a down turn. The timing was interesting. One of my interviews was cancelled because it was scheduled on 9/11/2001. This was when I realized the United States could come under attack and that we would pull together when it mattered most. I stayed with the Fed the longest because I went through a divorce and ended up moving to a full time role while I finished my degree. I redesigned all of their marketing materials and learned enough about graphic design to lead a course at the Fed’s annual graphic design conference. A conference where all of the graphic designers come together to share resources and ideas.

This was when I realized how powerful knowledge sharing can be for a large organization. I also learned that I loved teaching others how to do what I had learned and I was really good at it. I found my way into supporting the team with creative ideas and created a new curriculum to teach Baltimore’s inner city kids about supply, demand and inflation. I watched as my team used a curriculum that lacked character while all of the kids at Patterson Park Elementary had on new shoes. It was a lower-income area and the school didn’t even have air conditioning. The kids wore uniforms and many could have used a lesson in self-care. Yet all of them had on a brand new pair of tennis shoes. Designer shoes.

I realized that there was an incredible shoe story we could use to help them retain what we were responsible for teaching them. The story of Air Jordan shoes. I contacted Nike and received free posters and support for the program. Then I charted out the curriculum to show them the trajectory of the Air Force 1 using the retail cost when it came out and the cost to buy a pair at that time as the perfect example of supply, demand and inflation tactics at play. I wasn’t allowed to teach the course because I didn’t have an economics degree so I handed the curriculum off and acted as support for the program I had created.

I was okay with it, actually. I was happy to help the students. As we offered the program to other schools in a train the teacher model we found that the teachers didn’t want to learn it. They wanted us to come and deliver it. This was when I realized that all teachers are not created equal. We had so many requests for it, that it ended up getting cancelled. I was perplexed. We weren’t able to add staff to offer the program more widely and so it had to be cancelled. I looked around as I was being told that I was doing too much, moving too many mountains, and working too fast. This was when I realized that working for the government, even if we call it quasi, was not designed for those who wanted to truly make a difference. It is also when I realized that quasi was a code word used to keep the facade of a Chinese wall going, but in no way meant there wasn’t coercion.

This is also where I saw more money than I’d ever seen in person before. The Federal Reserve’s primary responsibility is to hold bank deposits. Banks have to deposit 10% of their total account balances in cash to the Federal Reserve every day. This is to ensure that there would be enough cash on hand to prevent an outage of cash in a bank run and is used as a control mechanism to ensure banks retain their solvency. This is when I realized that banks were using the money I put in the bank and making money on it when I wasn’t looking. It is also when I realized that a true bank run would collapse the entire financial system because banks do not have even close to enough cash to cover their deposits. It would only take 10.1% of their customers for them to run out of cash. And even that would require them to order all of their deposits from the Fed. All in all I realized that money isn’t real. It’s a bunch of 1’s and 0’s in a computer.

It is also when I realized that a robber who asked for a $5 million ransom and offered you a suitcase to carry it in had clearly failed geometry. A lot of money is really heavy. And bulky. I saw tables covered in millions and workers covered by cameras at every angle because they made pennies in comparison to their managers and were likely to steal. This is when I realized that work could feel like prison complete with guards who are trained to shoot and have access to SWAT-like gear.

When my manager left and my value was questioned by the President of the Bank who was rumored to keep a girlfriend in his private apartment in the building, I had to leave. This was when I realized that infidelity for the Old Boy’s Club was protected and that value may be measured in inches rather than contributions to the organization. I found myself an even better position. There was a sign franchise that was looking to start a marketing department. I would be the first employee paid for by a fund the franchisee’s contributed to and in essence would be a person to bridge the gap between the field and the corporate office. It was the first time my ideas were given a stage and supported with standing ovations. I redesigned every piece of literature they had, built a new website and created a brand they were proud to incorporate into their stores.

A testament to my ability to listen and respond to their needs as they had no obligation to implement my ideas and many still had not opted in to join the fund that paid for the development of the ideas. It didn’t matter though. I was being divinely guided, I knew what they wanted and I knew how to give it to them and so I did. My boss was incredible. He got out of the way when he needed to and calmed me down when I was overly passionate, a skill I was learning as I learned that no idea was perfect the first time around. I feel like I grew up with this organization and the stores I supported.

However, I had reached the salary limitations for the fund and frankly they needed an employee to maintain what I had built rather than to continue creating more. A talent that I knew could be handled with a lower salary and I could train my replacement. In fact, I had someone in mind. I took a position with Sherwin-Williams to run a marketing department and finally had access to serious marketing budgets. I was excited about the prospect of being able to execute big ideas. Our team was interesting. It was a team that was part of an acquisition and their responsibility was to provide integrated marketing for 3 brands while starting to move them under the Sherwin-Williams name. A move that must be handled gently as some customers preferred the other brand. I faced an interesting management challenge for my first time managing a team. My boss hired me to do a part of his job that he no longer wanted to do. Manage the team and the work. He was moving into strategy. This meant that my first team pretty much hated me from day 1. I was the barrier between them and their old boss even though I wasn’t trying to be. They would intentionally go around me just to show me how much they despised my existence in their work space. Within 6 months we were all close friends coming together in the mornings to share the stories of our evenings over a cup of coffee or going outside for a cigarette. This is when I realized that smoking can be an incredible equalizer as the employee who hated me most finally gave me a chance after we started smoking together.

This was also when I realized that I could be honest and still hold my value. This position included a $20,000 pay raise one that my hiring manager knew about and still hired me. I had since earned my Bachelor’s and I wasn’t facing the Corporate ceiling for the undereducated any more. A piece of paper with a curriculum that literally taught me nothing of value helped me earn more in a year than I thought was possible when I was a kid in the trailer park. I was now part of the middle class and moving towards the upper end quickly. This was when I realized that there is a big difference when your basic needs are met abundantly and you no longer have to worry about money. It was also when I realized that the salary gap from management to line employee was huge.

So huge, I wasn’t sure how the line employees didn’t revolt and yet they claimed they didn’t want to be in management. They were happy where they were. This was when I realized that everyone didn’t have unbridled ambition like I did. And I was grateful as it allowed me to have comfort that my team’s needs were met. And then the entire team was laid off as our work was moved to the corporate office into an already overworked and underperforming marketing team. Our management had changed and we were paired with a guy who suffered from I’m Short syndrome. At least that’s what the guys called it. He was unapproachable and was vocal about his feeling that our entire team overlapped what his team did and should be eliminated.

The way it happened was where I struggled the most. He laid off my boss first. I came into work and was suddenly in charge of managing everything and we were not even offered a chance to tell him goodbye. This was when I realized it was important to make sure you made solid contributions to the company that your management team understood and could explain. I stayed and transitioned the work to the other team and realized that the local approach we used would quickly fall at the hands of a cookie-cutter. Then I moved to an architectural software company and took my knowledge of working within the building division into software. I watched as myself and another employee who were hired at the same time took 2 trajectories. She was an introvert and chose to work behind the scenes and question authority. I chose to join the team and outwardly support our efforts.

Going with the flow versus against it as I tried to make big changes to a patriarchal management structure that valued your popularity above your contributions. Within a month of telling my boss that I was trying to get pregnant my entire team was reassigned to a former employee who had come back and I was left with a couple of people and almost no true responsibility. I was told about this reallocation during a company wide meeting as a member of the audience. The employee who had been slotted in as more qualified than me didn’t have a college degree or any true marketing experience. And he was a boy. I would call him a man, yet he never gave off that energy. He was a kid who had never been without and who had never needed to work for anything. And he was used to be rewarded.

This was when I realized that the Old Boy’s club wasn’t fond of women who take paid time off for maternity. I was able to find another position quickly and had realized that specializing in marketing was more fun than running the whole team. I joined a debt relief company and took responsibility for a community of over a million people who were in debt and sharing their stories openly online. This is when I realized that creating sacred spaces for honest conversations about taboo topics was truly helping people. It was when I realized the shame that is attached to not having “enough” money to pay your “obligations” was dismantling people’s confidence and desire to live.

It is also when I realized that there was a lot of money to be made off of people who are in debt. My company’s CEO lived in a house that must’ve been close to 30,000 square feet. A house he invited management to for Christmas that felt more like a Four Seasons than a home. I was making incredible money and creating a team while loving what we were doing. I was hiring people from the call center to come and help people in our online community. I remember the pay differential was tremendous and having to justify giving a black woman’s pay jump that was more than 5% while her white counterpart was already making far more than she was and was also getting a salary raise. I turned my eyes and simply fought for the pay raise and won. I wouldn’t tolerate not paying an employee comparable salary for comparable work and once that was clear the discussion ended.

There were many times in my life where I stood up for the under dog. Times where I said what needed to be said rather than what people wanted me to see. I always felt it was my duty because I wasn’t scared of the outcome. I’ve always held faith and trust that justice would be done. I was ultimately fired from the debt company. I was 7 and a half months pregnant and I was fired for refusing to surrender the brand I had built for myself in the time I had built a brand for them. The win-win was no longer seen when by a new patriarch who was our new Chief Marketing Officer. An EEOC complaint was filed even though I knew the chances were slim. The EEOC was in the same building that the CEO owned and we worked in every day. I was unemployable as the primary bread winner and was about to have a baby with no health insurance. That could have been the story I chose. Instead I launched a digital marketing agency and replaced my salary within 2 weeks. This is when I realized justice must overcome social barriers to be served. I ignored that I was working 5 days after my daughter was born and felt grateful for the ability to do both as it was necessary financially.

Within a year we were merging with a Top 40 marketing blog and had a name we could count on for credibility. I raised our rates and started closing deals with Fortune 1000 companies. I thought as a consultant I would be free to drive true change in Corporate America and instead I found I was working with teams who were in the same position I was in before I left. Budget cuts. Politics. Budget cuts. Politics. My company grew to $1.8 million in revenue within 18 months. This is when I hit my upper limit problem, a term I learned from the book, The Big Leap. A single digit millionaire is all I’d ever seen in my visions I get lost in as an escape from my current reality. I was traveling incessantly and never had the time to enjoy the places I was in. I was eating almost all processed foods that left me even more tired. I was staying out late and getting drunk in order to be a part of the social hour that closes deals. I was a shell of the person I wanted to be. Completely lost in an eternal sea. I had gone all in on this version of me I had created. How could I possibly let it all fall to the ground? There was nothing stopping my hamster-wheel. This is when I realized this hyper path of achievement I was on would never end. There would never be enough money. There would never be enough things. There would never be a cure to the emptiness I was feeling.

Until there was. Eventually God had to intervene. I was off course and headed in a dark direction. A direction my soul would have no part in. And so it was done. I had two minor strokes in 2014 and a third in 2016. You would’ve thought the first two would have been enough, but the programming that was killing my body ran deep. I held this incessant need to keep moving. Slowing down carried deep cellular memories of not having enough. I kept trying rather than surrendering. My third minor stroke with God was not minor. We floated energy field touching energy field. I felt freedom, My soul when no longer confined by the human body. The bliss overwhelmed my senses and yet felt gentle and pure. I was surrounded by a dancing pearlesque field of energy. It was as solid as it was transparent. As white as it was black. As luminous as it was dull. And it spoke. “My dear Nichole, you have worked so hard. You have built so much. You’ve done it all for your boys. And now your daughter. You are so generous and kind in your desire to please them. But my dear, what is it YOU actually want for you?” A conversation delivered in pictures rather than words. It was a question I’d never thought much about. Most of my life I felt I was an actor in a script. I just followed what was in front of me and said yes to the things I wanted. And sometimes to the things I didn’t want. An unconscious stream of decisions rarely looking back to see what I’d left behind me. I generally left good behind as at my core I was a good person who enjoyed helping others.

The answer came quickly. Faster than I even had time to consider. “I just want to be on a beach smoking weed all day.” I wanted to take a permanent vacation. I wanted to be done. I didn’t want to go back into the cogs of success to build something else for someone else. I wanted to relax…permanently. Just as I began to rest in to the permanence of my decision for infinite bliss I woke up. I was still in the front seat of my car. My best friend was looking over me with complete terror in her eyes as I realized we were parked in the driveway of my house. She said she felt my spirit leave my body. God had said no. It wasn’t my time to go. I was too important in this mission and it was time for me to learn to have faith and trust in my own divinity. To realize I was already infinite and I was designed to have an infinite experience. Here on Earth.

On April 21, 2017 I became an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church. It was an easy process, I simply filled out an online form to launch what some may call my next career. However, what I was really doing was showing God that I was ready to go all in. That I was ready to step into my Infinite potential and while I didn’t feel there was a church that aligned with what I had seen on the other side, I did know that God was real. Straight up truth. No questions left. I became a minister for me and thought that would be the end of it. I had no ministry or desire to lead a church. Until I did.

I watch as millions of people come together in community to celebrate God, whether they call him Jesus Christ or Allah is irrelevant in the place I went. It is all true. All of it. Every story is designed to lead us to the same place. That we are pure divinity. We are the God we seek. The Infinite Creator is not separate from my being. It is my being. I can no easier separate from God than I could separate from myself. You could call this spirituality. I simply acknowledge that I am spirit. I am Infinite Divinity. And so are you.

And I am ready to help. I am a partner, with Iuri Moraes, in launching a new kind of church. A church for all. A church designed to unify our planet in a movement of grand proportions. A church that will teach the process of self-inquiry to find your true divinity. A church that will not use the Bible as it’s text. A church that will use all texts as reminders that the truth has been in front of us all along. It’s been in the movies. It’s been in our music. It’s been in our stories. It’s been present our whole life. I know what it is for me. And yet, I would never profess I know what it is for you.

You are a unique expression of Divinity. Exploring self is a quest of unlocking pieces in a puzzle. Each piece representing a bucket of experience you’ve filled. I wasn’t sure why I was telling the story of my corporate career, but now it is clear. I’ve filled a lot of buckets. In a lot of places. With a lot of people. And while I lost my way I also found my way back. I didn’t spend a lifetime seeking. It only took 3 years. But then again. I had to die to be here, so I might recommend you follow your own course. And if you need a hand to hold yours as you enter the rough waters, I’ll be here. I’ll offer you healing when we uncover wounding. I’ll offer compassion when we find shame. I’ll offer acceptance while we traverse judgement.  I’ll offer kindness when we encounter hate. I’ll offer a hug when we find pain.

There are many buckets for unlocking in this journey we call life. It doesn’t have to be a race to get to the end. We can simply design a beautiful picture with the buckets we like. We pick our buckets by being the change we wish to see. By truly being it through thought, word and deed. If you are ready to be the change you wish to see, I hope you will follow the temple of Divinity we are creating at Modern Monks Monastery. A church with 7.5 billion temples around the world. We’d love to help you unlock yours.

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