This week's career spotlight comes from Taisha - a Psychologist who's passionate about mental health access for people of color. Learn about how she went from not knowing what she wanted to do in her career to getting her Ph.D. and starting her own side business.
1. In 140 characters or less, tell us what you do?
I am a psychologist who manages special projects & policies related to mental health for the University of California system, and I own a private consulting practice.
2. What 3 words would you use to describe your career?
Challenge. Innovation. Inspiration.
3. Did you always know this is what you’d be doing?
Definitely not! I have never been one of those people who just knew what they wanted to do since they were little kids. I admired those who did, and was secretly frustrated that I never had that kind of clarity for myself. However, what I learned along my journey, is that for many of us, careers are fluid. When I allowed myself to think differently about my career, I discovered that I could have a purpose without tying it to a specific profession. For example, I didn’t have to be a teacher to share knowledge and I didn’t have to be a physician to heal people. When I finally stopped looking for a job title to capture what I wanted to do with my life, and started looking for what impact I wanted to make on the world, I gained the clarity I was searching for. Around the age of 21, I knew I wanted to be someone who heals and inspires others. Equipped with that knowledge, I started on a path toward earning a graduate degree in psychology. It sounds funny when I think about it now, but I never thought, “I want to be a psychologist.” I just wanted to help people, and lead, and research, and make an impact on my community. Psychology seemed like the best fit to get that training.
4. What’s your big “why”? Why do you do what you do?
It is no secret that people all over the world are hurting. You can see this most clearly on college campuses throughout the country, where you will find 3-4 month long wait lists for counseling, and even worse, students of color who don’t trust the system enough to reach out for help until it is too late. In my work, I get to search out the best programs and implement policies that have the potential to help students move from academic failure and personal distress to thriving, mentally well college graduates who go off to change the world.
I do what I do because I find joy in working in my purpose. Every day, I get to make decisions that have the potential to impact the quality of life for 200,000+ students throughout California. When I look back on my life and reflect on how I ended up where I am today, I am so thankful for the opportunities I was afforded, and I know that a lot of the people I grew up with didn’t have the same. It means everything to me that on this large scale, I get to make students’ lives better. I truly believe in the direct connection with what happens to someone in their early college-age years, and the trajectory of the rest of their life.
5. Tell us a little bit about your career journey?
I grew up in sunny California, in the Bay Area. I wanted to attend a Historically Black College so I set my sights on Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia. It was the best decision my little 17 year old self had ever made. I learned so much about life, about myself, about my people, etc. I was surrounded daily by people who looked like me and who had ambitions as high as the sky. I credit my experiences at Spelman with truly changing the trajectory of my life. I went from considering a handful of career aspirations (that I didn’t realize were limiting), to a space of infinite possibility. I had never met a Black doctor or lawyer or judge or scientist or business owner, etc. Then all of a sudden, it was the norm and I was expected to do something great. I went on to graduate school, earned a PhD in psychology, and started working as therapist on a college campus. After two years, I knew I wanted something more. I loved working one on one with students but I knew I was meant to make a larger impact by working at a system level. I wanted to change policies and I had great ideas. After probably six months of searching for another position, I landed a temporary position with the University of California system managing a nearly $8 million mental health grant. I was so excited but scared because the grant was only for 3 years and there was no promise of continued work after that. I decided to take a leap of faith and I relocated for this new opportunity. Those three years were definitely a roller coaster as I learned so much about politics and the joys of trying to impact system level change. My work continued to evolve over time and at the end of my contract, I was offered a permanent position doing what I do now. A couple years after that, I started my private consulting company, A Little TLC Consultation. I work on it part time and it is still a work in progress. I love it because it allows me to have that one on one contact with people (something I started to miss while working in policy). I do speaking engagements, write a blog, and build programs for young people of color to encourage them to dream bigger, reach higher, and achieve excellence.
6. What’s a typical day like for you?
My days are never the same, and that is one of the things I love about what I do – every day is an adventure. I usually travel a little each month. Either I take one longer trip lasting a couple days, or several short one day trips. On travel days I am usually up early in the morning, I check email and/or take conference calls while in route to my destination. I enjoy fancy water when I am in the airport, and trying local coffee shops when I am in a new location. On my trips I am either giving a presentation, hosting an event, contributing to a collaborative discussion, or learning some new theory or technique or best practice from other professionals. The agendas usually last all day, with time for networking and socializing in the evening. I have friends and family spread out all over the place, so when I have down time, I try to connect with them for dinner or drinks if I happen to be near someone I haven’t seen in a while. When I am away overnight, I always talk to my husband before I go to sleep… and sometimes, if our schedules align, he comes with me and does other things until I am done with my meetings! On non-travel days, I tend to sleep in a bit and take a few phone calls from home before heading in to the office. I enjoy the peace of working in my pajamas in the mornings. I head into the office after rush hour, attend a few in-person meeting and in between, frantically respond to what feels like a million emails, phone calls, and requests. I’m not gonna lie, my days are intense. Most everything feels like an emergency and the days are high pressure, high stakes, high stress! I could complain, but I kinda like it J What can I say, I get a rush from all the excitement! I force myself to shut things down by around 7pm if I’m still working and I head home. My husband and I have dinner together and on nights that I am not working on A Little TLC Consultation we cuddle up and catch up on our favorite shows from the DVR before bed.
7. What advice would you give to women who have not yet found their “purpose” or are unsure what they want to do in their career?
Ummm… be a Psychologist! LOL, just kidding. I would say, don’t stop searching. Whatever your path, I promise that aligning your work with your purpose is more than worth it! If you find yourself struggling, make a list of things you like to do, take inventory of your strengths and your weaknesses, pray on it, find inspiration by talking to people about your hopes and dreams, and invest in yourself (i.e.: go to a conference, see a psychologist, sign up for a class, interview people who have interesting jobs, read books, attend webinars, download that $3 app you’ve been looking at, etc.).
One of my mentors always talked to me about aligning my goals and actions towards my North Star. Your North Star is that big shiny bright light also known as, your purpose. You will never be lost when you are following it. I remember telling him once that I didn’t know what my North Star was anymore, and that therefore I had no goals! I felt frustrated and like I was making career decisions aimlessly. He told me that any time I lose sight of my North Star, my new goal is to find it. Sounds simple, but in that moment, it was profound. In an instant, I had a goal. I could then make clear decisions based on whether doing this vs that was going to help me find my North Star. And just like that, I was back on track. So, I will challenge each of you, if you don’t know what your North Star is, make it your goal to find it. Align your behaviors for the next few months with things that are likely to bring you insight and clarity into your purpose.
8. How can people get in contact with you?
A Little TLC Consultation tlc-consultation.org