Lakeisha Dunn spent ten years doing a job she strongly, strongly disliked. A job that left her miserable and depressed. But the pay was good and it offered job stability, and she didn’t think she was qualified to do much else. So she stayed.
Fresh out of high school in Baltimore, Maryland, Dunn enrolled in a program that trained nursing assistants but realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t for her. She worked a couple of different jobs as an administrative assistant, and while they were fine she wanted something new, something different. She thought that a job that allowed her to walk around some, maybe even go outside, would be ideal. And so she was thrilled when she landed a job as a correctional officer at a Baltimore City jail.
And in the beginning, she did like the job. There were several experienced correctional officers who took her under their wings and helped her. “They showed me the ropes; how everything worked.” But as those older, more mature officers began to retire, they were replaced by younger employees who often didn’t have the respect for the job that Dunn had appreciated in her more established colleagues. “The younger corrections officers coming in didn’t have the guidance that I had. They were too friendly with the inmates, and there was no respect between the inmates and the officers.”
After some years, Dunn realized that she truly disliked her job, and it weighed on her. She no longer felt like the person she used to be. She was depressed. And then things went from bad to worse when she was sexually harassed by a co-worker. Despite the fact that she filed a complaint and he was found guilty, little was done to rectify the situation. She continued to have to work with her harasser.
Her work also made it difficult for her to socialize outside of her home, as she feared seeing former inmates or their friends when she went out. Even now she chokes up talking about it. “I was so sad all the time. It wasn’t the life that I wanted at all. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.”
Her one glimmer of hope during her ten years as a correctional officer had been when she was placed, ironically enough, on the morale committee, where she was tasked with organizing a large holiday party. “It was fun for me to be able to delegate and plan; I really had to think for once and I liked that.” Besides being fun, it may have been just what she needed to prove to herself that she was capable of more.
In 2013, Dunn slipped on ice at work and was out for a time on disability. She dreaded the thought of going back so much that she needed to make a plan and find a way out. The trouble was, she didn’t know what that plan could be. She had already looked around for administrative assistant jobs, but was told more than once that having worked as a correctional officer for the last decade didn’t qualify her for much.
“I would talk with my stepfather, who’s a truck driver. He was the one who told me about the job of freight broker. At first the idea didn’t appeal to me, but as I started looking into it I realized that this was something I might want to do.” A freight broker, for the uninitiated, is an intermediary or liaison between a shipper who has goods to transport and a carrier who has the capacity to move that freight. In other words, the broker helps match the trucker with the freight.
Once Dunn made the decision to become a freight broker, she needed to figure out how to go about it. She enrolled in an online course, which unfortunately turned out to be a rip-off, but they did send her a book that proved to be enough to get her started. She researched online and peppered her stepfather and father, who is also a trucker, with questions about freight brokering that they could answer from their own experience.
One of the most difficult hurdles for Dunn was learning how to network. Previously, she had never had the need or desire to network, and her old job had left her withdrawn and somewhat isolated. But she recognized that networking would be an important part of setting up a new business, so pushed herself to join professional groups and get out and talk to people. [Full disclosure, Career 2.0 “met” Dunn on the LinkedIn professional women’s group: Connect+.]
There was another hurdle as well; this one potentially a game-changer. While some friends and family members supported her ambition to start her own company, not all of them did. She argued endlessly with those who thought it was crazy to leave the security and relatively good pay of her job as a correctional officer to jump into a new field that she knew little about. “I needed that support, but I didn’t get it. It made everything harder.”
Still, she persevered. She decided her company would be called Dunn’s Freight Brokerage. When it came time to call her first trucking company and make her pitch, she prepared. She read about what to say and what not to say. She wrote a long and detailed script for herself. She practiced. And then, of course, she completely bombed on her first call. She went blank and was barely able to stutter out a request to send information. Yet somehow, she managed to find clients. First one, and then more.
It would have been simpler for Dunn to join an established freight brokerage company. “I thought about it, but I would much rather work for myself. My father put the idea in me, probably since I was about a day old, that I should work for myself. I always wanted to have something of my own, and it feels good.”
Someday, Dunn would like to buy a truck and trailer and eventually create her own fleet. Then, she’ll be the one hiring other agents to work for her. But for now, she works out of her house while her older son is at school and her daughter at daycare. She knows she is a happier and stronger person than she ever was as a correctional officer. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.