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From $100k SLPD and discrimination to the entertainment industry— a unicorn’s fate

Short summary: Jon had three degrees and a six-figure salary as an SLP. Facing discrimination and burnout, he left the field to pursue his other passions in baking, then entertainment. This is his inspiring journey from SLP burnout to peace of mind (with a video with Jon at the end!):

What’s your backstory? What got you into SLP, what did you like about it, and what drove you to seek a career change, and how did you start the transition?

I decided to choose the field of Speech-Language Pathology because I was (and still am) genuinely compassionate about shaping the lives of individuals who have communication disorders and who rely on speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to improve both their abilities to communicate more effectively and their quality of life.

Growing up, I have always enjoyed helping others communicate more effectively. If someone said something incorrectly, I was there to correct it. If anyone needed help pronouncing a word, I was always willing to provide assistance. Unbeknownst to me, there was a career that would allow me to practice just that. One day during my senior year in high school, I engaged in a conversation with my sister, an elementary school educator.

She informed me that I should become a speech pathologist because “the speech therapist at my school doesn’t do anything but play games with the children all day.” Upon hearing that, I thought, “what a perfect job that would be.”

As appealing as that seemed, I decided to research the career and shadowed the SLP at her school. It was then that I knew speech pathology would be the career of choice. It was certainly more than my sister viewed it to be. I would later go on to obtain my bachelor’s, master’s, and clinical doctoral degrees and work in the profession for eight years. But, after dedicating so much time, money, effort, and energy to this field, I have decided to let it go.

Facing discrimination with a clinical doctorate (SLPD)

Recently, I’ve made the painstaking, unfortunate decision to leave the profession of speech pathology and decided to document my reasons in a YouTube video; highlighting one reason in particular.

This was not an overnight decision, yet one that was eight years in the making. It had always been my intent to make a long-lasting positive impact on the globe with the skills I obtained upon the completion of my education, but what happens when your ability to make that impact is hindered by the color of your skin?

Throughout my eight-year career as a speech pathologist, I have been plagued with feelings of unacceptance. As a black, male, speech pathologist, I stick out like a unicorn; a running joke I often use to break the ice in my workplaces. However, because of this clear difference, I sadly, yet quickly learned that this field is an uninviting place for unicorns and those alike.

Speech pathology is a majority white, female-dominated profession and people of color only make up about 8%. My experiences in this field have been a clear reminder of that. I have gone into workplaces only to be treated unfairly because of my ethnic difference, including being micromanaged, micro-aggressed, bullied, and harassed by my coworkers. I have attended meetings where I have been called a liar, unskilled, had my clinical judgment questioned, and accused of the unimaginable.

After spending a plethora of time, energy, money, and resources, I have been told by my clients’ parents, “the last therapist was so wonderful! Why can’t you do it like the last therapist?” Completely disregarding everything I’m attempting to do for their children. I have been asked for the color of skin, “for security reasons,” before arriving at a client’s for a home visit; requested not to return to a family’s home with no explanation after completing an evaluation—and the list goes on. I have spent countless days driving home from work perplexed and in tears. I’d constantly say to my colleagues, “I am giving this my all. I am doing my best. Why can’t I just enjoy work like everyone else?”

Aside from the issues of racism in this field, it is a career with a plethora of issues impacting all speech therapists, regardless of race. These issues include, but aren’t limited to, significant burnout, constantly having to take work home, high productivity demands, a lack of safeguards, and a disregard for our clinical judgments from colleagues, consumers, and their families. There were days when I felt like a customer service representative; a customer service representative with three degrees.

The breaking point.

 After working in almost every setting in the field (schools, home health, nursing homes, private practices, my very own business), I realized that there would be no changes unless I made the change. One day, I decided that I had had enough. I was so depressed and stressed from work that I started researching alternative careers. I joined alternative career groups on Facebook and started searching endlessly on Indeed for other options. One day, I decided to apply to be a Baker. I would be taking a significant pay cut, but I didn’t care. I desperately wanted out of the field and was willing to sacrifice a six-figure career for better mental health, peace of mind, respect, and happiness.

Unfortunately, I was told at the interview that I had no experience and didn’t get the job. Shortly after, I worked as a house manager for a friend in the NFL. It was a great experience, but my yearning to jump-start my acting career was calling me back to my home in Los Angeles.

So, I traveled back and decided to get back to work as an SLP while I worked to book acting gigs. Three months in, I could no longer do it. The misery wasn’t worth it, so I quit the entire career and decided to work as an office assistant in a casting office.

What do you do now? How did you find this career? What (if any) additional training or self-teaching did you do to acquire the necessary skills to land your role? 

When I took the job as an office assistant, it was the best decision I ever made. I woke up every day with a renewed sense of hope, restoration, and excitement. My job was simple, yet enjoyable. I was able to network with other actors and meet industry professionals. I was building my network and finally enjoying my job.

One day, an entertainment lawyer walked in and was intrigued to see a new face in the office. We started talking and his intrigue turned to confusion.

He asked, “Why are you working as an office assistant with three degrees, a recent clinical doctorate, and a rewarding career?” After explaining and breaking down in tears with eight years of misery streaming down my face, he understood. He sympathized and told me that he had been seeking a personal assistant and told me that if I accepted the position, he would pay me the same salary I was making as an SLP. Fate? Absolutely.

A job I had never been seeking fell from the sky and I took it. You see, I believe that in order to be successful in life, you must always follow your instinct. My instinct persistently told me to leave my career behind and I listened. This caused me to be at the right place, at the right time.

New job duties bring a refreshed outlook.

My new job duties include, dropping off/picking up contracts to and from his clients; scheduling meetings and managing his calendar; answering phone calls and emails/taking messages; taking notes at meetings; aiding in his with daily time management and productivity; running errands; planning his travel; coordinating and even planning events.

Every day, there’s something new and different to experience; it’s very refreshing. The job is tedious yet stress-free. I also have tons of flexibility and my work-life balance has improved. I’m able to work in the industry I desire to transition into.

Pros and Cons

The blessing was, I didn’t have to study, go back to school, or acquire any additional certifications for this role. The downside of this type of position is being confused for the secretary or errand boy for the office and the long hours (12+ hour days sometimes).

Despite the long hours though, I am truly enjoying what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work. I get to travel across the country for work, meet interesting people, and get tons of days off at times. And I guess being confused for the office secretary is expected, but overall, I am respected; something I didn’t experience in my career as an SLP. 

I must say, I will continue to work in the profession in a minimal capacity (per diem jobs and possibly managing a school contract with a SLPA), but I will take this new job over being an SLP any day. My quality of life is one-thousand times better and I am so thankful. Some days, I wake up pinching myself with feelings that I don’t deserve this, but I quickly remind myself that I do. I separate feelings from fact. The fact is,

I deserve to wake up and enjoy going to work. Everyone deserves that. 

What advice do you have for fellow SLPs looking to transition to your new career path, or transition in general? 

I have three quotes that I live by:

1) “God has entrusted me with me.”

2) “No one will fight for you the way you will fight for yourself.”

3) “If you are not happy where you are, move. You are not a tree.”

These quotes have guided everything that I do and every decision I make. Life is too short to stay in any situation unhappy. Suffering is not a requisite to a well-deserved life. 

My advice to anyone who’s working at a job that they hate or battling desires to change careers would be to focus on what’s important.

Don’t focus on money or lifestyle but focus on your mental health and quality of life. Quality of life means being happier. Your quality of life doesn’t depend on what you earn, but what you make of it. Focus on living a life of purpose and intention. Feeling fulfilled about what you get to do when you wake up and go to work is the best feeling in the world and if you don’t feel that way about your current career, it is time to make a change.

Save money, devise a plan, and find an alternative career that you will enjoy. This website is a great place to start. Alternative career groups on Facebook are excellent. Talk to your colleagues and network with other professionals about career options because they may be able to steer you in a direction that you never considered. And most importantly, embrace change. 

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