Angelina Darrisaw spent years climbing the corporate ladder, but eventually, she left her booming career at Viacom to do what she does best: helping others climb the corporate ladder.
As the founder and CEO of the C-Suite Coach, Angelina provides career development resources and coaching to professionals who are looking to make a transformation in their careers. Taking this leap of faith to start her own business wasn’t an easy decision. Angelina was doing pretty well for herself before quitting her job as a Senior Manager of Digital Business Development at Viacom. She had zero debt, was getting paid well, and had a substantial amount of savings. Deciding to become an entrepreneur at a time when adulting was clearly working in her favor was a move that many people may think was too risky. However, choosing her passion over complacency, allowed Angelina to live deeper in her purpose and have a wider impact.
In a recent chat, Angelina shares how her family history has played a role in her success, how acting out of a place of fear can impact your career, and why having patience is extremely important for women and people of color.
Her Agenda: Looking at your past experiences, how would you say your childhood influenced your current career path?
Angelina Darrisaw: I went to public school in Brooklyn for the first part of my life. Around the time I was in seventh grade, I received a scholarship to go to an all-girls private school in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
One thing that this journey gave me was a sense of the difference that wealth and opportunity can create. Every day, I was going from a neighborhood where financially, we were coming from a place of disadvantage to an area where students had brand new Mac computers, Persian rugs, marble staircases, and PhDs as teachers. For me as a young, Black person, being able to recognize how wealth provided so much opportunity, it rooted me into wanting to create more social justice in our society. Having all these experiences at a young age really grounded me in thinking about how to approach my career and my life.
Another thing that has really grounded my journey, was knowing my family history. I feel so proud and grounded in knowing the name of the plantation that my family were slaves on and that’s because my family did the research. I know how my last name came about and the history behind it. As an entrepreneur, these are the type of things that I pray and meditate about when I go through moments that I ‘can’t do it.’
Knowing the fact that my people were slaves, and that they were owned is something that I really think about on a regular basis and it keeps me operating from a place of gratitude and determination. I know that my people didn’t make those sacrifices or have that strength so that I could play small and dim my light.
Her Agenda: What inspired you to take the leap of faith to become an entrepreneur?
Angelina Darrisaw: It’s definitely a combination of things. When I had the idea to start my business I shared it with my mom and my grandmother. At the time I had a really good job, had paid off my student debt, was saving money substantially, I had joined the board of a nonprofit, and was giving back to my community. I knew that I was doing well for myself, so I thought when I told my mom and my grandmother that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled, that they were going to shame me, and press me to stay at my job. Instead, they encouraged me, and asked to support me. This encouraged me so much, so even with my doubts, I felt like I could really do this entrepreneurship thing.
I knew that I was doing well for myself, so I thought when I told my mom and my grandmother that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled, that they were going to shame me, and press me to stay at my job. Instead, they encouraged me, and asked to support me.
Her Agenda: What advice do you have for someone that wants to seriously consider starting their own career coaching business? What are some things that they should expect?
Angelina Darrisaw: You should really hone in on who you want your target client to be. In the early days, even though I had the support of my family, I was still scared. I worried about when my next check would come, and when money would appear. When you’re operating in a place of fear, you take on customers that are not the best customer for you. My advice is to know who you really want your target customers to be. Because when you’re clear on that, you can serve your customers better, and you’re better at what you do. You’re also less frustrated as a business owner.
Apart from that, we’re in an era where more people are aware of career coaching. I still think that there is value in really studying the business and being a student of the business. And even though I quit my job, and I have a business, I have employees and contractors that work for me. I still invest in my education and in my learning so I can stay on top of trends and how to best serve my customers.
I think that yes, you can learn a lot through experiences, but it’s important as entrepreneurs (especially as coaches that are developing people) that we don’t discount the importance of really investing in our education and developing our own skills.
Her Agenda: How did you secure your first client?
Angelina Darrisaw: My first client was actually my university. They were the first one to give me a physical check for doing professional development work. My first corporate client was with Wix, and they hired me to do coaching with some of their designers that wanted to grow their businesses. When I think about all of those opportunities, both with Wix and my university client, all of those came from networking. They came from not being shy in telling people what I did. When you’re just getting started, it’s often fear, and some anxiety around letting people know who you are and what you do. But it’s really important to put yourself out there because if people don’t know what you need and want from them, they won’t be able to deliver it.
Her Agenda: What are some tips that you can give to women that are wanting to climb the corporate ladder?
Angelina Darrisaw: One of the things you should be doing is constantly investing in your education. Figure out how you can develop more skills, get on more projects, and join teams that can help you level up your skills. When you think about what an executive-level requires, it’s really about having a broad knowledge of the particular field you’re in and being perceived as an expert.
The other thing that I think is particularly important for women and people of color is that we have to remain patient. And I don’t mean patient like you need to stay in your position forever. I mean patient as in when someone offends me at work, when they are out of pocket, don’t curse them out and make your job more vulnerable. There’s a Jay Z quote, “A wise man once told me, ‘Don’t argue with fools. People from a distance can’t tell who is who.’” I think that for us, as women and people of color, we’re already in a really unfortunate position sometimes because people assume that we don’t belong in the world that we’re in, and that puts us at a place of being defensive, and it’s not right. However, if we react every time someone offends us, depending on how we react, we could be jeopardizing our opportunities.
Her Agenda: What is one quote or motto that you live by that that keeps you motivated?
Angelina Darrisaw: Sometimes you have to appreciate the power of your no in order for people to appreciate your yes.
We have to all be very discerning of our time and with our energy and who we give it to. The more I grow in my career and businesses, I realize that I can’t say yes to everything. Also, even if I did say yes to everything, it wouldn’t be appreciated. I have to be strategic with where I spend my time and energy, and that helps people that I give it to appreciate it as well.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]