Setting boundaries can be one of the hardest things for people to do in their careers. Telling someone “no” or leaving behind an unhealthy work environment can feel risky, especially when you’re freelancing or contracting.
For Rosie community member Kenny Fernández, though, these risks aren’t the ones to worry about. The loss of time with loved ones; chronic stress and anxiety; spending your days doing work that’s under-appreciated or makes you unhappy—those are the true risks you must mitigate in your career.
“There is a reason Jefferson focused on ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ versus money, influence, or power,” says Kenny. To him, “we are at our freest and in control of our lives when we are happy.”
“I don’t care how much money you pay me; I don’t care what title, what kind of power or influence I may have, I want to enjoy what I do,” Kenny professes. “I want to work with people that not only respect me as a professional but also as a human being.”
And when you don’t receive that level of humanity, kindness, emotional intelligence, and respect at work? From Kenny’s perspective, you must be prepared to walk away.
“I have actually stepped away from jobs that paid me as much as 30% more than what I ended up getting [as a contractor], all because of an unhealthy environment,” he reveals. What’s the point of making more money or having a bigger title if you must compromise your happiness for it?
The reality of choosing a career
Kenny’s path to this current moment in his marketing career stretches back more than 20 years, when practicality drew him to the industry.
“I originally was really interested in psychology, but then I realized that that required either a master’s or PhD,” which he couldn’t afford at the time. “Honestly, being first-generation Dominican-American, I needed to help my parents provide for my younger sister and brother at the time,” Kenny explains.
Still, he never compromised on doing work he loved for a better paycheck. Kenny began his career at a Spanish-language newspaper, and found success and growth as a marketing program and project manager with top ad agencies, media companies, and brands like Lifetime and Fuse TV, Proctor & Gamble, and Starcom/Mediavest.
“I spent most of my career working on traditional media, TV specifically, and a lot of what I needed to learn, the basics and fundamentals of the profession to do my job, I learned over the years, delving into the digital media space and through online courses and seminars,” he shares.
Finding (and living) your values
No matter how much you enjoy your work, many people reach a turning point where the path they’ve journeyed on for years, perhaps decades, starts to feel different. When Kenny found himself at that point, he decided to no longer be part of workplaces that don’t support him, first and foremost, as a whole human.
“Career is important,” he explains, reiterating his passion for marketing. “But health, wellbeing, time with my family, and being able to sleep properly, without the stress and anxiety that comes with a job like that, are more important.”
He adds: “The last experience that gave me that perspective on life, and how short it is, is when I lost my parents. I lost both of them in the past three years, and the last was my mom. The experience changed me.”
It’s difficult moments like this and two personal tenets that help Kenny remember what he doesn’t want in his career and work environment going forward.
“Number one: put things into perspective,” he says. “Understand what’s important to you as a person first, before you think about what’s important to you professionally. [You might say,] ‘My profession is important and this promotion is important to me,’ but at the expense of what? Time with my parents? Quality time with my kid, my health and wellbeing, my happiness?”
“Number two: make sure that you are willing to stand for what you believe in and for those values, and understand that it’s OK to say ‘no’ or step away when you have to. Life (to me) is only one and it is shorter than I imagined when I was just starting my career. We spend most of our days at work so do what makes you happy and forget about the rest.”
Discovering the Rosier side of contract work
When Kenny left his full-time role as an agency team lead in search of a better work environment, he didn’t expect to turn to contracting. He says that in this season of his professional life, he’d prefer to stay with one company for many years, or even the rest of his career.
But when you’re not willing to say “yes” to just any role or any company, when you’ve got values that you won’t compromise on (combined with a very competitive job market), things take time.
“The search process takes a toll on you,” he says. “Before I took on [my project with We Are Rosie], I think I had applied for about 80 jobs and I got maybe three or four interviews out of it.”
So he was all ears when, four months after leaving his job, he heard from Tomeika McMillian, We Are Rosie’s Talent Supply Lead (aka one of our career matchmakers), about a project that matched his skillset.
“I was very honest about what had just happened to me and she never questioned my reasons for [leaving my last job],” he explains. “It’s one of those things where you know when people sincerely have your best interests at heart, and she never gave up on me. … She kept trying to find a good fit for me and she delivered.”
With Tomeika’s support, Kenny ultimately joined one of We Are Rosie’s media agency clients for a four-month project that he says was “one of the best working experiences of [his] career.” It provided the space to wait for the right permanent role—one that aligns with his career vision—and other benefits, too.
“[Contract work] gives you an opportunity to make a living, to try new things, to expand your network,” he explains. “That’s another great thing that I got out of this role—I met a bunch of really good, interesting people with a lot of experience and huge networks in the industry. That’s always a plus. You never know where the next opportunity will come from, and these temporary roles can lead to something long-term.”
Whether he returns to a full-time role or joins another Rosie project, Kenny will continue to work hard but put his well being first. It’s one thing he wishes he’d done differently early on in his career.
“I probably would have been taking care of my health a little better and I wouldn’t be suffering from some of the chronic health issues that I deal with to this day,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “I already lost my hair for the job! I’m not planning to lose my life also!”