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Angela Adams

Ladder or Labyrinth

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" 

Always one of my favorite questions.

Depending on how I was feeling that particular day, I might tell you I wanted to be a teacher, computer programmer, astronaut, singer, doctor, veterinarian, poet, psychologist, or a waitress. I held all of these wishes in equal regard. Why couldn't I blast to the moon Monday-Friday and serve pie on Saturday morning?

During my teen years, my spoken word, psychobiology, and Space Camp plans were altered by salvation. After that, I acquiesced my worldly ambitions for the mysterious-and-never-certain "Will of God" (did you hear that echo?). Science projects and poetry slams had to get in line behind youth group.

At 18, I led a group of young women during an immersive mission trip in Venezuela. For all the regrets I have about the organization I went with and the activities we participated in, I credit that trip as my first experience falling in love with making space for women to be themselves and to thrive. I felt alive.

Unfortunately, the beauty of solidarity and friendship found in the mountains of Venezuela was long hidden by misplaced zeal. When I returned to the States, I told my parents of my intention to enter college as a Religion major because I was going to be a Bible translator. My dad, always down-to-earth in my memories of him, said "That's admirable, Angela, but how are you going to pay the bills?" Word. 

Over time, some of that youthful arrogance faded and my sense of personal responsibility increased. Yet I still did not seek a course of action for my career because somehow that felt too ambitious for a woman, especially a woman who was supposed to be letting God direct her steps. It did not feel okay for me, as a woman, to climb the corporate ladder, didn't feel okay to aspire to be the best at anything other than sacrifice. So, I spent the first decade of my career merely saying yes to whatever appeared as the logical next step instead of blazing my own trail. 

My winding path of unintentional yeses included child care, coffee shops, and copy editing. Fundraising, office management, freelance writing. Along the way I collected college credits and CEUs in composition and rhetoric, philosophy, social work, web design, childbirth, herbalism, and curriculum design. I graduated with a degree in English, sat for the LSAT, became a doula, and currently am EVP for a tech consulting firm.

I must say, sometimes it's tempting to spin my story so all points lead here. To tell my story as if this place was what I intended all along. To paint a picture where each position prepared me to grab the next rung and move on up.

But the truth is, there was no ladder on my path. Let's face it - for many years there didn't even seem to be a roof to climb onto if there was a ladder because I didn't know where I was headed.

I could look back on all of this as wasted time. And yes, I've indulged that line of thought a time or two. But if I reframe my journey, if I change the operating metaphor from ladder to labyrinth, I can see the yeses led me here.

I've learned much about myself over my near-twenty years as a career woman. I'm convinced the single-most important skill I bring to technology projects is my commitment to listen well and understand what my clients need. I'm pretty damn good at estimating a scope of work. I love gathering women together to learn from and support one another. Nothing gets my adrenaline pumping like hosting an event or speaking in front of a crowd. I'm a stickler for accuracy in printed communications. I am humbled, and deeply honored, by the opportunity to lead others. I trust my intuition. 

While I can't help but be grateful for what I've discovered through the labyrinth, I wouldn't recommend other women follow in my fumbling footsteps. And I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone abandon ambition out of loyalty to the Divine. Yes, there's beauty in serendipity and saying yes and being in the right place at the right time. But there's much wisdom, and so much well-earned pride, in charting a course, aligning your steps accordingly, and achieving your goals. Ladder or labyrinth, I wish someone had encouraged me to be intentional.

My daughter, age 9, has multiple ambitions for her career: rock star, scientist, and foster mom just to name a few. She might never be the next Beyonce, but we're encouraging ambition. Dance on Monday, voice on Tuesday. Science kits for Christmas. Trailhead on summer break.

There will, of course, be missteps and unintentional yeses and likely even "wasted" college credit. But in all of it, my wish for her is intentionality when it comes to her career. Ladder or labyrinth, may she choose her path and walk it fully awake. 


How Do I Behave?