My plans rarely happen the way I envision them. But somehow, I end up exactly where I’m supposed to be. Growing up, I planned for a life in law and politics. In that exact order — law school, law practice and then politics. But what happened instead? I started my career in politics fresh out of college. While my plan to enter law school right after college did not pan out, I was fine because I secured one part of my dream duo, politics.
Life happened, so I pivoted. I enrolled into a graduate program and got married about four months after starting my new job and graduate school. My planning partner in life Mr. Edwards and I created a 10-year plan that included having children near our 10th anniversary. We were so naïve. People laughed when we revealed our plan. Unfazed and undeterred, we rolled our eyes and kept it moving. What did they know? We were planners and everything would work out as planned. Right?
And for the most part, it did. We were kid free until November 9, 2010, the day we found out we were having a baby. That day was also one week after my boss lost her re-election bid for the U.S. Senate and I lost my job. And oh yeah, it was also during my second year of law school. Remember the dream duo, law and politics? Disoriented, perplexed, I felt it all. Yet, we were having a baby. How could I even question the timing or be upset? It’s what we planned, right?
Again, I pivoted. I switched to the law school’s full-time program, enrolled into summer classes to speed up my graduation date and had our baby girl in June 2011. Mr. Edwards took six weeks of paternity leave to stay home with our baby girl. I immediately returned to school, interviewed with Southern Bancorp in July 2011, began working at Southern in September 2011 and graduated from law school in December 2011. It was quite a ride. Although I survived, I learned a valuable lesson: plan and prepare.
Planning is design. Preparation is readiness. The pivots prepared me, and the times when life didn’t dictate a pivot, my purpose required preparation. Staying prepared for unexpected opportunities isn’t magical; it’s intentional. Three tried and true actions have helped me along the way:
1. Committing to lifelong learning: Every day I learn something that either expands my current viewpoint or builds knowledge to assist others. In every way, a commitment to lifelong learning ensures that I stay open to new ideas and that I’m exposed to a broad range of solutions. Lifelong learning disrupts complacency and opens a world of opportunities.
2. Practicing courage: Practicing courage is an integral part of my growth. Courage allows me to move in the face of fear. It helps me set boundaries, pursue my dreams and show up as I am. Courage helps me to be honest with myself even when my truth is painful to face. “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” -Maya Angelou
3. Staying focused: As Patrice Gordon said, “What is meant for me is not going to miss me.” Staying focused alleviates distractions associated with the hustle-for-your-worth grind. When I’m focused on my goals and my purpose, I don’t have time to worry about what others are doing or saying.
These lessons are all outgrowths of planning and preparation. Whatever defining lessons God has in store for me, I am ready to learn them. As one of my elders imparted many years ago, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” My plans may not manifest exactly how I’ve written them on paper; however, as I continue to plan and prepare, I stay ready to pivot, to learn and to grow.
Little Rock native Tamika S. Edwards is the special advisor to the CEO on diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement for Central Arkansas Water. She works across all departments and in partnership with community organizations to eliminate systemic organizational marginalization and promote inclusive practices for the betterment of the utility, the communities CAW serves and the water industry overall. She has 20 years of experience in public policy and community development.