By Angela Noel
August 18, 2016
Getting from here to there could be a harrowing journey; drivers honked, tires squealed, and traffic lights were mere suggestions. Angela did’t like traveling in her city. But that wasn’t the only problem. In the 1990s, members of a drug cartel moved into her quiet, middle class neighborhood in Santiago de Cali, Colombia. Someone was assassinated across the lane from her house.
Angela, a teen then, wondered, Do people obey the law in the U.S.?
Angela grew up feeling in-between. Her mother is white, her father, black. Her mother is an American, her father, Colombian. Angela never felt entirely comfortable among her classmates. She had a few close friends, but there was always something–she didn’t quite fit in.
Teenagers in Colombia drink and dance at clubs until dawn. Though Angela occasionally danced at the clubs, she mostly observed and wondered. Whether at school, at a party, or just hanging out, she studied the people. She followed the patterns of behavior, tracing the action to the impact. She studied herself. Why did she feel like she didn’t always belong? Why did she choose not to drink alcohol when everyone else did? Why did the annual Cali Festival and it’s traditional horse parade make her skin crawl?
When Angela arrived in Minnesota, after receiving her engineering degree from Universidad Autonoma, she applied for jobs in her field while working at a bank. But a problem arose. The most promising role required she design assembly lines for weapons manufacturing. When the offer came, Angela declined. “Solving the problem would have been interesting, but it was bigger than that. I didn’t want to think that what I was helping to create, would ultimately be used to destroy.”
Being in-between invited Angela to develop an empathetic and thoughtful approach to life and relationships. Her experiences with drug cartels and reckless drivers gave her an appreciation for method and precision. But rigidity stifles creativity, as Alicia Keys explained in a recent interview, “. . . I learned that you try to control things too much and you miss the magic.” Though Angela knew circumstances beyond her control would always invade the ordered world she craved, she didn’t want to miss the magic. The key, Angela found, was to know what she wanted and why she wanted it. The moment to act and the words she needed would come when both her heart and mind were listening.
Angela has offered me many gifts over the years, but the first was more than seven years ago when we both worked as managers for a local credit union. As the more senior of the two of us, I was the Branch Manager, and she the Assistant. (Our team often joked, “Did you ask the Angela’s?” when someone needed a manager’s advice.) One day, Angela and I met in my office. Along with branch business, we planned our next team meeting (a meeting I always enjoyed, mostly because I did a lot of the talking). But Angela had something more to offer. She placed her hand on my desk, leaning in. Her eyes met mine, her accent barely perceptible as she said, “You know, it’s not that you don’t listen, you do. It’s just that sometimes, you need to talk less.”
She was (and still is) right. Leaving space in the conversation, instead of filling the air with my words, changed how I lead and the quality of my relationships. The gentle way she gave me her thoughts spoke her sincerity in wanting to help me understand. She trusted herself, the moment, and me–she let the magic happen.
If Angela can do it, so can I, so can you.
Be awesome in real life.
Are you letting the magic happen? What experiences in your life helped shape your life philosophy?