I know you are inspired by the commencement address of Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, and you feel like the world is your oyster. I see that you’re armed with great work experience, athletic competitiveness, and the inspiration from thought leaders, church family, and your fellow graduates and co-officials. And so you begin your journey to womanhood, entrepreneurship and college basketball officiating. I see those images in your mind — images of the perfect job, perfect game, perfect family, perfect friends and perfect home. Yes, the perfect life manifested in your mind as quickly as you walked on stage to accept your diploma.
As you head into your 20s, well, I see that life happens. You’ll have to work hundreds of high school basketball games and a couple jobs to pay for rent, food, clothes, professional advancement seminars and the bar tab (probably the one most detrimental to your growth, BTW). You’ll journey into the “glass ceiling” environment for women; both on the court and in the board room you work for a variety of men who aren’t exactly encouraging your growth or career success. I’m sure you’ll look back one day and remember a boss who didn’t allow you to speak in the Monday meetings. And I’m sure you’ll also recall the assignor who has a “preferred” way for women to wear their ponytails. Oh my, this will definitely be a decade for learning!
So you’ll start thinking that jobs are just jobs, games are just exercise, and the best long-term solution will be to be to find a husband, settle down, have children like all your friends, and just be content. And so you do (for a while).
Take a breath. I’m telling you this because now, in your late 30s, you have overcome the rut called casual complacency. And my gift to you is the good news that it all works out! After a few years of uncertainty, failed relationships and odd jobs, I assure you that life is good! But while you figure it out, let me give you a couple tools to help you navigate through and beyond this next chapter of your life so you can get where you most want to go. You and I both know that the only thing more important than who you are today is the successful, driven and loving woman you are becoming.
– First, GET REAL! It doesn’t pay to pretend to be something you’re not to get what you want out of life. To base who you are on what others think you should be is dismissing your journey of who you have come to be. Be who you are. Not every official has the same personality, and you are different than the people who have inspired, trained and mentored you. Believe that you are enough when you walk into an experience – professional or personal. Accept what you CAN and CANNOT do, and then understand that what you CANNOT DO does not equate to worthlessness.
– Next, EXPECT FAILURE! One sure way to get better, tap into your passion more and gain a clearer sense of yourself is to welcome failure. Remember when you went to that first camp that you really wanted to be hired in and then August/September rolled around and you didn’t get the email? Well, that’s okay; it’s just a part of your story. Challenge yourself to see failure as an aspiration so that you can get closer to where you are meant to be with much more clarity. Failure may yield a longer journey to success, but you’ll gain life-long lessons every step of the way. Trust me, your patience and persistence pays off later.
– Plus, EMBRACE CHANGE! There will be moments when it seems your career or pursuit to the top of the officiating ladder has fallen apart. Early in your career, the one commissioner you work for will be fired, and your connection to Division I will seem to have come to an end. But embrace the change and don’t let it paralyze you and your vision.
– Finally, TAKE TIME! Dwelling in the process is one of the most important keys to navigating through your career, emotions, and life. First Lady Michelle Obama had this to say in a recent talk to a crowd of young adults: “The only thing that happens in an instant is destruction. Build something…earthquake, it’s gone. But everything else requires time: raising children, building a family, having a career. All of it takes time.” Make the decision to slow down and define what you, and only you, can give back in your personal or professional life. Taking your time will give you the energy and focus to keep you moving forward in your own time and at your own pace. The big games will come with proper training, reflection, study and situations. Enjoy the journey!
No one will tell you being a Division I official is going to be easy, but most people won’t tell you it’s going to be so dang hard either. It’s up to you to roll with the punches while celebrating the times when you get back up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward. Take these words to heart and instead of doing what so many others do, make your own path to the top of the mountain. Pursue exciting relationships, exotic adventures, and the best games. And then reflect along the way on each small success and failure. I am so excited to tell you that you make it. You become a Division I referee; you own a small business; you are a partner in a bigger business; you have a great family; you don’t simply survive. You thrive.
So to my younger self, happy birthday and get ready, expect failure, embrace change and take time to enjoy the ride!
– RefWriter, 20 years later