Inspired at women's conference

Donna Heinel, USC's Senior Associate Athletic Director for women's sports, invited USC female student-athletes to a leadership dinner. Stephen Blaha/USC Athletics

Last week, my coach asked me if I would like to miss practice in order to attend a women’s conference. Since it was during our practice time, and I really wasn’t sure, I politely but hesitantly declined.

Luckily, I received another opportunity from Donna Heinel, USC’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for women’s sports, or known to some as a SWA (Senior Woman Administrator). She sent an email inviting USC female student-athletes to attend a women’s leadership dinner the night before the conference. It was the perfect solution -- I wouldn’t miss practice and I could adhere to my never-ending pledge to always learn something new.

Since I’ve never attended a women’s conference, I had no idea what I was getting into. These women came from so many different backgrounds. Some were authors, entrepreneurs, engineers. Others were in criminal law or were financial experts; athletes, non-athletes, USC alumnae, and the list goes on.

What did I share in common with all of these successful women? Inspiration.

Women attend women’s conferences seeking inspiration on the path of constant improvement in their personal and business lives.

There is no road map for life (to the frustration of many drivers), but if we can learn from the path set forth by others, we can find a sense of direction and even a friend along the way. I believe it is important to dispel the myth that women’s conferences are only for “women’s issues” or “women with issues.” In two hours, we discussed a broad range of topics, from friendship and finance to taking risks and what it was like to live in a house with 21 other children. (Hint: It was noisy.)

A women's conference isn't exclusively for women. The men who attended the dinner walked away with broadened perspectives as well. That being said, the advantage of modeling your personal road map after someone you see as similar to yourself is why these types of conferences are held. The more similarities you have with someone (being an athlete, having gone to USC, having an interest in business, and so on), the more clarity you can add to your own map for your own benefit.

So fellow inspired members of espnW, if you would indulge me, I would like to share what I learned from these inspirational women.

Athletes encompass the spirit of entrepreneurship: As an athlete, I’ve been learning and honing skills my entire life. Some of what I’ve learned -- teamwork, determination, drive, responsibility, competing, time management, commitment -- goes beyond the game of volleyball. These fundamental skill patterns fall in line with the special set of skills it takes to be an entrepreneur. Athletes know how to “do our own thing” and get ready for sports competitions while balancing homework and friends, so we can transfer that into another outlet. If there is not a clear path, we go left, we go right, down the lane, and we know how to score. Athletes know that failure is an option. We lift to failure, train to failure, but when game time comes, we do everything in our power not to fail. If you become a professional athlete, you are your own business. We hear as athletes that we have the skills that businesses are looking for, but oftentimes, we overlook what we can do ourselves.

Be an astronaut first: If you have multiple passions, you shouldn’t limit them. You should pursue the highest risk first. Why, you might ask, because there is no such thing as life balance. In the words of Helen Keller, “life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” If you’re going to take a risk and fail, you should do it early in life so that you can learn from it and change. Taking risks and admitting to faults will only make you stronger.

Renew your passion: Passion allows us to do the craziest things, like getting up before 6 a.m. to lift weights, spend countless hours training and still love playing your sport. When you can find that passion again, that’s when you know you’ve found a job that builds you. It's not always easy to picture what your dream job will be. What you picture it to be and what it actually is may end up being completely different from each other. Think of jobs as seasons: You have some winning seasons and some losing seasons. As you move forward, you work on your game so you can win all the time. If there is competition, you tell them to bring it. You need to move with intention and purpose and have the confidence to take on any challenge you face.

I would like to thank Heliane Steden, Andrea Armani, Juliette Robinson, Inger Miller and Margaret Bhola for sharing their road map with me as well as my fearless readers who have made it this far in my blog. You are all inspiring. I hope that one day our maps will lead us to the same place: happy and satisfied.