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Maybe Barbie Had It Right Always Having A Perfect Ken

Tracie Hitz's picture

A few weeks ago, I was inundated with emails and texts about the book "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. My female colleagues and friends were buying it and they wanted to know if I was reading it too. I'm a bit of a book nerd, so I was in fact reading it because I saw Sandberg on one of the talk shows and a few comments really struck a chord with me.

The Most Important Career Choice You'll Make Is Who You Marry
I think this goes for women AND men. I have several divorced friends in the sports industry who said their spouses had grown tired of the amount of time they were putting into their jobs. They hoped their spouses would want to fit into their work lives, (e.g. by coming to the games, attending sports banquets) instead of getting upset when they had these obligations on nights and weekends.

I also have many happily-married friends in the sports biz, including The Migala Report's very own writer, Mary Pink, who was one of the people talking to me about "Lean In". I've gotten to know her husband, Ken, because he occasionally attends sports conferences with her, attends Iowa State games, etc. When I went to visit Mary in Ames in 2011 for the upset over Oklahoma State, I drove to her house to meet Ken so we could head over to the stadium. I didn't even see Mary until we got into the game, and that was totally fine. That's the life of working in sports. I get it. Ken gets it.

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Spending that day with Ken is when I realized that if I'm going to have a shot at a successful marriage, I need to find someone like him. The stories he shared showed that he supported Mary every time she Leaned In. So when people ask me why I'm still single in my mid-30s, I used to say, "I was concentrating on my career", which would then lead to follow up questions like, "so you've never even been divorced?" I translated that to, "there must be something really wrong with you".

After reading "Lean In", I now respond with, "I haven't found 'the one' personally AND professionally yet", which takes the conversation I've had hundreds of times before in a totally different direction. Some call girls like me "picky". And I'm fine with that.

Women Make Decisions Based On Things That Haven't Happened Yet
The example I can relate to most are the friends and colleagues who left the sports biz because they wanted to have a family even though they weren't even married yet. Again, this isn't just women I'm talking about here. One male friend recently left a sports organization because he wanted to put himself in the best situation to have a family. This is a guy who doesn't have a girlfriend, but he wanted to stop moving around, make more money and live in a bigger city so he has a better chance of meeting someone. Because his past relationships had failed in part to his job, he made adjustments to the things he could control, but what effect will that have on his career path?

For me, career decisions have always been the driving force in my life. I've broken off two serious relationships because they weren't fitting into all parts of my life. Sometimes it felt selfish even though I often tried to compromise, but after reading "Lean In", I realized that if I had "leaned back" I would've gone in a completely different direction. Instead, I kept pushing forward and now I have finally found the work-life balance most people are still looking for in the sports industry. In fact, each year at the NACMA Convention, we have a Female Administrators Panel where the questions usually center around achieving that balance. One year, a female athletic director answered by saying, "I married the right person."

Among the panelists each year are also single women, which instead of being inspired by these women with great accomplishments it scares some of the younger women who want to be married sooner rather than later. And that fear contributes to the decisions they make in their careers.

Three years ago during the panel is when I realized that separating problems by gender wasn't providing the most effective session for the attendees. The ah-ha moment was seeing David Brown from Ohio State take a seat in the room with 2-3 other men who attended. One of his co-workers was on the panel, but when I asked him why he came he said it was partly to support Diana, but he also wanted to get some insight because he works with and manages women everyday. I loved this so much that the next year, we had a male moderator to change the dynamic of the room. This change caused an increase in the number of men who attend the panel each year, which provides even more insight into navigating your career in sports.

After seeing the effects of this change, I suggested the same interaction for the Female Mentoring Program that Mary started years ago. Mary agreed with the change, so now in its first year we are hearing about solid mentoring relationships being formed through the Professional Development Program that is open to women and men who work in marketing for college athletics. It made sense to me since 90% of my mentors are male and I valued their insight because I already know how a woman thinks. What I need to know is how to interact more effectively with the opposite sex, especially when it comes to a sales pitch, getting a promotion, etc.

In over 15 years in the sports industry, I've only worked for one woman, and she left the business almost a decade ago to spend more time with her husband and children. She is still an important part of my life and I admire her for the amazing life she has now, but I often wonder what incredible things she would be doing if she had continued on in the sports biz? I'm a believer in the idea of "Leaning In", and not just for women. Surrounding yourself with the right people personally and professionally will help you figure out who you are, and more importantly, who you want to be.

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