As a young woman I have often imagined sitting next to a living legend, someone whose accomplishments left me in awe, to ask them how they achieved each milestone of their life. I knew it would never come to pass, but it was a way for me to imagine a coach outside myself who could instruct me on how to navigate the complex choices of career and adulthood.
Little did I know in 2018 the opportunity would actually present itself.
I still remember sitting down for the meeting. I’d received a message from the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, an organization I’d been supporting since moving to Denver, to discuss a potential partnership. No information was given, but to me it didn’t matter what the job was, I was ready to serve in whatever capacity the organization needed.
CEO Lauren Casteel sat at the head of the table and asked “Krystal, do you know why you’re here?” I said, “No, but I’m happy to discuss how I can support.”
I was then informed that I had been selected to interview tennis legend and women’s equality icon, Billie Jean King, at their largest luncheon to date, expecting over 3,000 guests. I remember my mind going blank, not realizing this was something I could even be considered for, but knowing I was ready to take the responsibility and have the opportunity to fulfill the dream of my youth.
I happily accepted and got to work spending months in preparation to research and understand as much about Ms. King as humanly possible. Between the research, phone conversations with BJK (our abbreviation for her), and the culminating interview I’ve learned 3 key lessons from the life of this living legend.
You can’t predict what your “moment” might be, but you must be prepared for it.
As a kid I remember being told that successful people have a goal and they strive for it. I always believed that meant knowing you’d be a CEO and going after that, or making it a goal to win a specific championship, but sometimes there are moments in life that we can’t predict will come our way.
Billie Jean King’s first big claim to fame was a 1973 tennis match called the Battle of the Sexes, which was viewed live by about 90 million people worldwide. Her moment came when self-titled Chauvinist Pig Bobby Riggs made the claim that he could beat any woman in a tennis match because men are by nature stronger and more equipped for sports. BJK was his second challenger and she welcomed the chance to stand up for women in a televised game.
In the end, Billie Jean King reigned victorious.
Moments like this cannot be predicted, but when they come, it’s important to seize them and win! King was successful because she made it her life’s mission to be the best tennis player she could be and to be ready for any opponent. She was also prepared to manage pressure, so she could take on challenges without allowing her natural fears and stressors to take over when the big moment came her way.
Similarly, we may not know when unpredictable moments will come along, but if we prepare ourselves, master our craft, and focus on the challenge ahead, we can succeed each and every time.
Know what you stand for and you’ll never look back with regret.
Even before the Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean King was an advocate -- dare I say warrior -- for women’s equality in sports. Joining together with 8 other women, they created the Women’s Tennis Association to provide a voice to stand up for inequalities in prize money between men’s and women’s tennis. They believed that women were just as entertaining as men and should therefore be compensated equally.
Today, WTA is the principal organizing body for women’s tennis representing over 2,500 players.
When discussing matters of women’s rights in any interview, Billie Jean King has the resolve and composure of a woman who believes in what she’s fighting for. In viewing her clips and interviews over 40 years of career, I’ve watched her carry the exact same passion without ever backtracking on her beliefs.
Watching her resolve over the years reminded me of the importance of knowing what we really stand for. Each and every person has non-negotiables, things we aren’t willing to bend on, but we aren’t always willing to stand up for them. I can think of moments when I didn’t stand strong in stating my beliefs and allowed my principles to be compromised, so I could make others comfortable. Those are moments of regret that will always disappoint me.
When we stand up for what matters to us, and never allow ourselves to negotiate our beliefs to avoid conflict we can reduce those moments of regret and live a life we can always be proud of.
Never stop growing, expanding and making an impact.
If you believed that after that mega-match seen ‘round the world that Billie Jean King was done achieving you’d be very incorrect. During my research, I was astonished to read about all of the things she’s been doing just in the past few years such as becoming an owner of the Dodgers and launching an exhibit with the New York Historical Society.
And when speaking with her, I learned about unpublished achievements that continue to bring awareness to the causes that matter. Being able to refer to her unique life experiences to advocate for these initiatives enriches the conversation and encourages more people to join in.
It’s limiting to believe that once we do something great it’s time to hang up our hats or that age is a factor in when we should sit back and let the “kids” take the front seat. A life well lived is full of personal growth where we take every opportunity possible to make an impact in the world around us.
There’s no time limit on making a difference.
Having the opportunity to sit down with Billie Jean King to ask the burning questions I’d been wanting to discuss was a privilege and a moment I'll always remember, but the biggest lessons came from immersing myself in a review of her life journey.
While my approach of imagining these titans as my personal mentors seemed fantastical, there’s so much we can learn from their lives and often an abundance of resources to help us with the task. If there is a person in the world whose path inspires you and reaching them is not easily achievable I encourage you to make a project of researching them to learn as much as you can. You may find that watching their interviews, hearing their podcasts and reading their articles is an amazing way to capture some of the biggest lessons they have to share.