I just got home from a pretty cool event. It's the USOC Media Summit and for three days we bring in a bunch of Olympic hopefuls and pretty much every sport media outlet in the country and everyone gets loads of interviews and other content to use in the run up to the Games. It was my first time going and it was a really fun thing to be part of. Any given night you could walk into the bar and end up having a conversation with someone vying for their second or third Olympic team. People with X Games medals and World Championship titles. I went up to our office one night and happened upon Bode Miller sprawled out on the couch watching football in his socks. My sister brought baby Nina up one night and she wouldn't let go of Louie Vito's finger when he came over to say hello.
It's not normal this world that I live in. The travel, the experiences, even the actual work that I do is nothing I ever would have imagined for myself. I went to my dear friend's wedding this summer and happened to be seated next to a guy who was Billy Joel's drummer for 30 years. After I peppered him with questions about THAT amazing career he asked what I did. And when I told him he thought MY job was cool. It's gratifying every single time I tell people what I do and it impresses them but there is more than a little part of me that can't help sounding a tiny "don't get used to this" warning. Your cool job doesn't say anything real about you except that you are enormously blessed.
I came home from a trip a few months ago. It was late. I couldn't remember where my car was parked. I wandered around the airport lot for awhile and then tiredness and lateness caught up to me and I couldn't stop crying. It all seemed so pointless to have spent all this time building a career and a network and then having no one to pick you up from the damn airport.
I'm turning 37 next week. I'm sad to report that all those annoying things your parents always said about how they still felt young are true and I look at that number and can't understand how it applies to me. The 20 year high school reunion planning committee has formed and like it or not, I'm on the downward spiral to 40. An age I remember my parents turning. And age that sounds like an expiration date no matter how many ways we want to call it the new 30. Remember when 30 also sounded old?
This brings me to a point of my career and life where I am rethinking everything I ever imagined about what it means to be successful. All the arbitrary things I thought would mean I had "made it" when I was sixteen.
I want to keep growing and challenging myself at work and I hope that means that I continue to have more responsibility and make more money. No question. A fulfilling career is important to me and I'm not going to feel bad about being ambitious and wanting more, no matter how undatable that seems to make me. But I never want to feel that my job or my salary is any indication of what kind of person I am.
I am also smart enough (most of the time) to know that my relationship status is not a measure of success either. If I were to be a wife or mother then for sure I would want to be really good at those jobs as well. But again, I don't think having cute kids or a rich husband says anything fundamental about who you are anymore than having a LOT of cool stories from the Olympics does.
A few months ago I got to teach a class to some sport and business management kids at the local university. My friend Garrett teaches there and had asked me to come share some thoughts on sports marketing. I love love love talking to students so I was happy to take a morning off work and spend a few hours answering questions. At the end of my presentation Garrett got back up and said, "I hope you all got some good things out of that and we'll certainly talk more about her points, but what I really want you to get out of Katie's presentation is not what she does but how she does it. That smile and that energy that she has? That's not an act, you'll see that on Day One of the Olympics and it will be just as sincere three weeks later when she is tired and worn down and you'll see it when everything is falling apart. It's really who she is and that is a far more important quality to have than any of the strategy we can talk about here." I almost started to cry. It might have been the best compliment I have ever gotten because it completely nailed that thing I really, really want. My own personal measure of success. Get ready for the cheesiest thing you will read on the internet today but when I die, the only thing I want anyone to talk about at my funeral is not what I did, but how I did it.
These big events like I went to this week are always an interesting study in human interaction. You take a whole bunch of people at the top of their field-not just the athletes but the journalist who come, the agents who represent them, the sponsor reps and the people from my own organization who are pretty darn good at what they do-and you put them in a little bit of a pressure cooker and true colors tend to spill out all over.
I have no problem with anyone owning their own success. I like confidence. So I don't have any issue with people who act like they belong at such an event. I don't expect everyone to walk around in a wide eyed "golly gee can you believe this is happening to little me" haze the whole time. But it's always fascinating to me to see the ways people treat each other there. Folks who cannot be bothered to say thank you or acknowledge the person talking to them if it's just a lowly volunteer or intern. People who you have to reintroduce yourself to seven times because they have deemed you unnecessary. Or my personal favorite, people who have zero interest in you until they hear what you do and then suddenly they are super interested in getting your card. And conversely there is nothing cooler than seeing someone with a closet full of trophies being cool and approachable and nice (I don't like to name names but if you need an Olympian to follow this pre-Games who is as delightful in real life as you think he is on TV, Louie Vito is your guy.)
I always come away from these things trying to be a little bit more aware of how I treat people but for some reason this one hit me particularly hard. One night I happened to be in my room when the maid came by to do turndown service. Don't get me wrong, I love turndown service. I absolutely love coming back to my room after a long day and having the lights low, music playing and chocolate on the bed. It's awesome. It makes you feel a little bit like a big shot. But somehow it was kind of embarrassing to be putting on makeup while a real person was turning down my bed just because the circumstances of our lives meant that I was the one staying in the fancy hotel and she was the one cleaning it. I have been out in the world now long enough to know that the line between the two of us is thinner than you think. I gave her a big tip and was overly effusive with my thanks. She probably thought I was a nut.
So that's it. That's my goal going into 37. I want my life to be more focused on how I do things than what I'm doing. So if I'm running Olympic Team Processing or I'm teaching the five year olds at Church, I want the way I act to be the same. I have a healthy respect for accomplishments, it's important to work hard. I have a much healthier respect for integrity and kindness no matter the situation.
I've used this quote before here and I always say it to young people asking my advice but I am trying to figure out how to get tatooed on my body because it's just the best thing.
"Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen"
Conan O'Brien usually knows best.