I get asked a lot about what it’s like to be a woman working in sports.
In the last four years, there have been many times that I was the only woman in the room, whether it was a locker room filled with sweaty men or the media work room after a game.
And you know what? It doesn’t phase me. Not one bit.
Maybe it doesn’t phase me, because since I was 18, I’ve mostly been surrounded by men.
The undergraduate institution I went to was made up of only 23-percent women.
As such, many of my best friends are men.
I think the reason why it doesn’t bother me, though, is because my ability to do my job is not dependent upon my gender.
To me, the ability to work and succeed in sports–or anything, for that matter–isn’t about being male or female.
It’s about hard work. And determination. And skills. And smarts. And drive.
And how you treat people.
That last line, to me, is the most important. I can tell you, hands down, that many doors have opened for me solely because of how I treat people.
I think that’s important to note, because while so much of business is about competition, everything cannot be a competition.
I was at a women’s event awhile back. It was an event meant to highlight the successes and work of my peers in this industry. While I was proud of my colleagues, something left a bad taste in my mouth. Every woman who walked to the podium told a story of beating a man at something.
Let me tell you something, in my opinion, women getting ahead in the workforce isn’t about beating men.
Rather, it’s about finding ways and places to showcase what makes us different, unique and well-qualified for any job.
When one sets out with the sole intention of beating someone, they lose sight of what’s truly available to them. What’s available to anyone isn’t the opportunity to beat others, but the opportunity to become one’s best self, push one’s limits and reach one’s highest potential.
I do not believe that women have to let go of their femininity to get ahead in a sports-based career.
Rather, I believe that in many instances, femininity may be an advantage.
One of the strongest traits associated with femininity is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In other words, empathy is the ability to connect.
What is the sports world driven by? Relationships. Connections.
Women need to start using this ability to get ahead. It’s time to cut the “us versus them” nonsense. The simplest way to disconnect from someone is to believe that you are setting out to beat them. Instead, women must understand that the only way we are going to push further in this industry is by working together. We need to connect.
With women. With men. Of all ages. Of all career levels. Everywhere.
I guess to some I lead a double existence.
I can talk sports with the best of them. Sports are my lifeblood.
Yet, sports are not my life.
I love talking on the phone with my girlfriends. I make a mean key lime pie. Decorating and antique stores make me happy. And shopping might be my downfall.
I remember birthdays. I come to parties with wine and flowers. I’m sensitive. Pink ranks in my top three favorite colors.
I want to be a wife someday. A good wife.
I want to be a mother someday. A good mother.
I want to have a job, too. And be good at it.
I’m a woman.
And because of that, I’m inherently feminine.
When I go to conferences attended by both genders, here’s what I don’t see: Men standing at podiums talking about beating women. In fact, if they did, it’d probably make national news and cause a big PR problem for someone.
Men don’t host breakout sessions at conferences focused upon how to become more feminine. Again, if they did, it’d probably make national news.
What are men doing at conferences? They are focusing upon improving traits and characteristics that are inherent to them. They are pushing forward to improve themselves. They are not hyper-focused on beating others. Rather, they drive forward building upon what lies within them and their connections. If they beat someone because of those two things, great.
I’m grateful for the women who blazed a trail ahead of me that allowed me an opportunity to work in sports. I don’t discredit what they went through or the difficulties they surmounted.
All I’m saying is this: Why don’t we focus on utilizing the traits inherent to women to get ahead?
Women should not have to act like men to get the jobs they want. We are built biologically and physiologically different for a reason. Each gender is given its own, unique set of gifts. That doesn’t mean that one gender is better meant for certain careers. Rather, it just means we have different traits to work with.
It’s time that we foster and support our female colleagues for who they are. It’s time that we embrace things like empathy and sensitivity for the positivity that they bring to the workplace. If women truly want equality in the workplace, we must demand that the workplace allows us to be our feminine selves.
Women getting to where they need to be on the corporate ladder isn’t about beating men.
It’s about being allowed and celebrated for who we are, as feminine as we want to be, in all levels of the working world.
I was walking out of Fado on Friday night, after having drinks with Molly, Avi and Jess.
A short, African-American man approached me as I walked home with my headphones in my ears.
He spoke, and I pulled them out.
“Could you spare some change? I haven’t eaten today,” he said.
“Why don’t you just let me buy you something to eat, then?” I replied.
He said, “Ok.”
And so, we started walking. With his plastic bags and limp. And my Michael Kors bag from last season and four-inch platform heels.
We marched through the people dining on patios. And the beautiful women. And the European luxury cars.
As we walked, I looked at him and said, “Why are you on the streets?”
“Alicia, right?” he said. “That’s what you said your name is?”
“I’m a junkie,” he said as he stumbled over his words.
“Hm,” I uttered.
I let those words roll through my head. Words of sincere honesty. Words void of B.S. Words not hiding anything. He answered my question, after all.
And I only had one response.
“Do you believe in Jesus?”
Without a second to give it a thought, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Yes.”
I shot a look back and said, “Well, you know that it is through Jesus that you can be healed, right?”
He looked down and mumbled, “I know.”
We walked a few more steps in silence.
And then he said, “But I’m not ready.”
And that got me thinking.
Why aren’t we ready to give up our vices–whatever they may be?
Why do we hold on to that which brings us down, when the answer is so easy?
All we have to do is be ready.
And grace is ours.
I boarded the flight on Thursday night and let out a sigh of relief that I made it on time. I was cutting things short, I knew, when I booked this flight itinerary. I relaxed, though, when I got into my seat, happy that I made it.
I made small talk with the man next to me, who was from the Dominican Republic. I talked to him about his country’s neighbor, Haiti. I talk to everybody about Haiti these days.
After our small talk stopped, I looked out the window and started to close my eyes. The airplane’s engine was rumbling and I was looking forward to napping my way from Miami to D.C.
As the wheels began spinning, I gasped. I looked at my new friend in the middle seat and said, “OH NO.”
“What?” he replied confusedly.
“I left my bag!” I exclaimed.
“Up front?” he asked.
“No. I literally left my bag. I left it in the passenger boarding area.”
So, there I was. On a flight to D.C. that was going to land at 11:30 p.m. with a speech to give at UVA that was set to begin at 9 a.m. I’d be speaking alongside vice presidents of Sony and Fox and a Harvard Law professor. Without the clothes or makeup that were in my bag that TSA was probably exploding in a field.
I landed in D.C. with my purse and laptop and made my way to the rental car counter. They gave me a Ford Fiesta that I’m pretty sure shouldn’t have been on the road. I gunned in southbound two hours to Charlottesville, VA, where I parked and stayed for the night around 3 a.m. I slept until 6, then woke, showered with the hotel’s provided toiletries and blow dried my hair with the provided blowdryer. I drove to the nearest Walmart where I stocked up on makeup and beauty supplies then drove to the nearby Target where I waited outside until it opened then proceeded to buy a decent looking outfit.
In all of this, I could only laugh. I didn’t sweat it. I didn’t get angry. If anything, I was grateful.
I was grateful, that even though I didn’t protect my belongings, I was able to replace them. It was humbling and a gentle reminder to take better care of what I have.
The weekend was awesome, albeit filled with follies.
I was never able to get a hold of TSA to figure out if my bag was in their possession. I basically wrote it off as being a lost cause.
I spoke at UVA and was blown away by the smarts and credentials of the people I sat alongside. My favorite person there, though, was my former law professor, Matt Parlow. Professor Parlow taught my 1L property class, and I’m forever indebted to him for teaching me about future interests, which subsequently allowed me to pass the California bar examination on the first try.
My 2L year, Professor Parlow taught my sports law class. In that class, we had to write 30 page papers. I wrote mine on the athletic exploitation of NCAA athletes. In red pen on my paper’s last page, Professor Parlow wrote something to the extent of, “Great job! This is of publishable quality.” Those two sentences in a sense lit a fire in my heart that sports law was something I should pursue–something I could succeed and excel at. It was fun, five years later, to be participating as a panelist at the same symposium as him.
On Saturday morning, I packed my new belongings into plastic Walmart and Target bags. When I checked out of the hotel, the attendant said, “Where are you headed?” I said, “D.C.” She said, “By yourself?” I said, “Um, yes.” She said, “Well, be careful. The roads are awful.”
I looked out the window and saw snow lightly falling. Without her seeing I rolled my eyes slightly and thought, “Oh, come on, this is nothing!” I am from Colorado, after all.
What Colorado has that Virginia doesn’t, though, is a good plow and de-icing system. The roads were awful. What was worse, though, was my Ford Fiesta. Homeboy wouldn’t even go up hills. As I maneuvered the clown car throughout Charlottesville, Virginia trying to avoid hills in an attempt to get to D.C., my mother’s face flashed through my head constantly. Among the various things my mother has taught me throughout my life is how to drive in the snow and not get stuck. Gun it. Turn your wheels. Don’t stop. I never got stuck that day when many other cars did. Christine Jessop would’ve been proud.
I realized, though, that the ol’ Fiesta and I were going to have a gnarly ride together if I took it all the way to D.C. So I opted to drop it off at the Charlottesville Airport and pick up an SUV. The entire process of leaving my hotel, getting to the airport and swapping out my car took two hours. And cost an extra $100. It wasn’t a cheap trip, but at least me and my new belongings were safe.
I headed up to D.C. and at this point, I was out of underwear. Like my mother, my Nana has taught me some important lessons in life. One of which is never go out without clean underwear on. I was meeting an old law school friend, Allison, for the Georgetown game that night and then up with my friend Michael later, so I needed to heed my Nana’s advice. The problem was that because of the storm, all of Georgetown, where I was staying, had shut down. Save for Anthropologie.
Anthropologie is one of my favorite stores. It is not, however, known for its selection of intimates. When I arrived, there was one pair for me to choose from. The pair cost $68. Like I said, it was a really expensive trip.
I got on the plane Sunday night after having breakfast in VA with Michael and meeting up with former students at Georgetown Cupcake. I thought to myself, “What a good weekend.” For all of the chaos and confusion, there was only one thing that mattered: The entire time, I was surrounded by good people.
I needed this lesson. I always say that people are more important than things and memories are more important than places. I say that, but sometimes I don’t think I really live it. This weekend stripped me of my labels. It stripped me of the outfits I planned to wear. It forced me to go into a conference filled with powerhouse leaders with just myself and my ideas. It required people to look at, judge and like me for who I am and not what is on my body.
It was humbling. And it was oh, so needed.
Sometimes, I believe that the universe, or in my case, God, sends you a big wake-up call. This wake-up call was about getting my priorities straight. It was a wake-up call about the need to sometimes, start over from nothing. It was a wake-up call to let my heart, knowledge and care for others drive my relationships and what people think of me. It was a wake-up call that the clothes truly don’t make the woman.
I’ve known this for awhile. Before this, I was most recently reminded of this fact when I was in Haiti. There, people had no idea what degrees I hold, where I come from or what I do for a living. All they knew was me and how I treated them and made them feel. And with those few things alone, they accepted me. They didn’t just accept me, but they showed love to me. In the same regard, I accepted and loved them. It was humbling. It was real.
These days, I am working hard to get back to reality. When people think about or see me, I want them to think about who I am and not what I am. I’m tired of labels. I’m tired of labels because they only mask what’s under them. I want to be seen for who I am in terms of loving people, giving to people and being humble with myself.
Sometimes, a lost suitcase is a good thing. Because sometimes, it lets you start over from scratch.
I need to air a grievance.
I have a real problem with people complaining about Valentine’s Day.
My biggest problem lies with the people who mope around every February 14 if they don’t find themselves in a romantic relationship on that day. Many of these people tend to scoff at the idea of a day centered around love and call it “Single Awareness Day.” They believe that this day is one singled out on the calendar to bring attention to them and hence, allow them to wallow in self pity.
I have a problem with calling a day aimed at recognizing love “Single’s Awareness Day,” because of this: None of us are single.
On Saturday night–Valentine’s Night–I threw a party for some of my best girlfriends in Miami. Some of us are in relationships, some of us are single, some of us are juggling a few men. Regardless of our romantic status, the celebration was about one thing: Love.
Being in love is the opposite of being single. So often, though, people read that last sentence I typed and believe that the only type of love one can be in and not be single is romantic love.
That, my friends, is so, so, so far from the truth.
In the last year, I’ve experienced more love than I’ve ever experienced. And I know exactly why that is. I experienced more love in the last 365 days, because it was in those days that more so than any others in my 30 years I allowed myself to be loved and give love to others.
None of us are single. None of us are single, because none of us lives on a deserted island.
Rather, each of us lives in a world filled with people whose biggest desire is to be loved.
When I realized that what people want the most in life isn’t money or fame or social status, but love, my life changed. My life changed, because I realized that even though I may never be rich, famous or the most popular, that I can always be love.
If you can be love, you are never single.
What does being love look like?
To me, being love is about being intentional.
Yesterday, I saw a friend that I haven’t talked to in a couple months post something on Facebook that indicated she’s going through a tough time in life. I took two seconds out of my day to text and ask if she was ok.
A week ago, I noticed that I hadn’t seen a woman who works at a store on campus at work in a few days. The next time I saw her, I asked if everything was ok.
I go to the same Starbucks several times a week. In the last month, I’ve made it a point to memorize the barista’s names and get to know some of their interests and backgrounds.
Loving others is simple. To love, you show people that they matter. You empathize with them. You demonstrate your care for them.
We all do it. We all do it because were are not on this Earth alone.
And because we do it, none of us are single.
On a lighter note, the party was pretty great.
There were roses and a few too many bottles of champagne. By too many bottles of champagne, I mean, if we wanted to, we each could’ve had our own.
I made sliders and homemade french fries that I packed into french fry boxes with labels that read, “Fry Love You!” My friends made enough delicious sweet treats to fill a bakery.
There’s a magazine that is published for the neighborhood I live at in Miami. This month, the cover of their issue featured a story on the top-45 bachelors in my neighborhood. When I saw this issue lying in my mail room, I picked it up. You know, for entertainment purposes.
As I prepared for my Valentine’s Party, the sorority girl lying dormant in me suddenly had a great crafting idea: Dates-on-a-stick.
I spent a good amount of time cutting out pictures from the issue and glueing them onto sticks with each guy’s bio on the back of them. I then displayed them in a red, sparkly box and allowed my guests to pick a date-on-a-stick when they arrived. It was all in good fun.
Later that night, we went out in Miami. The best moment of the night came when we were out at a popular bar and my friend leaned over and said, “Um, I think that’s the guy on my stick.” I looked at her stick. I looked at the guy. Sure enough, it was.
I made eye contact with him and said, “Albert?!”
He said, “Yea! Do I know you?”
I said, “Um, well no. Not really. You’re on my friend’s stick, though,” at which point my friend propped the stick up and waved it at him.
Rather than being horrified by this entire scene, Albert was actually pretty generous. He chatted us up and even posed for a few good-hearted pictures.
My Mom asked the next day if he asked my friend out. I had to tell my mom that believe it or not, life isn’t a romantic comedy. So no, the date-on-a-stick didn’t ask my friend out on Valentine’s Day. But man, someone in Hollywood should pen that script!
So, romantically single she remains. Single in this world, though? No. This world is filled with love. It’s up to you to find it!
I woke up on December 10, 2011, and instead of engaging in my typical run to the beach followed by a stop at Starbucks, I decided to do something different.
Only July 1, 2011, I made a decision that would come to change my life: I bet on myself.
That day, I decided to start a sports law website, RulingSports.com. My goals in starting the website were to show the world my knowledge and understanding of sports law. I knew what I was capable of, so in starting the website, I was betting on myself and my subsequent ability to land a job in sports.
In the months that followed my launch of RulingSports.com, many exciting things happened. I began networking with industry leaders and executives. I signed with a broadcasting agent. Doors that previously had been closed to me began opening.
As more doors began opening, I realized I had to wind down my private practice of the law. With billable hour requirements, I couldn’t keep up the pace of writing I had been engaging in. Seeing that writing was my top passion, I knew that I needed more time to pursue it. Given this, I decided to leave my job at a mid-size law firm in Orange County to become a prosecutor in Colorado. Doing so would eliminate billable hours from my life and in turn, give me more time to write.
December 10, 2011 fell five days before I was moving from California to Colorado to take on my new job. It also turned out to be the day that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim announced their signing of Albert Pujols–arguably, the most valuable free agent in 2011–in a well-attended press conference.
Earlier in 2011, I met David Cohen, who at the time was the general counsel for the Angels. When we met, I think that RulingSports.com was all of two weeks old. That didn’t stop me from marching right up to him after he finished speaking on a panel and introducing myself as the site’s founder. David was kind and generous, in that he said he’d heard of the site. In the weeks that followed, I’d sit down for an interview with him. As time has passed, David has become one of my greatest mentors and friends in the sports law world.
When the Angels signed Pujols, I remember emailing David congratulating him and the team on their big get. We shot a few emails back-and-forth about the press conference. Seeing that I didn’t know if I was going to be in town, I didn’t secure a credential.
When the day of the press conference arose, I suddenly wanted to attend the conference. It’d be one of the last chances I’d have to attend a major news event in California, and I wanted to take advantage of it. I figured I could just show up at the stadium and there’d be a handful of people. Long story short, I didn’t think it’d be an issue that I didn’t have a press credential.
Once I got to the stadium, I quickly realized how wrong I was. In the years since that event, I’ve covered countless press conferences. I’ve never seen as many media and people converged at one, save for maybe Beyonce’s press conference ahead of Super Bowl 47. Seeing the throngs of people, I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere close enough to the action to be able to ask Pujols questions, let alone accurately transcribe his quotes. To make my being there worthwhile, I quickly had to act. In the moment, I realized I had to bet on myself.
I approached the media area of the press conference and walked up to the security guard managing media credentials. I introduced myself as Alicia Jessop from RulingSports.com and explained my situation regarding my credential. Luckily, in getting to know David, he had introduced me to the Angels’ media director. I told the security guard that the media director knew me. The security director then paged someone over his walkie talkie, talked to that person for a few seconds and a few moments later, I was being led through the ropes and into one of the first rows of the press conference.
When I got into the press conference, I knew that this was an important opportunity for me. I had to ask questions and make myself heard. I couldn’t be nervous. I couldn’t be shy. I had to bet on myself.
I raised my hand. They brought the mic to me. I introduced myself as Alicia Jessop from RulingSports.com, and asked Pujols how changing leagues might impact his game. In the minutes that followed, my phone would begin buzzing with people who heard me on ESPN.
A couple weeks ago I was in Arizona covering my second Super Bowl for a major media outlet. If you had asked the 27-year-old sitting at the Pujols press conference if she ever thought that’d happen, I’m not sure what she’d tell you. When I was in Arizona, I had a chance to speak to several groups of law students about breaking into the sports industry. My advice to them was simple: Bet on yourself.
Betting on yourself means believing in your knowledge and abilities. Betting on yourself looks like letting your passions soar and going where they direct you. Betting on yourself means going after any dream you might have, no matter how big it is or what the naysayers might say.
When I tell students to bet on themselves, I tell them to never take “no” as an answer when it comes to achieving their dreams. Betting on yourself means hustling, going the extra mile and taking risks that others wouldn’t. On the other hand, though, betting on yourself doesn’t mean stepping on people, acting unethically or taking actions that hurt others. Rather, betting on yourself is about having the utmost belief that you are capable of fulfilling your dreams and living out the passions you were put on this Earth to engage in.
One thing I’ve noticed in life, is the people who are doing exactly what they want to do are the people who bet on themselves. I know people who have quit lucrative careers and started all over as unpaid interns to get the job they wanted. As their family members and friends looked on at them confused, they knew that they were betting on themselves. All along, they knew where their path would take them and that they were capable of getting there.
When you bet on yourself, you must be ready to remove fear from the equation. Failure cannot be an option when the currency you’re rolling the dice with is yourself. Kobe Bryant may have said it the best when he said, “If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.”
What, though, if you told yourself there is no possibility of fear? What if you told yourself that regardless of what happens in the venture you’re pursuing, you will succeed? What if you tell yourself that success is giving it a go and believing deeply enough in yourself to bet on yourself and give your dreams a chance?
I’m not much of a gambler. I don’t take many risks. I generally like to play it safe.
However, I always have and will continue to bet on myself, because I haven’t lost yet.
I wish I had a cameraman walking behind me last night as I walked home.
Yesterday, I covered the Heat game for The Huffington Post. In terms of games, it’s probably not one that I’m going to remember. The walk home, though? Yea, I’ll remember that for awhile.
To get home, I have to cross a bridge. There’s always a decent number of people passing over the bridge, so when I approached it last night and saw a sizable crowd, I didn’t think much.
There’s always something happening in Miami, too, so I didn’t think much when I saw flashing police lights. I also didn’t think too much when I saw a lot of police officers roaming about the area. I guess my perception could be better, but I’ll tackle my perceptiveness on another blog.
It only hit me that something was wrong when I got to the point of the bridge’s beginning and saw “DO NOT CROSS” tape blocking my entry.
I then became a little bit more perceptive and noticed the bomb squad car and multiple Homeland Security vehicles and officers.
Even as all of this came into my view, I still stood there. My feet as close as they could come to the bridge, without crossing the “DO NOT CROSS” tape. I didn’t immediately look for a detour. I didn’t start walking another way. I just stood there.
And I just stood there with a growing group of people.
For some reason in my life, people come to me. With their problems. Their stories. Their issues. My family. My friends. They come to me.
People I don’t know come to me, too. For my whole life, people I’ve so much as blinked at have walked across rooms or stood up to talk to me and tell me their problem. Their story. Their issue.
And last night was no different. Except it was in Miami.
As I stood by that “DO NOT CROSS” tape trying to figure out my own path home, a beautiful, blonde model approached me. Her first words to me? “WHY DID HE DO THAT TO ME!? WHY?!?! WHY ARE PEOPLE HERE SO WEIRD?”
“Um, what are you talking about?” I said.
“The taxi driver! Why did he do that to me?!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I paid him $75 and he dropped me off here and this isn’t where I’m even supposed to be and now I can’t get over the bridge!”
“Oh, wow. Yea, I’m sorry,” was about as good of response as I could muster.
Because I now appeared to be helping solve this woman’s issue, I suddenly became a mayor of sorts of a scene precipitated by a bomb squad and some “DO NOT CROSS” tape. A couple from Bulgaria approached me to ask what was going on. “I have no idea,” I said. A group out on a double date asked me where the closest bar was, “Behind you,” I said. The model returned. “WHY DID HE DO THAT TO ME?!” Girl, I don’t know why people do what they do.
As this scene unfolded, and as I grew more tired, my thoughts finally went to the right place: Home. I needed to get home. Right then. Officers said the bridge wasn’t going to open for at least a couple of hours, and there was no way I was standing on the other side of it, blocked off by some “DO NOT CROSS” tape and fielding this circus.
I needed a detour.
Life is funny sometimes, because it gives you moments like the one I faced last night. I’m not saying bomb threats are funny, because clearly they aren’t. I wouldn’t be writing any of this if a bomb went off, but one didn’t and I can’t even find a news story about what caused the closure of the bridge.
I only say the preceding, because sometimes in life you are given great, big, crazy happenings that mirror exactly what is going on in your own life.
Last night, I stood in front of “DO NOT CROSS” tape for longer than I should have. I fielded crazy questions and pacified upset people. And in the midst of all of that, it took a really, really long time before something in me finally kicked in and said, “Alicia, you do not need to be here right now. Go another way.”
Why are we sometimes afraid to go off of the path we’re on? Why are we afraid to go another way? Why won’t we give up a set direction that may not get us where we need to be? Why won’t we take a chance on something that may be a little bit further out of our way, but will definitely get us where we need to go?
Why don’t we take the detour more often?
I hit a detour this week. Forbes let me go. Truth be told, I wanted to quit Forbes in November 2013. I told my family, my close friends and even the guy I was seeing at the time that I was quitting. Everyone thought I quit. I didn’t write anything for Forbes for a month.
But then I got scared. I thought quitting would derail my writing career. I thought everything would be over if I didn’t keep going down that path. Metaphorically, I thought it was the only way for me to get “home.”
For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a book. I’ve started and stopped. I’ve put it off and started other things. I know the story in my head that needs to go on paper. When I see it getting there, I imagine it as a film. A story coming to life.
I’ve been afraid of taking the detour to write it, though. And so, I just stopped. I stopped in my tracks, where I was and didn’t move any other direction.
When commonsense hit me last night and I realized I could go another route to get home, I felt a calmness overcome me. Suddenly, in the midst of a crazy scene, I knew that everything was going to be ok. And so, I started walking the other way. And along the way, I met the most hilarious couple and followed them to the Metromover. As I took literally one step onto the Metromover, a complete stranger looked at me and said, “Hey! I’m lost. Can you tell me how to get to where I’m going?”
Having just escaped the melee surrounding the “DO NOT CROSS” zone, I initially thought to myself, “Oh, COME ON! Can’t I just enjoy this Metromover ride in PEACE?!” My words, though, said, “Where are you going?” She told me where she was going and as fate or luck or the universe would have it, she was going to the building next to mine. “I’m headed that way, if you want to just walk with me, I can show you where it is.”
We talked first about the scene on the bridge and how crazy Miami is. We talked about how she lives in New York. And since I didn’t really know her, I didn’t ask what she did. She said it, though, out of nowhere. “I’m a writer.” “Oh, that’s cool! I write, too,” I said. “I write books and screenplays,” she said.
Sometimes, people, life hits you over the head and tells you where you need to go.
There are some of us, who move through life smoothly, naturally and without much resistance.
And then there’s me.
It took me 14-months, being let go from my first paid writing gig, a bomb threat on a bridge, and meeting a complete stranger on a train to get me where I need to be going.
Sometimes, though, a detour is the best way.
There’s a line in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” that I particularly love. It goes, “But why think of all that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”
I love that line, because in a sense, it’s been the mantra of my life for the last four years.
I’ve definitely been on the road for the last four years. Perhaps the person who knows this the most, other than me, is my mother. She frequently reminds me how much I’ve been on the road. Too much, perhaps. Yet, not enough, perhaps also.
The desire to pack up my suitcase and go wherever I can as often as I can bit me four years ago on this day.
At the time, I was a national officer for my sorority, Sigma Kappa. I wasn’t writing for Forbes yet, and in fact, I hadn’t even started RulingSports.com. So, at that moment of my life, my travel for the sorority was the only travel I did outside of trips with friends.
On Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2011, I flew to Iowa to visit one of my best friends and her family. On the way back to California, I had a layover in Memphis. My connecting flight was delayed, so as it turned out, my layover ended up being around five hours long. When my flight from Iowa touched down in Memphis, I rushed straight to the rental car counter. I paid $100 to rent a car for a few hours. I had somewhere to go, though. Somewhere I was willing to pay any price to see. Especially on this day.
As a child, my hero was Martin Luther King, Jr. Every year on his birthday, I would wake up and read his “I Have A Dream” speech, and cry that we as a society still hadn’t gotten it all right. I’d smile, though, at the hope that the dream persists.
After leaving the rental car counter, I made my way to the Avis shuttle. The driver, an older African-American male, shot the breeze with me, a young, light-skinned Caucasian. We talked about music and food and life. We laughed and both muttered “mmmhmm” to the more serious things that arose in our conversation. Our conversation seemed to have lasted days, because we covered so many topics. Our conversation seemed to have lasted days, because it flowed so naturally.
When he dropped me off to pick up my car, I said, “Thank you, sir!” And he said, “Now, don’t forget the directions I told you! They’ll take you right there!” “Of course I won’t forget. Thank you, again,” I said.
And from there, I drove. And I felt freedom unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life. I was alone, on the road, doing what I wanted to do and seeing what I wanted to see.
I followed his directions. A few turns here and few turns there. And then finally, I turned the corner and there it was. A page from a history book ripped out and laid right before me and my rental car. I scrunched my face up the way I do when I don’t want my emotions to pour out. And then I cried.
In front of my car was the balcony where the man who was my hero was shot to death. In front of me was the spot, where for a brief period in history, hatred overcame love. In front of me was a place where the dream could’ve died.
I’ll never forget that winter day in January 2011 when I parked my car and under a grey sky, walked alone towards the Lorraine Motel. For once in my life, I was grateful for solitude. As someone who is usually surrounded by many, I was glad it was just me and my thoughts together on that day.
In the last four years, I’ve traveled alone more than I can count. And even though sometimes the road is a lonely place, it also provides a release for me. For me, there’s something cathartic about being behind the wheel, unsure of where I’m really going, with just me, my thoughts and the road.
The road is also fun. I’ve met some characters in the last four years. That Avis rental car shuttle driver being the first of many. There have been chefs, professional athletes, maids, businessmen, doormen, and even the occasional rock-and-roll band that have come into my life while I’m on the road. These people have all made it a little less lonely.
Overall, though, the road will always be a second home to me, because of the opportunity it gives me to step outside of my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong: I love home. And some day, I hope to have a husband and babies to keep me home more often. Yet, there’s something that being on the road does to drive you out of your comfort zone and into finding yourself.
As a 30-year-old, these days when I listen to Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, I think what he is really trying to say, is that in order to experience life to its fullest, in order to love to the greatest boundaries of our hearts, we must step out of our comfort zones. We must do that which we may fear. We must do that which maybe doesn’t feel natural. And we must risk that which has never done before in order to live out our greatest potential and love to the best of our abilities.
Because, if we do all of these things, we’ll see the “golden lands” in Kerouac’s words, or the “Promised Land,” Dr. King preached about. And then, life will finally feel complete.