Today I am speaking at the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University. I have been asked to share my sports law path with the students.
Today I’m here to tell you the story about how during the course of 18 months, my dream of practicing sports law fell apart. Hearing this, you may wonder, “Your dream fell apart? Why are you here then today, lady?” If you’re asking yourself that, know that that is a solid question. After I tell you the story of how my dream fell apart, I’m going to tell you about the last 18 months of my life. The last 18 months of my life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been invited by the NFL to cover the Super Bowl. Last week, I was the only member of the media present in the Houston Rockets’ locker room during All-Star weekend, when the Olympic gold medalists received their championship rings. Over the last year and a half, I’ve appeared on hundreds of radio and television shows nationwide to talk about my passion: Sports. I’ve interviewed legends like Jim Brown and Yao Ming and was even recently invited to golf with Bubba Watson. Today, I have my own sports business columns on Forbes.com and The Huffington Post. I have an agent who is pitching me to networks for my own television show. Had my dreams not fallen apart, none of this would have fallen together.
Today, my hope is to share with you three pieces of advice to help you attain your own goals:
1. Dream bold dreams. I want to encourage you to create dreams so big for yourself, that you don’t know if you will ever achieve them. When it comes to dreaming, realism must be thrown out the window. A bold dream is one that you are always chasing after and fighting to make come true.
2. Create “yes” opportunities. Most of you have gotten this far in life, because throughout it, many people have told you “yes.” An undergraduate institution told you “yes.” Marquette University School of Law told you “yes.” A summer clerkship has likely told you “yes.” Sometimes though, people stop saying “yes” to you, and that puts the feasibility of your bold dream coming true at risk. When the world tells you “no” too many times, you must take it upon yourself to create “yes” opportunities.
3. Build—don’t burn—bridges with others. After creating a “yes” opportunity, the quickest way to achieve your bold dream is to build bridges with others to get there. There is a reason we are not all put on our own deserted island. That reason is because we are on this planet to serve and help one another. Building a solid network and standing out as an honest, helping and caring person are some of the things that can help you achieve your bold dreams the quickest.
Dream Bold Dreams
So, bold dreams. If I was to take a poll of what the dreams each of you hold in this room, I’m sure I’d hear some lofty things. From a young age, I’ve always had lofty dreams. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was seven years old. Embarrassingly, I picked this career because growing up, both my parents and grandparents spent a lot of time watching political television shows. Thus, the “celebrities” in my life were politicians, who got where they were through being lawyers. Thus, I equated being a lawyer with the ability to accomplish anything in life.
Believing I could grow up to be a lawyer was arguably a bold dream for me. My parents are the two greatest motivators in my life and truly, could not have been any better at the task of parenting. However, I come from very humble and middle class beginnings. My mom never graduated from college, and my dad actually never graduated from high school. He’s 62 years old now and jokes that when he retires, he’ll go back and get his GED. I told him I will throw him the biggest graduation party anybody has ever seen if he does that!
Yet, while statistics probably would have bet against my ability to accomplish it, I set forth on a path to complete law school. I worked tirelessly throughout grade school, earning only 2 B’s during my first 12 years of education: One in honors physics and the other in honors Algebra II. I went on to graduate from a small engineering university in Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines. In the fall of 2006, I started law school at Chapman University in Orange, CA.
I chose to attend Chapman to further my bold dreams. Growing up, much of my life was spent watching or playing sports. If you were to visit my parents’ basement, you would find sports memorabilia that my dad and I collected spanned from floor-to-ceiling. The faces that graced the walls of my childhood bedroom were of my sports idols. With my strong passion and knowledge of sports, along with my fascination with pop culture and desire to be a lawyer, my career path was clear to me: I would practice entertainment and sports law.
Chapman presented me an opportunity to be geographically close to Los Angeles. I immersed myself in the entertainment industry, working at both the Screen Actors Guild and Warner/Chappell Music. I attended industry events, where I rubbed elbows with top entertainment and sports lawyers and celebrities. I picked up business cards and sent networking emails. I was promised jobs and opportunities after graduation by the likes of Michael Jackson’s former attorney and the head of ASCAP. I truly believed that my bold dream of being a female sports or entertainment powerhouse attorney was well on its way to becoming reality.
Up until 2009, my life went according to plan.
Create “Yes” Opportunities
That brings me to my next point: Sometimes, to make your bold dreams come true, you have to create your own “yes” opportunities.
My life went according to plan, until, like many Americans, the plans I had for it were shaken apart by our country’s financial meltdown which began in the fall of 2008. By the time I graduated from law school six months later in May 2009, the economy had collapsed and the legal market was destroyed. Not only were jobs for recent law school grads few and far between, but top law firms across the country were laying off entire divisions, with some closing up shop completely.
For the first time in my life, my education, passion and bold dreams alone weren’t going to open up doors for me. The months between graduating and receiving my bar results, were some of the most stressful of my life. The economic downturn took with it any opportunity that my internships with the Screen Actors Guild or Warner/Chappell Music would turn into fulltime positions. Those industry leaders who once told me “yes, Alicia, we have an opportunity to offer you” were no longer answering my calls. I was swept into a job market where I was not only competing against recent law grads for jobs, but also 30-year legal veterans who had been laid off from our nation’s biggest law firms. I found myself spending hundreds of hours sending out resume after resume after resume to jobs that were not only not part of my bold dream, but jobs that I never imagined I would work in. To boot, much of these efforts were to no avail.
In October 2009 I was lucky enough to get hired at a small law firm in Orange County that focused on complex business litigation. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it offered me two crucial things: experience and a substantial paycheck. In August 2010 I took a job with a bigger firm in Orange County that represented Fortune 500 companies in the banking industry. Again, it wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it offered me those two crucial things: experience and a substantial paycheck.
For me, though, experience and a substantial paycheck weren’t enough. For someone who has been led by a dream her entire life, I found myself in a bit of a funk working these jobs. For this reason, I was thrilled in October 2010, when I found a job posting for a general counsel position at NASCAR. Truth be told, it was a bold move for me to apply. I had just under a year of licensed legal experience under my belt. Yet, I knew my capabilities and believed that I could offer the second-most-watched sport in the United States services that my peers couldn’t. So, I fired off my resume and cover letter and much to my surprise, shortly thereafter I received a phone interview. Then, even more so to my surprise, I was asked to fly to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach for an in-person interview.
I was all of 26-years-old when I arrived in Daytona Beach as one of two finalists for the general counsel position. I interviewed with eight people that day, and thought I nailed it. When my interview was over, the senior general counsel walked me to my rental car. He told me that everybody loved me, that they were impressed with my qualifications and that I would hear from them soon. In my mind, I began preparing for my cross-country move and my new, really impressive job.
I spent six tough weeks that waded through the 2010 holiday season waiting for an answer from NASCAR. In December 2010, my bold dream bubble received the final pop. I was told “no,” again. “We love you, Alicia. And we don’t want you to think that you aren’t talented or smart enough for this position. However, we’ve decided to hire the local candidate.”
That was the last time that I let someone other than myself tell my dreams “no.”
While I would like to say that being rejected from what at the time amounted to my dream job spurred me into action to find another similar opportunity that would be a lie. Truth be told, I spent the first six months of 2011 sulking. I was mourning what I thought was the loss of my dream. My friends said they didn’t recognize me anymore, because my happy-go-lucky self faded. My dad one day asked that I not call him anymore unless I had something positive to say. For the first time in my life, I had been told “no” more than “yes.” And this had a terrible effect on me.
Sometime in the spring of 2011, I was on the phone with one of my best friends from high school who was enduring a struggle similar to mine. Her mother had given her some solid advice which she passed on to me: Sometimes you need to create your own economy. This statement struck me. I interpreted it as, “Sometimes you need to create your own ‘yes.’” Just because NASCAR, entertainment law firms and sports teams had told me “no,” didn’t mean that I had to accept that there was no way my bold dream was going to come true. I realized that if I wanted my bold dream of being a sports lawyer to come true, I was going to have to be the one to make it happen. The question, though, was how?
I’m a very religious person, so during this personal struggle, I spent a lot of time praying for direction. Where should I go? What should I do with these gifts I have been given? My passions are clear: I love to write, I know more about sports than most and I am a lawyer.
Finally, it donned on me: I should create a sports law blog.
On July 1, 2011, RulingSports.com was born. To me, the idea was simple. If a firm, team or league wasn’t going to give me the opportunity to showcase my sports law knowledge, I was going to create an opportunity for myself. I spent $20 on a WordPress site, read a “How to build a website for dummies” book and created a ridiculous looking header for the website.
Much to my luck, the NBA decided to lock out its players on July 1, 2011. Thus, the subject of my first blog post was legal analysis of the lockout. It was something that no other sports writer was covering, so on my first day in business, I received a significant number of hits. Since then, I have been given my own sports columns on Forbes.com and The Huffington Post. I am frequently quoted in publications ranging from USA Today to the Chicago Tribune. I receive close to 20 emails per day from publicists worldwide asking that I interview their sports-related clients for stories.
When the world tells you “no,” you need to take a step back. If you believe in your bold dream and yourself enough, you have to find a way to tell the world, “yes, this is meant to happen” and then make it happen.
Build—don’t burn—bridges with others
While creating your own opportunity is a necessity sometimes, you have to work tirelessly on building bridges with others in order for it to get off of the ground.
In the first weeks after launching RulingSports.com, I worked tirelessly to build strategic relationships which allowed me to grow the brand of my website. I reached out to other sports writers and offered to give them legal insight into the NBA lockout and the looming NFL lockout. I contacted sports radio shows and TV shows to do the same. I sent emails to sports lawyers and sports law organizations introducing them to the website.
While my contacts were strategic, it was also important to me that they were personal. When I set out on this venture, I thought about turning myself into a brand. What did I want the world to know about Alicia Jessop? I wanted the world to know that Alicia Jessop is a hard worker, who is kind to others, gives back to her community, is quick to think and knows her fair share about sports. It was these qualities that I shared in telling my story to the people I reached out to. Because I opened up on a broader level than just saying, “I’m Alicia, I love sports and I want to work in sports,” I was able to develop long-lasting relationships early on. Furthermore, these long-lasting relationships were with people who wanted to help me achieve my dream, since they understood what it was.
Every positive thing that has happened to me in the last 18 months is the result of a relationship I developed along this road. I wouldn’t have an agent right now if it weren’t for my friend, Atlanta radio host Rachel Baribeau, who thought enough of me to introduce me to hers. The NFL wouldn’t have invited me to cover the Super Bowl if I hadn’t developed a friendly rapport with one of their top communications executives. I wouldn’t be standing here speaking to you if I hadn’t maintained a relationship with Professor Parlow.
Being proactive in networking is one of the greatest things you can do for your career. Networking is more than attending mixers and causally picking up business cards. Networking is essentially the adult version of building friendships. You need to immerse yourself into the lives of your professional peers in a way that extends beyond your careers. You accomplish this by making your passions and interests known and by sharing your personal experiences. Networking is something that takes patience and time and you only perfect it by practicing it. If you ask anyone how they got to where they are today, they will likely tell you that it was through the help of another.
I wish someone would have told me in the spring of 2011 that my life was going to be better than I ever could have imagined. I wish someone would have told me that just because you have an impressive resume and education, that your dreams aren’t just going to fall into place. I wish I would have known the power of patience and its counterpart, persistence.
If there’s anything you take away from my speech today, I hope it’s this: Some of you may walk easily into the door of your dream. You might find yourself, as I thought I would, being a 26-year-old hotshot general counsel. Others of you, as it turns out I have, might have to travel a rockier road. If this is the path you find yourself on, don’t quit. Remember that you dreamed those bold dreams for a reason, and that reason was for them to come true. Make it happen.