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Early in my career, I needed money to fix the brakes on my car. Independent and obstinate, I refused to raise the issue with my parents and instead asked my boss for an advance on my paycheck. She quickly denied the request (it might set a bad precedent), offered an alternative solution of a personal loan for the brakes, and added a few extra bucks for good measure. Six months later, I returned with check in hand to repay the loan. When I handed my boss the check, she ripped it up in front of my eyes and said she had just one request for repayment: “Make sure that some day, you pay it forward for someone else.”
My first job out of the gate and I landed my first mentor, Deborah Slaner Larkin of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and the lesson I learned from her has remained with me since.
Creating Lasting Value
Every day, I set out to live up to Deborah’s request, sometimes in small ways and hopefully more often with bigger impact. No, it’s not about the money. Billie Jean King — sports pioneer, founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation and 2002 WISE Women of the Year honoree — once said, “Performing is very fleeting, it’s very intangible, it’s very momentary. And it’s wonderful. But it’s not lasting, and if you can do things that last, that each generation can build on, then that’s when you’re cooking.” Those words and Deborah’s gesture capture what being a mentor is all about: giving back and ensuring the next generation has the benefit of our experiences and wisdom to face tough challenges that may get them stuck.
We started cooking 10 years ago, in 2007, when we launched WISE Within, an integrated, guided mentoring program. The idea came about after we conducted research within our membership and found that our constituents were seeking guidance from those who had come before them. Our members wanted to learn how to navigate the industry waters by connecting and building relationships with those who had done it themselves. During the past 10 years, we’ve matched hundreds of mentees with trusted mentors who have helped them tackle challenges such as assessing the next career move, gaining perspective on management issues and negotiating a salary package. The program has worked both ways, with mentors gaining insight into new ways of communicating through digital technology and a fresh outlook on multigenerational workplaces and managing individuals within teams.
With WISE Within, we’ve accepted BJK’s challenge to help build the next generation of movers and shakers by creating something of lasting value — connections to sage counsel and access to tools to succeed in our industry and throughout life.
On a personal level, I am quite proud to have been part of the original team 10 years ago that conducted the research and developed WISE Within as an outcome of the results. I am even more gratified to have mentored four mentees, and today, I serve as the program’s national adviser. It’s my way of living up to a promise I gave to one of my mentors.
By the way, in her WISE Women of the Year acceptance speech, Billie Jean told the audience that she found her first mentor at 60 years old. Now that’s cooking!
For more information about the program and to apply, visit the WISEwithin.org.
About Jen Miller
As vice president of Women in Sports and Events, Jen Miller leads the organization’s strategic planning committee and serves as the national adviser for WISE Within. In 2012, Miller became head of brand transformation and consumer experience and the only person in the country hired specifically to lead Ford Motor Company’s national mandate to improve the consumer experience at the local level. In 2015, she founded Mustang Sally’s Now: Driving Women’s Leadership as a way for women to feel more confident in the car-buying and service experiences. Miller spent nearly 20 years in sports marketing, where she created hundreds of events and youth programs for Nike, the NBA, the WNBA, MLS, the 1994 World Cup and the Women’s Sports Foundation.
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