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Just Jillian… | Success is a Perpetual Labor!

As athletes and active women, we always seem to strive for our next goal—whether it’s improving a skill, our physical fitness, weight, or trying something new. In this month’s installment of Just Jillian…, I will share how the act of goal-setting as an athlete has manifested itself in all areas of my life and can be a tool to make the finish line feel more accessible in this journey called life. There are very few things in life that gives me the same joy of checking something off my endless “To Do” list except for how I feel when I reach a goal. Not only do I feel pride and satisfaction, but I also see it as a sign that I’m one step closer to reaching my potential. As the Zen saying goes, “Success is not found in what you have achieved, but rather in who you have become.” I truly believe this and with the recent completion of my annual performance evaluation at work, as well as the theme of Better (inspired by the book of the same name) for my organization’s staff retreat, I have been doing a lot of thinking over the last few weeks about who do I want to be a year from now and how can I improve the things I already do well. Such aspirations are not new to me.

In fact, my first memory of setting a goal occurred during my first season of playing basketball in a youth league. I was a mere ten years old (5th grade) with afro puffs in my hair and glasses on my face determined to not only tryout, but also to win a spot on a traveling AAU basketball team. Despite my lack of skills and experience at the time, I made the team. In hindsight, I’m convinced it was due to my work ethic and enthusiasm for the game. Plus, I’m positive it helped that the coaches could see my potential based on both genetics (e.g. height, muscle mass, and strength) and family history—my great uncle was an original Harlem Globetrotter and my father a former NBA player. Nonetheless, I was determined to set my own path and through sport, I found goal-setting to be a useful tool to accomplish anything I imagined.

Fast forward eighteen years and I’m still inclined to set goals for myself. What’s more, here are a few of my current ones from my professional life:

          * Balance! (work/life + mind, body, & soul) 
          * Work on proactive problem-solving
          * Continue to develop my writing for audiences in professional,
             academic journals 
          * Getting 1 of the 3 articles I’ve been working on published

The best part is that I’m supported by my organization and various professional colleagues to not just merely achieve these goals, but also to use them to help me become a better professional colleague and as a result a better person. This is where the book Better comes into play. The book has aided in my realization that being “better” is not simply about becoming one who exudes superior excellence (American Heritage Dictionary, 2010) or doing more, but instead it’s about one’s content of character as well as the quality of the content in any given area. In other words, less is more. The book’s author—Atul Gawande—outlines three requirements for success that are worth sharing: 1) diligence, giving sufficient attention to detail; 2) to do right; and 3) ingenuity, thinking a new.

During my reading of the text, I was most intrigued by ingenuity since this is something that doesn’t come naturally. Gawande states, “It [Ingenuity] is not a matter of superior intelligence but of character. It demands more than anything a willingness to recognize failure, to not paper over the cracks, and to change” (p. 9). Taken as a recipe for success, this quote highlights how “we always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small go right” (p. 21). Or as Robert Collier noted, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Regardless of how you slice it, to be better you must do better. I believe that such change begins with yourself—knowing and loving who you are—and once such a foundation is laid, then making the human connection. I covet my connections—the personal as well as the professional ones—and enjoy staying in touch via the various means that technology offers may it be phone, text, email, gchat or my personal fav—Facebook. Yet, even when my various connection, I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering: how do I really matter?

It is these three requirements that when taken together creates the potential for a revolution by being “a ’positive deviance’ from the norm,” which Gawande suggestion for how to not only answer the question, but also how we can make a worthy difference. I must admit I’m partial to his five suggestions, so I share them below:

1. Ask an unscripted question

Whether this is finding out how your friend or colleague is doing or reaching out to a stranger, you don’t have to come up with a deep or important question, just one that lets you make a human connection. Make sure you listen and make note of what you learn. And remember, “if you ask a question, the machine [however you define it—school, were you work, or society as whole] begins to feel less like a machine” (p. 252).

2. Don’t complain

Pretty simple, so I leave it at that.

3. Count something

I love this one considering I’m a researcher and I enjoy and see the importance of working with numbers! Gawande notes that, “The only requirement [to counting something] is that what you count should be interesting to you” (p. 254). Thus, “if you count something interesting you find interesting, you will learn something interesting” (p. 255).

4. Write something

I recognize that writing is not something everyone enjoys like I do, yet I’ll admit, despite my love for it, it doesn’t always come easy. In fact, it’s normally a love/hate relationship as was the case with writing this particular post, which I’ve been sitting with for weeks now. However, I never lose sight that I have an audience, even though I’m still figuring out who is actually reading this consistently besides my family and friends, and each of you as belonging to virtual community that is not only for me but for all of us that support and advocate for girls and women in sport. Furthermore, it is my connections that have provided me with this opportunity to have a space to share my thoughts and feelings, so thanks Bernell! That said, do not underestimate the power of writing.

5. Change

The final yet in my opinion most challenging suggestion, Gawande notes that you should “make yourself an early adopter [and] look for the opportunity to change” (p. 257). What’s more, George Herbert suggests, "Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along."
Using your social justice lens, you might be asking yourself…what about access to such opportunities? Well, there is no denying that not all things are created equal and you would have blinders on not to think that aspects of social identity (i.e. race, gender, sexual orientation, class, education, age, etc.) comes into play with one’s ability to reach their goals; however, Gawande’s suggestions are intended to help you focus on what you can control. So, what are you waiting for? There no time like the present to set a goal or two you’d like to reach by the end of year…carpe diem!

~ One Love

CALL 2 ACTION: Since I have the privilege to have this platform to share, I see as my responsibility to highlight a few possibilities this month…

* October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Celebrating 25 years of awareness, education, and empowerment. For more info, check out:

* National Coming Out Day (10/11): Even though it has past, I’m highlighting still to encourage the support of those who identify as LGBTQ and/or in the process of coming out. With the four recent suicides, it more clear than ever that we need to reach to who we can and show our love and support.

* Make time for yourself to reflect and think about how you could be “better” based on what I shared in this post and feel free to share your thoughts if you’re interested. 

I’ve been writing this blog for nine months now. I would love to hear of any topics or hot button items I should cover, so let me know!
Jillian Ross

Jillian Ross is a researcher, writer and learner determined to make a difference in the world. Her work has focused on Title IX and gender equity; the intersections of identity (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.), especially that of Black queer female student-athletes; creating safe schools and spaces for students and teachers; and more recently, educational and teacher leadership with a focus on school leadership for social justice. Although she no longer participates in competitive sports, Ross still considers herself an athlete. Her love of sport began with basketball and track, and has expanded to her current love of hiking in Tilden, working out at the YMCA, and biking around the Bay Area. Ross works and resides in Berkeley, CA with her partner of 7 years.

Ross writes a women-focused blog addressing the just & unjust in the world at