When I consider why education has been important in my life and how it has helped me as a woman succeed professionally, three things stand out. First, my education experience generally taught me that I was as “smart” as most other folks. Second, my “education” in sports, playing and learning about many, made me comfortable in situations I might not otherwise have been. Finally, learning always has and always will remind me of how much I don’t know.

I was raised in a traditional 1960s Southern family. My father worked. My mother stayed home. A woman’s place was in the home, and the pastor taught that a wife should be subservient and meek. Men ruled the world, yet I always suspected that my mom had more to offer than she revealed. As I fell in love with learning, and succeeded in school as a result, I realized quickly that the traditional ways weren’t necessarily rooted in nature or necessity. In fact, from what I observed in elementary school, girls held their own, whether the subject was science, math, or kickball. It was only when I became a teenager that I saw the traditional roles emerge in the classroom and on the fields. By then, though, I wasn’t buying it. My continued success in school, along with the success of other girls and women I admired, was evidence that, as long as I was willing to show up, I would be able to participate in what the world had to offer.

I also actively participated in team sports. Sports were and are a huge part of my life, and when I’m not playing, I’m usually watching. My sports education taught me to love the drama, to understand the strategy and the glory, and to appreciate the talent and the dedication of the player and the devotion of the fan. My willingness to play softball and golf with my male colleagues, along with my understanding of and eagerness to discuss other sports that they love, has helped me create bonds and connections with them separate from work. I wouldn’t fake an understanding or love of sports for this reason, but it has most decidedly been a nice byproduct of my passion.

Finally, every day I learn something I didn’t know the day before, and every day I am reminded of how much I don’t know. Nothing is more important to my success than those two things.