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The Power of Uncovering Your Personal Why

From Our Team

“Nice crossover, kid.”

Back in 1993, Muffett McGraw, the legendary Head Coach of the University of Notre Dame’s Basketball Team, said just these three simple words to me and I was over the moon. 

Little old me, a skinny, freckle-faced, 13-year-old kid from the Chicago suburbs in an oversized t-shirt and a fresh pair of Air Jordan sneakers. 

I had just picked up the sport for the first time that year and had somehow convinced my parents to sign me up for my first-ever overnight camp hosted by one of the top basketball programs in the country. 

After casually checking over my shoulder to make sure that the Coach’s words were actually directed towards me, my heart was beaming with pride and my dreams of someday playing basketball in college version ensued.  

Flash forward over 25 years later to the Spring of 2019. I have long ago achieved that dream of playing college basketball at one of the top colleges in the country. I have since earned an advanced degree and climbed the corporate ladder at some amazing corporations. My wife and I have built a great life for ourselves and our three daughters. 

I am now at the end of a long day, catching up on news and scrolling my Facebook feed and–low and behold–here is Muffet McGraw again. 

But this time, she’s not just speaking to me about a simple basketball move. She is saying something much more important. Something that the world desperately needs to hear. 

On the verge of possibly coaching the Fighting Irish to back-to-back Women’s NCAA Basketball Championships, Muffett was asked this question at a Final Four press conference: “How important, as your career has gone on and we’ve lost Pat Summitt, how seriously do you take being that voice?”

Muffet then leans into the mic and lands one of the most powerful and to-the-point statements on equality I have ever heard:

Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967 and still hasn’t passed? We need 38 states to agree that discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional. We’ve had a record number of women running for office and winning, and still we have 23 percent of the House and 25 percent of the Senate.

I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African-American mayor of this city. When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?

So yes, when you look at men’s basketball and 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women? Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them, and that’s the problem.”

I watched and listened to her speech over and over again. I sent it to my friends. Her message. Her poise. Her conviction. Her impact. She nails it. I was blown away.

A Fire is Rekindled

I reflected on Muffett’s words and my own experiences with inequality.

An unrest rekindled within me. It was not a new feeling or any sort of revelation, though. Rather, it was yet another reminder of the lack of gender equality that persists in society. 

In my reflections, I was transported back to my senior thesis in high school, which I hadn’t thought about in over 20 years. I went up into our dusty attic and managed to dig it up. 

The topic?  The importance of removing gender bias in school and in sports. 

The title? “Expect the Best from Girls and That’s What You’ll Get.” 

I believed in it then, and I believe in it more than ever now, especially as we raise our three daughters in these insane political and challenging cultural times. 

I reflected on those who have influenced my thinking about equality and those who have so valiantly and tirelessly fought for equality. So much good work had been done, but the battle was clearly far from over yet.

I was compelled into action. 

My Personal Why

My thoughts immediately turned to one of the most significant mentors and role models for equality in my life: my coach at Harvard, Kathy Delaney-Smith. 

I wasn’t sure where to start, but I believed in Kathy and I knew that I wanted to help her in her efforts to impact and inspire young women and to make the world more equitable. 

I knew that I could leverage my skillset in marketing and branding to help her crystallize her own brand and amplify her message of equality for girls and women out into the world, just as Muffet was doing. 

As I write this, Kathy is entering her 38th season as a top Head Coach in Division I Coach and is aiming to lead Harvard to its 12th Ivy League Title. She has worked relentlessly over the years to fight for Title IX. She is the winningest Basketball Coach—Men’s or Women’s—in Ivy League history.  She has inspired hundreds of women who are now out in the world doing incredible things. She is a lifelong student and has become a respected expert in leadership and developing others. 

As she seeks to maximize her impact and make a difference in the lives of girls and women now and in her next chapter, I have the great honor of serving as her advisor and guide from a personal branding perspective. 

Our mission is to leverage her voice and her story to impact and inspire more girls and women, and, ultimately change the mindset of society. She helped me and others so much and now is my chance to give back to her. And there is no place I would rather be. 

Through this gift of this experience with Kathy, I discovered my Personal Why. 

And with that clarity, I took the leap and launched BREAKTHRU BRANDS to provide similar guidance to a diverse set of leaders seeking to inspire and influence others to make a positive impact on the world. 

I’m excited to share Kathy’s journey with you, and to hopefully encourage you to find your Personal Why.

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