Careers

3 tips for balancing personal and professional success, according to Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King
Ungano & Agriodimas | Getty Images
Billie Jean King

Few people have had a career quite like Billie Jean King's. The tennis legend won 39 Grand Slam titles, founded the Women's Tennis Association and defeated Bobby Riggs in the famed "Battle of the Sexes."

King says that building her career required a commitment to both inner and outer success, meaning that to feel truly successful, she had to find happiness in her personal life and accomplish greatness in her professional life.

Too often, she says, young people only focus on achieving outer success, and neglect other areas of their lives. At the Women's Sports Foundation's Athletic Leadership Connection, King told a room of young women, "Everything today is about outer. Do not forget your inner success."

Here her three pieces of advice for being successful inside and out:

Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs
Bettmann | Getty Images
Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs

1. Emphasize relationships

Building relationships is one of the most important aspects of any career, says King. "I think that relationships are so important. Your relationship with yourself, with your faith, if you have one — all of those things are really important in a daily way," she says.

When it comes to our personal lives, King gives the reminder that we are able to decide who we want to have relationships with. "We are very fortunate in life," she says. "We can choose our families, so do that if you're not being treated right."

And in business, King says, you should constantly be making connections.

"You're always going to be building relationships no matter where you work," she says. "Don't forget that, because people move around all the time and they'll remember you. They'll go 'Oh, I know who would be good for that job. I met her 10 years ago … She'd be great for this job.'"

Billie Jean King at Wimbledon
Bettmann | Getty Images
Billie Jean King at Wimbledon

2. Keep learning

King argues that it is crucial to continue to learn no matter what field you work in. However, standard indicators of intelligence, like grade point average and school prestige, are not always the best measures of success.

"Keep learning and keep learning how to learn," says King. "Not just education, learn."

"I know one company, I won't tell you who it is," she says. "Unless you're a 3.8 from an Ivy League school, they're not interested in you. They won't take the interview."

King feels that this approach is misguided. "I don't agree with that at all. I think they're losing out on so many great young people," she argues. "Some people who get maybe Bs or Cs, maybe they haven't put the time in, but they're better at something else that they're going to need for work."

"And let's face it, why would you go to an Ivy League? In those schools, it's all connections. It doesn't mean you get a better education," says King.

3. Be a problem solver

Problem-solving is one of the most powerful tools for finding success because it helps you excel under pressure, says King.

"In life, champions adjust," she says. "Nothing teaches you how to be a problem solver quite like sports. Constantly, it's all we're doing. Adapting, solving the problem. We're thinking, 'How do I win this point?'"

One reason that athletes are good problem solvers is that they are given opportunities to perform under stressful circumstances. "Pressure is a privilege," she says. "Sports teach you what a privilege it is to have pressure. It teaches you how to cope with pressure in real life. You learn and you embrace it."

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