In honor of the women's World Cup soccer tournament, I'm sharing a shortened book excerpt this week about Jill Ellis, the former U.S. Women's National Team coach who won TWO World Cup titles….and why her story matters in helping you find your unique talents and the work you've been put on this earth to do.
Jill Ellis’s early career tenure had no indications of ever becoming one of the world’s most successful soccer coaches. She grew up on the southern coast of England as a soccer fan, even though she couldn’t play organized soccer as it was considered “unladylike” in 1970s Britain. Being naturally athletic, she would tag along with her brother and play with the boys whenever they needed an extra player. In 1981 the Ellis family moved to the States. She began to play formally in high school and then in college at William & Mary.
She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and had a lucrative career as a technical writer for a major technology company. But she longed to play soccer. She would find every opportunity to play and coach in her community.
Realizing that coaching soccer was her true gift, she left her high-paying career in tech for just $6,000 in annual salary as a university assistant. Jill said, “I had to choose my passion over my paycheck.”
Her mother was horrified and her father, John, encouraged her to “do something substantial” instead.
Well, she did just that. She quickly accelerated her soccer coaching career and became a legendary coach, the winningest soccer coach ever in US history. She coached the United States women’s national soccer team from 2014 to 2019, winning two FIFA Women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019, making her only the second coach to win consecutive World Cups.
Her ending salary was $291,029, which is much better than $6,000 (but unfortunately eleven times less than the head coach of the never-as successful US men’s soccer team).
Jill chose passion over paycheck but illustrates this: she ultimately aligned her purpose and her paycheck. Her talents, her true purpose in life to accelerate the game of soccer and coach women, ultimately became a sustainable paycheck. [Her team members eventually negotiated with U.S. Soccer to successfully close the gender pay gap between the men's and women's team in 2022, receiving $22 million in back pay.]
🔥 Your purpose can align with your paycheck, too, if you’re willing to take a leap of faith and have the courage to claim and advocate for your talents. Doing what you're meant to do at work reduces burnout, improves engagement and in general, just makes work more fun!
(Keep reading for how to find your your unique talents!)
PUT THIS IDEA TO ACTION
So how do you know what work is meant for you? What unique talents make you stand out from others? In my own journey to figure this out after spending over a decade with the same employer, I reflected over the course of my entire career to that point and paid close attention to work that I was drawn to, work that I could not stop dreaming about. I asked myself some questions to gain more clarity into my unique talents—I use these same questions to help my clients uncover their unique gifts.
What work makes me feel most like me?
What projects felt exciting and energizing—like the work was effortless?
What could I geek out about all day long?
What types of projects did I long for or continually search and ask for?
What do people say I have a gift for, or what help or advice do they come to me seeking?
Ask others: What do I do better than anyone else you know? (Others can sometimes see this more clearly than you because your talents often feel effortless.)
Do This Next: Name your top three talent themes.
In your next 1-1, share your findings with your leader. Tell them what you love to do and how that can make broader impact for the organization. If possible, make a clear ask to be put on a project that uses your best talents.
Kelli Thompson is a women's leadership coach, speaker and author who helps women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. She offers 1-1 private coaching and is the founder of the Clarity & Confidence Women's Leadership program (online group training for corporate women leaders). She is the author of Closing The Confidence Gap: Boost Your Peace, Your Potential & Your Paycheck.