About many moons ago I was a college athlete. We were the cool kids (or at least we thought we were), hustling every hour to seek that big W. And if you weren’t a part of the athletic community, we would bucket you into the “NARP” category.
What’s “NARP” you ask? Non-Athlete Regular Person/people (Kinda rude, I know!).
I’ve had teasers of this retired athlete life before, just never fully confronted it for extended periods. Until now.
After some 2 years of being a retired athlete, I’ve come to understand A LOT about this transition. And I want to spill the tea for you. Disclaimer: Its not all pretty to become a corporate slave, but I’m determined to navigate through the process!
Identity crisis and the quest for purpose
There was a time I was juggling two full time jobs- An athlete and a student. I couldn’t remember a day where I wasn’t sore from exerting over 15+ hours a week physically. Sometimes walking to practice on a cold east coast morning, during midterm week, was a true testament to staying loyal to my priorities.
As athletes, we experience maximal pressure and taste equal rewards very early on in our lives. So while the rest of the kids are experiencing the finer joys of growing up, we’re attempting to shatter records and carve history. And might I add, the thrill of being able to achieve that so young is irreplaceable!
But when a high performing kid brewing with a fierce drive transitions to the normal world- its absolute chaos.
When this happened to me, I thought :
“I “WAS” a former athlete and now I’ve moved on to being a mundane corporate guinea pig (TBH: stings to say it out loud)!”.
Since then, its been a constant quest to find that “something” that reinvigorates the same passion I once had for my sport. Every day I ask myself questions like: “What more can I do to up the ante and challenge myself?!” Or “What’s my next big thing that gets me passionate?”… And it scares me that sometimes, I do not have an answer.
I’ve realized that this chase will continue until I hit that “sweet spot”- which is harder to determine in real life, as opposed to sports. NARP life consists of MANY variables (than my one track mind approach on court). And until the clearer path emerges, its a sum total of many trial and errors.
Struggling to strike the right balance
Its been a huge emotional learning curve in the process of shedding the past and adopting a newer version of me. Accepting that real life doesn’t mimic the structured lifestyle I once had is a vaccum I relentlessly pursue to fill.
Countless times I’ve had family repeatedly demand that I hit the brakes before the car breaks down (A.K.A. before I burn out)! I can’t speak for every retired athlete, but I can assure you that if something comes to easy to me, I like it a little less.
I know that taking the pressure off myself completely would be self-destructive. Because truth is, I best function under the pump. It’s almost impossible for me to not dissect a situation and be critical of myself. Can you blame me? Sport world has wired my brain into being highly aware of my mistakes and equally proactive into fixing them.
You might be reading this and thinking, “ This girl NEEDS a therapist!”. (Maybe… ),,,But here’s best analogy of how I’ve been approaching the balance act:
My life is currently like a BOSU ball. I swish both ways between over critical and over pressure. It is work every day. But even if I hit that middle for a hot second- it’s worth acknowledging that growth. Before I tumble back to swishing again, of course!
I can’t get the big W’s on court anymore, but I can celebrate the small W’s. They might seem ordinary to you, but are extraordinary to me in my life.
I remember having conversations with my best friend/ teammate about us being safely cocooned away in our bubble. In it were people with shared interests. We were equipped all with the mental skills to tackle any performance situation because of the path we chose.
Then the bubble burst. Life was packed with a whole new bunch of people with priorities I couldn’t relate to.
By NO means am I trying to sound superior or am placing myself at a point of uniqueness. I LOVE meeting new people. It’s the best way to widen your periphery of vision. But when I need an anchor for empathy and insight, its harder to strike a match with folks outside the community. Solely because of how varied our life experiences have been!
Here’s a little secret- There’ve been many times I’ve had to downplay my former lifestyle, so that I don’t sound stuck up. Or worse, over compensate on the niceties to fit into a group. All with the hopes to sound borderline relatable.
It’s definitely is a LOT easier communicating with former/current athletes, going through similar cycles. Its like an unspoken lingo. They get it. And if by any chance you find someone outside your circle who gets it- YOU KEEP THEM CLOSE (because that my friends, is a rarity!).
When you retire from professional or college sports, you realize you’ve accumulated a mountain life lessons and a reservoir of emotional intelligence that can get you gray. Yet only to realize, you are still so young in the game.
You’ve got that athlete mentality of drive and discipline to get you through any life setback. You are looking to establish a new career path. But now what? How can people and companies help athletes reestablish themselves in the corporate rat race?
I believe only when the corporate world adds more weight to the intangible value brought in by a former athlete as opposed to cookie cutter accomplishments is when the transition will seem more comfortable.
Our transitional journey hasn’t been voiced out as often as I’d like. And I hope through this piece, I echo louder than what’s been heard.
If there is one thing I’d like for you to take away, it is : We’ve always had the courage to pivot to the need of the hour and no slump or transition can stop us from clawing our way back (thanks to our mind and matter ;) )