Entering the “Real World” as a Former Student Athlete

It’s every athlete’s worst nightmare: transitioning from being an athlete to entering the real (working) world. It may be one of the hardest transitions you’ll go through in life, and I’ve experienced it personally. I get it: you’ve spent your entire life playing sports and now you’ve got to completely start all over with something new. It’s not always your fault; you may have gotten injured, cut from the team, or simply lost your passion for sports. For whatever reason, a career as a professional athlete wasn’t your destiny; now it’s time to get a “real job” and start making money. However, the question that stumps so many former athletes remains, “what do I do next?” It may seem like a daunting task, but the solution can actually be fairly simple.

Growing up, sports came easy to me. I was a quick learner, had a passion and was fortunately blessed with some natural talent. When making my own plan for life as a soon-to-be former college athlete, I had to ask myself, “what else comes naturally to me? What else am I passionate about?” For me, mathematics was my best subject in school. Numbers have always made sense to me and I love solving problems. Knowing that I have a knack for numbers and an interest in finance, choosing financial advising as my career path seemed like a next logical step. When you’re making a plan for the future, ask yourself the same questions I did: what else have you been good at your entire life, other than sports? Take Michael Strahan as a prime example as a former professional athlete who successfully navigated a change in career paths. During his 15-year career with the New York Giants, Strahan’s size and stature allowed him to become a formidable defensive force, but it’s his personality, humor, and love for the camera that helped Strahan to transition from NFL pro to media star. The latest team he’s poised to join? ABC’s “Good Morning America” in September. By exercising different areas of his skill set, Michael Strahan has been able to successfully extend his career long after NFL-retirement. If you’re still drawing a blank as far as what your skill set includes, pull from your personal traits that made you the athlete you once were. Being a serious athlete requires dedication, discipline, and the ability to bounce back when times are tough.

At this point, hopefully you’ve begun to create a mental list of your strengths. Now, when it comes down to actually picking a specific job or career, the classic saying goes, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Amongst athletes, it’s no secret that we love competition. We get a thrill out of going head-to-head with one another and competing to be the best. We do whatever we can to win and are prone to be sore losers when we don’t. We understand the sacrifices we have to make in order to be successful and are willing to go the extra mile (literally) to achieve our goals. Former athletes often get hired with little to no work experience for reasons just like this. Employers realize that athletes have a particular skillset that your average person might not have. This is a skill set not taught, but developed throughout years of playing competitive sports. For instance, student-athletes must balance their academics with their athletic commitments, not to mention a hectic travel schedule. This requires a tremendous amount of self-discipline as well as excellent time management skills. If you’re able to take traits like these and apply it directly to your profession of choice, there’s no doubt you will find success.

The way I look at life, as long as you strive to be the best at what you do and enjoy doing it, you’ll be successful no matter what. However, it’s important to remember being “the best” takes time, which is something former athletes often struggle with while entering the workforce. We’ve spent the majority of our lives taking down our opponents, earning a starting spot on the team, or scoring the game-winning touchdown. When entering the workforce, you’re essentially joining a new team, except you’re now last on the depth chart. You have to work extremely hard and climb your way up, which it can be challenging and frustrating in the beginning. When comparing career success to sports, it’s the same idea. Knowing this, the similarities between sports and joining the workforce are clear. For example, it took me 10 years of playing football to reach the competitive level I played at in college. That same trajectory should be applied to professional life. If you’re able to stay disciplined, gain experience and continue to grind over the years, you’ll naturally break away and become the star player you once were.

Making the transition from an athlete to a “regular” person can be difficult and frightening. I personally struggled with it, but was able to persevere and become the financial adviser I am today. If you need help deciding a career path, or have already found one and now need help planning and managing your finances, feel free to give me a call!

By Malcolm Jones
Investment Advisor Representative