The Athlete to Professional Transition

By Abigail Gibbons

For any former elite or competitive athlete, the transition from competition to professional life can be more challenging than expected, both at any point in your life and especially in your twenties.


As a former Division I athlete, I made the transition from living and breathing a sport to all of the sudden having to seek out a new identity. We often wonder: will I feel this type of passion for my job? How will I work as hard as something that is not my sport? What will I do to keep in shape? Those are just some of the questions we ask ourselves as we go through this shift. I have created both a workshop and a guide that will help athletes prepare for this transition.


First thing’s first, know your Identity Capital (a term coined by Dr. Meg Jay, author of “The Defining Decade”).


As an athlete we have learned and been trained on a different level of commitment and expertise compared to our peers. We have learned teamwork, leadership, commitment and pushed our bodies and minds to limits we sometimes are still surprised by. So, I ask my former athlete clients to think… How can these traits and qualities you have learned as an athlete be used outside the field (pool, court, etc.) and in your career? Call or write them out and make a list.  Being an athlete has given you an incredible gift and set of skills that sets you apart from your peers…make sure you know them, are confident in them and use them!


Thoughtfully and purposely explore your options.


It is hard to transition from being so very passionate about one thing, pouring your heart, body and mind into it and all of the sudden having that taken away from you. If you take your time to explore career options that you are passionate about, it can make this transition easier. That said, it also takes time and commitment to explore properly.


You should even take time off if you need it. This can be right after your career ends or after your first couple years of working (whenever you feel ready). You should also take risks on different career paths that may be out of your comfort zone. It is important to explore, just remember to have purpose behind each decision you make and be ready to share with employers the reasons behind these decisions. My advice on taking time off is to always make it productive. That means several things: continue to learn, continue to explore, continue to build your professional network, learn a new language/skill and so on. Always ask yourself as you make a decision…does this help me grow as a person and professional?


Set your goals and stick to them, knowing they also may change.


Similar to whichever sport you may have competed in, knowing your professional goals will help give you a path to work towards success and keep you in line to have professional success and as a result find fulfillment.  When you start at a new company, review these goals with your employer/boss or, if you are starting your own business, make sure you are always referencing and working towards them. I recommend having someone else to hold you accountable (think someone like your coach for your sport, but this is a coach for your life). With all that said, you may have your goals mapped out and set in stone, but similar to your experiences in athletics…know that they may change due to something unpredictable.


Preparation: what to expect in your twenties and especially as a transitioning athlete.


There is excitement and reward in having a fresh slate to start the rest of your life in your twenties, or as you transition to life outside of an athlete… but, what no one tells you is the challenges we can face during this time in our life. You will have challenges, many  thoughts of: Am I doing the right thing? What will my life be? You will have moments you question your identity as you figure yourself out and learn about yourself personally and professionally. When these moments happen, first of all know it is okay and normal. You will see your peers doing hundreds of different things: traveling, working in start ups, owning their own businesses and so on. Just remember to stay true to your goals, your passions and remember it is okay to explore and take your time, just make it productive.


Find work-life balance.


Lastly, just as you had to do as an athlete, remember to find work-life balance. The good news, at least in my opinion, this is a bit easier to do in the professional world than when you were competing. But, remember your first few years you will have to work harder (especially if you are younger)  as you are building your career. Regardless, it is important to set work and life boundaries. For your personal life, find communities and adventures that bring you joy. Continue to workout by finding different communities and groups that also focus on health, fitness and maybe even bring together former athletes themselves. On this note, it is important to know that regardless of what you see on social media…your body is going to change. That is natural, normal, and can be frustrating to see. But, if you are prioritizing your personal health and wellness this transition in image will become less intimidating and even freeing.


As an athletes, it is easy to outwork yourself and put pressure on yourself. But, my most important advice to you is to have fun, be open to the changes and explore as we mentioned. Just as you needed different social groups and experiences outside of athletics, the same goes for work and life balance. 

 Are you a former athlete looking for more guidance? I’ve been there. Reach out and we can connect.

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