September 6

Life Lessons from a Retiring Professional Athlete

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Life Lessons from a Retiring Professional Athlete

By Deborah

September 6, 2022

adrenaline, celebrate wins, Cleveland Guardians, Cleveland Indians, competition, Greg Johnson, Life lessons, podcast, preparation, professional athlete, professional sports, relief pitcher, retiring athlete, transition

In this latest podcast & article, I interviewed my husband Greg who in his early twenties was a minor league baseball player for three and a half years as a professional athlete, then became a retiring athlete.

In our casual conversation we had discovered that there are similar feelings, experiences and mindsets that both people trying to transition to a new career and retiring professional athletes experience. I thought you could learn from Greg’s experiences moving from a professional athletic career to a career in business.

There were six feelings that Greg identified that he experienced over the years that seem to easily relate to building our business lives.  We’re going to first briefly talk about the six feelings then develop six principles of how to address each of those feelings in our lives and mindsets.

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Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Life Lessons from a Retiring Professional Athlete 9-20-22
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Feeling One: Missing the Competition

When you become a “professional” at anything, you perform at a higher level than the general populace.  When you “compete” as a professional athlete your level of competition cannot be matched nor mimicked in the business world.  You live in an exclusive world with other exclusive competitors and collectively you know that you are at the top of your game. 

C-level executives experience some of this with their peers and their board members, but secretly they know that their skill levels can be replicated by others at lower levels than themselves.  As an athlete, you literally are at the top of the world skill level for a moment.  Age and injury will eventually take you out, but for those few moments or years, you are literally among the best.  Consequently, what you are left with is the feeling that you’re stuck doing something for which you are not prepared to compete.

Feeling Two: Addicted to Adrenaline

Because of the high level of competition you become somewhat addicted to the adrenaline of the whole scene.  You walk into a huge stadium built and set aside so thousands can watch you perform.  You watch the seats fill up late afternoon after late afternoon.  The lights come on, the umpires wail on the field, the opposing team is ready to do battle, and then finally comes the first pitch.  The computer screens in our cubicles just do not generate the same mental and emotional preparation for our day at the office.

Feeling Three: Your Preparation

In most cases to become a professional athlete, you spent most of your adolescent life preparing for this career.  For your next job, you have no preparation, but either life told you or your dad said you need to do something else.  So, you switch from “something you love” to “something to do.”  Doing “something” is responsible and it is a vital first step to becoming something new.  But the first few years can be brutal. 

Feeling Four: Team Sport

One thing about playing a team sport is that you live through a season together with other players.  It is the most intense reality T.V. show that you can ever experience except for being deployed in the armed services.  Just as in a well written television series, as the season goes by you compete together, you eat together, you travel together, and the characters develop.  During that season you experience the most important moments of your lives together, moments of elation and moments of pain and/or tragedy, and by the time the season has ended everybody has been changed and are a part of one another’s lives.

That kind of “team” experience doesn’t happen at work and you miss it.

Feeling Five: Importance

Even your schedule communicates that whatever you are doing now is not as important as competing as a professional athlete.

As an athlete, after the game you immediately begin to prepare for the next game.  So, your schedule dictates that you eat correctly after the game, then to go to sleep at the same time.  You wake up at the same time, eat and go to the gym.  You come home and eat, rest for an hour, and then go to the park.  You stretch, massage, and then do your warm up drills.  You change shirts, stay warm, play the game and do it all over again.  Sometimes you’ll do some precision work right after the game before you shower just to lock in mental lessons from the game that night.

Some executives who are Type A have that kind of focus, but for the most part, that is not the life of an average entrepreneur.   The laxness of the schedule unconsciously communicates to you that this life is not as important as the previous life.

Feeling Six: Professional Sports is Cooler

No matter what you transition into next; you could win a seat in Congress, it doesn’t matter. Playing professional sports is cooler. 

Business Strategy

Now, as you grow in you next profession some of that “coolness” is won back, but the stark contrast of playing professional sports to beginning your next career as a “beginner,” is just humbling.  For the first time in a dozen years you are the not “the best” at what you are doing.  Worse than that, you’re the “newbie.”  Everyone has to “tolerate” you because you are just not a contributor.  This is one feeling that keeps many of us stuck in our dead-end jobs; the feeling that at the next place we will just be “tolerated.”

So, those are some of the feelings that a professional athlete feels.  Let ‘s explore some transferable principles for us as we transition to our next professional summit.

Transition One: Describe Success

Feeling like you might not be able to compete at a high level if you transition to a new endeavor or new career are legitimate mindsets that you have to work through.

The best way to do this is to sit down with some paper and describe in words what success would “look” like and “feel” like in your next endeavor, whatever it is.  Then ask yourself questions like, “How much training would I have to do to become that person?”  “Is there a degree I need to get?”  “Is there a mentor who I know who could help me build a plan?”  Really get detailed, and in the same way an athlete would pencil out an off-season training program, create the training program you need to succeed at the next level.  Then execute your training.

Transition Two: Celebrate the Wins

Life is not designed to experience high levels of adrenaline for extended periods of our lives, but we do need to “feel” the pleasure and enjoyment of moving ahead.  One source of depression in not just retired athletes but the general population is a loss of significance.  We experience significance when we experience progress.  It seems that humans were designed to grow.  Therefore, as you begin to execute the plan you developed from point number one, build into it milestones or check points that will affirm that you have grown and made progress.  Then take time to celebrate those check points so you feel the enjoyment of the moment.  You need to “feel” the enjoyment of having moved ahead.

Baseball-Professional Athlete-Greg Johnson

Transition Three: Keep the End in Mind

Realize that we tend to “love” things we are really good at.  There probably parts of your last job you loved because you were better at it than anyone else in the office.  Take that love with you to the next endeavor.  For most of us we need to start with the “something we do,” and become the person who works at the “something they love.”  Again, this goes back to mentally creating that person that you want to become and train for it.  But realize that anything worth being good at, is worth being bad at, at the beginning.  You can endure being humbled and being at the bottom of the success ladder if you always keep in mind where all of this humble pie is taking you.  Define the thing you want to be really good at and go for it.

Realize that we tend to “love” things we are really good at.  There probably parts of your last job you loved because you were better at it than anyone else in the office.  Take that love with you to the next endeavor.  For most of us we need to start with the “something we do,” and become the person who works at the “something they love.”  Again, this goes back to mentally creating that person that you want to become and train for it.  But realize that anything worth being good at, is worth being bad at, at the beginning.  You can endure being humbled and being at the bottom of the success ladder if you always keep in mind where all of this humble pie is taking you.  Define the thing you want to be really good at and go for it.

Transition Four: Journal

We are not going to be able to recreate the “team experience,” but just as a team’s season is like a reality T.V. show, so is your progress to whatever is next.  To enjoy the process, find a little tablet to journal in.  The one thing you want to journal is this: “What Have I Improved at Today?”  Keep it with you always, and as you are going through your day executing your personal training habits, whenever a moment occurs that reflects personal growth, write a quick note in your journal and move on.  At the end of each month, read your past month’s comments and reflect on all that has occurred in your life, on how your “character” has grow through this part of the season.  The fuel you will get from this simple exercise is irreplaceable.

Transition Five: Schedule Your Time

Build a schedule that reflects the value of the career you are building.  You are one hundred percent responsible for the direction of your life and investments of your time.  Build a schedule that reflects the seriousness of a professional athlete.  The reality is, professional athletes merely provide entertainment.  You are probably building something much more important than mere entertainment.  Your schedule should reflect it.

Transition Six: Put in the Work

As you put in the work, you slowly become one of the experts in your field.  You feel comfortable in conversations because you know that you’ll be able to contribute worthwhile thoughts.   Being able to be “worth someone else’s while” is one definition of cool.  The transition can happen, you just need to define who you want to become, how you’re going to get there, and then put in the work.

We all go through transitions, and just like the retiring professional athlete, there can be success to the other side.

Here’s to your successful transition!

- about GREG JOHNSON

Greg Johnson is a former professional athlete, a triple A relief-pitcher with the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) He also has years of experience in sales and as an R.I.A. (Registered Investment Advisor), owning his own business. He & Deb met on a blind date and have been married over 40 years.

Life is not designed to experience high levels of adrenaline for extended periods of our lives, but we do need to “feel” the pleasure and enjoyment of moving ahead.

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,659 words

Deborah

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., inspirational speaker, author and international award-winning music artist, helps others get unstuck and get off a plateau by producing and executing a successful plan to make their second half better than their first. Her message builds on her unique professional experience as a headline entertainer, composer, author, and owner of several businesses. Her 5th book The SUMMIT, out fall 2021, is an inspirational allegory that takes us on an enchanted journey to reach the Summit of our Hero Mountain®, never losing hope in the capacity of the HERO INSIDE all of us.

Deborah hosts and produces the popular Women at Halftime Podcast. Up for multiple GRAMMY awards & spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she’s produced over 2 dozen albums, and 3 musicals. She is also a past president of the National Speakers Association, Los Angeles.

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