Graduating from college is a milestone. For most students, it means starting the career that they’ve worked hard to find the last few years with internships, networking and Greek life (somehow I am pretty sure this helps with finding jobs). The transition means probably less partying on the weekdays, starting a 9-5 job, maybe moving to a new city, and starting to pay back those student loans.
For college athletes, graduating from college is a milestone as well. But rather than a straightforward transition into career-land, it’s also a fork in the road; forcing athletes to decide how to fill the hole left by not having daily practice, a team, and something to be passionate about . Those jokes we made during 3-4 hr practices a day, wondering what “normal people” do with their spare time? These jokes are now very real, and we must face that we are now “normal people” somehow filling the time outside a 9-5 activity (9-5 is actually an exhausting length and time to be in one place, especially a desk).
There are a few options for athletes after graduation day, many of which require some balance, reorganizing and sacrifice:
- Go Pro: You’re extremely good at your sport. Good enough to go professional, in fact. So you sign a contract to get paid for your sport and push off career-land a little longer. Good for you glencoco. You earned it. But you’re not the most common option, especially in running.
- Be an Adult and Move On: Give up, drink beer, get soft. Ok, this isn’t the worst option, especially if you find yourself burnt out from your sport from trying extremely hard for 4-5 years while in school. You re-balance your life with these priorities: 1. Career 2. Friends/Family/Relationships 3. Sometimes you play/run/maybe go to the gym for 30 min on the elliptical. Your old teammates can’t recognize you after a few months. You’re cool with it, but maybe something seems to be missing (?) This is the fiscally responsible thing to do. We all have to make a living, right.
- Stall Career, Be Kinda Poor, Keep Doing Sport: You aren’t quite good enough to a professional. You don’t get paid to do your sport, but because you love it so darn much, you’re willing to continue to sacrifice other aspects of your professional life to keep training, competing, playing, etc. This category is tricky for a few reasons:
- Money: If you are working part-time, don’t exactly have set career goals/ambitions to grow a career that will support a comfortable lifestyle someday, you might find yourself in trouble financially. Working half-time and training may be the dream, and if you can swing it financially and have the confidence that you can build your career once you’ve reached your level of satisfaction with your sport, this is totally awesome. Good for you. This is the dream lifestyle of anyone that has a passion: pursuing it and still making a modest but fulfilling living.
- Respect: There’s a stigma surrounding the “sub-elite” athlete— the person that never truly met their goals in college and can’t seem to move on although everyone else can see that they “aren’t going to make it” (make what? Olympics, maybe? getting a sweet contract?). This stigma is unfortunate because it revolves around an idea of success that doesn’t recognize theprocess of attaining goals (outside of career goals), and relies on the idea that if you’re not the fastest/best, you don’t deserve to keep doing it. You should give up. This is sadly a popular idea.
- Maybe You’re Just Not that Good: There’s a chance that you’ll never reach the goals you think you’re capable of. Maybe you already hit your potential. What’s the point? Why should you keep going? You’re probably making a fool of yourself, anyway. If you can’t be the best, you should definitely just stop messing around.
My thoughts on #3: Who gives a shit. If you’re in it for the right reasons, it won’t matter what your true “potential” ends up to be. You’re continuing to do your sport because you want to see what that is, not see that it’s professional-fastest-in-the-world-status. Or maybe you are. And maybe you will be the fastest in the world. Who am I to say, or anyone else for that matter?
*Here’s another option that might be best for people who enjoy their sport but also don’t want to scrape by each month. You want to feel balanced and ambitious and keep your career and athletic pursuits going forward!!!
4. So you do both: You find a career you can balance with your sport. Workout, work, sleep, eat: it’s basically the same as being a student athlete. Except for the fact that you work 40 hrs/week now instead of 15 hrs of class and some homework, when you can fit it in. Of course, many professionals work full-time as well. (Just read this cool post about Nicole Blood. USA 5k National Champion,Nicole Tully works full time. Many more do as well). It’s about finding a job that allows you to get the training in and understands you might be sweaty sometimes. This option seems to be pretty fulfilling for people because you get to make everyone (your mom, society, yourself) happy. You’re moving forward in a career, you get to have your passion outside of this, and you don’t turn into a beer blob looking at pictures of the glory days (no judgement, I was a margarita blob for a little while).
Probably the most important takeaway I’ve gotten so far from being out of school for almost a year is… balance. Finding a way to keep moving forward in life means setting career and running goals that are important. Wrestling with the idea of “success” makes it difficult to determine how to go about continue running post-collegiately while making no money doing it. With balance, ambition on career & running goals, it shouldn’t matter to you (or anyone else) what sacrifices you’re willing to make to continue doing what you enjoy.