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What We Can Learn From Former College Athletes On Finding Purpose and Managing Change

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”  ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Foto di Daniel Reche da Pixabay

At some point in life, we will all have to face change. It is guaranteed. It can involve change in the workplace or in our personal life. The best leaders, employees, relationships and, teams are a product of overcoming change (and the shock/pain that change brings).

I personally experienced change when I decided to move from Rome to Dublin and then NY to pursue my master’s. When I made the decision to move, I literally started a brand-new chapter of life and acted proactively to find my professional purpose and live my dreams. I moved there alone so I had to build a new circle of friends, get used to new cultures and habits, and most importantly, adjust to new educational systems. It was a challenging experience that shaped my personality and ways of decoding and dealing with things. Moreover, it allowed me to gain confidence and navigate life change with positivity. I learned that the best way to navigate changes is to create new versions of ourselves and build news identities that allow us to overcome what we may be dealing with.

Although change is a constant in our lives, all change isn’t created equal. When our identities are challenged, how do we navigate these circumstances? How do we find purpose when life and events force you to change?

I recently met David Kagulu-Kalema, CEO and Founder of the Coin Flyp, a former college basketball player whose stories helped answer these questions. David started the first media site for athletes that exclusively highlights life after sports. The Coin Flyp publishes first-person stories and interviews from former athletes who talk about their transition from college sports and how they reshaped their identity to find purpose in the workplace.

“Athletes can teach us how to deal with uncertainty and find direction”

David Kagulu-Kalema, CEO at the Coin Flyp

“Athletes can teach us how to deal with uncertainty and find direction,” says David, “they are a demographic that MUST constantly rethink and reshape their identity because the majority of athletes that compete at college level and beyond will not make a career out of sports. Upon leaving sports, athletes have to rely on the traits that made them successful in sports to create a version of themselves that are assets in the workplace.”

“ […] because, athletes that have identified themselves as athletes for their entire lives, they are challenged to break that mental image, create new habits and establish new ways of thinking to start a new chapter of your life”.

David Kagulu-Kalema, CEO at the Coin Flyp

Based on David’s work with the Coin Flyp and the stories athlete tell about their transition, here is what we can learn from athletes that went through one of the biggest changes in their career: life after sports.

“When athletes leave sports, it can often take a few years and different jobs to be firmly rooted in who they’ll identify as next,” […] “It’s almost like learning a new sport all over again.”

David Kagulu-Kalema, CEO at the Coin Flyp

What we can learn from athletes:

  • Finding purpose is a journey: Finding purpose is a process that happens gradually. It takes experience and getting exposure to various potential interests before connecting with new identities. “When athletes leave sports, it can often take a few years and different jobs to be firmly rooted in who they’ll identify as next,” says David. “It’s almost like learning a new sport all over again.” In some instances, former athletes try multiple industries looking for a similar sense of comradery and competitiveness. Even building a career in sports as a coach or in management can be a waiting game. New York Knicks Scout, John Halas played professionally, took various coaching jobs, and got his Masters before getting a shot at an NBA front office, a seven-year journey. Finding purpose has no script. It’s important to have a long-term view instead of looking for instant gratification.

Finding purpose has no script. It’s important to have a long-term view instead of looking for instant gratification.

  • The people you surround yourself with matter: The environments that you find yourself in, directly and indirectly, shape our development. Building confidence in your identity often depends on the feedback loops present in these environments. “The right types of professional settings and networks include true teammates, people who will encourage you but more importantly keep you accountable with constructive criticism,” suggest David. Because athletes are constantly surrounded by coaches and teammates, their development becomes a natural by-product of endless feedback. Chloe McKenzie, a former college soccer player who started financial literacy nonprofit, BlackFem, hires employees that don’t shy away from feedback. Chloe wrote on The Coin Flyp, “I have implemented feedback loops for everyone on my team on a daily basis, which forces team members to pitch to department directors and come with the best. This environment means you won’t be able to hide from improvement. Team members get their ideas knocked down often, but the beauty is my teammates also knock my ideas down. In order to be better, I too need feedback.” Moving in the right direction means we’re being challenged and the best way to do that, especially if you’re navigating change, is to let your environment help refine where you want to go. It doesn’t have to be in the job. It’s also, our friends, spouses, and communities that influence our ability to change and see better for ourselves.

Moving in the right direction means we’re being challenged and the best way to do that, especially if you’re navigating change, is to let your environment help refine where you want to go.

  • Embrace Failure: Failing productively, in a way that helps you move toward the best version of yourself means consistently trying what you are uncomfortable with, learning what you don’t know, and being resilient enough to continue when things don’t work out. Peter Prowitt, a former Stanford Basketball player worked in three different industries before finding his niche in Enterprise Software Sales. Having missed an opportunity for a promotion, he credits learning to embrace failure as an integral part in moving forward. “In sports and in life, we’re trained to project the strongest and best version of ourselves. This is a shame because failure is a universal part of the human experience and shouldn’t be a dirty word.”

In sports and in life, we’re trained to project the strongest and best version of ourselves. This is a shame because failure is a universal part of the human experience and shouldn’t be a dirty word.”

Peter Prowitt, former Stanford Basketball player

If you haven’t experienced any sort of transition, you could say you’re lucky, but you’re missing out on the opportunity to create a better version of yourself. It could be switching careers, moving to a new city as I did, enduring the growing pains of developing a new skill, recovering from a breakup or losing key people in your lives. No matter the situation, change forces us to address who we want to be, how we move forward, and how we’ll develop the right identities to thrive.

The answers to these challenges are different for everybody and never apparent right away. The best we can do is understand that change is a journey that requires the right support system and the right mindset to continue trying when things do not work out. This is what athletes learn through sports and we can use it as a template for addressing changes in our lives. “It is innate for them to fail often, rely on community, and compete to keep fighting until they find something that works” concludes David.

“It is innate for athletes to fail often, rely on community, and compete to keep fighting until they find something that works”

David Kagulu-Kalema, CEO at the Coin Flyp

“To learn more about how athletes transition, subscribe to David’s weekly column where he covers the numbers, stats, and stories that define athletes’ lives after sports.”

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