I had spent the past 23 years of my life around sports.
Baseball, basketball, soccer, and football were the story of my childhood. My parents piled on thousands of miles driving me to travel baseball and basketball games and tournaments. I played three years of high school Varsity baseball, and then I stepped onto my college campus as part of the 7% of high school athletes that play Varsity college athletics. So much of my life had revolved around sports up until the time I was 20.
Then, it got taken to another level.
March 23, 2015 was a pivotal day in my life. No, I didn’t meet the love of my life that day. No, I didn’t have a near death experience that made me appreciate life. On March 23, 2015, as a college sophomore, I received my first program as one of the first Driveline Baseball Online Max Velo clients.
I scoured that thing for hours. You’d have thought I was going to receive extra velocity through osmosis. By the end of the day, I was sold. I had a workout plan, and it was going to work come hell or high water.
Over the next two and a half years, I spent thousands of hours training. By my calculation, I spent somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 hours on training between March 23, 2015, and the day I decided to retire from baseball.
Baseball became my life. I was on a mission to become as good as I possibly could at throwing a baseball. It’s why I woke up every day. Everything in my life — eating, sleeping, time with friends, schoolwork, screentime to name a few — were systematized so that they would contribute to the overall optimization of throwing a baseball as hard as I could.
It was incredibly fun. As someone who started out at 81 MPH, my goal was to hit 90. I reached that number in about under 11 months. I then set my sights higher and tried to optimize my life to 95.
Evidently, it worked. Well, kind of.
I ended up hitting 95, but not until after I had retired from the sport. My best velocity during my playing career was 94.8. Best velocity after retirement? 95.9. I know, I’m weird.
I retired from the sport and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. All I had known for the past 30 months had been 4 hour training days, long sessions with the Marc Pro, and a whole lot of research.
The obvious answers didn’t appeal to me. I was moving back to my hometown in Wisconsin from Puyallup, Washington where I had been living while working at Driveline. I received an offer to coach the local travel team, which I declined. I just wasn’t feeling baseball. I took a job at a local fairly large company back in February and have been working there ever since.
But I’m not satisfied.
I’m guessing that you’re not either.
The Negative Effect of Motivational Content
Shortly after retiring from baseball, I wanted to start something online. I had tried my hand at vlogging towards the end of my career, but I didn’t love it nor was I all that captivating on the vlog format (episode 1…yikes). I was trying to figure out what I was going to be good at and what I wanted to do. To help, I turned to the best resource I could think of. That’s right, I went to Gary Vaynerchuk’s YouTube channel. I watched so many of his videos that I could have passed for a Vayner employee.
A couple of friends and I even got together for a brainstorm session for how all of us could grow our personal brands. That night got all of us excited, but there was just one problem.
None of the knowledge and inspiration I was force feeding myself was being put into action by me. Instead, I felt weighed down by the pressure of “finding my passion” and hustling. Instead of acting on what I was learning, I was getting fat on the over-indulgence of motivational content.
Gary Vaynerchuk is both knowledgeable and practical. He has helped so many people. So the question I had to ask myself was this: Why am I not doing anything with this advice?
Far too often we will encounter some wonderful advice and get excited about it. We strategize ways to implement this breakthrough information and tell others about our new plans (Read why that’s a horrible idea).
All of a sudden, a month passed and I had no noticeable progress on that thing I was so passionate about only 30 days earlier. I wondered what happened and vowed to be better the next time I got a shot of inspiration.
Maybe you still struggle with this. It’s taken me a long time to get over the tendency to consume motivational porn and instead begin to take action.
What I have found is that consumption of motivational content and creative output are inversely related.
As I watched more videos and talked with more friends, I actually became less “motivated”. Because I wasn’t doing anything with the last video or conversation, each new planning session brought shame and doubt that this new plan would ever work out. This cycle led to excessive stress and more than one mental breakdown. I decided that something, anything had to be done.
Enough was enough.
My New Endeavor
For a long time, I have wanted to become a writer. I started a couple blogs in high school, I blogged in college, and I’ve run short-lived blogs in my post-grad life as well. None of these blogs have lived on. I was always trying to find inspiration to write instead of just sitting down and being a writer.
About a month ago, I decided to get serious about this. I read two blogs that really helped me create a system to become a writer. How Writing 1000 Words a Day by Srinivas Rao and The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit by Jeff Goins gave me actionable advice on how to become a writer. It’s so simple that it hurts me to type this, but the secret is that writers write.
Overwhelmed by the scope of what becoming a writer looks like, I forgot the basic requirement for anyone who wants to become a writer. I was more worried about how to get 100 articles written than sitting down and doing the first one.
In the same way that I wouldn’t call myself a baseball player if all I did was watch games on television, I can’t reckon myself a writer if I never write. If all I ever do is think about writing or how cool it would be to be a writer, I will never actually be a writer. With this overwhelmingly simplistic realization piercing my heart, I decided to take action.
The next morning, I got to writing.
I’ve been writing a minimum of 500 words six days each week for the past month. No, I do not have a long track record of consistent work, but this is a special achievement for me. As someone who is notorious for starting things and not finishing them, I am proud of my commitment to getting up well before I have to be at work to write.
I kept the word count to 500 so it would be achievable as to not overwhelm myself. I’ve made that mistake before. I estimated that 500 words would fit in my challenge point sweet spot. It has.
Ever since committing to writing 500 words each day, I have overcome that stuck feeling that plagues much of the millennial generation. No longer do I feel as if there’s so much untapped potential in me. Instead, I express that potential each time I put pen to paper or strike a key on my keyboard.
Beyond expressing potential, writing every day has helped me develop a habit of writing to the point where I now consider myself a writer.
Building a New Identity with New Habits
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, once gave a talk at Craft + Commerce 2017. One quote that stood out to me was the following:
“The more evidence we have for a belief, the more likely we are to believe it.”
If I want to be known as a writer, I need to believe that I’m a writer before anyone else does. I am not going to consider myself a writer unless there is evidence that tells me I am. But, as I write and build a body of work, I’m building up evidence that suggests that yes, I am a writer. Even if I never get paid to do so, I’m still a writer because each morning I wake up and write.
As I write and publish more often, there is even more evidence that I am a writer. Others might even start to consider me as a writer as well. All of the evidence that is resulting from my daily writing habit is serving to convince myself and others that I am who I want to be, a writer.
Clear went on to say, “Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” If our goal is to build up overwhelming evidence that we are someone who does x, we must deliberately choose to take the actions that create that evidence.
Using systems can be very helpful in becoming who you want to be. I do not have a direct outcome in mind when I think about my daily writing habit. Sure, I want to write a book, but that’s not going to be the end of my writing. Even if I were to publish a book in the next 12 months (very unlikely), I would still continue to write.
I don’t have a goal in place with writing. I have a system of writing at least 500 words six days per week. This system helps me to publish one article and send one essay to my email list each week.
Writing every day has brought so much peace to my life. As someone who is addicted to achievement, I have found tremendous peace in producing something of value each day. Even if the writing is complete crap, I have still ridden my mind of all of the clutter that fogs thinking and blocks action. After I have written, I think with much better clarity and move on with my day knowing that I did something that day.
Having a writing system allows me to build a treasure chest of evidence that I am a writer. As I write more, I place more votes towards the identity I want to have. With enough convincing evidence, the judge (myself) sees more and more evidence that yes, I am in fact a writer.
To the Struggling Former Athlete
If you struggle with purpose after your athletic career, lean in now.
There’s no magic pill to take away all your pain. But there are some things you can do.
Recently, I was talking with a psychologist and she asked about my story. I told her the fairly condensed version of it all, and she asked a penetrating question.
“Have you taken time to grieve the loss of baseball?”
I had never even considered that. To me, it seemed weak to look back on my career and recognize that there is pain there that I need to deal with. But ever since that time, I have worked through many of the issues that were plaguing me and weighing me down. That single question has prompted more healing and allowed me to step into much better emotional well-being than almost anything I had tried before.
If you deal with emotional pain after retiring from your sport, I urge you to take time to grieve the loss of your sport. You may think it’s weird, strange, or downright stupid. There is something about the grieving process that allows you to heal.
What to Do After You’ve Grieved
After you’ve grieved the loss of your sport, you will be freed up. Much of the mental clutter you didn’t even recognize was there will have fled as you dealt with the pain of losing something you cherished and spent so much time on.
This frees you up to move on to the next thing.
Before you get to your next thing, you’re going to need to accept that there’s going to be a next thing. This is usually accomplished in the grieving stage, but if you’ve managed to get this far without accepting this truth, you need to accept it. Your ability to thrive in any post-athletic endeavor relies on this.
I don’t know what your next thing is. For me, it’s writing. As I mentioned earlier, writing has allowed me to experience so much freedom and it’s something I would recommend everyone at least tries.
But writing might not be your thing. Maybe your next thing is becoming the top salesman at your company. Maybe it’s becoming a painter, or a competitive weightlifter, or a chiropractor.
You might have to fail at multiple things before you find your next thing. Between retiring from baseball and now, I have tried video editing, podcasting, golfing, powerlifting, and web design. None of these has stuck as my “next thing”. I like to golf, I still lift (albeit not as heavy) and I suspect I’ll get back into podcasting at some point. But I seem to have found a good landing place in writing.
You must try things. Be willing to try and fail. And to protect yourself, don’t tell anyone you’re doing this thing. That way, you don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of being perceived as a failure when you quit simply because you don’t want to do it as much as you thought you did.
There are countless opportunities available to you as a former athlete. Through the deliberate design of executable habits and functioning systems, you set yourself up to stumble upon your next big thing.
I know how hard it can be to be thrown out into the world after you’ve retired from your sport. It’s even more difficult to identify yourself as someone other than the athlete you’ve always been.
The good news is, you can move on. You can get past the pain you feel, and you can develop a new identity. In the long run, you’ll end up benefiting from your athletic career instead of wallowing in mysterious pain.
I’m rooting for you.
I’ve created an eBook to help you get unstuck and move on from your athletic career. Get it now to get back on track to living the life you were meant to live.