Why All Athletes are Artists

I was an athlete, not an artist. My extra-curricular contribution was on the basketball court and baseball field, not in the studio wielding a paintbrush.

This is how I thought for my entire athletic career. Despite flashes of artistic ability, I thought of myself as an athlete and it stayed that way until the day I retired from baseball.

Then, I struggled. And struggled. And struggled.

I couldn’t let go of my self-identification as an athlete.

If I wasn’t an athlete, who was I?

This question led me to a realization.

This realization has been solidified as I’ve accepted the end of my career and moved on. In fact, I believe that it’s been a major key in any forward progress I’ve made in my life after sports.

A GIF of DJ Khaled saying "Major Key Alert"

That realization not only helped me to better understand my work as an athlete but also helps me to do better work today.

What is the realization, you ask?

Let me tell you…

All Athletes are Artists

Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done.

Seth Godin, Linchpin1

We must expand our definition of an artist.

The artist isn’t only someone who is masterful with a paintbrush or who can tell a compelling story through their words.

No, all it takes to be an artist is to solve interesting problems.

That’s all? Sounds hard.

You’re 100% right.

Solving interesting problems is a unique skill — one that you’ve been solving since you first picked up the bat, dribbled the basketball, or shot a puck on net.

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    The athlete is a highly skilled artist

    When artistry is about problem-solving, the athlete gets included. Every movement is a highly-calculated decision based on external stimuli.

    I might get some disagreements here from “real artists”, but I think all of these (and more) qualify as artistic moments:

    • Throwing a high-pressure 3-2 fastball on the black for a strikeout
    • Hitting a 92 MPH slider from Noah Syndergaard
    • Steph Curry maneuvering his way through traffic and nailing a 3-pointer from 35 feet away
    • Patrick Mahomes dishing out no-look passes in an NFL game

    Athletes are constantly solving interesting problems. They’re dealing with a rapidly changing environment and coming up with creative solutions that are then showcased in front of everyone watching.

    I wish I would have understood this while I was playing. I think this is key to helping athletes detach from their athletic identities and allow them to move on to the next phase of their lives.

    Say it with me:

    All athletes are artists.

    All Former Athletes Are Artists, Too

    For you and me — former athletes — thinking of ourselves as artists (creative problem-solvers) helps us move on from sports.

    Many athletes have a hard time transitioning out of sports because they’ve never thought of themselves as anything other than an athlete. They were the star pitcher, the stud basketball player, or the #1 golfer on the team and couldn’t move past that status in their mind.

    After their athletic career ended, they are stuck living in the past because they’ve only ever thought of themselves as an athlete — someone who plays sports.

    But, if we expand our minds and begin to think of ourselves as artists, we will open up a world of opportunity in our life after sports.

    No more will you face the depression that comes from no longer being an athlete.

    No more will you doubt your ability to contribute in a meaningful way in the world.

    Instead of being stuck trying to move on from your athletic identity, you will look for the next way to solve interesting problems.

    You can contribute again, and understanding yourself as a creative, problem-solving artist is a key to living your best life after sports.

    Now That You’re An Artist…

    Acceptance of yourself as artist is the first step.

    I would expect a lot of athletes to denounce this right away if it weren’t for the new definition of artist: creative problem-solvers.

    For me, this was key to helping me self-identify as a writer.

    When I made this connection that athletes are artists, I could fight back against The Resistance and begin to do the important work of a writer: write.

    You’ll go through plenty of moments where you feel like this. Where the performance is subpar, the words don’t come (or worse, they do and no one reads it), the video edit doesn’t look right, or you’re not connecting with potential customers on sales calls.

    But once you accept that you are an artist, a world of opportunity opens to you. You’ll have to fight The Resistance at every turn, but that’s the nature of improvement. Any time you seek to improve some aspect of your life, The Resistance will try to dissuade you from whatever you’re doing.

    There are two main things that you should do when you realize that you are an artist.

    1. Turn Pro

    In Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro, he discusses the difference between amateurs and professionals.

    The main takeaway from this is simple: Amateurs give excuses for why they can’t do something. Professionals look past those excuses and forge ahead.

    I’d like to say that it’s a subtle change that can be done by flipping one switch in your mind, but that’s not true. Instead, it’s a complete overhaul of the mindset behind your life.

    When you turn pro, everything changes.

    The Professional (Not Professional) Pitcher

    I might get some slack for this, but I consider myself to have been a professional baseball pitcher even though I never threw a professional pitch.

    Even though it might sound crazy, I stick to that.

    I wasn’t a professional pitcher by the standards of those who make decisions for the MLB teams.

    No, I decided to turn pro. It was an internal reality well before the 2017 MLB Draft came and deemed me not worthy.

    My work habits were like those of professionals, and I had the mindset of a professional.

    My days were designed around training. I wasn’t trying to “squeeze in” baseball. Instead, baseball was the non-negotiable thing in my life. I had a 2-5 hour block taken out of each training day and then took care of business outside of the training arena with nutrition, hydration, education, and sleep. At some point, I decided to go all-in.

    This was the day I turned pro.

    Maybe you were the same way. I hope so.

    Resistance and Turning Pro

    In your life after sports, you’ll undoubtedly feel like an amateur.

    I felt very amateurish my first day at the place I currently work. I work in sales and discovered quickly that I didn’t know the first thing about selling meat snack products to grocery stores.

    I had the same experience when I started a vlog, podcast, and this website.

    Who am I to do this work?

    That question still tries to talk to me each morning when I wake up to write.

    This is The Resistance. When you get these doubts, you can rest assured that you are doing meaningful work.

    Once you discover something worth turning pro in, you have a choice to make. That choice is whether you will continue to be the amateur with infinite excuses or you will burn the ships, decide that there is no going back, and turn pro.

    I hope you make the right decision.

    When you turn pro, you’re putting a stake in the ground to fight back against The Resistance. The professional makes a declaration that this is who they are, and they’re going to see it through. They’re going to do the work.

    2. Do The Work

    Turning pro is the first step to the life you want to live. After that comes the daily process of doing the work.

    When Tiger Woods mulled over turning pro after his 3rd straight US Amateur championship, he had a lucrative Nike sponsorship awaiting him. This kid would go from a Stanford-educated golf phenom to a worldwide sensation seemingly overnight.

    His life was going to change the moment he turned pro, but he wasn’t going to be Tiger Woods, the man who transcended golf, just because he looked out at the Greater Milwaukee Open media and said, “I guess…hello world.”

    Even though he was already one of the most talented golfers in the world, Tiger had to do the work if he would step into the fullness of his potential.

    And did he ever do the work.

    Wielding a golf club, Tiger Woods was (and is) one of the finest artists this world has ever seen.

    You — an artist in your own right — have the opportunity to turn pro and then do the work.

    Each day, the professional shows up. The professional does what he says he’s going to do.

    Will you do the same? Or will you remain an amateur?

    It’s Your Turn

    You have been gifted with the opportunity to turn pro. You don’t need anyone’s permission.

    Remember those old NCAA commercials?

    This one?

    You have the opportunity to turn pro in work that matters.

    Will you take it?

    To Help: I’ve created a how-to guide around the topic of going pro. In it, I go deeper, taking you 3 steps further than we went in this article.

    All you need to do is fill in your first name and email below and I’ll send it to your inbox right away.

    How to Find the Guide You Need to Do Great Things

    The Hero’s Journey

    There are certain books out there that make such a profound impact on you and the way you live that you return to them time and time again.

    For me, one of those books is Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller.

    In plain language, Miller teaches readers how to help someone through their own hero’s journey. He gives a 7-step framework that he claims is at the core of every good movie, novel, story, and marketing campaign. Let’s dive in:

    1. character
    2. Has a problem
    3. And meets a guide
    4. Who gives them a plan
    5. And calls them to action
    6. That ends in success
    7. And helps them avoid failure


    • Dumbledore serves as the primary guide in Harry Potter’s mission to destroy horcruxes and defeat Voldemort
    • Katniss meats Haymitch who helps her get the backing she needs to win the Hunger Games
    • Jesus teaches his 12 disciples the way of life in the Kingdom and then releases them to do the same and train everyone else

    Miller hypothesizes that we are all on our own unique hero’s journey. In the narrative of our lives (the story we tell ourselves), we are the hero. We are the protagonist that will save a cat dangling from a tree, rescue the princess locked away by a madman, or stop the evil doctor who released a virus into the world in which only he has the antidote.

    In more realistic examples, you will be the top performer at work; the best significant other, fiance, or spouse imaginable; or a crusader of peace and justice in a corrupt world.

    My hero’s journey

    When I quit baseball, I went searching for a new place to play the role of the hero. I had spent the last two years accidentally building a personal brand around this crazy velocity journey I went on. For anyone who doesn’t know, I gained 14 MPH of velocity during my last two years of baseball and got better than I ever imagined.

    For some crazy reason, I appeared to be a hero in some people’s eyes. Curious baseball players frequently contacted me to ask for advice, and I built up a semi-large social media following considering my entire college only had 1,400 students.

    But after I retired, I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where I wanted to apply myself. My hero’s journey needed a pivot, but I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was going.

    In the 7-step hero’s journey framework, I was at step 2: I had a problem.

    Tanner Has a Problem

    At this stage, my problem was that I didn’t have anything to put my greatest effort towards. Nothing gripped my heart upon waking each day, and I was disappointed. More in-depth, there was another level to the problem, which I discovered in reflection one year later.

    a man sitting on a sofa with his head in his hand

    I refused to find a guide.

    I believed that the only admirable way to figure out what I wanted to do next was to go at it alone. I didn’t need anyone! I had done this whole velocity thing by myself! I could figure out life’s next move without anyone’s help.

    Except for one thing: I had not done the velocity thing by myself.

    I had many guides along the way. Who was I to play revisionist history with this part of my life?

    I had too many guides to name them all here, but if you’re reading this and you played that role in my journey, thank you.

    What I needed more than anything during my transition into life after baseball was a guide. I needed an outside perspective to help me navigate the newness of it all. I needed someone to help me figure out what the heck I was trying to do – and then give me a plan to do it.

    In the same way that an athlete hires a personal trainer to make them better, I needed to make an emotional, relational, or financial investment into finding a guide. Someone who would look me in the eyes and say, “You’re different now. That’s okay. This is what people like us do.”

    My Guide

    Eventually, I found a guide.

    The best guide I found offered to meet with me at all times of the day. She was always available and didn’t do much talking. In her silence, she seemed always to help me to uncover layers of truths about myself that were previously hidden.

    My guide – the one who taught me so much and helped me uncover some of my soul’s most profound mysteries – was a blank page. That’s right; my guide was the act of writing.

    I discovered that by writing my thoughts, feelings, and inner turmoil, I received nudgings along the path that I should be on.

    The blank page didn’t intimidate me. Instead, it was a welcome invitation to pour out my thoughts and feelings, and receive no judgment back from her. The page didn’t talk back to me, but it sure was listening. I could be as honest as I wanted to be on Tuesday and she would be there again Wednesday morning, ready to hear whatever I had to say.

    Writing allowed me to be the author of my own story. Sitting down at the keyboard each day and typing gave me the freedom to examine things, make connections, and produce something of value. Each day, the chains were breaking that had held me down on the hero’s journey, and I was off – free to be myself, free to thrive in a world waiting for what I would do.

    Your Hero’s Journey

    Are you living a heroic life?

    No, seriously.

    Do you find yourself on the hero’s journey?

    Let me encourage you.

    a neon sign that says we can be heroes just for one day

    If you feel stuck in life, it’s easy to wallow in discouragement and bitterness and feel like you’re not good enough. You believe that you’ll never achieve anything meaningful. You’re a lost cause and have drifted into the wild Chris McCandless style.

    Except, that’s not right. Here’s the truth:

    If you have a problem, you’re on the hero’s journey.

    Remember the hero’s journey?

    1. character
    2. Has a problem
    3. And meets a guide
    4. Who gives them a plan
    5. And calls them to action
    6. That ends in success
    7. And helps them avoid failure

    The first two requirements: A character has a problem.

    If you’re a warm-blooded person and you have a problem, you’re on the hero’s journey.

    In fact, not having a problem would be a sign that you are not on a heroic journey.

    Problems, issues, and inner-turmoil are necessary components to you fulfilling your heroic calling.

    Stop Being Your Dad

    Ideally, your guide is going to be another person.

    Think about the stereotypical father taking his family on vacation to a new city.

    Before everyone had a GPS on their person at all times, people often got lost. That was okay. It’s normal to assume that you’ll get lost in a new land without a guide or map telling you how to get where you’re trying to go.

    The logical thing to do in this situation is to stop at the next gas station and ask Bob the cashier for directions to get where you want to go. Bob is a local. He drives those roads every day. His familiarity with the entire town will have you on the right path within 3 minutes (as long as he doesn’t take advantage of this moment to give his keynote presentation on the town and talk about the “good ole days”).

    The stereotypical father has too much pride to do the logical thing.

    Instead, he drives his family in circles all-the-while swearing that he knows where he’s going and, “NO, WE ARE NOT THERE YET!”

    When it comes to your problem, stop being your dad. Admit that you’re stuck, find a friendly guide like Bob, and get back on the path – the hero’s path – that you were born to walk on.

    Is Writing a Guide?

    There is no limit to who your guide is. The possibilities are endless.

    Before, I said that my guide was an empty page. Writing every day guided me back to the hero’s journey that I had strayed from.

    Journaling – however you choose to do it – carries the unlimited potential to help you carve out the story of your life. Moleskin notebook pages, voice memos, or short front-facing videos all help you to record a tidbit of history and be the author of your own hero’s journey.

    But all of those things serve to help you find your real guide – a living, breathing human who has experience facing what you are encountering and can give you a plan to help you be successful.

    Writing helped me, but it led me to the importance of engaging with others. It revealed my need to have a human guide.

    True Guides are People

    There are so many ways to find a guide. So many people can come into your life and lead you where you want to go.

    • Loving family member
    • Spiritual leader
    • Athletic coach
    • Boss
    • A Favorite Author
    • Bloggers
    • Online coaches

    The guide comes into your life to give you a roadmap to success. They’re Bob, the cashier who will point and say, “Go three blocks North, turn left on Water Street, then turn right before the giant armadillo statue and you’ll run right into your hotel.”

    Without a guide, you continue to spin your wheels. You’re expending energy, but you never get to the place you are going.

    Guides carry the key to unlock your life and set you free into your destiny.

    It sounds so good that it’s easy to discount it as too magical or ephemeral.

    But it’s true.

    When I realized that I needed a real-life guide, I began to search for people who could help.

    I now have multiple guides segmented into various parts of my life.

    • I purchased a writing course that gives me access to a community of writers and a personal hero of mine
    • I talk with a Christian mentor once per month over the phone
    • I found an online fitness coach who gave me a plan I wanted to follow

    As you can see, I don’t meet with any of these people in person. That’s the blessing of the 21st century. The Internet instantly connects all of us.

    If you stop using this technology to scroll, swipe, and consume, you can do some pretty amazing things.

    The lines between virtual and “real-life” are blurring more every day. When it comes to finding your guide, be willing to look outside of your hometown. Scour the landscape of the Internet and see if you can gain access to those people who will hand you a map to where you want to go.

    What to do

    One of the most important things you can do to get yourself unstuck and back onto the hero’s path is to get a guide.

    A guide is an outsider, someone generous enough to lead you to a place you’d never have been without him or her.

    Do you have that guide?

    Can you go to them right now and say, “Help.”

    All I wanted when I was struggling was to speak with someone who listened, understood, and could help me move onto the next thing in my life.

    silhouette of a road signage during golden hour

    I couldn’t find that person.

    I don’t want that for you.

    Let’s talk.

    I’m not going to judge you, condemn you, or embarrass you.

    If you’re interested, fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

    I will send you a message, and you will have the opportunity to email me with any questions you have about getting unstuck and back on the hero’s journey.

    It’s time you have a plan to get back on your hero’s journey.

    It’s time you shine.

    This article was adapted from an email sent to subscribers on 1/7/2019.

    What I Miss About Baseball

    A few weeks ago, my co-worker came up to me while I was in the lunchroom. I don’t usually leave my desk for lunch.

    I devoured some homemade chicken while hunched over a copy of Cal Newport’s Deep Work.

    It was a good lunch.

    “What are you up to?” Jason spouted out.

    “Eating and reading,” I replied. “Do you want to know what I’m reading, or don’t you care?”

    I’ve found this to be a valid question for 99% of the population.

    “Nah, I’m good.”

    We both had a good laugh at his brutal honesty.

    Fortunately, the conversation didn’t end there. We talked about family, college, sports as a whole, and Kyler Murray.

    Then we started talking about baseball.

    Jason: “Do you miss it?”

    For the first time since quitting, I had a real answer. I was honest. I do miss baseball, but probably not the parts you’re thinking of.

    What I Miss About Baseball

    The (Mostly) Objective Story of How and When I Quit Baseball

    When I reflect on my career, I try to remain as objective as possible. This can be a complicated task as our memory is clouded with emotions and the narratives we’ve chosen to tell ourselves (AKA narrative fallacy).

    When I quit baseball, I tried to explain why I stopped playing to everyone. This was stupid. I didn’t even know why I quit. I had no business trying to explain it to others.

    I had been considering it for a while but held out because I wasn’t sure. One night in August 2017, I sat on my bed in Puyallup, Washington and had the thought randomly pop into my mind.

    I’m done with baseball.

    I hadn’t been thinking about baseball, much less retiring.

    I had just thrown 94 in a velocity drill a few days prior, so I had no reason to quit from a performance standpoint.

    Huh, that’s a strange thought.

    I decided to sleep on things that night and see where my head and heart were at in the morning.

    When I woke up, I remember being jacked up to go to Driveline for work, but not for the velocity training session that was scheduled midway through my workday.

    I texted my girlfriend to let her know that I was leaning towards quitting. She asked a few questions and the way I remember it (AKA clouded with narrative), I decided to quit that day.

    After that, I texted my brother to tell him. My parents came next.

    I did the final workout as a just-for-kicks, maybe my UCL will explode thing.

    I have good and bad news.

    My UCL remained intact.

    The Next Day

    I showed up to the gym for work for my first day as a retired athlete. I think I felt calm. Again, narrative bias here.

    I hadn’t told many people what I had chosen to do. It was almost like an engagement announcement. I had to contact all of my closest friends and family before I could announce it to the world.

    News spread quickly at the gym. I had plenty of people ask me why I had chosen to quit.

    I didn’t have a satisfactory answer for them. I could explain my somewhat-mystical experience atop my bed where it seemed heaven’s clarity invaded my thinking and made it clear what I should do, but it wouldn’t make sense to most people.

    “I don’t like playing baseball,” I told them. While this was true in part, it’s not the whole story. I liked certain parts of playing baseball. There were also other factors added in the mix to why I decided to quit–I suspect I still haven’t uncovered many of them.

    Romanticizing My Decision

    I’m incredibly guilty of doing this. After I announced my decision to retire on my then-popular Instagram account and a new YouTube channel, I was bombarded with questions about why. Some people were happy for me. Some were sad. Some were legitimately angry. Everyone seemed to ask why.

    The truth of the matter is that I had no idea. I didn’t know the exact reason I had quit, and that should have been okay.

    But, it wasn’t.

    I’m the kind of person who wants to make it appear that everything is A-okay. Regarding my decision to quit baseball, I wanted nothing more than to have it all figured out so I could give people a pointed, well-thought-out response to their question, “Why?”.

    Remember, I didn’t have the answers. I just had a moment in time where something deep inside of me cried out that I was done with baseball.

    The combination of not having the answer and my desire to appear all good led me to romanticize my decision and craft a narrative that I didn’t believe in.

    It felt gross to tell people that I quit because I didn’t like baseball. I felt strange saying most things that I told other people about my decision.

    What I should have done was say, “I don’t know,” but I refused.

    I would much rather emit the appearance of having-it-all-together than admit that I have unanswered questions.

    I’m working on that.

    An Apology

    I’m not sure how many of you will read this. I know I seem like a lost soul since I quit baseball. I have been.

    If you’ve read this far, I want to say I’m sorry for crafting a narrative to appease you. I’m sorry for anyone I led to make a stupid decision and drive themselves crazy because of the story they were forced to tell themselves.

    I’m sorry for believing I was more important than I was.

    I’m sorry for taking you for a ride on my romanticized, wishy-washy, ultra-confusing narrative.

    I’m sorry for using you to give myself an odd sense of validation.

    Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

    Well, it really is this. When people ask me, “How do you make it in show business?” or whatever. What I always tell them – I’ve said it for many years – and nobody ever takes note of it because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is, ‘Here’s how you get an agent. Here’s how you write a script. Here’s how you do this.’ But I always say ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ And, I just think that if somebody’s thinking ‘How can I be really good?’, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.

    Steve Martin

    One reason I struggled so much with my transition into baseball is that I left a field in which I had amassed a certain amount of career capital by becoming good at something – namely, throwing a baseball relatively hard.

    First, let me define career capital: Skills you have that are rare and valuable to the working world

    This concept comes from Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

    As I’ve written about before, I believed I had to cut myself off from baseball entirely. My romanticized narrative of why I quit baseball evolved into “I don’t like baseball.” All of a sudden, there was incongruence between the story I told myself and others and my life situation. I was working at arguably the top baseball training facility in the world while telling people that I hated baseball.

    That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    In quitting baseball, I left something that I had developed a passion for. I didn’t start as an 81 MPH college sophomore burning with desire for velocity. No, I distinctly remember my decision to begin training with Driveline was based on this: “I am sick of being average, and I don’t want to be average anymore.”

    Not quite the sophisticated thinking I’ve tried to convince myself and others of in other endeavors.

    After I retired, I continued to throw. “I like throwing!” I told others. “I hate baseball, but I like throwing.”

    That doesn’t make an iota of sense.

    Even though I was done playing baseball, I continued to throw on a regular basis. I eventually worked my way up to throw 95 MPH (my first time) AFTER I RETIRED.

    How’s that for transfer of training?

    Even while I was throwing (and confusing everyone, pissing off some), I didn’t know why I did it. If I genuinely hated baseball as I said, wouldn’t I be okay shutting it down and not throwing anymore? That line of thinking seemed to make sense, but it didn’t match my experience.

    This is one thing about my decision to quit and resulting life choices that I do seem to have an answer for.

    My Need for Validation

    I have a high need for validation. It’s a weakness of mine. When I was no longer throwing 94 MPH fastballs on the reg, I felt like less of a person. To combat this, I continued to do the one thing I knew I was good at – throw a baseball hard. I couldn’t move on because I was terrified of what would come when I no longer had something I was good at in my life.

    As I sit here in Grafton, Wisconsin 363 days after throwing my all-time fastest pitch on my final day at the Driveline facility, I realize that this fear has shackled me down for far too long.

    I’m a prisoner to my expectations and dreams. My constant need for validation prevents me from doing the thing that matters: become good at something.

    I know that it’s vital to pursue mastery over metrics, but it’s much harder to walk the walk than talk the talk.

    Anyone can say they value mastery.

    Not many will do the insanely tricky work of reaching mastery.

    When I quit baseball, I was the prime candidate for purveyors of the passion hypothesis. I was susceptible to the mantra that the next step in my life required me first to identify what I was passionate about through introspection and then align my next career move with that pre-existent passion.

    Like a carp taking a nibble at the “harmless” worm floating in the lake, I was hooked.

    Even as I recognized the passion mindset’s fallacies, I continued to submit myself to the belief that there is something out there just waiting for me to find it. It drives me crazy.

    This way of thinking is coming to an end.

    As I look to 2019, I have increasing clarity on what I want to do and how I want to do it. I’ll keep it at that for now, because telling others about what I’m going to do is useless and utterly stupid.

    Just know that introspectivity and “passion” will no longer be the driving force behind my decisions.

    (I hope.)

    So, what do I miss about baseball?

    I miss the pursuit of greatness.

    I miss working to become good at something.

    I miss being good at something.

    I miss being on a mission.

    What Am I Going to Do About It?

    There’s only one option.

    Become so good they can’t ignore me.

    This is the only thing worth doing.

    Either become the best at what you do or don’t. There’s a thick line in the sand on this matter.

    Either you’re legitimately good, or you’re not.

    You were designed with greatness in mind.

    God doesn’t create mediocre or below average.

    What will you pursue now that sports are done?

    Will you pursue greatness? Or will you allow yourself to be swept away by the promising comfort of mediocrity?

    Your heart burns for greatness.

    Choose wisely.

    Traded to a Team that Didn’t Exist: The Bill Miller Story

    Bill Miller doing a bulgarian split squat in the weight room

    Bill Miller made his professional debut for the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League in the spring of 2015. He played a couple of weeks before the team cut him – part his fault, part lousy fortune.

    Bill bounced around with a couple of semi-pro and independent teams over the next year until the Rockland Boulders traded him to a team he can’t remember the name of.

    He has no reason to remember the name.

    The team didn’t exist.

    Bill found this out the hard way.

    He drove “somewhere out in New York or Pennsylvania” (Bill doesn’t remember exactly) and met up with a group of guys at a local field who were all ready for their first day of practice.

    There was just one problem: no managers, coaches, or front office people were present.

    After a couple of hours, a local fellow walked over to the group of players and asked what they were doing.

    “We’re here for the professional baseball team,” they quipped.

    “Oh, I haven’t heard anything about that,” the local tried to speak the truth while not crushing the spirits of the boys.

    an overhead shot of an all dirt baseball field

    Very confused, the team went out to dinner and tried to figure out what was going on.

    Assembled around the local fast food joint’s tables, they finally accepted the truth.

    There was no team. There would be no season. They had to leave.

    Just like everything in his life, Bill took this in stride. He accepted it for what it was and sought to be real with what was going on.

    Sitting in a motel in small-town Ohio, Bill saw the writing on the wall of his professional career.

    For the first time, it was apparent that his professional baseball career was drawing to a close.

    “I had put in all this work into baseball and had driven halfway across the country to go play for this team that didn’t exist. I realized that my career was ending.”

    He completed the drive back to Chicago and started working with his older brother at Dream Big Athletics in Palatine, IL. He also played baseball for a local semi-pro team during the summer to pass the time.

    He finished that summer by playing two games for an independent team that needed a fill-in. But Bill knew that his time in baseball was coming to a close.

    He now faced the challenge of moving into life after baseball.

    With family connections in professional baseball, Bill faced a decision. He could go into analytics and start building his career there, or he could go into what fired him up as a player, player development.

    He chose the latter.

    When I asked about his transition out of playing and into coaching, he said that it was somewhat difficult but that he felt that he had handled it very well.

    I would agree.

    After hearing Bill’s story of moving on from sports, I identified four main takeaways for every current and former athlete.

    1. Prioritize personal autonomy.
    2. Find a way to challenge yourself every day.
    3. Develop enjoyment for your physical training.
    4. Mindless activities are essential to enjoying life.

    1. Prioritize Personal Autonomy

    Bill loved the autonomy he had as a ballplayer at Trinity Christian College. In his words, the challenge of improving was “invigorating” and caused him to pull together all of the available resources to eke out every last bit of performance he had within him.

    Now as a former athlete, Bill is passionate about keeping a strong sense of personal autonomy in his daily life. He realizes the importance of being the primary decision-maker in his life and does all he can to maintain his freedoms.

    2. Challenge Yourself Each Day

    Bill outlined a practice of his that he goes through nearly every day. It’s brilliant, and I believe it’s a vital practice for anyone seeking to move on from sports and upgrade their life.

    I asked Bill if he is adequately challenged in life. His response blew me away in its profound simplicity.

    To paraphrase:

    “Physically, no, I’m not challenged like I used to. (Bill trains very hard today – We’ll talk more about that later). But I challenge myself mentally each day at a high level.”

    Each day, Bill has a goal when he wakes up. He may have 5, 10, or 20 tasks that he has to complete, but he has one that reigns supreme in his mind.

    Bill Miller challenges himself to learn something new each day.

    Okay, great. We should all try to learn something new each day, right?

    What separates Bill from many others is the manner in which he goes about learning a new thought or skill.

    Bill leverages the connectedness of social media to spark up conversations with “smart people”. His goal is to “get on the same level” as them.

    a silhouette of hands and a smartphone

    For example, he’ll challenge himself to connect with someone far wiser than he in the strength and conditioning world and engage with them in a conversation that surpasses his current level of understanding.

    Recently, this led to Bill connecting with a world-renowned coach and speaking with him on Skype for two hours.

    Daily challenges like this can come in many forms:

    • Read a book that is beyond your current comprehension level
    • Try to synthesize ideas from two seemingly distinct disciplines
    • Challenge yourself to connect with someone you admire but have no connection with
    • Teach yourself a new skill through the help of online courses

    There are limitless ways you can challenge yourself each day. The important thing is that you do it.

    Challenge completed.

    3. Train Because You Enjoy It

    Physical wellness is important.

    You know this. I know this. Bill knows it.

    I asked Bill how he trains today, and his answer took me by surprise.

    “I train like a baseball player because I enjoy it.”

    Hm, that’s interesting.

    I know a few athletes – myself included – who have gotten away from training as a baseball player in their life after sports and started to look for something more “normal”.

    We should become bodybuilders, powerlifters, or just general fitness aficionados.

    Not Bill Miller.

    He admits that training without a goal is difficult and that this causes him to struggle with the why behind training from time-to-time.

    I think that the lesson in this is that our reason for training needs to be meaningful to us.

    Bill is done trying to play professional baseball.

    But, he continues to train as a baseball player because he enjoys it.

    Maybe that lesson is for you. Perhaps you liked training so much but feel that you need to stop training like a baseball player so you can prove to everyone that you’re entirely done with the sport.

    Here are a few questions for you:

    • What if distancing yourself from the sport is stopping you from moving on to the next thing in life?
    • How can you leverage training to advance your life instead of making you feel guilty for everything you’re not doing?
    • How would you train if you were the only person left on earth?

    4. Disengage Your Mind

    Bill, if you’re reading this, I used to think you were weird.

    And to be honest, I think you are okay with that.

    Bill has an affinity for Sonic the Hedgehog, anime, and plenty of other cartoons.

    But the reason for this isn’t that he’s a pre-teen caught in a 28-year old’s body. No, Bill has all of these things in his life for a purpose.

    When I asked Bill what he believed to be the primary keys to moving on, he first mentioned the importance of daily goals (See point #2). But he also talked with me about the value of mindless activities.

    Bill thinks that everyone needs to turn their brain off and enjoy seemingly pointless things. He spends time watching funny videos, reading articles, and perusing meme boards. As a result, he enjoys his days and gets out of his head.

    Amazingly, there’s another benefit. Anecdotally, disengaging your mind can enhance the work you do.

    Your mindless activity might not be creating Snapchat masterpieces of Sonic and Tails, nor scrolling through dank memes on Instagram. Instead, you might choose to read fiction, cook an elaborate meal, or surf YouTube to find the best video ever.

    You’re welcome.

    No matter what you choose to do, a crucial component in living well is practicing the discipline of disengaging your mind for some time each day or week. We can’t go-go-go all the time. We need to find time to take a step back and relax our bodies and minds.

    How to Connect with Bill

    It would have been easy for Bill to be angry with the world after the misfortune of being traded to a team that didn’t exist. Instead, he humbly accepted it as an event in his life and didn’t let it wreck his identity.

    He’s channeled his energy, passion, and discipline exhibited during his playing career into his life as a trainer, and he is raising some monsters.

    If you want to find out more about Bill, you can find him on Twitter and Instagram. He regularly engages with anyone who contacts him, and I know you’ll be glad you did.

    Every Athlete Needs a System and a Tribe

    Every athlete needs a system and a tribe.

    To make a successful transition into life after sports, every athlete needs two things: a system and a tribe.

    Too many athletes struggle to transition into life after sports.

    To combat this, athletes need to be made aware of their need of these two critical things that will expedite their transitional process and get them on the path to thriving.

    Is that you?

    All Athletes Need a System

    a laptop, coffee mug, notebook, pen, and black smartphone on a wooden table
    Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

    Why a system?

    If you’ve ever worked out before (you have, you’re an athlete), then you know the value of a sound system.

    A system answers two questions around any worthy quest.

    1. Who do you want to become by the end of this quest?
    2. What constant action will you take to help you get there?

    Systems wrap identity, goals, and action plans all into one.

    When you enter an off-season weightlifting program, you’re building a system. You envision who you want to become, set a few metrics to measure progress, and then create a daily course of action (Your training program) to help you get there.

    Systems are for everyone. Elite athletes and soccer moms looking to get into shape both reap the profound benefits.

    You know this. You’re an athlete.

    But did you know that systems are just as crucial in your life after sports?

    Why is this? Let’s find out.

    Systems Point Due North

    a compass
    Photo by Jordan Madrid on Unsplash

    The value of a system is its compass-like direction.

    The reason is simple: systems point due north. In other words, they help us know which direction we should be going.

    No, that doesn’t mean you will always know what to do.

    Systems give you clarity because if built correctly, you will be taking action that helps you day-by-day unlock the type of person you want to become.

    Once you have an idea of who you want to become – whether that be a top trainer, salesman, accountant, teacher, or any other endeavor worthy of your skills – you can take daily actions to help you get there.

    Systems help you break pursuits down to first principles.

    Elon Musk is famous for breaking things down to their first principles. For example, when he envisioned the hyperloop to improve transportation times throughout LA, he began by digging a hole in the SpaceX parking lot.

    Instead of getting caught up in fear of what he was doing, Musk simply chose to do the first thing that was necessary: get underground.

    While we likely aren’t looking to save people from soul-crushing commutes, our ventures in life are valuable. Instead of getting caught up looking at the whole staircase, focus on the first step and follow the compass of your system that points you towards the type of person you want to become.

    What kind of system?

    Systems allow for flexibility.

    Because systems focus on the type of person you want to become, you are free to change the how behind how you get there.

    Over time, your focus for any post-athletic endeavor will change. You’ll feel a need or desire to pivot to some degree. It’s inevitable in life. Here lies the beauty of a system.

    Instead of getting locked into a plan that you don’t want to follow any longer, a system allows you the flexibility to pivot with time.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb for developing a system:

    The system’s outcome should be the evolution of your identity. If the result of a system is a specific achievement, you are not thinking high enough and have instead created a goal.

    Focus on who you want to become, and develop daily actions around the identity you aspire to. If you do this, you are well on your way to creating your system.

    Kobe Bryant’s New System

    Kobe Bryant shooting a free throw at the Staples Center
    Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa on Unsplash

    Kobe Bryant opened up about his transition out of basketball and into the next chapter of his life during an outstanding interview with Lewis Howes.

    Since retiring from basketball, Kobe has taken to storytelling. After winning an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball,” it’s evident that this is an area of passion and skill for him.

    But his NBA contemporaries weren’t sold that Kobe was going to successfully transition into his new role in life.

    When asked what he was going to do in retirement, Kobe responded and said that he was going to tell stories.

    Most guys would respond something like this: “So what’s gonna happen when you retire is you’re going to go through a week of depression, and then the second week is going to be denial…”

    Eventually, Kobe got sick of nobody believing him, so he just started saying that he didn’t know.

    Kobe knew.

    Kobe had a plan, a system.

    When should you build your system?

    While we don’t know precisely when Kobe decided he was going to tell stories, we see that it was premeditated. He didn’t stumble into storytelling; it was a deliberate choice of his and was something he was going to pursue after the final horn blew on his NBA career.

    When should you build your system?

    There’s no one optimal time.

    But, sooner is often better than later.

    The value in going first is much greater than waiting to the end.

    I should know. I waited too long.

    Believing that I was on track for a professional baseball career, I chose not to look into my future and meditate on who I wanted to become other than a pitcher. I devoted myself to becoming the best pitcher possible even as it became increasingly apparent that my baseball career was coming to a close.

    The thing is, I didn’t take enough time to think about what I wanted to do after baseball came to a close.

    I got a late start, and that’s okay. You too can overcome a late start. You’re not out of time.

    For those of you who are still playing sports, know that building a system early helps you to navigate the transition into life after sports well.

    My Friend Will

    A few months ago, Will Conerly interviewed me for his podcast.

    We stayed connected afterward, and he’s doing some great work.

    An aspiring broadcaster, we talked about what he could do to develop the skills necessary to move in that direction after his baseball career comes to a close.

    I recommended that he begin recording a daily 5-minute sports talk segment and posting it to Anchor. The reason?

    Daily action helps you get your reps in.

    Getting your reps in is critical to seeing a system through.

    Will’s a junior in college, and he’s already thinking about what he wants to do next. He’s getting his reps in and will reap the benefits if he keeps it up.

    It’s never too early to start thinking about who you want to become after sports and building a system to help you get there.

    All Athletes Need a Tribe

    4 young men sitting beside a mountain
    Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

    What is a Tribe?

    In Tribes, Seth Godin lays out the two factors that turn a group of people into a tribe.

    1. A shared interest
    2. A way to communicate

    A tribe can come in many shapes and sizes.

    Grandma’s sewing club could be a tribe, but the chances are good it’s not.

    That’s because tribes require something else. Tribes are catalysts of movements. Tribes inspire change in the world.

    The ultimate goal of any tribe is to make a necessary change in the world. A tribes’ purpose requires passion from its members.

    Passion necessitates a shared interest and a way to communicate.

    Why a Tribe?

    Tribes create the context of your life.

    It’s as simple as that.

    We are tribal people. We are meant to belong to a group.

    Isolation is dangerous for many reasons, one of them being that isolation hinders our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. We understand things best through connection to a tribe.

    A tribe gives the individual a sense of connectedness. Connection is imperative for living a good life.

    No man is an island. That’s why we need tribes.

    How to find your Tribe

    If we follow Godin’s 2-part identification of tribes above, we can see that it can be reasonably simple to find your tribe.

    1. Find people with whom you share a common interest
    2. Start communicating with them

    You might make mistakes at first. You might get in the wrong tribe. Be of good cheer; there’s no shame in this.

    Get off the bus, and find a new tribe.

    The worst thing you can do is to isolate yourself, to not be in a tribe.

    What if my Tribe doesn’t exist?

    Birds flying in a V shape
    Photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

    Start one.

    The world is waiting for your leadership.

    If you don’t see the tribe you need, it’s your calling to start it. I guarantee you that you’re not the only one who sees this need.


    What to do now

    We have a tribe here. It’s for current and former athletes who want to dominate life after sports. Join below, and I’ll send you a free eBook that will give you five keys to building your effective system. We would love to have you.