Athletes in the “Real” World

Do you remember in high school when your teachers and parents would encourage you to join extracurriculars or find a part-time job to “prepare you for the real world”? Or if you attended post-secondary school, you might have had a professor who encouraged you to get work experience. The same professor may have helped you apply for your first job to help you enter the professional world. While I would consider myself a lifelong learner and education advocate, I have been thinking about how school, education, and extracurriculars prepare us for life post-graduation. While school and other experiences expose us to various aspects of life, the working world presents its own sets of challenges. In this post, I am addressing my observations as a semi-outsider of what the “grind” of a full-time job is.

As a graduate student, I have effectively avoided the first year of “real” employment out of college. I do not want to minimize the challenges many pre-professional or graduate students face, but I do want to address some of my post-graduation thoughts. With graduation quickly approaching, I have been thinking (maybe fantasizing is a better word?) about what that first paycheck will feel like, how my skills will contribute to an organization, and how I will prioritize and balance my personal and professional life. I have been extremely fortunate to experience, first-hand, what some of these struggles look like for my recently graduated friends and colleagues. The work “grind” impacts us all differently.

Using my best athletic comparison language, I want to give you all some insight and (hopefully) some advice on how to overcome and conquer the grind corporate athletes endure. Who is a corporate athlete? The corporate athlete is anyone who works a full-time job: Nurses, accountants, salespeople, coaches, professors. You name it, the corporate athlete is what makes the world turn. Below are my top three take away points and comparisons between the working world and the athletic world.

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” -Walt Disney

1.    Teammates

Think about a team you may have been apart of at some point. Chances are, you had a teammate you did not agree with all the time. In the world of sport and athletics, you are often stuck with that coach or teammate for at least a season. Sometimes, you might not have a choice. However, on the corporate team, we might encounter some of the same “bad teammates.” This bad teammate might be the guy that sits next to you in the office who does not wear headphones when he watches videos or listens to music, and he never pays you back for coffee. Or this teammate could be your boss who comments and critiquing your every move, even though you are trying your hardest. On your lacrosse team, you knew you only had to “deal with” this teammate for the next eight months (or something like that, depending upon your season). The corporate athlete might have to deal with that teammate for the next 20 years if they both stay in the same occupation.

2.    Crunch time

Like preparing for an intense competition, the corporate athlete has intense periods of “training” and deadlines to meet. While you might not see your marketing coordinator or salesperson out running sprints to gain endurance, they are there working to improve their business stamina. They are there putting in long hours to perfect the presentation that will impress their boss or their new client.

3.    Dedication

Can anything really prepare you to work for the next 40-60 years? This seems like a loaded question. While one can love what they do and be moved to achieve and excel in what they are doing, 40-60 years is a long time. Not many aspects of life can compare to the dedication, grit, and resilience people must have to stay motivated throughout this time. Some days may be better than others, but the days happen, nonetheless. Athletes are often working towards goals, depending on the sport or event, for a maximum of 40 years. Often, they train for intense competition every four years for the Olympics or every season. They are granted an off-season to recover and tune skills. The average professor or nurse might be “training” for their intense competitions every other month, depending upon the job. Their “off-season” may be two weeks of vacation throughout the year and holidays. During these off-times, corporate athletes recover just like athletes.

Education and experiences prepare you to be a corporate athlete. There are various intangible skills that allow one to succeed within both athletics and work-life. Within my field, we talk about providing individuals with the tools to be champions within their sport. I am interested in helping the corporate athletes excel in their “sport.” It is essential to use these same intangible skills in life to overcome the difficulties a corporate athlete face. We must remind ourselves:

  • Not every day is perfect, and it is about taking care of yourself. Average a good life. You will make mistakes, and you will get tired. These bumps are all part of the process. Take time for yourself and remind yourself of the good you have done.
  • Make goals. Set goals at the beginning of the week and check in with your goals throughout the week. It is easy to become stagnant when you know there is always tomorrow. Setting goals can keep your attitude fresh.
  • Take a breather. Sometimes taking time for yourself is hard. You work so hard to build up vacation or PTO but remember to use that time. It is great to work hard for your future self. Remember to let your present-self take a breather.
  • Keep track of your progress. Last fall, when I ran my first marathon, I kept a training log. On days where I felt worn out by the grind of training, I looked back at what I had accomplished. In the working world, we can do the same. Log your progress because even on days you feel like you have not moved, you have still done something. (Unless you have literally done nothing, then we have some problems).

Thank you for reading! And a special shout-out to my friends and mentors who I have been casually questioning over the years for making this thought process/post possible!


“All of life is peaks and valleys. Don’t let the peaks get too high and the valleys too low.”

John Wooden

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