Hanging up the Cleats: Life after Sports

As another academic year comes to an end, I find myself thinking about student-athletes and wonder if their inevitable retirement from high school or collegiate sports weighs heavily on their minds. Of course, facing this transition is much more pressing for seniors who are not pursuing professional athletic careers; nevertheless, the emotions surrounding such a major life change are overwhelming, to say the least. How would I know? Well, at one point in my life I had to close the door on my own dreams of competitively playing a sport that I love. I also know so many other young adults who have had to do the same, and it’s not something any of us were completely ready for. 

As cliché as it sounds, being an athlete meant that I ate, lived, and breathed my sport. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about competing out on the softball field; only in the dirt, sweat, and grass did my soul feel pure. Entertaining the idea that my life would eventually go on, and that I would have to find other ways to fill my days with purpose seemed like a fruitless exercise. Softball was my livelihood, identity, and source of self-confidence – can you blame a fifteen-year-old girl for thinking that would last forever?

Of course, I was not immune to the saying that “all good things must come to an end”. My softball career did end, and a lot earlier than expected at that. For years afterward (and conveniently during my excruciating transition into adulthood), I struggled to be something other than a star softball player that my high school, team, and friends could depend on. I gained weight and lost all desire to be physically active since my exercise was no longer for competitive purpose. I felt like life as I knew it was over, and, worst of all, I had become a stranger to myself.

It took me quite a long time to adjust to a life that did not revolve around sports. In moments of self-reflection, as well as in times of vulnerability shared with friends experiencing the same loss, I found a way to move on. It’s comforting to know that so many others transitioning into adulthood also have had to let go of old talents, hobbies, and dreams – I was certainly not alone. With the help of some of my best girlfriends who went on to play collegiate softball and are now themselves retired, I have compiled a few thoughts that have kept me strong and focused on cultivating a fulfilling life after sports.

1. Find Your Identity

As I alluded to before, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that you’re a one-trick pony, and that your value as an athlete (and a person) is tied to your performance in a sport. I’ve learned that identity is a very fluid thing, and it evolves as we age, meet new people, and gain new experiences. I like to think of my identity as a pie whose recipe gets modified every so often. The measurements for certain ingredients increase or decrease, but are never completely eliminated. As I’ve become older, I’ve toned down the amount of influence that softball has on my self-worth in order to make room for other new, fulfilling ways to be myself.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve turned my back on softball, never to pick up a glove or a bat again. However, I did have to distance myself from the sport for a while in order to reconnect with it in a healthier, more balanced way. My friends claim that volunteering, coaching, and playing recreationally have been excellent ways to revisit their old passion through a new lens, and that giving back to the community can be just as purposeful as competition. 

Most importantly, in the words of my friend, give yourself grace. What does she mean by this? Well, understand that you’re going to feel lost, you’re going to gain a few pounds, and life may feel a little emptier than normal. And that’s okay. Being patient with the process of leaving a life of sports behind and working with your evolving identity will ease the transition into a new stage of adulthood. 

2. Update Your Lifestyle

Going from a virtually involuntary exercise schedule to being solely accountable for maintaining an active lifestyle has been a seemingly impossible task, one that I am still struggling with today. It seems to be a general consensus among my friends that we have all found it difficult to incorporate exercise into our daily routines. Though there is no one solution for overcoming this lifestyle disruption, these are the most important things to keep in mind: 

  1. You can no longer eat as if you were exercising for four hours a day, five days a week. That plate of seconds may be yummy and comforting, but your body will be in for a rude awakening if it can no longer burn off the calories that it has grown accustomed to getting. 
  2. Moving on from a life of athleticism means that your days won’t revolve around constant activity anymore. For many, hours of daily exercise with similar levels of intensity is simply not sustainable. Still, some activity is better than no activity, and as little as ten minutes of exercise a day can be enough to keep your body from becoming stagnant.
  3. Accept that you’re not the sprightly young chicken that you used to be. There is no denying that being an athlete takes a toll on your body. It’s not necessary to prove to yourself and the world that you still have hops or that you can still bench your body weight; give your body a break and modify your exercises accordingly!
  4. Even without a team or a coach, you’re not alone. Finding an accountability partner (or partners) can help you feel like you still have supporters behind you, even if you’re not competing in anything. 

3. Cherish the Memories

There’s no denying that I loved softball, and still do. Sometimes I look back on my experience as an athlete with a melancholic sigh, still mourning the unfulfilled potential in a life that was. However, these thoughts are overcome with the gratitude I feel for the friendships, memories, and lessons that playing a competitive sport has given me. I’ve learned that I don’t have to bury my past in order to start a new future, and have instead focused on incorporating my passion for softball in a personal identity that is balanced, curious, and flexible.

This idea goes hand-in-hand with many of the other topics I cover in this blog; remember that the journey through young adulthood is not a straight path – it twists, turns, and deceives. Your ability to move on from past experiences, disappointments, and triumphs is often tested, but with some optimism, gratitude, and a little help from others, anything is possible.

 

Advertisement

Homesplorin’ in Los Angeles

Being born and raised in Los Angeles, you would think that I know this city like the back of my hand. To some extent I do – I know how to navigate the extensive freeway networks and can direct you to most parts of the city (even though it may take you an hour to get across town). Still, I quite often find myself feeling like a stranger from another land in a perpetual state of tourism. With a population of almost 4 million people dispersed across approximately 500 square miles, you’d better believe that the entertainment capital of the world has a practically unlimited supply of cultural, dining, outdoors, and artistic experiences to enjoy. Theoretically, this implies that every twenty-something in Los Angeles should never complain of boredom – but why is it that we still do?

I have my own hypotheses for this conundrum, but I’ll spare the readers most of my criticisms of LA for now. Despite being some of the current trends for millennials to partake in, bottomless mimosa brunches on the cliffs of Malibu or a visit to the overpriced Museum of Ice Cream are not exactly my idea of fun. Sure, they make for whimsical Instagram photos, but I want to believe that there are more creative ways to truly enjoy this historic, vibrant, and cultural city.

One of my friends has coined the term “Homesploring”, which I find perfectly describes the spirit of local adventuring. I’ve decided to adopt her policy of perpetual curiosity and have committed myself to finding off-the-beaten-path ways to enjoy my city and the surrounding areas. This is an endeavor I have already begun and hope to adopt as a habit to further build an appreciation for my surroundings. Here are a some of my recent homesplorations:

1. The Rose – Pasadena, CA. I went to see a performance by a Pink Floyd Tribute Band called Which One’s Pink. They were amazing, and the venue was spacious, but intimate.

IMG_2580

IMG_2579.JPG

2. Echo Park – Los Angeles, CA. The beautiful Echo Park Lake is a great place to relax next to a backdrop of Downtown. There is also a 1-mile path around the perimeter of the lake for joggers to enjoy!

IMG_2592

3. The Long Beach Playhouse – Long Beach, CA. I saw a wonderful performance of Agatha Christie’s play, Black Coffee. Support your local arts!

IMG_2602.JPG

4. Joshua Tree National Park – Twenty-Nine Palms, CA. About 2 1/2 hours from LA is this gorgeous national park. It’s possible to plan a day trip for a few hours of rock-climbing, or camp out to see a sky full of stars in a pitch-black desert.

IMG_3882

5. The Observatory – Santa Ana, CA. Orange County is the home of this small and exciting venue that hosts up-and-coming bands like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This standing-room-only space provides for a thrilling show among other dedicated concert-goers!

tempImageForSave

Work-Life Balance

The line between workaholism and ambition are sometimes blurred; most of us have to work to survive in this world, and some still struggle to make ends meet. This is especially true in the United States where a capitalist society creates a culture that forces its citizens to compete for jobs, salary, and benefits by rewarding working longer instead of better. Politics aside, it can be discouraging for a young adult in corporate America to discover that those who work 60+ hours per week instead of the “legally mandated” 40 hours are praised and recognized for essentially surrendering their lives to their companies.

I had a boss once tell me that “when you’re in your 20s you should be working as much as possible because well, you just can.” This reminded me of the age-old testament that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. He went on to say that I would be making a grave mistake by leaving my position at a company which monopolized my days, nights, weekends, and basically any free time I had.

I now work at a great company that has provided me with the flexibility to live the life that I want to live while having the financial resources to support myself. I can’t say that I love the work that I do, but developing a healthy work-life balance has allowed me to spend time outside of work nourishing my hobbies and interests. Will my decision to cut back on hours and leave a gigantic international company decrease my earning potential? Probably. But, I have decided that my life is so much more fulfilling when it is not only defined by a paycheck.

apartment comfortable contemporary couch