Has My Life Started Yet? How I Struggled Transitioning Out of My Sport
I sat down on the edge of the turf pitching mound and stared at the floor. A drop of sweat rolled off my nose and I sighed a deep, frustrated sigh. I used to throw 94 miles per hour, and I was lucky enough to do it as thousands of people watched. On this night, however — tapping into every bit of mental and physical energy — I barely cracked 80 on the gun. I was broken, and I knew it.
I was broken, and I knew it.
I stood up. Schedule right after my own workout was a pitching lesson. One of my academy’s most talented pitchers was just about ready for a bullpen session of his own, and I had to quickly get cleaned up and put on my coach’s hat.
He was taller, more athletic and limber than me, in addition to being my junior by 15 years. I was 31, he was but 16. I watched the radar gun tick ever higher as he revved his engine to full-speed.
That’s when I knew.
I was the old dog that couldn’t keep up with the pack anymore. This young, talented kid was passing me and doing so with ease. I knew deep down I was both too broken and too tired to fight it.
I was done.
When Does It Start?
Zach and I talked periodically on the phone, mostly about baseball. A year before me, he had also been forced into retirement by an injury. His pro career spanned a decade and he had made it a lot farther than I had. Our paths were similar, and not many people I could call had perspective on what I was now going through, entering phase two of my life.
I felt mixed up. I didn’t know why I was getting out of bed. I felt like I was drifting. Did he feel that when when he moved on?
Yeah, you want your life to start.
You’ve been a ballplayer your whole life and now you’re not. I went through the same thing. You delayed everything to chase the dream, because the dream WAS everything. And now you’re just getting going. Career, a family, stability, a house — whatever.
It was the price we paid. We signed up for it.
Though I gave everything I had to my sport, it wasn’t necessarily who I was.
I was all-in, but talents like writing were always a part of who I was. I’m good at breakings things down, explaining concepts simply and putting words to page. There was something else I could do with my life, that much was sure. But I needed to be excited about getting out of bed; a 9–5 job that merely paid the bills wouldn’t do.
I decided that at some point, I’d write, speak and motivate people for a living. And, it felt right. As I put in work building it, it felt right.
I talked a lot about purpose, and what my “true” purpose might be.
I hate the idea that my career as an athlete was — in the end — to prepare me for my real life, my real job. I don’t believe that.
Rather, I’ve determined that they were separate, even though at times since I’ve told people otherwise. My perspective on what the first 31 years of my life were about evolves daily. Did being an athlete prepare me to be a great speaker, writer, motivator? Sure — I know for a fact it did, and that I’ll be better at those endeavors because of my time as an athlete.
But are those professional endeavors what I was destined to do all along, lying in wait until I grew up?
The answer is no.
We Just Make This “Destiny” Nonsense Up.
I think people — myself included — like to console ourselves with the idea of an ultimate destiny, an ultimate purpose.
When one door closes, it’s true that another is always open because we are sentient beings who have the power of choice; a “door” is just the confluence of choice and circumstance.
The question is whether we’ll recognize and walk through the right door. And, afterward, we’ll be sure to assess if that door was the best of all possible doors (as it slams shut behind us).
I failed at my goal of becoming a world-class, household name Major League Baseball player. We all just need to be honest about it. Achievement in the sports world is not zero-sum, but my goal was: I wanted to be a successful, respected Major Leaguer. I did not achieve that goal.
And when we fail, it’s easy to console ourselves with nonsense like like teaching people the lessons I learned was my TRUE purpose all along.
Rather, it’s what I’m choosing to do now — it’s the door I’m choosing to walk through now that my Major Leaguer door is closed. My sport threw me out on the street and I heard the deadbolt klack into place. New door is the only option; if the old door was still open, I’d be inside right now hanging out in the foyer.
And I mourned that phase of my life. I wasn’t ready to be kicked to the curb, but of course none of us are. People say this about all transitions — marriage, childbirth, death, etc. — we’re never ready no matter how much we prepare.
But athletes do one thing exceptionally well, better than the common man: they pick themselves up and keep going. Phase One is over. Phase two is now, no matter if I like it or not.
It’s Not My True Purpose. But I’m Choosing Greatness.
For people who gave their heart and soul to something that — in the end — didn’t work out, it’s convenient to say that this new thing is my or your true purpose in life. It’s convenient and it’s consoling but it’s a lie. If you were still as capable and it still as meaningful, you’d still be doing it. But the rules changed and the door closed. And, that’s okay!
Whether your new purpose is your true purpose — it doesn’t much matter. What matters is how you approach it, what matters is this: You chose greatness before. Are you choosing it again?
You chose greatness before. Are you choosing it again?
I’m not spending any more time dwelling on what my purpose is in life. What I am dwelling on is this: getting out of bed feeling a strong sense of purpose, and acting on it by putting in the work to be great once again.
Life Starts Now
Phase Two will be what we make it.
For all of us who undergo a crisis of identity and a major shift in career or personal life, life starts as soon as you want it to.
If today’s the day, then mark it on your calendar: life starts now.
If you liked this article, you’ll like my upcoming book about my baseball career and transition out of sports. Sign up below to get updates from me when I write new things.