How to "find yourself" without backpacking through Europe specifically for the recently graduated college athlete

Identity is on the top 5 list of struggles athletes face after their playing career is over. Who are you now that you don't have your jersey on anymore and you don't have your school attached to your existence? How do you fit into this “regular life” thing?


If someone asks you to tell them a little about yourself, would you have something else to say besides my name is so-and-so and I played for XYZ college? A lot of people say they don't like labels but for some, labels help them understand how they're supposed to act and who they're supposed to be in other people’s eyes.


For an athlete, when you have that title for better or worse you kind of take on a persona of how you're supposed to act, at least on the court or as it pertains to competition. But when that time is over and you don't have that crutch anymore if there's nothing else to you, or rather if you don't think that there is, it's hard for you to articulate who you are and what your “new identity” is. After sports, I don't think it's necessary to become a whole new person, but it is helpful to evolve your identity and your role that you will now play or role that you'll start growing into.  


I want to throw this out there, because there are people that would say “oh you just have to go find yourself baby”, but you don't have to find something if you never lost it. You didn't lose yourself and you're not lost. You might have forgotten some things about yourself and you need to remember who you are but you aren't lost. One of the mistakes you might make when you're trying to find yourself, is start hanging out with the wrong group because you think you're going to find it there.


You might start doing a whole lot of stuff which is really just distracting you from the real work of looking into yourself and figuring out what’s next for you. I know this sounds simple but we're going to look at a couple of strategies in just a minute. I've interviewed over 30 athletes and one of the themes that kept emerging, was sports for them was either a distraction from home or was a distraction from something bad that was happening in their lives. This isn't the case for everybody, but when you take sports out of the equation you then have to deal with what’s going on. That reality can be difficult.


Another thing that came up was sports made them feel like “somebody”. It gave them a sense of meaning, purpose, accomplishment. They also got recognition for sports when they didn't get recognition for other things that they probably were just as good at but sports overshadowed it. Going out and finding yourself is a myth. A better way to put it is reclaiming who you’ve always been. Remember who you are and start living out of that. Here are a couple of ways that you can do that. 

First, step away from the game for a little bit. This might not be popular but when you're constantly distracting yourself with something (it doesn't have to be basketball or sports it’s anything that you use to hide from facing your current reality.


Maybe you need to quit playing in the rec league for a couple of games or a month or so because you're just transferring your identity from being a college player to you killing it at the rec league. Spend that time exploring other things that interest you.Sidebar, because we tend to equate who we are with what we do, if you don't step away from the game a little bit you'll never get past that “what I do is play sports mentality”.


So, step away from the game for a little bit and do some other activities. Follow your curiosity. I say this all the time “passion is curiosity on fire” so whatever you're curious about go do that and see if you like it. It might become your next passion.

Second revisit your childhood. This is not me trying to get deep or philosophical. I'm saying literally go back home to look through the scraps that your family kept. Old report cards, some assignments that your parents kept, an interview you did, and about me project can give you clues about what you used to love and what occupied your mind before sports started consuming you. Look at and excerpt from this article about narrative identity 

psychologist Dan McAdams of Northwestern University, who has studied narrative identity for more than 30 years, explained in this TEDx Talk: “Narrative identity is the story that you are working on, in your mind, about how you came to be the person you are becoming. It’s your reconstruction of your past, if you remember it, and your anticipated future. Your personal story about your origins and your destiny.”

Looking back at your childhood could be the the missing piece to the story that you're trying to tell or you want to create. 

It offers 3 ways to research your childhood. The first way is to analyze yourself as a child. The second way is to repurpose your childhood dreams. Third is to revive your life narrative and adjust to fit your goals.

Let's break this down... 

Analyzing your childhood

When you’re analyzing yourself as a kid don't just look at your articles from the paper about your stats and how great you were as a basketball player. Look at the old photos and maybe some notes that were saved. Maybe you had a journal.

What were you writing about? What were some assignments that your parents kept where they ask you questions about what you wanted to be? At some point you were probably interviewed, what were the things that you said then that you wanted to be If your answer was a professional athlete, ask yourself WHY you wanted to be a professional athlete. Was it for the recognition, was it for the money, was it because you wanted to do better for yourself and for your family?

Look past the surface level and think about WHY you wanted to go pro. If your answer was something else, what attributes about that job did you find most appealing?

Re-purposing your childhood dreams and passions


Re-purposing your childhood dreams and passions. Quick story, when I was younger I wanted to be on TV I wanted to be in commercials, I wanted to go pro, and I also wanted to be a school administrator. As I was going through the questions for myself when I retired, I uncovered that I like entertaining, I like recognition What was interesting was from the school administrator aspect, I wanted to pursue that not because I actually wanted to be a principal, but because of the effect that my school administrators had on me.

I appreciated how they pulled out the best in me which is what I wanted to do for somebody else. Sometimes we can still have the desired outcome, it must might look different than we think or we can do it another way. So I had to think about how I can combine those two things. On top of that when I was younger I used to sing and that was something that I abandoned along the way because I didn't think athletes sang, but also I just didn't make the time to do both things. I thought I had to give up everything to succeed.

For this suggestion, when you're re purposing your dream or your passion as a kid don't only think about what it was that you wanted to do but  WHY did you want to do it. What about it was appealing to you? I know it's hard to think back, but if you can remember it, that's great. If you can't, think about the major you chose, the profession or the activity you do are drawn to and think about why that turned you on. 

Tell yourself a different story using clues from the past

Lastly tell yourself a new story. If you have more than one thing you wanna try you don't have to put yourself in a box that's what got you in trouble in the first place. Try all the things. It’s not a waste of time. Nobody said you have to do it forever. Try something and if you don’t like it try something else. 30 day challenges are good for that. 

I hope this helps you when it comes to remembering who you are and who you've always been. Your sport added tremendous value to your life but that's not why you were created and that’s not the only thing you are good at. You were created to be who you've always been and when you start walking in that and remembering who that person is and how that person wanted to contribute you start looking at life with brand new eyes. 

What were some of the things that you tried when you were trying to “find yourself”? Leave a comment below or apply directly to my email.