Master Your Role and Opportunities Will Follow

As standout athletes come up through the ranks, from little league through college, and possibly the pros, it’s not difficult to see how entitled behavior can form. Many times we were the recipients of a free pass whereas a non-athlete may not have been so fortunate. We may have gotten the benefit of the doubt on an assignment that was subpar or had a police officer look the other way when they realized they pulled over the star of the football team after he was going 80 in a 55. None of these things ever happened to me, I was perfect. See what I did there? 🙂

If you’re not aware, I’ll share a secret. When sports end, what will make you successful in life and your career is the same thing that made you successful on the athletic field: hard work, talent and making the right decision when it counts. Talent may actually be a distant third. Employers will not care that you played athletics. Don’t go into a new job or position with the idea it will be easy or you will be promoted in two years because that’s how it “should work.” I’ve seen really talented people get caught up in focusing so much on getting where they want to be, they forgot to focus on where they were. Then, two years went by and they ended up frustrated because they didn’t get the promotion or the responsibility they believe they deserved. Don’t get me wrong, being ambitious is something I absolutely recommend. But unless you become a master at your craft, no one will care about your potential or where you think you should be. You’re not “special” any more.

During my senior year at Western, after I realized I wasn’t going to be playing football any longer, I was getting ready to start my new job and career. I had an internship the previous summer for Philip Morris U.S.A. and was fortunate enough to have been offered a full-time position once my final year of school was over. From the time I finished my internship until the time I started the following year, the manager that offered me the position retired. A brand new manager had taken over, so I decided to go meet her and say hello to the team before my start date. When I arrived at the office, the new manager only had a few moments to meet me in passing. I came to find out later, she wasn’t very impressed. As a new manager, she wanted to build her own team, not be stuck with the previous manager’s hire, and quite possibly, a big dumb football player. This is similar to a regime change in college athletics. People want to select their own players. It’s no different in the business world. Luckily my new manager didn’t decide to retract my offer and I went to work shortly thereafter, right after graduation.

I approached the business world and this new role the exact same way I lunch-pail-and-thermosapproached athletics. I busted my ass, learned everything I could about the industry, sought help from people better than me and never, ever showed up late or unprepared for anything. I worked hard to gain the trust of not only my new manager and company, but my customers. Both knew they could count on me to follow though if I told them I was going to get something done. It was that behavior, and because I didn’t focus on being promoted more than becoming a master at my current role, I was able to earn a promotion in about two years.

Not only did I work hard, but I also made the right decision to relocate when the opportunity to get promoted arose. Side note: When you tell the people interviewing you you’re willing to relocate anywhere, you will definitely be considered for more opportunities than if you’re not willing to relocate, but you better be willing to stand behind your word. I was willing and ended up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’m not knocking Sioux Falls. I loved it there. I’m just saying, not everyone can take their promotion and move to downtown Chicago or San Francisco. It doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you have to take a detour to reach your ultimate goal.  

One of my pet peeves as a manager is how some high potential employees focus so much on the fact someone told them they would be promoted in (insert time frame here), they never focused on becoming the best they could be at their current role. Then, frustration begins to set in and they either leave or get dismissed from the company. The potential, and time, has been wasted.

My main advice of this post for those athletes, and non-athletes for that matter, striving to be successful after they leave the field or classroom for the final time is: bust your ass in your current role. Learn as much as you can. Lean on smart people and be smart enough yourself to pounce on opportunities when they present themselves, because they will, if you’ve done what you need to do. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my college football coach always said, “If you do something well enough for long enough, it doesn’t matter where you are, people will find you.”

ps~ The aforementioned boss of mine from Philip Morris that could have done without me when she met me, she’s one of my favorite people in the world to this day. I can’t guarantee it, but I think she would say something similar about me. 

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