How to Turn Athletic Excellence into Business Success

Originally published to LinkedIn October 2017

Imagine a stadium filled with retired amateur and professional athletes. How many of them, do you think, have transitioned to a satisfying and successful business career?

My guess: not enough! Too many are left on the sidelines and not in the game!

Most retired athletes struggle to reinvent themselves after years of complete immersion in what they believe they were born to do. And all those high school and college athletes who are banking on going pro…what happens to the ones who aren’t chosen? 

If you were a professional, amateur, collegiate or Olympic athlete, you spent most of your free time training for the sport you love. You used your formative years to improve and dominate in your sport. There was little time left to dedicate to education, much less to personal relationships that could benefit you in a professional life outside of the game.

The transition from athlete to employee can seem rough.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I cringe every time someone tells me, “Mark, the market is so bad right now, I’ll take whatever it gives me. I’d settle for anything.”

Many job seekers feel this way. I understand where it comes from, so let me say this loudly: Settling is a total waste of time!

It may sound unrealistic or even absurd, but the smart, practical thing to do is pursue the job you want most. Your best chance of getting hired and succeeding in your career is to target the position that suits you best. You’ll be enthusiastic, you’ll stay motivated, you’ll want to trample any opposition and leap over every hurdle. Here’s the bottom line:

Spend every moment of your search going after your “dream job.”

Most job seekers go about this all wrong. They put their hope in the job boards…follow bad advice from well-meaning friends, relatives and colleagues…fire off resumes left and right like a series of hail-Mary passes. Even worse, many people just wing it and let fate dictate their next move, just waiting for their phone to ring.

They don’t realize that the ball is in their court. That they need to make hiring managers choose them--by identifying their strengths, aligning their skills with their interests and combining all of that into a package that sells.

So how do you figure out what you want to do?

Set the bar high!

Some people muscle through decades of awful jobs before they find out what interests them and where they want to work. They stay stuck. They don’t move. Similarly, it can feel like an uphill battle to decide what’s next after enjoying the life of an athlete.

Avoid the passive approach, where you:

  • sit at your computer for hours, reading semi-interesting job descriptions.
  • ask your friends what jobs appeal to them and see if you feel the same way.
  • stare at the wall of your home or local Starbucks and think up opportunities that won’t just magically appear.

As an athlete, you know that setting the bar high pushes you to redefine yourself and your abilities. It inspires you to exceed expectations.

When I work with athletes and executives, the first thing I have them do is break things down to their simplest components, taking out the obvious details (even though they may not seem obvious yet): key information about you, your career and what ultimately makes you tick.

Start by answering this question: What have you done within your athletic career, your business or your personal life that has made you feel happy, challenged and successful?

Do a deep dive. Most of us have never tried this, but you’ll see right away how it sheds light on what you’ll bring to a future employer. What have you done that you’re most proud of? When have you made a positive impact that left you feeling great about yourself? Many of us have these experiences but never connect them to our current career or job search. But you should. It’s the simplest way to figure out what you’re good at.

I was recently advising a retired NHL hockey player, and as much as he had experienced a long and successful career — captain of his team, winning awards along the way — he was intimidated by how he might be perceived in the business world, and was dismayed by how his LinkedIn profile compared with those professionals already making a name for themselves. He said, “Mark, there’s no way I can beat these people out for an interview, much less an offer. I don’t have many of the skills that would interest a hiring manager.”

I have good news for those of you who are hoping to make that transition:

It is quite the opposite!

Each one of you as an athlete has been a committed “employee” since you were just a child, putting enormous time and effort into becoming one of the best athletes on the planet, and that alone demonstrates a superior level of commitment most employers would love to have. You have also proven yourselves to be highly “manageable,” as you have been accustomed to working with a coach throughout your career.

There are many more intangible qualities you will bring to the table that most “civilian” job seekers may not have. You are likely comfortable speaking in front of the camera, the media, and large audiences — a talent that virtually all non-athletes struggle with. This enables you to consider roles in public relations, sales and business development that others may not be qualified to fill. These skills may be just scratching the surface, but I can't emphasize enough that you truly bring much more than you may think to a future employer in a job you'd love to be in!

In a future article I’ll pull out the playbook and show you how you can leverage those skills and accomplishments into future jobs that not only leave you fulfilled and happy, but truly bring you back into game mode.

In a few weeks, my new book, WIN AGAIN! The Job Search Playbook will be released, and it's filled with over 150 pages of my proven WIN AGAIN method, where you’ll discover how to define your ideal job and work toward it. You’ll turn strangers into allies and grow your network as you position yourself for interviews, negotiate offers, and anticipate your prospective employer’s needs.

WIN AGAIN helps you transition from the playing field to the boardroom. Yes, there’s competition in the corporate world, but you’re used to competing. You’ve already got an edge!!

Go here and be one of the first to have exclusive access to the introduction and first three chapters of the book, giving you a bit of a jump start on your job search.

You can join the WIN AGAIN social media pages, its LinkedIn GroupFacebookpage and follow on Twitter to be able to access exclusive content just for you.

I’d be thrilled if you share it with 3 of your connections, fellow group members, and on your other social media platforms. This is exactly how I pick up great tips and ideas from some of the other thought leaders here on LinkedIn, and I'd greatly appreciate any efforts you make to do the same. And naturally, please feel free to reach out to me and tell me your thoughts on the first 3 chapters!

Thank you so much for helping me spread the word about WIN AGAIN. I am so proud to be a part of this special project knowing how it will inspire current and retired athletes to achieve even greater success entering the business world. 


mikah sellers