From Softball Diamond to the Desk: Transitioning From Student-Athlete to Working Professional

March 3, 2014

Every year, I look forward to the beginning of February because it signals the start of the 2014 college softball season. It brings up feelings of nostalgia for the days when I played on the Stanford Softball team. When I think about how much time I used to spend on the field, I am blown away by how different my life is now. While in college, I had an absurd academic and athletic schedule that literally kept me moving from sunrise to well past sunset, including most weekends. Now, in my job at LinkedIn, I have more work-life balance with evenings and weekends to myself. And I get more sleep!

stanford softball team

Being a student-athlete means taking on a serious time commitment that easily compares to a full-time job, but ironically, I was so busy that it was difficult to find time to gain real work experience. Despite putting half of my efforts into team sports, most collegiate athletes, like myself, end up working behind a desk rather than on top of an Olympic podium.

Naturally, it was a little jarring to have the sport I committed so much time to turn into a weekend hobby when I entered the workforce, but I’ve found that the lessons learned on the softball field also carry over to my life as a working professional.

Commit to your new uniform

My entire college wardrobe consisted of Nike sweatpants and t-shirts. There was no need to wear anything else with my athletic schedule. On game days though, we always looked presentable. My teammates said, “You look good, you feel good; you feel good, you play good; you play good, you win.” Grammar aside, I take this same mentality into the workplace. “Dress for the job you want,” as my manager says. Suits and ties aren’t always necessary – just feel good and play the part.

Keep giving high fives

Some of the happiest moments I had on the field were when my teammates succeeded. Typically, we celebrated with high fives and fist bumps. It feels good to be acknowledged like this, so acknowledge others’ accomplishments in the office. Initiate this passion and team spirit -it gets everyone pumped up. (Actual high fives encouraged.)

Respect the process

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Don't waste your life in doubts and fears: spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it."

In all the hours I committed to softball, the vast majority were related to practice, not games. Glory and excitement come with real competition, but you must treasure the time you have to hone your craft. That preparation and hard work is ultimately how you hit your targets, on the field or in the office. Keep it in perspective and trust that tangible evidence of success will come. Trophy or not.

Study your industry like you study film

I have boxes overflowing with softball DVDs. There’s game film of opposing pitchers, myself hitting at practice, you name it. My coach always encouraged me to be a “student of the game,” constantly learning more, and I’ve taken this advice to the working world. Study successful people and companies. Study yourself to find things you want to work on. Study trends in your industry. You will be more knowledgeable and productive.

Call for the ball

Take charge. When a softball is hit between two defenders, you’ll hear a player take control.  She literally yells “mine, mine, mine!” or “I got it!” to let the other player know she’ll make the play. This is “calling the ball,” and there’s a system to it. Sometimes you take it; sometimes someone else does.

A player constantly communicates with her teammates and takes initiative to make things happen. The ideal worker communicates with coworkers and seizes opportunities in the same way, only without the yelling.

Don’t give up sports entirely

If you spent this much time devoted to a sport, why stop? Just because it’s not your “job” anymore doesn’t mean you can’t stay involved. Sometimes I coach young girls or play catch with a friend. I even do radio broadcasting for the Stanford Softball games. You can keep that fire lit. It will remind you how to light that fire at work.

Transitions aren’t always easy. I was worried I wouldn’t be as passionate about any job as I was about softball. With these tips and the strong community values at LinkedIn, I’m transforming by staying true to my inner athlete and simultaneously welcoming professional development. Mentality is crucial in sports. They even write books about it. (I recommend Mind Gym by Gary Mack for anyone, really.) The key is to translate that mentality and those experiences to further your career and ignite that same passion in a new way.