The saying is “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” So much easier said than done. When lift shifts in a major way, it can rock the boat in a way that makes us unsure whether or not we will make it back to shore. I know because I’ve been there. When I was really lost, the path to self-mastery was found.
Phase 1 – From Professional Athlete to the Rest of My Life
The summer was like every summer before that. I was working out, skating, and getting ready for fall training camp. The only difference that summer was by early September, I still didn’t have a contract for the upcoming hockey season. I remember the feeling was strange. I couldn’t tell if I was ready to be done or if I wanted to play again. My wife and I had just had our second child and felt anxious while we were in limbo. Finally, an offer came in and that’s when I knew it was over. Small and nearly unlivable, I knew that was the only contract I was going to get. I knew I was going to miss the competition and the guys I played with, but the inevitable had happened. I never made it to the NHL, which haunted me for many years to follow, but it was time.
Starting From Scratch
I sat down with my wife and we made the decision to move on and figure it out. We had never one time thought about life after hockey or what we were going to do when it was over. At the time, our family of four was living with our best friends between seasons. Neither my wife or I had a job, and had no clue what our future jobs might be. Money was also an issue. We had budgeted to make it through the summer on my salary from the previous season, but we were depending on the first paycheck of the next season. So there we were, no house, no money, two kids and no jobs! This quick and unexpected transition started to get a little dark. Anxious isn’t adequate to describe how my wife and I were feeling.
The Truth Didn’t Feel Good
This time was very difficult for me personally – internally. I realized fast that my ability to play hockey wasn’t overly valuable in business. My ego was rocked when I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t a professional athlete any more and that my identity as a player had disappeared. I went from making a very nice wage to starting over at the bottom. I went from having my last name on the back of my jersey, to having my first name on the front of my work shirt. Quickly, I realized that I was more scared of calling a guy I didn’t know and trying to sell him something than I was of fighting the toughest guy in the league. Rejection was real, consistent, and something I wasn’t ready for. I was stripped down to my core and felt very sorry for myself.
Lost in the Crowd
I faked confidence and did the least I had to do to keep my job. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t on a team with other guys to hold me accountable and push me. There were no more agents to talk to, coaches putting me in the best position to succeed, or fans cheering me on. It was just me. I had to choose what to do, and I chose to feel sorry for myself.