My time as a professional athlete molded me into the woman I am today. It taught me lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life—lessons that I will pass onto my children if I’m lucky enough to be blessed with them one day. My late mentor Kobe Bryant’s mission was to inspire and empower the next generation. I’ve always been called to do the same, and have been thinking about writing this post for quite some time. If I can inspire one person from my experiences and learnings, then I’ve done my job here on earth.
While my twenty plus year career imparted more life lessons than I can count, I thought I’d round up the top three things that have stuck with me through today, and apply to life outside of sports.
Never quit on a bad day.
If you know me, you’ve heard me say this before. Let me rewind with a story. One day, many years ago, I had a bad day at the gym. Training wasn’t going my way, a skill I had been working on for weeks wasn’t working, and I was just generally in a bad mood. I told my mom I wanted to quit. I had had it. She calmly told me, “OK. That’s fine.” I was stunned. She knew it was my dream to compete in the Olympics and she had always supported that dream wholeheartedly. She quickly followed up with, “But not today. You can quit, but let’s wait until you have a good day in the gym.” I thought that was pretty reasonable. I’d wait until tomorrow, tell her the same thing, and I’d be done. The next day was a good day. I was landing new skills—I felt good. I felt inspired. My mom picked me up and asked, “How was your day?” I told her it was great. She promptly said, “OK, let’s enroll you back in public school. I’ll tell Dad that today was your last day.” I told her I had no idea what she was talking about and didn’t want any part in quitting. I know she was smiling as she was driving us away from the gym, but I didn’t have the awareness to look at her face back then.
The moral of the story: whether you’re in business, sports, or otherwise, you’re going to have bad days. Never let those days dictate the trajectory of your journey. You’ll only truly know if you’re ready to pivot or quit on a “good day,” a day when things are going right. If, on those days, the passion still isn’t there, it might be time to move on and serve yourself in better, more fulfilling ways.
Don’t be afraid to fall (or fail).
If fear of failure is the thing holding you back, let go of that mindset immediately. Something I had to be intimately familiar with was the possibility of failure (i.e., literally falling on my face) each and every day. It was the only way I would be able to learn new skills and become the gymnast I needed to be.
So many people are held back from chasing their dreams because of this specter of failure—a dark and ominous cloud hanging over their head even though their weather app is telling them it’s 70 and sunny. Unless your app is telling you there’s a chance of rain, leave your umbrella at home. In other words, unless there are tangible reasons for having reservations (i.e., lack of preparation, external factors), push forward.
The worst thing that can happen is that you fall. Just get back up and start again.
Networking and community building will always be important.
Ending your athletic career is like changing professions from accountant to astronaut. Something my parents always instilled in me was the importance of networking and community building. The connections you forge throughout different phases in your life will serve you in more ways that you know. For me, those connections helped to bridge the gap between athlete and businesswomen.
Keep in mind, I ended my professional athletic career when I was twenty-two. So, my time building those relationships happened largely in my mid to late teens—talk about awkward and uncomfortable. If I can shake hands and hold conversations with the most impressive athletes and business people in the world in my most embarrassing life stages, so can you. The best part? It’s never too late, or too futile, to start building those connections. No matter what stage you’re at in your career (even if you think you’re at the top), taking the time to cultivate meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships will always be important. Plus, you can always take away one learning from someone else’s life.