In the ongoing search for “success,” one of the biggest challenges young professionals face is determining what setting is best for them. Here, I’m going to focus on careers related to sports – whether that is a high-performance role, operations role, or technical staff role – because that is what I am most familiar with. 


It’s interesting how, early in our careers, we all dream about coaching in the premier league, being on the sidelines in the NBA, or working in any professional athletic environment. The reality is the professional sports setting is not for everyone. On one hand, we see the perks, the games on TV, and the privileges of working with high-caliber athletes. On the other hand, we don’t always realize the sacrifice it takes to live and work in those environments. People always talk about the sacrifices it takes to become a professional athlete, and I would argue the same for any personnel aiming to work in the professional sports setting. It is a true blessing, yet one of the hardest places to work on a personal and professional level.


I think the ambition and passion of a young professional are key to their future success. At the same time, I believe everyone needs to search for what truly fits their lifestyle, life goals, and values. It’s okay to climb the ladder, but don’t ever lose sight of what your life needs – and what your mind needs. Maybe those needs align better with a different work setting: in a clinic, at a youth club, at the college level, or maybe abroad in a growing country. The further away from the professional level, the more control you regain over your time and your life. 


Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of very happy coaches and clinicians at the professional level, and I have many examples of those. But those individuals have gone through their sacrifices to get there and are at peace with what they have given up. I personally am proud of the last 11 years of my career, even though I realize now how much of life I have let run past me without noticing. I am okay with that. Now, I am assessing what I want the next 11 years to look like. What are my priorities, my goals, my values? Simply put, it’s just not for everyone, and I truly believe there is a place for everyone in the right setting to feel valued in their workplace, to make a difference, and, at the same time, truly enjoy their personal lives away from work.


Note that I put “success” in quotations at the beginning of this post – the reason being that how you measure success directly relates to this search for the right workplace. We must be able to feel accomplished on the field and off the field. For a high school athletic trainer, this might mean returning an athlete back to play successfully, having successfully managed an emergency at school, or, most importantly, being able to be present for a sibling’s graduation or enjoying a hike with the dog on the weekend. If being able to be present for your family members and enjoying the outdoors once a week is part of you feeling successful in life, then maybe the professional setting isn’t for you. If you value a particular season of the year, then maybe search for a work setting that allows you the most enjoyment of that season. My point is this: put your personal life goals and values and how you measure success in life first, then search for the right environment. This process is very much trial-and-error, just like most things in life. At times, you might shift your priorities because one goal is pulling you so hard, and that’s okay. Often, we all tend to revert to what we truly value deep inside. So, it’s okay to explore, try new things, and test out a new role or setting, but make sure you learn from all these experiences and keep searching for what fits you best. One thing I like to do is to pay attention to all the aspects of my day that bring positive emotions vs. negative emotions.


My best advice is to keep striving for an environment that fills you with positive emotions!