What’s next for me?

by Ayanna Sealey, Mental Toughness Coach

Picture this:

You are on the field, on the court, on stage or wherever your performance domain is. Suddenly you hear a crack or a pop and you are met with the worst pain of your life. You have just experienced what most performers fear the most- a life-altering, and perhaps career-ending injury. Suddenly, you are swirling with thoughts of:

“What’s next?” or “Who am I if I am not (insert type of athlete or performer here)?”

As an athlete or performer, so much of your identity has been wrapped up in your sport or performance domain of choice.  You rarely think of what you would do if things were to end, which is probably a good thing while in the midst of high level performance!

However, the truth is that the vast majority of athletes and performers will not be able to perform at an elite level for their entire lives. Some start off in their sport or in the performing arts as young children and end their careers in their late teens, whereas others become really serious in their teens and perform into their late 30’s or 40’s.

For each person the journey is different, but most athletes and performers must face what can be an extremely frightening point in their careers: Retiring either due to injury or due to the diminishment of excellent results.  They are then forced to walk away from their goals and dreams, which can feel like a great loss or let down, at times almost like part of them has died.

So, the question becomes: When faced with this daunting decision, what can you do to cope?

1)  Allow yourself to grieve:

This can indeed feel like a loss, so allow yourself to feel all that you are feeling. Seek out support, whether that is from family, friends, or by speaking to a sports psychology professional.

2)  Reach out to others who may have experienced something similar:

Going through a potentially career-ending experience can feel pretty scary and isolating. Therefore, it is important to know that you are not alone and even that others have gone through something similar before. Speaking to others who are either going through or who have gone through this type of transition can be both comforting and a positive resource of what actions you might take next.

3) Accept:

Even the most tenacious and persevering person may have to face the fact that no amount of treatment or therapy will get them back to the point that they once were. Accepting what’s next for you (even if you would like it to be different and wish it weren’t so) will aid in the process of discovering what the next step is for you.

4) Align yourself with other interests or other talents that you possess:

Quite often we define ourselves solely by our sport or performing domain of choice. When you explore your other interests (such as writing, coaching, or painting) you can then lean on them in these tough times.

5) Stay Positive:

Although this might be easier said than done, positive thoughts or mantras can help you discover a frame of mind in which you can create new possible avenues and dreams for yourself.

Transitioning to a new dream or new career can feel overwhelming, but it is not impossible and it can actually be fun!  Instead of thinking of all the negatives, resisting the transition, and wishing it were different, if you can encourage yourself to stay open, you may discover wonderful aspects of yourself that you never before knew existed that may now be expressed!

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