Your career as a pro-athlete (sort of)

Dec 6, 2010 by

OK, so it may seem weird that I’m making an analogy between your career and pro-athletics but bear with me and you’ll see how it (hopefully) makes sense.

I’ve watched more sports in the last five years than I ever did in my life before, mostly because my fiancé is a big sports fan. The main sport we watch is football. Several weeks ago, he told me that Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints* broke his leg and I thought ‘oh he’ll be out for the entire season.’ Well, I was wrong.

Reggie Bush on the field (Courtsey of Flickr user jsnell)

Within 6 weeks Reggie was back to practicing and two weeks after that he played a full game. Then all I could think was how amazing it was that he went from having a broken leg to doing one of the most mobile jobs on the football field (i.e., lots of running) in just a few weeks.

What if your career was so healthy that it could bounce back from a devastating injury (like getting laid off or fired) in just a few short weeks?

Here’s the thing: it can be that healthy and you can bounce back quickly by observing the way a pro-athlete deals with an injury and drawing lessons into your own career. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Get as ‘fit’ as possible before the injury – I think one of the greatest elements in Reggie’s super fast comeback was the fact that he was in excellent shape before he got hurt (just like most pro-athletes). Before your career gets ‘injured’ you’ve got to make sure that it is in excellent shape. Basically, this means thinking like a job seeker all the time, knowing what you want, and cultivating an amazing network that you can tap when you need something.
  • Focus exclusively on getting better – When an injury is truly devastating, you need to put your body and mind to work healing it. If you’re constantly distracted, you’re not going to get very far or very fast. In order to focus you may need to step back from your other commitments temporarily (boards you are on, volunteer commitments, etc.). As long as you give people notice and are candid and clear about your reasons – and when you plan to return – you can take a short sabbatical without seriously disrupting other work.
  • Have and use a team of supporters to help get you healthy – Reggie had all kinds of trainers, nutritionists, doctors and physical therapists at his disposal. You need a team too: of friends, family, colleagues and mentors that you can rely on for guidance, support or just to buy you a drink when you’re feeling down.
  • Recognize when you’re not yet ready to go back in – Reggie practiced for a few weeks before he got back into uniform for a game. I have to assume that he tried things out and figured out that he wasn’t quite ready for the big game. You should do the same thing. Maybe take on a short consulting gig while you’re looking for your next full-time opportunity; if it doesn’t feel quite right or if you’re still hurting (even if its not physical, a devastating job situation can be very painful), keep working on healing before you dive back in full-time.
  • When you’re ready, go all in – Once you’re back in the saddle, you need to turn your focus to the job at hand and put aside the past injury (Reggie didn’t do a great job of this, but you can).

As someone who has suffered through a few career ‘injuries,’ I can tell you that it gets easier and easier to recover from them quickly once you know what to do to heal. As in most things, as long as you’re prepared, you can survive nearly anything.


*Note: this post is not an endorsement of Reggie Bush or the Saints. I’m just using him as a great example of injury comeback.

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