Gearoid advises you to do your research and plan ahead, as you could find out that what you’re scared to lose can be found in other careers.
Talking to others is one of the best things you can do, and with the right mindset, what will seem painful at first will quickly become refreshing.
Would you like more advice on your career switch? Take the Athlete365 ‘Career Transition: Life After Sport’ course, presented by Gearoid.
When I retired, I was determined not to be one of those people who repeatedly came back to the sport to give it ‘one more go’, even though I always knew I could with a few months of training. My instincts told me it was over, and I didn’t want my head to overrule that.
As a measure against that, I completely flipped my life upside down to get as far away from sport as possible. I wanted to get to the point of no return. I auditioned for drama school in London and got in. I started that about one month after Beijing 2008.
A new stage
Acting life was similar to my sporting life in terms of discipline and focus. Performing in a play did feel like competing in a race – it involved the same meticulous preparation, and the build-up of nervous energy and adrenaline before the final performance. But it also came with a nightlife culture that I embraced, and I had great fun that year. I found that the things you are scared to lose as an athlete can be found in other walks of life, and you also get the opportunity to try new things.
After one year I didn’t feel anything like an athlete anymore, and that was part of my plan. However, I decided after 18 months that acting at that level was going to require a lot of focus and graft, and at that point, I wasn’t up for it. The other factor was money – stage actors don’t get paid a lot and I needed to survive.
Loss of identity
I am someone who doesn’t believe in over-planning, so that was the stage at which I asked myself the question: ‘Now what? What do I want to do now?’ For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the answer right away.
That affected me way more than I ever imagined it would. I felt destabilised for the first time in my life, a little bit directionless. I realised that finding something else as satisfying as rowing was going to be a longer process than I imagined.
Find your next purpose
Moving away from the sporting world can be overwhelming. Everything you knew is now gone – the training schedules, the travel plans, the competition dates, the crowds, the attention. This loss of purpose and control are common feelings with retired athletes.
Many athletes say how surprised they were to find the change so challenging, even those with secondary careers and educations. It can be a very complex process and it is advisable to learn as much as you can about the potential areas of difficulty, so that when the time comes, you have the tools and knowledge to deal with them.
It is for this reason that I am the founder of Crossing the Line – a not-for-profit organisation that is dedicated to helping athletes navigate the transition to life after sport. It’s run by athletes for athletes; people sharing their experiences for others to learn from.
NOW WHAT ? WHAT DO I WANT TO DO NOW ? FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE, I DIDN’T HAVE THE ANSWER RIGHT AWAY.
Ride the extremes
Having a degree wasn’t enough. If I could do it again, I probably would have spoken to more ex-athletes while I was still competing, just to get a flavour for what might be in store. The warning signs of potential pitfalls, things that went well for people, things that didn’t. This is definitely a good thing to do and I advise that you try to talk to people who have first-hand experience of what you’re about to go through. We all have our own journey to take but learning from others who have walked a similar path is always useful.
The best piece of advice I got was to imagine your retirement from sport as like doing a bungee jump. At the beginning, it might seem like you are stretching the bungee cord to its extreme at each end, with lots of major changes and feelings, but gradually you find a place of balance where your future life makes more sense.
Just ride the extremes for a while, and hopefully, you finish the bungee jump with a smile on your face. Transitioning to a new career should be one of excitement, not fear. Gain peace with your sports career and then give yourself the opportunity to excel at something else.