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Every year, my college’s athletics program puts on a dinner for the athletes and hand out awards to deserving students for their athletic and academic achievements. It’s a night to commemorate the hard work that is being put in every day as both a student and an athlete, which is not always an easy feat to juggle school work and practice times, along with every other aspect of being a college student. As my final year in college comes to a close, this year’s banquet was extra special to me. As a senior, I swam for all four years, and played softball for the past three. I’ve watched the program grow and improve, making friends and long-lasting relationships along the way. So here’s a summary of all that I’ve learned during my time as a college athlete.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Everyone likes to win, but more importantly, no one likes to lose. When you put all those hours of practice in, going to a sporting event and doing your best, coming in second or losing a game can be devastating. After that, people can usually take it one of two ways: ask themselves ‘why do I keep doing this’; or tell themselves ‘here is where I can improve.’ Being able to get up after a loss is a feat in itself. Being a swimmer taught me to look at hurdles and obstacles in life in a similar manner. Sometimes, someone is just better than you. Sometimes, you beat yourself, and your best wasn’t truly your best.

Regardless, it’s necessary to understand where you can be better. It’s not easy being rejected from a job or doing poorly on a test, but that just means there is room for improvement. Having never even picked up a softball until my time in college meant that I needed to be clinically and technically good at the sport. I could not just skim on by, only putting in a little heart and energy. I had to give it my all to even be halfway decent, and even then I had to work just that much harder than my teammates who had been playing since they were children. And it paid off. While I wasn’t starting on the field as often as some of the other girls, I still earned a place and respect on the team from my coaches and fellow teammates. Gaining that respect counted as a win in my eyes.

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Know the Difference Between Being Friends and Being Teammates

Sports bring together an eclectic group of people with all different backgrounds and interests. Because of that, you’re going to run into a few people that might not have the same views or opinions as you do. With that, it’s important to understand the distinction between friends and teammates. Oftentimes my teammates become my friends, because of going through the same pain every day and the countless hours spent together. However, there was always someone that rubbed me the wrong way, someone I didn’t always get along with, or just someone that didn’t become a close friend. And that was fine, because we still learned how to work together and be a team, and be the support network we all needed at our lowest points. It didn’t matter if we went out to dinner after a practice as one massive team – it mattered that we came together and worked well with one another when we needed to.

Your Coach Is There For You

Your coach is there to push you. They’re there to find your limits and extend them, break you down just to build you back up. But they’re also there as support, a shoulder to lean on, and a mentor. While not all coaches will be that open, I’ve had the pleasure of having fantastic coaches that let me open up and talk about my personal life with them and help me work through my problems, even if they were minute. Having that mentor in my life was extremely necessary during my time in college. For some, they find that role in a professor or a friend, but with the amount of time I spent with my coach, I developed more than just a player-coach relationship, but a true friendship.

Know How to Trust Your Team

Along the same lines as working with your team, you need to learn how to trust them. You need to learn their strengths and weaknesses to fully understand how you all work together. Similarly when working with a group of people in an office setting, knowing where someone excels more than another can allow for more efficient working. With softball, it was important to know how hard my teammate could throw, or knowing how fast they could run in order for the team to operate as efficiently as possible. With game sports like softball where there is a set number of people playing at a time, there is an automatic sense of competition within a team that is bigger than the number of people playing. When you spend so much time practicing, you want to be able to showcase your talent and make the practices seem worthwhile; yet, when someone is consistently better than you, they are going to take your position and chance to play. So it is necessary to understand and trust your teammates’ abilities, and only use that to drive your own excellence.

Be There For Your Teammates

I spent the last three years as a captain for my swim team, which taught me a lot about people and how to interact around them. Firstly, I learned to never flaunt the title of captain. If anything, I was a teammate first, and a captain second. My role was to be a liaison between my coach and my teammates if need be, a shoulder to lean on for my teammates, and to be a mentor for those in need of guidance. I would always tell my teammates that if they needed anything – a study buddy, a wall to vent to, or just someone to eat lunch with – that I would be there for them, and all they have to do is ask.

Image: Courtesy of Sam Amberchan

EducationSkills

“Hide not your talents, they for use were made, what’s a sundial in the shade?” – Benjamin Franklin

Think of the most successful people you know. Some may come with a fancy job title or an impressive LinkedIn profile, but what is certain among the very successful are these three things: they excel at what they do, are established in their chosen field of interest, and seek constant growth.  Now it’s up to you how you measure success, but in this millennial age there is no doubt that happiness and purpose must coincide with any sort of big career move. This is difficult at times being in a world that says good grades and a steadfast work ethic are still not enough to break through an industry. There are many people out there with extreme creativity or academic dedication or innovative mindsets who are all suffering from an epidemic of untapped potential. One defining factor between the successful and the almost-there is the proper use of one’s talents. Those people who have made it, they are the ones who have realized and utilized their unique skills. It is possible, dear friends, to become the person that other people refer to upon hearing the word “successful.” Understanding and using your talents could be your gateway into finding the cross-section of work and passion. But first, let’s go over two common and very unfortunate misconceptions:

  1. I don’t have any talents.
  2. I do have talents, but they are useless.

People must be able to surpass these ideas and realize that everyone is talented and there are practical ways to make talents relevant. We’re not talking about the whistling or saying the alphabet backwards kind of talent (though do keep those in your back pocket, countless dinner parties await you), but rather, the particular skills and capacities that are transferable into your everyday ventures.

The search is on: Discover & Develop

Everyone is bent a certain way and because of this, we each fit into our own niches in life. The crucial first step in engaging your talents is to find them. Here are a few thoughts to ponder to start your very own talent search:

  • What’s something that you find yourself thinking about and getting lost in thought?
  • What activities do you excel in or wish to excel in?

Being able to answer these questions may help you pinpoint certain interests that you can develop through practice. One of the best books about unlocking creativity is Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist.” As an artist and New York Times Bestselling author, he advises his readers to “write what you like” and “not what you know” and emphasizes the importance of everyone having side projects. Hobbies and side projects are the best ways to foster your interests and ultimately serve as tangible examples of your talents. Whether you are into photography, calligraphy, producing music, planning events, coding, blogging, analyzing movies, or whatever it may be, dedicate time to produce that kind of work. As Kleon says, “Take time to mess around. Get Lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.”

Real use in real time: Harness & Employ

Sometimes people have talents that directly align with their studies and jobs. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, it is important to utilize them. Once you have identified your talents, spend time to create ways to share them with the world. Perhaps those photos you take on the side are the mere start of your traveling photography blog. Maybe your love for getting people together will allow you to start your company’s first-ever social retreat to boost employee engagement. With so many channels of communication through social media, everyone has the chance to appeal to the masses. Let your ideas be heard and create teams of people who share the same interests. Kickstarter.com is the world’s largest funding platform in which people can promote their ideas for a product or project to the public, gaining an audience and financial backing. It is a gold mine for ideas and the talented people behind them. It takes courage and planning to bring your talents to the forefront of situations, but allow yourself to create opportunities that not only welcome your talents but require them. You can be the person who has that certain skill, that particular edge that is needed for an upcoming project.

Today is the day to spend time with your talents and make something real with them. Sir Ken Robinson once said, “A strong passion allied with even a moderate talent, will generally get you further than a strong talent with little enthusiasm.” Translation: As long as you work with joy and resilience, there really is no stopping you.

Image: Ali Inay