If your dream job doesn’t exist, start creating it

By: Lindsey Gleason

In April of 2011, I made a decision that forced me to leave my previously incredibly straight path and enter the zigzagging, unknown, beautiful, what-the-hell-is-around-the-next-corner maze that I’ve been in for the last 3 years. This story is not about what I’m doing now; it’s about the choices I made that got me here.

Im a 26-year-old girl from Buffalo, New York and couldn’t have asked for a better upbringing. I have an older sister, twin brother, and two loving parents who made what may have been the best decision of their lives and divorced when I was 6. I’m a firm believer that growing up observing no relationship was better than growing up observing an unhealthy one. Thanks for taking one for the team, Mom and Dad. That decision led to an incredible bonus Mom who I can’t remember life without, and two younger brothers who are wonderful and hilarious and quickly returned the “shortest sibling” label back to its rightful owner. Jerks.

When you have a twin brother, chances are you’re going to be a tomboy. And a tomboy I was. I started gymnastics when I was 5, then picked up softball and basketball shortly after. In middle school, Mom bought us a brand new Goalrilla hoop and I played pickup in the street with the guys, watched AND1 videos, and was as excited as any of them to get my new Jordan’s each season (clearly the mega-tomboy years). In high school, I wore fewer ponytails and became a bit more of a girl. I continued playing basketball and also picked up lacrosse, track and field, and volleyball. Sport has always been a huge part of my life. It was my drug of choice. It’s where I learned how to interact with people, set goals, compete, and lose gracefully.

When it was time to choose where to go to college, sport played a bigger role in my decision than academics. It’s not that school wasn’t important to me. I was ranked 11th out of 425 students in my graduating class (damn you Grundy for kicking me out of the Top 10). I just had no clue what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I decided I was going to major in Business and, let’s be honest, you can major in Business anywhere, so my decision ultimately came down to where I could play. Volleyball had become my strongest sport in high school and I was offered a sport scholarship at a small Division II school in Syracuse, NY called Le Moyne College. So I packed my bags, said my “See yas,” and moved to Syracuse.

My undergrad years were interesting. I fought for and earned the starting libero position my freshman year. Having 15 teammates waiting for me the second I arrived on campus helped my transition to college happen overnight. I loved everything about being a NCAA student-athlete, but I transferred to Cornell University my sophomore year after receiving a Guaranteed Transfer in high school, meaning if I did well at a different college my first year, I could transfer to Cornell my second year without reapplying. I loved Le Moyne but I knew that a Cornell education was something I couldn’t pass up, so I moved to Ithaca to give the Big Red a try.

Apparently, the Ivy lifestyle wasn’t quite for me. I wasn’t as brilliant as people thought I was, I just worked really hard, so maintaining a decent GPA at Cornell meant working twice as hard as I did at Le Moyne. Rather than spending half of my waking hours in the classroom and the other half on the volleyball court, I was now spending half of my time in the classroom and the other half in the library. This wasn’t exactly how I had envisioned my college experience playing out, especially after seeing what college was like as a NCAA student-athlete. Had I gone straight to Cornell my freshman year and not had any other college experience to compare it to, I would have thought that this was typical for every other college student. I missed my healthy balance between school, sports, and a social life at Le Moyne. I realized that I valued a balanced lifestyle and playing volleyball more than an Ivy League degree, so I transferred back to Le Moyne after one semester at Cornell. The decisions to go to Cornell and leave Cornell were not easy ones, and it was the first time I felt like I had really challenged myself and left my comfort zone.

I moved back to Syracuse and immediately knew I had made the right choice. I truly loved being a Dolphin and my academic program. There are professors I still keep in touch with to this day and have breakfast with every time I visit Syracuse (shout out to my girl Renee and Fr. David!). I graduated in 2010 but that didn’t mean I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I had been President of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee so all I knew for sure was that I was passionate about sports and wanted to work in collegiate athletics. After hearing about an internship with the DII Conference I had just played for, the Northeast-10 Conference, I thought that would be the perfect next step. I was offered the job and accepted the position. Once again, I found myself making a major decision based on my passion for sport. So I packed my bags, said my “See yas,” and moved to Boston.

About two months before moving to Boston I went on a 2-week trip to Europe to play volleyball through a company called USA Athletes International. I flew to Austria by myself and met up with about 30 other NCAA volleyball and basketball players from across the US that I had never met before. USAAI organized games for us in Austria, Italy, and Slovenia, and activities that allowed us to experience the cultures in each country. It was my first time overseas and I fell in love. In less than 14 days, I caught the travel bug and promised myself that if I ever had the opportunity to go overseas again, I’d take it.

I was living in Boston when I made the decision that changed my life. Working for the NE-10 Conference confirmed that I belonged in collegiate athletics. When my internship was coming to an end, I started searching for entry level jobs or Graduate Assistant positions on the NCAA Job Board. One day I came across a post titled, “Masters. Volleyball. England.” What the hell was this? I had never seen these three words together but each on its own meant something to me. I had been considering going back to school for my masters, I had always wanted to visit the UK, and I loved volleyball. Was this an opportunity to get my masters in England while playing volleyball? Not a chance. The entire concept seemed way too good to be true so I immediately wrote it off as a scam and continued my job search.

For the next week, something kept bringing me back to this post. I found myself sitting Indian style in my chair at work, arms crossed, just staring at it. What if this was real? I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least check it out. So I applied and within one week received a phone call from a +44 phone number (which I ignored the first two times because I had zero knowledge of country codes at the time and thought it was a telemarketer) and heard a British accent on the other end. Holy shit. This was real.

I started asking my friends and family what they thought about me moving overseas to get my masters and play volleyball. Every response began with a, “Huh?” or, “I’m sorry, you’re going to what?” People thought I was off my rocker. Since no one knew anyone who had done something like this before, it’s like yellow caution tape was immediately wrapped around the entire concept. I had no clue what to do. My gut was telling me to go, but everyone else was telling me it was too risky. Crap. Now what?

I only had a few more days before I had to make my final decision and I was freaking out. Three weeks earlier, I had been offered a full-ride at Le Moyne as the GA for the Athletic Director. I was choosing between a free MBA at Le Moyne, or Durham University where I didn’t know a soul, wasn’t entirely convinced the university was real, and would go $30k deeper in school loans. For three straight nights, I laid in bed staring at my ceiling for hours weighing the pros and cons of these two completely different options.

I’ll never forget the second I made up my mind. I was asking my 13 year-old brother at the time for life advice (yes, I had become that desperate), and asked him what he thought I should do. He said, “Linds, just go to Le Moyne. You’ve done it before and you know you can do it again.” Decision made. Drop the curtain. I knew what I had to do. If I went to Le Moyne, I’d be taking the easy way out. There’s no doubt that I’d get another wonderful degree and have a great experience, but I wouldn’t be challenging myself personally or leaving my comfort zone. This decision forced me to ask myself, “Do I want to take the easy route and cruise through life?” Or, “Do I want to live my life taking risks and going on adventures?” I committed to Durham the next day and accepted my offer. Four months later, I packed my bags, said my “See yas,” a few “Holy shits” this time, and moved to England.

I knew I had made the right choice the second I landed in England. My new home was a tiny, quaint British town and there were about 40 other American student-athletes who had taken the same risk I had. With each week that passed, doors started opening everywhere I turned. Within 2 months of living in Durham, I got a job with the Olympics. Working the Olympics had been a goal of mine (God knows I had zero chance of making the US National Team) and the fact that the 2012 Olympics would be in London was one of the pros of moving to England. I started traveling all over Europe with my new teammates whenever we had a free weekend. I was meeting and building relationships with incredible people all over the world. It was hard to believe that I had struggled to decide whether or not to make this move just 5 months earlier.

A few months into my masters program I learned about a Dragons’ Den competition (the equivalent to Shark Tank in America) that the Durham University Business School was holding. I had no business proposal in mind but had become interested in entrepreneurship and startups, so I entered, figuring it would be a good learning experience. The submission date was nearing so I locked myself in my room one night and forced myself to brainstorm ideas. I asked myself what I was passionate about and when I had experienced something that I thought could have been handled better. The idea came to me within seconds. The process of ending up in Durham was terrible. For how incredible and legitimate this experience was, it shouldn’t have been such a stressful process or considered such a risk. I also started learning how many of my friends were interested in studying and playing overseas as well, and how many friends of friends were interested. There was a massive market screaming for help and an industry that wasn’t getting any attention: the international student-athlete recruitment industry. There was a huge gap in a market that overlapped three multi-billion dollar industries: sport, tourism, and education. I realized I might be on to something.

I was a finalist in the Dragons’ Den competition and decided I had to turn this little project of mine into a business, which I would later end up calling TeamGLEAS (globalizing education and sports). My life had been turned upside down in the most positive way imaginable because of my Durham experience, and it broke my heart knowing not everyone was aware of the option to study and play overseas. There are hundreds of thousands of student-athletes who want to study abroad during their undergrad years but never get the opportunity to because of sport commitments; who run out of eligibility before they even peak as athletes; who want to get their masters degree but can’t imagine college without playing their sport. The TeamGLEAS experience isn’t for everyone and I understand that. But there are enough wanderers and adventurers out there who deserve to know about this option. I started TG in 2012 while I was still a student and working the Olympics. Since then, I’ve recruited a small team of incredibly talented, brilliant, inspiring, and passionate people who love TG as much as I do and make me better. The most incredible feeling in the world is starting something that other people want to be a part of. I love my team and would do anything for them.

I’ve experienced more in the last 3 years than I have in my entire life. I got my masters in another country. I sat 5th row at Opening Ceremonies and may or may not have cried, sitting alone mind you, knowing that I had achieved another one of my goals and that I was surrounded by the best athletes in the world. I visited a dozen new countries I never thought I’d see and played the sport I love in 4 of them. I drove more than 1,000 miles on the opposite side of the road in the UK by myself and somehow survived to tell about it. I sat in coffee shops and listened to 5 different languages being spoken at one time. I got lost in Venice more times than I can count. I booked the wrong hostel on a Christmas trip to Italy, which left my friend and I stranded in Florence on New Years, and had to find my way out of it. Nothing a nice stranger and his friendly, non-English speaking French parents with a nearby flat can’t solve (sorry Dad). Note to self: Don’t forget to check the year as carefully as you check the month and date when booking hostels. I have friends all over the world that I keep in touch with and still visit to this day. I’ve seen beautiful castles, cathedrals, and beaches. I started a company. None of these experiences would have happened if I hadn’t listened to my gut and moved to England. That choice allowed me to discover what I loved and wanted to spend the rest of my life doing: help others see the world.Following my instincts and making that one choice to move to England changed my decision-making process forever.

I had asked so many other people for their advice when I was making my decision that I got caught up in other people’s concerns and lost my own voice. When I finally stopped asking other people what they thought and started asking myself what I wanted, it was a no-brainer.

Changing how I made decisions is what changed my life. My new best friend is my gut and she’s never let me down. Ever. She’s always been there for me, guiding me, but I chose to ignore her up until these last few years because listening to her always meant I’d have to leave my comfort zone. She’s right 99% of the time. It’s almost annoying.

I used to surround myself with people who thought many of my core qualities; ambition, spontaneity, and passion to interact with everyone and anyone; were irritating. I was in a terrible relationship in college but never realized how unhealthy it was because it was all that I had known. I don’t regret it for one second. It taught me the difference between love and lust, but I was constantly questioned and judged for being myself, which ultimately caused me to question and judge myself. Now, I’m surrounded by people who embrace my craziness, because I CHOOSE to be. It’s a choice. You are a reflection of the people around you. If you don’t like who or what you see across the table, leave the table. It’s incredible what you can achieve when you surround yourself with the right people, people who enhance and encourage your already incredible self.

Success has a little to do with luck and a lot to do with recognizing opportunities and taking advantage of them. Last week, I shared TeamGLEAS with Kim Pegula, owner of both the Buffalo Bills and Sabres. I was lucky to be within an arm’s length of Kim, but luck wasn’t what gave me the courage to approach her and introduce myself. I was lucky to come across the post about Durham Uni on the NCAA Job Board, but luck didn’t pack my bags and inspire me to move to another country. Luck sure as hell didn’t start TeamGLEAS. These were conscious choices I made. There are opportunities everywhere. First you have to see them. Then you have to grab them.

Always look for opportunities to grow or learn something new. The Dragons’ Den competition that ultimately led to the creation of TeamGLEAS was optional, but I knew DD would be something I could learn from. I had no clue what it would lead to, I just had faith it would lead to something. The day you feel you’ve learned all that you possibly can is the day you stop contributing to the world.

Why I Love GetLIVIN

Writing this story forced me to rewind and reflect on the beginning of my journey. I often get caught up in the hectic startup lifestyle, making sure TG is always one step ahead, rather than looking back on all of the incredible experiences we’ve had along the way and hard work we’ve put into the company so far. GetLIVIN helped me remember the challenges I’ve overcome, how much I’ve grown personally, and how much good my incredible team at TG has already done in just 2 years.

The purpose of GetLIVIN is simple and universal at the same time. Wanting to interact with others, help others, and be a part of something bigger than ourselves is in our DNA. Life is about connectivity and that’s what GL is all about. GL’s about helping people light the fire that already exists inside them. It’s not a place where people are encouraged to voice their opinions or debate. It’s a judge-free zone where people can feel comfortable and safe sharing their stories. The more accepting the GL community is, the more likely people will be to share true, honest, and heartfelt stories. These are the types of stories that make a difference.

On behalf of the GL Team, welcome to GetLIVIN. I’m honored that Joe asked me to write GL’s first story, and I want to thank and congratulate him for taking the first step and starting the blog he’s been talking about for over a year now.

This first story has been about taking risks and the choices I’ve made in the last 3 years that helped me find my passions and start living out my own dream. I hope to write follow up stories in the future about more specific experiences in my life; like starting a company or living overseas, and hopefully future events that haven’t even happened yet like TeamGLEAS making our first million or becoming a Mom! For now, if one person reads this story and recognizes their own passion, whether it’s dog walking, starting a company, or jumping out of an airplane, I’ve achieved GL’s mission. I hope I’ve done that. #findyourpassion #writeyourstory #getlivin

Originally published at getlivin.com on November 11, 2014.

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