A Letter to UC Davis Student-Athletes in the Class of 2017
Dear UC Davis Student-Athletes from the Class of 2017:
Thank you for everything that you’ve done for UC Davis and our athletics program. You’ve represented our university honorably, and, as new graduates of the sixth-ranked public school in the country, you’ve upheld the tradition of scholar-athleticism which has characterized our athletics program throughout its history.
I bet it feels weird that you’re now an alum! Some of you are likely excited about the relief from papers and problem sets. But, as graduation sinks in over the next few weeks and months, I’m also confident that all of you will miss the competition, the road trips and team meals, and even some parts of the daily student-athlete grind that you didn’t always love. You’ll eventually realize that there are very few things in life that can replace the camaraderie of being on a team.
So, as you move on, I wanted to offer a few thoughts to consider as you start your next chapter. Your student-athlete experience has prepared you to be successful in a variety of domains, and you should never stop thinking or acting like a high-performance athlete — even as you pursue endeavors outside of sports. Below are some thoughts about applying what you’ve learned as an athlete to whatever comes next.
Find the next thing that you really love to do. Think back to when you first fell in love with your sport and recall the passion you had for it, especially when it was still relatively new to you. Your world revolved around this love for your sport, and as a result you were excited to put forth the effort needed to practice diligently and improve your skills. It’s now time for you to find another activity that you are drawn to with this kind of focus and intensity. Discovering your new thing will take some exploration and even some trial and error, so pay close attention to how you feel as you go through various work experiences. Search intentionally for what you love to do and try to understand why you love to do it. Most of you won’t know what your next passion is quite yet, and that’s okay. Don’t settle. Make the effort to figure it out.
Work very hard early in your career. Just like when you were a freshman on your team, everything will be new to you in your next phase of life. You’ll be responsible for learning new expectations, getting acquainted with a new set of colleagues, and developing a new routine. Your learning curve will be steep. There is absolutely no substitute for hard work during this phase of your career. Researchers who study the acquisition of skills cite that it takes around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to develop expertise in various domains. The path to being really good at what you do is actually quite simple: if you are engaged for 60 hours of work per week, you will learn and make progress 50% faster towards expertise than someone who is engaged for 40 hours of work per week. The early bird really does get the worm in most cases at the beginning of your career. So, go above and beyond the expectations that your bosses set for you and get involved in extra opportunities to learn. Go in early and stay late. Compete to do your absolute best and show everyone that you are there to earn your keep. Life is not all about work, but working very hard early in your professional life is a great way to build a career that will provide you with both satisfaction and financial resources.
Be a reliable teammate. Just like in sports, in the world of work the most valuable people are the ones who always deliver. Be this trusted person for your organization. Do what you say you are going to do. Do not make your bosses ask you to do something twice. Step up and help others when they need it. Be responsive and answer emails and phone calls promptly. Greg Norman, the former world number one golfer who has transitioned successfully to a remarkable business career, has a slogan that he lives by in his work: “DIN & DIP”, which stands for “Do It Now And Do It Properly”. Do your best to help your organization win, in whatever way it defines winning. Establish your reputation as someone who can be trusted to deliver every time.
Commit yourself to continuous learning. The world is changing at a phenomenal pace. Fifteen years ago, nobody could have predicted that Amazon (an online bookseller at the time) would have bought Whole Foods. We think that UC Davis has done a good job preparing you for our changing world, but we are all are far from being finished products. In fact, in many ways, your college education has been most successful if it has taught you how to ask questions about what you don’t know and inspired in you the courage and self-sufficiency needed to find the answers for yourself. As was the case in your playing career, you must pursue self-improvement in your professional life with the understanding that your future success depends on it. Read often — in your field and also in fields that are adjacent to your own. Seek out mentors and learn from the experiences of others. Just like in sports, becoming a top contributor will require that you are getting better every day.
Come back and visit us often! Don’t be a stranger. Reach out to us. Come back to watch your team play or practice. Call your coaches and the administrators that you know and ask us for help when you need to. We’re here for you, and we will continue to help you network and find your footing as you get started in your professional career. And don’t forget to give back financially to help the student-athletes who come after you. Even small amounts at this early stage of your career are helpful and symbolic of your desire to “pay it forward”.
Best of luck on the road ahead. We’re proud of how you represented our university as a student and are confident that you’ll continue to do this successfully for years to come in your professional careers.