If you are a sports fan, then the concept of “More than an Athlete” probably isn’t new to you. An increasing number of professional athletes have leveraged their platform, influence, and wealth to become entrepreneurs, philanthropists, brand ambassadors, and voices for social change. While some fans and media members have pushed back against athletes speaking their mind about off-the-field topics, the thirst for authenticity and identity beyond sports is pushing a new wave forward.
We’ve come upon a topic worth exploring in and out of sport, and that is Role versus Identity. Have you ever pondered, “Am I more than an athlete?” Put more broadly, have you wondered, “Am I more than what I do for a living?” When you meet someone for the first time, what is the first question you ask each other? It’s almost always, “So, what do you do?” As a society, we’ve placed a stunning amount of emphasis on one’s occupation, aka “What we DO.” It’s much easier to strike up a conversation based on what you do for work, rather than open up about your role as a spouse, mother or father, charity volunteer, youth mentor, volunteer coach, or caregiver. Americans have traditionally been known as workaholics and “doers.” Having pride in what you do is noble. That said, should your profession be your identity? Do you want to be defined by the work product and financial results you achieved? Or, are their other ingredients that, together, make a much tastier cake, that bring more depth, a deeper sense of impact and connection, and bring more authentic relationships?
There are a good number of professional athletes whose identities are limited and tied to “NFL Player” or “Retired 8-year NFL Veteran.” And, most fans, who engage on social media or during that chance face-to-face meeting, are interested in talking to players about what they have seen him or her do on the field or court. But, imagine if a player decided to be more open about who they are off the field. Think of the players who currently do this. It creates a deeper connection to the identity of the player and fundamentally shifts the nature of the engagement. Now, the athlete is getting questions about the movement they started to bring robotics and tech training to inner city middle and high school kids. Now, they’re getting questions about what business they’re looking forward to exploring in the off season after ball is over. Not only does this type of engagement inspire others to “think bigger,” it opens up the athlete’s platform and opportunities beyond the field.
So, who are you? Are you the sum of a host of important roles and beliefs? Or is your identity tied directly to what you do?
Next time you meet someone at a networking event, don’t ask them what they do. Try, “What inspired you to be here?” “What big things are you going to do while you’re here?” “How are you using these days to make an impact?” When someone asks you, “What do you do,” try responding with why you do what you do. For example, “I help bring robotics and STEM learning to the inner city that helped raise me, so I play ball to bring awareness and financial help to that cause.” Sure beats talking about what you do.