By Sarah Odell
How appropriate that I happened to be at my parent’s when Sunday’s New York Times Magazine asked on its cover “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” Oh great, I thought to myself, yet another article about why my generation hasn’t lived up to expectations. I picked up the magazine from the ottoman in the living room and found a story that both surprised me and made me think. The theme of “emerging adulthood” struck a chord. Yet while the article aptly described me and many of my friends, one part nagged at me: What was all this stuff about aimless wandering?
Granted, the article didn’t put down the fruits of such wandering, but I couldn’t relate. Sure, my friends and I still involved our parents in our lives, and – yep — they were helping us get on our feet as we landed our first jobs. But aimless? Not at all.
So what makes us so different? My belief: We are athletes.
Since I graduated college in May and moved to New York, I have noticed something about the other 20-something women I meet. The most successful ones, the ones that have nailed down those hard-to-get jobs or are a commanding presence in the office, either are athletes or were athletes in college.
What’s the connection? I believe that what we were taught on the field, court, or pool was how to wander — but with purpose. The 20-somethings in the Times piece bounce from one career to another and are cast as negligent recipients of privilege. They have fancy college degrees, and they’re not doing anything with them. As a young woman just out of college wandering can feel especially difficult because if you can’t find a lucrative career society tells us that the next best thing is to find a lucrative man. We have to affix ourselves to something.
I believe my sports experience has trained me how to play through these times, these years of “emerging adulthood” when – yes — you do feel unsettled.
I can clearly remember the first time I was on a squash court and I realized how to change a loosing game to a winning one. I was playing my college rival, we were at one game a piece, and I was down 9-7 in the third. I knew that if she won that third game, she’d win the match.
I can remember walking up to the glass back of the court, rubbing my hand on it, and coming up with a strategy. I was going to hit long, tight balls into the backhand corner, and when I had trapped her there after a few strokes, I would hit a drop or an attacking boast. With this plan, I won the third game, and eventually, the match.
But what about those first two games, when I didn’t know what to do? I would call that wandering. I was feeling my opponent out, and by the third game, the wandering had suggested a direction.
Because in athletics, there is always a goal (to win), you wander with purpose. These are lessons not necessarily taught in classrooms or workplace internships. Sports allows – and even encourages – you to creatively work through options to get to the desired outcome. Especially for women, who still make less money on the dollar to men, who are underrepresented as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, learning how to wander with purpose is a powerful tool. The athletes-turned-young-professionals I’ve met in New York prove that those who have played sports…win.