Pride and athletics are synonymous. Pride and college athletics might even be more synonymous. School spirit, epic tailgates, family legacies, national championships, the list can go on and on. As a culture, the pride of college athletics is infectious - there is no denying that. On a personal level, there is an even deeper level of pride. One that transcends the roar of crowds or media pundits. It sits late at night in the school library. It is up before dawn in the weight room. It is volunteering at the local children’s hospital and community soup kitchen. It is draped in team issued sweats and usually never anything else. It sits 30 deep in the cafeteria delaying the inevitable of going to night class. It, is the student-athlete, navigating the athletic, academic and social spaces of campus, honing a crafty balancing act out of touch with the professional sports world of major contracts, sponsorship or business deals. I can’t speak for big-time Division 1 National Championship contenders but from my small, bottom-barrel Division 1, non-revenue baseball team, pride was oozing out of the seams of our cube-like ,no frills locker room blasting “Sandstorm” to no end. I can somehow imagine there being a similar sentiment at other, bigger, more renowned universities. A sense of pride did not only exist athletically. Many of my teammates and I took our school work very seriously. Many of us were honored for awards by the university, produced recognized research projects or balanced a competitive internship on top of of everything else. However, a sense of pride did not only exist athletically and academically. We tried to squeeze in “normal college life” whenever possible. Sometimes this meant crossing state borders in order to purchase alcohol on a Sunday, after arriving on campus from an away series 5 hours away. Sometimes this meant just knowing you were going to throw up at lifting in the morning and would just have to deal with it; it wouldn’t be that bad. My lacrosse buddies had the notoriety of being the athletic team party house. There was no doubt a sense of pride in that. Being known on campus added a level of pride to the way you navigated the many spaces of being a student-athlete.
Too much pride can get you into trouble, tarnish your relationships by burning bridges, making yourself uncompromising to work with. Too little and well, most likely you wouldn’t have made it to this level. Because although we can turn on the TV on a Saturday and see Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB maybe being too overtly prideful, a large portion of that makes him an unreal competitor between the white lines. Our time is over though, we aren’t reliant on being prideful of the jersey we wear or our teammates beside us, or a legacy of winning or simply being known as a fierce competitor. The utilization is something we are trying to insert like puzzle pieces that just don’t fit quite right.
Even if we have come to full terms with our retirement, replicating a sense of pride into your career work and even social engagements has become a struggle.
I’m thinking of an example of someone I spoke to in a sales job who is having a hard time getting behind the idea of him feeling really proud of selling someone else’s ideas and products. There isn’t much attachment, or for lack of a better word, pride. Contrary to that, some of the entrepreneurs we spoken to on What’s Next, despite just starting out, an even struggling feel like they are proud of the work they are doing, they put their soul into it like they did as a player because the work is theirs, the performance is theirs and only theirs. Some of the helpers or service workers we’ve connected with have also echoed a sense of pride similar to their playing days because their work and the quality of it is directly related to an actual person or a family and their well-being. I think you can still be prideful in a position where you work for someone else, peddling their product or service. The former was just an anecdote to a conversation I had but the more important piece to it is that you have to be willing to find the pride in it. Is it the people you work with, or the recognition for your skills, or the ability it gives you to provide and enjoy other things in your life? I think it is worth having that self-exploration.
You have to be willing to find the pride in your work.
Recently at What’s Next we just ordered some hats. This will seem very anti-climatic to many but receiving them in the mail ignited a real physical sense of pride and not just because everyone loves to get packages in the mail. The hat is simple, it’s a navy blue, mesh snap back, with a raised WN logo in white. Objectively if it were displayed at Lids maybe people wouldn’t even look twice at it, but that’s not the point. It is ours. It may not be much but it is the culmination of hard work and continued effort. We have ownership over something something small; an idea that turned into a project that is turning into something more. Holding a product that represents it all and wearing it around having others ask about What’s Next and give feedback is the mature, adult version of walking into a house party after you just played a great game; peers and strangers padding you on the back, appreciating your performance and effort and you know deep down, beneath the showering of compliments that you have been working your hardest for a long long time, for this very singular feeling. It is something to be proud of, even if it is only for a moment.
Chalk Talk is a weekly What's Next column by Anthony Cinelli, one of our founders. It will be published every Monday morning. Anthony is currently a mental health counselor and baseball coach in New Jersey.