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5 Lessons I've Learned as a Student-Athlete (by Jeremy Johnson)

5 Lessons I've Learned as a Student-Athlete

  • Published on December 30, 2018

Jeremy Johnson

College hit me hard. When I got my class schedule and saw that I only had 3 classes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and 2 classes on Tuesday and Thursday, I thought my freshman fall was going to be a breeze. I didn't take in account that I had 6am workouts in the morning, class from 8am-12pm, early work for baseball at 1:30pm, baseball practice from 2pm-6pm, tutoring from 7pm-8pm, meetings with my mentor and academic advisor at some point in the week, and mandatory team building meetings for freshmen. On top of that, I had to find time to study, eat, sleep, and have somewhat of a social life. People would tell me about how amazing it is to be a student-athlete which led me to have a propped up and distorted version of what my life was supposed to be like. I’m not going to lie, on the outside looking in, the student-athlete life is one to envy, but after the infatuation and recruiting process wears off, reality starts to set in. After my first week of being a student-athlete, I remember having a conversation with my roommate contemplating our lives and wondering how people managed to do this for 4-5 years. Every freshman has expectations to come in their first year and play right away. My pride was at an all-time high and my humility at an all-time low. Being redshirted (when you practice and participate with the team, but don’t compete in games to preserve a year of eligibility) my first year of college was such a humbling experience and I grew tremendously in so many areas of my life. As my baseball career continued, my aspirations to be a star collegiate athlete didn’t unravel as planned. No athlete sets out to be that person coming off the bench, but if you spend too much time focusing on unmet expectations, you will miss the opportunities and blessings that are right in front of you. On December 15, 2018, I completed my bachelor’s degree at Auburn University and I wouldn't trade my experience for anything. I am living proof that God doesn't always give you what want, He gives you what you need. Taking some time to reflect and look back, I realized that I learned five invaluable lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life:

  1. There are three things you can control: your effort, your attitude, your perspective.

There’s a famous quote my dad always tells me that says, “The only things you can control are your effort and your attitude.” While that is true, I would add a third attribute to that list which is your perspective. Adversity is unescapable and it will come at some point in your life no matter what. There were times throughout my athletic career at Auburn when I was faced with circumstances and situations that I had no control over. There were many times when I felt sorry for myself, and several times when I felt like quitting. I was stubborn, but by the encouragement of my family and friends, I realized that I couldn’t control what happened to me, I could only control how I responded. The first thing that was in my control was how hard I worked. When I’m faced with a similair situation in the work force, I now know that I have to continue to put forth my best effort. Quitting won’t solve the issue. I had to change my attitude. I struggled and still do struggle with developing an optimistic approach to adversity. You should never burn bridges with people. No matter how you get treated, remember that you are not the standard and that we all need grace. Perspective is important because it can serve as a driving force. If your perspective is off, then your effort and attitude will be off, but if you have the right perspective, you can leverage your effort and attitude into the right state towards the situation you can’t control.

  1. Talent will get you in the door, hard work will keep you there.

This is a pretty obvious statement, but you would surprise how many people I know don’t let this sink in (myself included). The effort and work I put in high school was enough to get by, but in college I quickly realized I was competing against grown men. Everyone is just as, or if not, more athletic than you. I learned that I had to do something extra to give me leg up on the competition and I had to work on honing my strengths, while at the same time, improving my weaknesses. I have been fortunate enough to get to know several incredible athletes that passed through Auburn and made it to the professional ranks in their respective sports. Sure, all these people were gifted athletes, but the one common denominator that comes to mind that made them all so elite, is that they never became complacent with their abilities no matter how well or how awful they were performing. They were always willing to learn, work, and improve their skillsets in order to take their game to the next level. Because so many great athletes and people at Auburn have exemplified this trait to me, there will never be a point in my life where I feel like I don’t need to improve, learn, or grow no matter how much I achieve. Natural ability only takes you so far. I could apply this concept to every area of life.

  1. Thankfulness is the quickest path to joy.

I constantly take things for granted. This was one of the biggest things I struggled with while my time at Auburn. This was difficult because social media has amplified this concept called comparison. Comparison is the thief of joy. There’s no win in comparison. You will never be content and will always be wanting more if you compare yourself to others. I remember so many times when I was calling my parents complaining about how I wasn’t getting playing time, the dining hall wasn’t serving the food I wanted, or my professor was grading my paper too harshly. My mom would always respond with just two words, “You’re there”. By that, she was meaning to say that people would kill to be in my situation. People would love just to wear the jersey for one day. People would love to have food to complain about. People would love to go to college and get a quality education. By comparing myself to people who I thought had more than me, I was so focused on everything I didn’t have that I never took the time to count the blessings that were already in my life. Thankfulness is the quickest path to joy. This is such a challenging lesson because I always find myself being so ungrateful for the smallest things. Not only should we be grateful, but we should constantly show our gratitude to others. I realized that the root of this pride was entitlement. When we truly realize that this world owes us nothing, we find ourselves more thankful and less entitled.

  1. People may forget what you did or said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

Looking back, there were some pretty cool moments that I viewed as a burden and not as an opportunity. After the games, younger kids would wait for us to come out of the locker room and would ask us to take pictures or to autograph literally whatever they had with them. To yourself, you may just be a guy who sat in the dugout in a uniform during the game, but to them, you were their heroes. I remember one game leaving the locker room frustrated because I had an opportunity to pinch hit but didn’t make the most of the at bat. It was a pretty chilly night and I was one of the last players to leave this game. A dad and his son came running up to me as soon as I walked outside. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and they asked me to sign all their memorabilia. The dad pulled me aside and explained that I was his son’s favorite player because I tossed him a foul ball one game. He went on to describe how his son was going through a rough time and how he will never forget how excited he was that I tossed him a ball. He added that his son idolized me after I gave him the ball and that one day, he could do the same for another kid just like him. I honestly didn’t even remember doing that, because I thought it was such a simple act. My attitude towards people completely changed after that. I realized that more people were watching me more than I anticipated. Regardless if I play or not, I had a platform that could use to impact other people. Never underestimate the impact of small acts you do for other people. You never know who's watching and you never know what they're going through.

  1. Making good grades/money can give you sense of achievement but making a difference can give you a sense of fulfillment.

One similar characteristic I’ve seen among a number of college students is that everyone is consumed with a number. They cry, lose sleep, and obsess over this number called a GPA. College students, including myself, are so fixated on obtaining a high GPA that we have become immune to learning. We just try to memorize information so we can get good grades to climb the ladder of success to get a 'good job'. After we graduate, the number we stress over changes from a GPA to a bank account. By no means is there a problem with chasing success, but I have to be cautious of my ambition for money. The problem with this mentality is that it never satisfies, and I always find myself stuck answering the question “And then what?” My identity became so wrapped up in my GPA and playing time that it would dictate my mood. My last semester at Auburn, I didn’t play baseball. I finally realized what it was like to have plenty of free time and no obligations outside of class. Since I was leaving the semester after, I decided to invest my free time into people. In college, I had gone wide in my relationships, but I needed to go deeper in them. That semester was the most fulfilling time I had spent in Auburn because the emphasis I put on other people helped me to think about others more and to not be so self-absorbed. I ended up having conversations I never thought I would have with people and developing a clear purpose of why I was at Auburn. I learned that I should never place my happiness in something I could potentially lose.

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