Ep.010 Athlete Story Podcast

 Athlete Transition. How To Present Yourself Without Your Sports Gear Ft Pam Baker & Katherine Johnson

Athlete Transition – How do you present yourself?

When you’re quitting sports and you’re trying to find your new way there’s this bit of doubt of, “Who am I actually? I’m the athlete but I’m also a lot of other things.” Everybody is used to seeing you as the athlete. You will have all these doubts coming in on, “How do I even present myself as the non-athlete?”

How do you come across as the personal you really are – authentically and confidently? Those are legitimate questions for anybody. But in particular when you are in a transition. In this episode we will talk  with Pam Baker and Katherine Johnson who offer a career planning framework and image consulting, respectively. Together they offer joint workshops about your verbal and visual presence.

You have various strings to play on when you tell your story or deliver your message. Words is the most obvious one for us humans but before you even open your mouth you have usually already communicated some things by the way you show up.

You know this from people wearing uniforms and what that communicates whether it’s a school uniform, a nurse or a fire fighter.

Katherine helps her clients align the way they show up and present themselves physically with what they wish to communicate.

Pam is the expert in verbal storytelling and how to connect you values with the way you talk about yourself.

The transition is a great time to make sure you are heading in a direction you like. It’s an opportunity to get aligned with your values and a chance to present yourself as the person you are and want to be, so that you can be seen, heard and valued for who you really are as Katherine Johnson says in this episode of Athlete Story.

In this session we cover points like

→ How do I reflect who I am NOW – and how do I bring forward who I was and the confidence I can find it that

→ How can you as an athlete envision your future career and communicate that with authenticity and no noise on the line

→ How are you showing up in the world and can people really see and hear you ?

→ How Katherine and Pam got into working in these fields

→ and a whole lot more

Presence isn’t the majority of who we are – but it is the first impression. Some of the themes they work on with their clients are

  • Discovering what are the qualities that they want to communicate to themselves and outwardly
  • Integrating the “who I was, who I am now,” to uncover what does that mean in terms of the types of work and career that I want to have. Where is the intersection between those values, interests, and skills?
  • What can they let go of?
  • Career prototyping

«Do we allow ourselves to connect, or do we have that mental armour up about, “I was this person,” or, “Now, I’m trying to fit in so I’m leaving that athlete identity behind so that I can be like the rest of the folks around me.” It’s not necessarily either or, it’s really about all of ourselves being integrated to allow us to connect in that authentic way that we all really crave.”

Pam Baker

Founder of Journeous, Journeous

These transitions are really good opportunities to stop and reflect on who you are now, what you want to move toward, how you want to connect with people, what qualities about yourself do you want to share. When we do that piece first, then we can look at the very tangible act of, “What do you put on your body?” Because you cover 80% of your body with clothes, you want to create a sense of congruent and that you are genuine. It’s a sense of confidence that you know yourself well enough, that you represent yourself in the best light possible.”

Katherine Johnson

Image consultant and former elite squash player, Spark

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 About our guests

Katherine Johnson is a former elite squash player who after sports trained to become an educator. After a few different jobs in the private sector and as a teacher. Her biggest lessons in life after sport is that life isn’t linear and how she ended up in image consulting was not something she had seen coming.  In fact her first reaction when a therapist suggested she pursue that was:

“No, thank you. I’m too deep for that. I would never want to talk to someone about clothes”

What she finds rewarding is that there’s, in fact, a lot of depth in the work as an image consultant the way she goes about it and that she gets to play a very supporting role.

It’s still surprising to me that it has to do with our visual appearance, but it ends up, it’s a piece I’m really good at. It makes sense to me when you actually look at the person first, when you connect with who you are.”

Pam Baker has a background in the corporate world where she led lots of different teams and hired lots of people for 20 years.  Seeing how so many people would sooner or later get to a point where they think. “I don’t think this is what I want to keep doing but I have no idea how to figure out what I do want to do,” she started to look into how we actually prepare our careers.

This became the basis for her career planning framework, Journeous where her mission as she says is:

“How can you give folks some of the insights and perspectives, and the ability to be able to create the career path that they find meaningful so we’re not looking at 7 out of 10 of us dreading going to work every day or not really engaged in the work that we’re doing? Because to me, it’s exciting to think about, if all of us brought our whole selves to work, what could that mean? I think it’s incredibly powerful. That’s really why Journeous came to be, to enable that, and enable that before people get to a point where they say, “Oh, I don’t like this at all.”

Here are the links to the gifts Pam and Katherine mentioned:

www.journeous.com/vision

www.katherine-johnson.com/gift

You can also watch a video version of this interview here.

READ the transcript of full interview by clicking here.

Anja INTRO:

If you’ve been a more or less full-time athlete for many years, one of the things you will have to do when you take off your gear and transition out of sports is to re-find yourself without that gear. I know you know this. Today, we’ll take that very literally. I brought in two people for this episode that just did a joint workshop in Miami for the Women Athletes Business Network and the International Women’s Forum.

That’s former elite squash player, Katherine Johnson, who is today an image consultant. In her own words she helps, “Eliminate the visual static so that you can be seen, heard and valued for who you really are,” and in that way present the most authentic and confident version of yourself to the world. The other person is Pam Baker who is the founder of Journeous, which is a career planning framework to help you align your personal values and your professional life.

In a way, Pam helps you put words on who you are what you stand for, and Katherine helps you express that more visually through your appearance. This is a bit of a different take on the athlete transition than the typical, “What do you do next” question. It’s a little more subtle, but really, if you think about what a pep talk can do for you, knowing exactly what your role is in the game, and how putting on your sports gear can get you aligned and in that right state on the field, why wouldn’t that be important in other parts of your life?

Often, being present as who you are comes natural in sports. Then, off the fields, you aren’t really sure how to present yourself, what’s your role, what’s important about you, what’s relevant, how do I come across as the person I really am. Let’s welcome our two special guests today, Katherine Johnson and Pam Baker, and jump right into our conversation about just that.

This is Athlete Story and I’m your host Anja Bolbjerg. If you are a world-class athlete, or simply into sports, I suggest you subscribe to my show right now because I’ll be posting lots more athlete stories and chats with world-class sports insiders and experts.

When you’re quitting sports and you’re trying to find your new way there’s this bit of doubt of, “Who am I actually? I’m the athlete but I’m also a lot of other things.” Everybody is used to seeing you as the athlete. You will have all these doubts coming in on, “How do I even present myself as the non-athlete?”

Pam Baker: The approach that we took in Miami was really around this how do you tell your story visually, which is what Katherine really focuses on.

Katherine Johnson: Pam is the verbal storytelling and really connecting with your values and the way you talk about yourself. We found this very natural alignment because the work that we’re doing, it’s how do you have the tools to create a compelling story that helps you feel really connected to who you are.

In my world, that’s all about how do you make sure you’re not hiding in plain sight, that you’re not making these visual distractions, or even putting up invisible walls that obscure your talents. Because when we lose confidence, when we’re in transition, it can feel hardest to know who we are. Sometimes we really put up our defensive mechanisms to lean on who we were and we end up cutting connection and we close off opportunities.

Anja: Would it also be something like if you’re used to wearing a jumper and never dressed up in a suit, and then you go for some meeting and you feel like, “I have to look like everybody else,” then you feel uncomfortable.

Katherine: Yes. All those things take as out of being present in our bodies and sharing our best self into overthinking it. It puts us all in our head, and then we’re not actually sharing who we are. It’s totally that.

Pam: Just as you talked about, Anja, it’s a similar experience when you think about, “Now, how do I talk about myself?” Do I need to talk about myself the same way that everybody else around me is talking about because now I want to fit into this environment? One of the things that Katherine puts beautifully is that while presence isn’t the majority of our assessment, if you will, of people, it is the first one. It’s really important in terms of the message that that’s sending.

One of the next ones when we generally open our mouths and talk about ourselves is what we say, who I am, and do we allow ourselves to connect, or do we have that mental armor up about, “I was this person,” or, “Now, I’m trying to fit in so I’m leaving that athlete identity behind so that I can be like the rest of the folks around me.” It’s not necessarily either or, it’s really about all of ourselves being integrated to allow us to connect in that authentic way that we all really crave.

Anja: If I were to come to you as an athlete who was trying to find my new mission in life, what would be the first three things you would tell me?

Pam: The first couple of things that we do with folks is we ask them a series of questions really designed to get at values, interests, and strengths. “What do I do well?”, but also, “What do I gravitate to?” and, “What’s important to me?” With athletes, it’s integrating the “who I was, who I am now,” to uncover what does that mean in terms of the types of work and career that I want to have. Where is the intersection between those values, interests, and skills?

Then, this idea of career prototyping, which is going and getting some mini experiences, whether that’s volunteer activities, whether that’s little projects, whether that’s going to do some freelancing, so that folks are making their decisions around jobs and careers with intention so that you really can create this career path that you find meaningful.

One of the things that we find, particularly with athletes is that– This has been mentioned by the EY WABN group many times, that athletes have all of the raw skills needed to be incredibly successful in business. They’ve looked at the correlation between women in the C-suite and having some background in athletics. I think it’s 94% of women in the C-suite have some background in athletics, and more than half of them at the university level. It tells you they have all the right skills.

Our focus is less about skill-building and more about helping them identify, “Where do I want to deploy these skills that are incredibly powerful once I figure out where I want to really point them?” That’s our approach on Journeous. Then, as they begin to pull that together, we work with them on building their story around this six-part framework that allows them to speak to who they are, but most importantly, connect with the people that they’re interacting with in a way that allows them to be authentic and real, as opposed to “These are all the things that I’ve done.”

Anja: Right. I think I have an example. I’ve sold corporate challenges. I’ve been out in bigger corporations to sell my message of healthy living so that it’s still convenient and doable. Trying to do this, I had an idea I had to talk like the corporate language. Even in the speeches that I was out doing, I wasn’t feeling at all comfortable, I didn’t feel like myself. Pretty silly, because what they wanted to hear was me talking like me and not like them, [chuckles] I guess. It took me a while to figure that out.

Pam: It’s true. I think the inclination for most of us is to try to fit in. I do some mentoring of business school students. I would find myself, person after person after person, back-to-back conversations, get to the end of the third or fourth person, and I think, “I can’t remember one person from the next.” Because they haven’t told the story in a way that speaks to who they are, they’ve told me what they’ve done.

It’s very difficult to have that stick in our mind in any memorable way because it’s just information with no humanity to it. By just incorporating a little bit of who we are, as opposed to all of what we think the external world wants to know, which is what we do, it is amazing to see the difference in how people tune in, listen, and lean in to want to know more.

There’s some science behind this. They’ve looked at the fact that when someone tells a story and someone listens to a story, the parts of the brain in the listener are the same ones that are lighting up in the teller. You’re sensing this story as if you’re living it yourself. That’s what lights us up, it’s the experience and feeling as though we’re there, as opposed to just the much more one-dimensional listening to things to which, again, it’s much harder to connect.

Anja: How does the visual aspects come in in this?

Katherine: What I have people do first is we have to discover what are the qualities that they want to communicate to themselves and outwardly. We’ve identified what can they let go, because sometimes the mistake people make unconsciously is they’re dragging this old version of themselves into the present. They’re clinging to it because it does usually serve some purpose of, like, “This is how I know myself.”

These transitions are really good opportunities to stop and reflect on who you are now, what you want to move toward, how you want to connect with people, what qualities about yourself do you want to share. When we do that piece first, then we can look at the very tangible act of, “What do you put on your body?” Because you cover 80% of your body with clothes, you want to create a sense of congruent and that you are genuine. It’s a sense of confidence that you know yourself well enough, that you represent yourself in the best light possible.

I have a set of tools. It’s everything from how do you make sure you’re in the right colors, design lines, and styles that are what I call a, “Hell, yes.” They’re a hell yes for you, and that you feel it, and that it feels very natural and authentic. It’d be like when you walk in a room, you have a compelling presence. You’re not trying too hard, it doesn’t feel phony or fake, everything about your appearance is creating a frame so that people can connect with you, your energy, your message, and your story. It’s actually about eliminating any statics so that people can connect more fully with you and that you confidently know how to do that.

I was just speaking with a woman. She’s been an athlete her whole life, and she’s like, “Now, I’m having to fund-raise.” She wants to be able to present herself a little bit differently but she doesn’t know how. Her biggest thing to me was, like, “I just don’t feel confident in who am I right now.” How to be athlete, then now leader, all these things. It’s funny that it comes back to what am I putting on my body but it’s true. There’s something about that visual landscape that’s very much connected to our inner world.

Anja: You don’t just communicate to other people by the way that you look, you’re also communicating something to your own brain.

Katherine: Absolutely. The reason I think Pam invited me on is my whole identity was as an athlete. I was a very accomplished national athlete and competed globally. When I lost that identity, I still in my 40s, I compete, and when I put on my athletic clothes, I’m like, “I still got it.” Sometimes, in a day, I don’t have that. It’s a way of remembering who we used to be, but it’s how do we bring that forward, how do we still have that confidence?

Anja: Well, I think that’s a great transition into my next question, which is how you both got into working with what you work with today.

Katherine: There’s not a linear path. That’s my biggest life lesson after athletics, is life is not linear. I, by training, I’m an educator. After athletics, I went into the private sector, did different types of work. None of it was really landing. It wasn’t a hell yes for me, of feeling like, “This is what I’m meant to do.” I started moving towards finding work that had more purpose and more connection.

I went into education, that worked for me in some ways and then didn’t in others. Then I took time off to raise my family. I ended up in a place where I was ending my marriage after 10 years and I had young children. I was very much at a transition point of, like, “Who am I and what’s next for me?” In a very unexpected way, I was getting support from a therapist. She introduced me to this work, and said, “There’s this work that’s being done around image consulting, I think you might be interested in what it’s all about.” I was like, “No, thank you. I’m too deep for that. I would never want to talk to someone about clothes. We need to shut down this conversation right now.”

Luckily, because it was my therapist, someone who really knew me, I trusted her when she said no. This is a psychologist who is looking at how are you’re showing up in the world and can people really see you. That interested me. That discussion hooked me. That just opened the door to an apprenticeship with this psychologist who does image consulting, the training with her, mentoring with her, and then becoming an entrepreneur, which is Pam described. There’s all these skills involved and there’s pieces about it I love, and building my own business and taking this out.

The thing that I am finding most rewarding is everyone goes through moments of transition with our identity. Then, being able to tie it even more closely with athletes because I’ve lived it myself, I have a real special place in my heart, and it’s really about helping people live to their greatest potential in another realm beyond that elite competition, and just supporting them to be seen.

There’s a lot of depth to the work. I’m playing a supporting role, which is what I really am most interested in right now. It’s still surprising to me that it has to do with our visual appearance, but it ends up, it’s a piece I’m really good at. It makes sense to me when you actually look at the person first, when you connect with who you are. I don’t want to just talk about shopping or fashion. That’s not the place I want to be living either, but I do know that if we want to be seen, heard, and valued, we need to be intentional about what we share with the world so they can see us.

Anja: Nice. Thank you.

Pam: My background is different. I come from the corporate world. I spent about 20 years in healthcare, in big companies and small companies. I led lots of different teams and hired lots of people. Over the last few years, I was seeing this theme of hiring really talented individuals who would go through a couple years of work, in many cases, do a great job, and then get to a point where they think. “I don’t think this is what I want to keep doing but I have no idea how to figure out what I do want to do.”

In then digging into what are folks provided as they come out into the world, there’s very little. “Great, you’re done. Now go figure it out.” We have this challenge of there are so many different careers out there, which on the face of it seems great, but the difficulty is most people don’t know the vast majority of them. What people think about are just these few handfuls of roles that they may have an idea of that isn’t really reflective of reality. They look externally at what they believe something to be without having any of the tools to be able to understand things about them to identify what might fit.

I saw folks really struggling with this question of, “What do I do next, but more importantly, how do I figure it out?” Then I saw people more my demographic, in getting to mid-career, and thinking, “I’ve got to do something different.” I had the experience of going to this event and being asked what my mission was. I literally had no idea. I couldn’t write anything down because I had nothing. When I shared that with people, I realized that was a very common experience.

I’ve got twin daughters who are 10. They are these very different beings. They will gravitate to, and they do gravitate to entirely different things. My goal is how can we provide the tools for folks as they’re entering the work world that meet them where they are, help them make sense of what they bring to the world and what that can mean in terms of job and career decisions, and ideally, how can we prevent people from getting to mid-career and wanting to make this big U-turn.

How can you give folks some of the insights and perspectives, and the ability to be able to create the career path that they find meaningful so we’re not looking at 7 out of 10 of us dreading going to work every day or not really engaged in the work that we’re doing? Because to me, it’s exciting to think about, if all of us brought our whole selves to work, what could that mean? I think it’s incredibly powerful. That’s really why Journeous came to be, to enable that, and enable that before people get to a point where they say, “Oh, I don’t like this at all.”

Anja: You’re both on a big mission there.

Pam: [laughs] Yes. One of the women that I had mentored was told as she was retiring from sport, “You’re very competitive. You should go into sales.” She went into sales and she was really unhappy with sales, because while she was a great competitor, it wasn’t just the ability to win that drove her. I think that can be the other challenge of outsiders see athletes in a somewhat one-dimensional way.

Anja: People outside sports will see you like this driven person who knows what she wants and goes for it, but as soon as you’re taken out of the sport and you have to find your new goal for what you want, you don’t know what that want is yet. The drive is not there yet and you feel like, “Why am I not driven anymore?” You lose a lot of momentum and confidence.

Pam: That shift in many emotions and how I’m feeling. It’s, “I’m not feeling confident, I don’t have the drive, I don’t have this single-minded determination.” All of those happening at once, I think is what feels so disorienting. Katherine, you had a similar experience as you were thinking about your own next steps coming out of sports.

Katherine: Yes. Very similar. Even to this day. I was just back on my college campus a few weeks ago for a big celebration of squash on campus. People were still like, “Oh, you’ve got to meet Katherine. Amazing competitor,” just competitor. They just remember that piece of me. When they translate into what I’m doing now, I have all the time. Even some of my closest friends are like, “Oh, you would kill it in whatever it is,” because they’re like, “Because you’re so competitive. You would love to–“

It ends up like 20 years of getting to know myself outside of athletics. That isn’t a direct exchange for me of competitive drive. For me, what’s really important is connection, collaboration, the people I’m surrounded with. That’s part of what I loved about athletics, is the caliber of people, that was your tribe. You could work hard, you could play hard, just everything about that.

When I was feeling lost and when I was, like, “I don’t know what the next career is I should do,” people would just come back to, “Well, you’re an athlete. You must love competition. You must love closing the deal,” or this to that. There’s so much more to it. I probably am on the range, a competitive person, but that’s not what’s fulfilling out of a career for me.

Anja: I hear you. [laughs]

Katherine: Hearing that, maybe I think there’s something else. Even understanding for me, it’s now, like, “I want to play a supporting role in raising other people up.” My success did not come alone, it came with an ecosystem of support, of coaches, of people who believed in me. Even when I didn’t believe in myself at times, that support was always there. When you stop being an athlete, all of that drops away as well. That’s very disorienting. Very disorienting.

Anja: I think knowing that it’s a phase, you can influence how long that phase is going to be if you’re aware of where you are. I think that’s really, really, really important. That’s where the network comes in. You really have to cultivate a network. It’s good to know people in all different– Both age and stages of life, but also to have some who have been through a bit of the same things can be a big, big help, I think.

Katherine: I think you’re right. Pam and I have talked about this. We can look back and we can see current athletes and be, like, “This is coming for you,” but it’s one ear, out the other, because unless you’re experiencing it, you just can’t anticipate it. It’s like when your parents tell you things and you’re, like, “Yes, right. What do you know about the world now?” Then you live it and you’re like, “Oh, yes. They were totally right.” [laughs]

Pam: I think the other thing that we’ve heard from athletes who then are in that spot is, “Oh, I didn’t know that I wasn’t the only one.” We talked to one woman who said, “First of all, I was embarrassed about it so I didn’t want to talk about it, then when I did mention it to somebody, I was surprised, I just thought I was the only person.” That is such a consistent comment.

There are so many folks that are struggling silently, yet it is such a shared experience. Knowing that it does go in one ear and out the other before folks leave sport, how do we help folks in the moment to recognize you’re not alone, there is an amazing network around people who have been there, and you have what it takes. It’s going to be a couple of things that we can work on, and then you’ll go off to the races in all sorts of opportunity ahead.

Katherine: I think it ties into asking for help. I think, Anya, when you were saying it’s about having a network, it’s about having that network and getting comfortable with the discomfort of asking for help.

Anja: Do you find that there’s a difference between how men go about this and how women go about this?

Pam: Fundamentally, I would say there’s not a different way. I think there may be a different veneer of how they come across in going through this. What I find is that women are more open to being vulnerable and admit when they don’t have it all beautifully figured out, and open themselves up, being willing to get some support and help along the way. Certainly, there are men who will do that as well, but I do think just from a societal perspective, there tends to be a, “Well, I will do this thing because that’s what’s expected of me.”

I think in many cases, men will rely more heavily on, “Well, this is what I do well and therefore I need to do something with that,” which can work for a period of time, but over time, that’s where you often find that people feel as though, then the work that they’re doing rings a bit hollow because it’s only reflecting this one-dimensional piece of who they are. Katherine do you have any thoughts on the male-female dynamic on the on the visual presence piece?

Katherine: I think the choices that women have to make around their appearance, their awareness of how judged they are on their appearance, create this very heightened effect of not wanting to make a misstep, can create another level of paralysis. A man can put on a suit, and it can just be a well-tailored, well-fitting suit, and they’re credible, they’re trustworthy, all these qualities are immediately conveyed.

For women, it’s like the Goldilocks effect of people need to feel that we’re trustworthy, were nice, we’re strong. It’s all these things that are often feeling like they’re odds and so they’re, like, “How do I do that?” I think it adds a level of overwhelming confusion. Also, especially women athletes who’ve had an experience of being very successful by working at being really good at something and being able to prove themselves. There’s, like, “Here’s everything to show for it, my competency and my capabilities.”

It feels very superficial to even have to think about how I look because it feels like it subtracts from my competency and my substance. There’s that internal dialogue going on as well. You can just see where there’s all these self-judgments and criticisms around thinking about how we look in addition to the reality of we are, as humans, constantly assessing each other. Simply, because from a survival standpoint, we’re looking for very early signals and cues of can I trust this person and can I respect their capabilities, because it’s about survival.

Anja: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show to share this. If people want to know more about you.

Pam: We’ve got a little link to an offer for your folks as well, if there’s something that’s of value to them.

Anja: That’s always nice, a little gift. [chuckles]

Pam: Well, it’s journeous.com/vision. That’ll be the link to the gift for folks.

Anja: Do you have a separate site, Katherine?

Katherine: I do. People can connect further with me in the work if they go to Katherine-Johnson.com/gift. I have a resource describing what visual static is and the five keys to elevate your visual presence so they can learn more specifically about that.

Anja: Thank you so much for that.

Katherine: You’re welcome.

Pam: You’re Welcome.

Anja: I’ll put a link to both of those gifts. I’m not going to take any more of your time.

Katherine: It was a fun conversation. I wish you good luck to you and all the athletes you’re supporting as well.

Anja: Thank you.

Pam: Bye. Take care.

Anja: Bye.

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