Make Your Happiness a Priority
Have you ever thought about “hanging up your cleats” but didn’t know how, couldn’t pull the trigger, or didn’t want to become known as a quitter? A lot of athletes experience these thoughts and feelings at some point in their career, but not many would make the decision that I did.
I picked up a softball glove for the first time at age four and immediately fell in love with the sport. I took it to the next level by travelling competitively at age seven. Like many athletes, I was a multi sport athlete; I traveled competitively for field hockey as well. When it came time to decide which sport I wanted to play in college, it was not a hard decision being that my love for softball was so strong.
My recruiting process was not very smooth in the beginning, but then I finally got the call my senior year of high school. Building up to that call, I remember feeling so lost, confused, and like all the blood, sweat, tears, and hard work was for nothing. I will never forget the moment when my coach had called me that day to tell me a spot opened up for me. I couldn’t hang up the phone fast enough to scream and jump around in excitement. The school I chose was my top pick for a long time because it had a great business school, and wasn’t too far from home. I thought my dreams were coming true. After all, every young softball players dream is to make it big and play at the DI level. So with 17 years of softball experience and countless sacrifices to make it there under my belt, I nervously and eagerly went off to college.
Unfortunately, I realized that things are not always what they are cracked up to be. Prior to my freshman year, the team experienced serious hazing allegations and the program was almost cut. This was especially scary for me because I only had one other offer at the time for a D3 school, where I would have played field hockey and softball. Then, my freshman year there was a lot of division on the team and lingering stress from the issues of the previous year. This made the transition to college really hard because I didn’t have a support system with the girls that I was forced to spend so much time with. My sophomore year, our head coach was fired and we waited almost a whole year before the coach was replaced. At last, my junior year, a new coach was hired. I was finally feeling like things might turn around and I could finish out my college career positively. I have always played for coaches that truly cared about their players instead of their job and I did not feel like this was the case. Also, I grew up in a family and athletic environment that truly valued hard work. I felt there was a lack of this in the program as well.
Due to these unfortunate circumstances, I constantly felt empty, unfulfilled, frustrated, exhausted and unhappy. I started to wonder if I should walk away or keep pushing through. I fought with myself for weeks on end on both sides of the argument. Every day I dealt with this, it was like I walked around with a ton of bricks on my shoulders and an anchor pulling on my heart. One day, a special person in my life noticed that I was not my usual happy-go-lucky self and sat me down to talk it out. This was when my life really changed. They advised me to make a pro/con list of the reasons to stay and the reasons to go. The best reason I could come up with to keep playing was that I did not want to be a “quitter” because I made it so far and invested so much time. However, after having this realization, this was not a good enough reason to stay, so I knew what I had to do.
Ultimately, I made the decision to step away from the team. I walked into my coaches office with tears in my eyes and that one reason to stay, leaving my stomach tossing and turning, but walked out with no more bricks on my shoulders or anchor on my heart. When I first realized that sensation of relief, I made a promise to myself to start living life to its fullest and filter out anything that did not make me truly happy. The very next day, I signed up for a month long summer trip to Italy, which will forever be the best experience of my life.
With this decision, I did not want to lose my identity as an athlete. So what I chose to do after my DI softball career was redirect my athletic talents to give lessons to young softball girls. In the beginning, I was embarrassed to admit to my clients that I was no longer playing the sport but seeing how eager my boss was to fill my schedule with lessons reassured me that I didn’t leave my skills or abilities behind in my coach’s office that day. In addition, I decided to focus more on my hobbies of golf and skiing. I also decided to pick up a trainer and continue to work hard in the weight room. Outside of sports, I started a blog (raelynnnikkelgenovese.com) and joined the Mpowher community so that I could share my experiences/advice with others in hopes that they could use my story to help them with wherever they may be with athletics or just life in general.
The message that I want athletes to get from my story is that it is okay to be unhappy and it is okay to walk away when you feel that way, when you know you have worked very hard and have given it your absolute all. It does not always mean you become a "quitter." As I previously mentioned, I did not want to quit being an athlete. I know that there are many athletes who will endure unhappiness because they fear being a "quitter." But stepping away and redirecting your talents can be so revolutionary. When I see a young girl applying what I have taught her or when I overcome the fear of making it down a black diamond on the mountain, then share that experience with others to learn from it, I feel an overwhelming happiness that I would have missed out on if I continued to play for the softball team where I was miserable. I think it is important for athletes to know that you aren't alone with facing unhappiness/uncertainty and that there are many other ways to be an athlete and ultimately, be happy!