Choosing to Climb a Jungle Gym

This post is part of the #YPSportsChat Blog Series! This series will give young professionals an inside look at the intricacies of the sports business world and advice on how to navigate it. 

By Candace Burton, @candacelburton

When it comes to your career, approaching it as a jungle gym is not a bad idea. Image via Backyard Zest

When it comes to your career, approaching it as a jungle gym is not a bad idea. Image via Backyard Zest

Growing up, life can seem very linear. We are expected to graduate high school, go to college, and get a job.

The major we choose at 17 is supposed to determine the rest of our lives. Our first job is an entry level job where we can work our way up. We may switch companies along the way, but the trajectory is supposed to be upwards.

A few years ago, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and was introduced to this idea about careers as jungle gyms.

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Viewing careers through this lens, it means we have a chance to explore. It means we can take different paths and go into different fields. Most of all, we can feel relieved that we aren’t trapped.

There are many ways to get to where we want to go in life. When we take this approach, we can ask ourselves, “What risk do I want to take?” Risks can include moving across the country, taking a year off to do service or working in another industry or concentration.

“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder”

– Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

In my undergrad classes, I learned that the easiest way to break into the sports industry was by taking a sales job.

While most of the entry level jobs might be in sales, there are a lot that aren’t.

I knew early on that I was more of a community relations person than a sales person and embracing that has influenced me in so many positive ways.

Instead of sales, I decided to work at two nonprofits through Americorps VISTA, a national service program designed to help alleviate poverty. Opting to climb a jungle gym instead of a ladder has made a huge difference for me. Looking back, I couldn’t have chosen a better path. 

In such a competitive industry like sports, sometimes we can get caught up in the ladder climb. We want the steps to be an Athletic Director or a General Manager. Instead, we should be thinking about what we want to do, what we want to experience and ultimately who we want to be.

Embrace the climb.

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