My First Year Working At Nike: Learning to Manage Free Time and Bringing My Athletic Background to My Rotational Program

Like freshman year in college, my first year after school was a transformational period of growth and development. It was a year of firsts—my first time living alone, my first time working, my first time cooking for myself, etc. I had just spent four years in the Stanford Student-Athlete bubble where all of my friends were a five minute bike ride away, my days were filled to the brim between school and athletics, and free time was a rarity.

Shortly following graduation, I moved to Portland, Oregon for a job at NIKE World Headquarters. I moved there without knowing a soul in the hopes that I would find a new community both in Portland and at NIKE. What I want to talk about today is something that people often bring up: the tough, but rewarding, transition from a Student-Athlete into a working woman in the corporate world. 

Sure, living alone was weird. Not being able to walk next door to hang out with my friends was an adjustment. However, perhaps the hardest part of my transition was this new addition of “free time” in my schedule. NIKE is all about work-life balance, which, aside from the employee discount and multiple state-of-the-art gyms on campus, is one of the best bonuses to working at the company! But for me, this component of the NIKE culture was a huge shift. I was used to a life where there was always something I should be doing. In college, by the end of the night, I was absolutely exhausted and went to bed when I couldn’t be productive anymore. Now, I find myself getting home from work at a reasonable hour and having time to kill. At first, this extra time really messed with me. No matter what I did—whether it was working out twice a day, reading, listening to podcasts—my days never felt productive or fulfilling. Even at work, I would do everything I could to never have any idle time. I know it sounds silly. I mean, who struggles with having free time when in college we would kill for that? But it happened! As I’m sure many former college athletes can relate, it is hard to relax when we were on over-drive for so many years. I had gotten so used to always being “on” that I didn’t understand how other people could “turn it off” and truly relax. 

Although the extra free time was initially overwhelming, it brought me the necessary time to reflect and better understand my priorities and interests outside of athletics. I was able to slow down and identify the two skills that I believe best prepare student-athletes for life after sport: self-awareness and team-oriented mindsets. 

Most athletes reach the level of college athletics through being hyperaware of themselves— both physically and emotionally. We are our toughest critics as we strive for greatness and perfection. This led me to understand why I was being so hard on myself for having free time, but also allowed me to understand what I valued and how I could improve my mindset regarding this new lifestyle. I soon realized that this consciousness of oneself can be a former student-athlete’s greatest assets in the workplace! Because I have this self-awareness and internal drive, I am constantly motivated to perform at Nike; I have a good understanding of what is expected of me and how I can best meet and exceed expectations. In this first year in Portland, I realized this, in addition to my team-oriented mindset, was immeasurably beneficial and valuable for me.

When you combine awareness of oneself with team-oriented mindsets, you get someone who not only understands how to enhance a group, but also understands how to work with many different types of people to reach a common goal. Currently at NIKE, I am a part of an analyst rotational program, where I rotate onto a new team every 6 months. This means that twice a year I get a new manager, new priorities, new team members, and new measures of success. While some people find this challenging, this is my favorite part of my job! The skills I previously mentioned in addition to the adaptability we learn to have as student-athletes allowed me to jump into new teams and contribute right away. In college, my team dynamic was constantly changing—teammates were graduating, freshmen were joining the team, and people were always going through different life struggles —but the most important skill of being a successful team is the ability to work together through these moving pieces and allow them to elevate the team. Because of this experience, I know firsthand how to work with all different types of people and personalities. This has allowed me to thrive in my job because I know how to understand different people, adapt, and figure out the type of teammate I need to be to optimize our success. 

 STANFORD, CA - Stanford Women's Swimming Team, photographed at the Avery Aquatic Center.

I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that my experience as a Stanford Student-Athlete fully prepared me for the “real world.” Yes, I’m still learning how to manage this new level of “free time” and what it looks like to find self-fulfillment in ways outside of athletics. I wanted to address this because if you feel like this, you are not alone and what you are feeling is okay! Nevertheless, even though this transition from a full-time student-athlete has its challenges, the experiences we have had and the skillsets that made us successful in our sport fully equip us for post student-athlete life. I am forever grateful for my four years as a Stanford Student-Athlete and can unequivocally say that it gave me the capabilities needed to find success and happiness in anything I set my mind to.