How A Willingness to Adapt Helped Sarah McCarthy Transition from Bates Soccer to the Campaign Trail


Arriving in Lewiston, Maine in the late summer of 2014, I could have never imagined how much would change in four years. I was nervous, the kind of nervous where you can’t tell if it’s excitement or sheer terror, but you grab your duffle bag and hug your parents and resolve that it’s just excitement - you’re in college it’s going to be great. I had trained all summer and played in a league with girls who had won national championships, but I still felt unprepared. After a better than expected preseason and fumbling through orientation activities it was finally time for our first game. In meetings, Coach had said that all three of us goalies would get some minutes in the season opener. I was elated I would get my shot. As I stood on the sidelines, flanked by strangers who would come to be my good friends, I watched the minutes tick down. I realized it wasn’t in the cards, my pinney would not be taken off tonight.

When I reflect on my athletic career, I mostly think of the laughs shared or the Halloween costumes or how when a song comes on shuffle, I can’t fight back the smile that’s bound to erupt. At its core, being a student athlete has shaped my professional self in more ways than I am even conscious. To succeed as a goalie, you have to have a tough skin. You have to believe in yourself, but most importantly, you have to set your feet. Being a student athlete has undoubtedly prepared me for a career in political communications. In this field, things move at a breakneck pace and don’t usually adhere to a traditional schedule. As a student athlete you learn to adapt; adapt to waking up at 6:00am, adapt to studying for an exam on the bus, adapt to your new teammates and coaches. Being adaptable is a key ingredient in transitioning from college to “adulthood.” One of the most important things I learned as a student athlete proved to be my guiding force after graduation: things may not go as you had planned or hoped in the short term, but with determination, belief, and the willingness to adapt, where you end up in the long run is better than what you had planned for.

That night after not playing, I was devastated. No one explicitly told me, but I realized I was the third string goalkeeper - the sideline and I were going to become good friends. This was the first setback I had truly had in my athletic career. Sure, I didn’t make the middle school basketball team in 7th grade. But since then, I had always achieved what I wanted to athletically. After that game I went back to my dorm and cried. I allowed myself to be upset the next day too for my first day of college classes. My dad had planned to come to our away game the next Saturday, but now I questioned if I would even make the travel roster.

On Thursday, I adapted. I began setting small goals for myself and in practice tried to focus on highlighting my strengths and not comparing myself to my teammates. When Friday rolled around, my name was on that travel roster. That Saturday turned out to be a whirlwind of luck for me. The starting keeper nearly missed the team bus and was benched as a result. Her backup got to start the game but came out injured midway through the first half. I finally got my shot. While I gave up more goals than I’d like to admit in that game, I was confident. I took charge of the backline but mostly I enjoyed myself, not knowing when this chance would come again. We lost that day, badly. I again I found myself adapting; to the speed of play, to being on a team that had to fight hard to succeed, to giving up multiple goals in a game.

After graduation, I thought I wanted to work in cable news. I had a few interviews and had the opportunity to speak with some incredibly generous Bates alums. However, the more I learned, the less I felt like this was something I actually wanted to do. I knew I loved to write and wanted to tell stories, but I had this nagging feeling that what I truly wanted to do was engage in purposeful work. Having been bombarded with the idea of purposeful work throughout my time in Lewiston, Maine I felt that when choosing a field of work, the meaning and impact of the work would play a large role in that decision. So, two months after graduation and with no prior experience, I decided to work on a congressional campaign.

I instantly loved working on a campaign. There was a clear goal that we were working towards, a goal I believed in. The camaraderie in the office brought me back to the countless locker rooms and hotel rooms I had passed through during my college years. But most important to me, it felt purposeful. Working on a campaign is hectic and thankless. It feels like preseason, if preseason went on for months and depended on convincing strangers to believe in your candidate. Sometimes you have an ordinary day where you send out a few press releases, draft some things for social, and turn in. But other days you have to call reporters, you have to make sure nobody is posting profanities in the Facebook comments, and you have to cover a town hall, take pictures, and pull quotes to send to a reporter in the off chance that they’ll write a story about it. It is incredibly tiring, but with the skills I obtained as a student athlete, working an untraditional schedule, putting in time even if no one else sees the results, working incredibly well under pressure, I found this role to be challenging but incredibly rewarding.

Throughout my freshman season, several unpredictable things happened. Five games into the season I found myself starting. Although several things out of my control worked to my benefit, believing in my own abilities when it seemed like no one else did and being willing to adapt helped me when I came into this role. I received tremendous support from my teammates, especially the upperclassmen for which I am incredibly grateful. I got honest feedback from coaches and friends that allowed me to feel confident in my role. Everything I learned at Bates about myself and what it means to be a teammate has helped me in my transition to the workplace. I’ve learned that as long as you believe in yourself and are willing to adapt, things will work out. Maybe not exactly when you want, but they will. Oh, and also, always make sure to get your feet set.