Overcoming The Mental Health Aspects of Injury & Learning to Enjoy Success While Having Fun
Injuries are an inevitable part of sports. They are bound to happen to the best of us. And while everyone knows each injury requires the appropriate physical recovery, the mental health aspect of recovery is just as important. We chatted with Kate Bettinger, a Stanford grad who played on the Women’s Soccer team and now works as an analyst for Private Equity firm, TPG. She talked to us about the mental health challenges of her injury, how she learned soccer did not define her, and how she’s transitioned from soccer to TPG.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Kate Bettinger and I finished my degree in Science, Technology & Society in 2016. I completed my co-term in Communications in 2017. During my time at Stanford I played on the women’s soccer team and spent my free time biking around campus or volunteering on the Educational Farm.
I currently work as an analyst at TPG, a Private Equity firm in San Francisco.
What was your experience as a student-athlete like?
When I first stepped foot on campus I had this dream of what the next four years of my life would be like. I would be a star on the soccer team, get my degree and pursue professional sports after college. The only part of that dream that did come true was the degree. After an injury sidelined me in my freshman season, my athletic career came to a plateau. I struggled for the next two years with anxiety, depression, eating disorder, you name it. Who was I without soccer?
By my junior year, I began to accept my situation and make positive changes. I started putting a lot of time and energy into my academics and discovered how much I loved to learn. I branched out beyond the athletic community and built a network within the broader Stanford community that encouraged me to pursue my academic interests and build skills that would serve me in the “real world” (FYI, Stanford is not the real world).
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to attend a school like Stanford and credit that to my soccer skills, but by my senior year, soccer was just a small part of who I was as a person.
What was the biggest lesson you learned and the most challenging thing about your time as a student-athlete?
Being sidelined by an injury really humbled me. I went from being a superstar, to not much of a soccer player at all. It forced me to figure out who I was as a person, what I valued in life, and what difference I wanted to make in the world.
Did your injury change your relationship with your sport?
Before being injured, soccer was everything in my life. After a long two year identity crisis, I began to see it more so as an activity that brought me joy and friendships. I stopped worrying about being the best and started to just have fun with my teammates.
The main lesson I learned from that experience was that soccer and sports do not define me as a person. It took a while for me to actually believe this, but I honestly like myself and my life so much more without the pressure that I put on myself to be this “perfect” athlete.
In what ways has that affected you now, years later?
After getting injured I struggled with an eating disorder for the rest of my time in college. I have come such a long way since then, but psychological disorders like that stay with you forever.
What's one thing you wish you knew about the mental health aspect of injuries before college?
To be candid, I wish I knew that trying to control the food I ate was not a solution to the problem.
When you were thinking about what was next, what were some of the things you wanted out of a job / work environment?
I knew that I wanted to be surrounded by smart people who would challenge me to be a better version of myself. TPG has gone beyond that. The people I am surrounded by here and the hard/soft skills I am learning are invaluable.
Describe your transition to TPG.
My best friend and Stanford teammate, Hannah Farr used to work here. One day I called her just to catch up and she connected me with the TPG team. I had no plans of coming to TPG, but am so grateful that I get to be here.
In terms of the transition, the only major bummer about work is having to be inside all day sitting at a desk. Otherwise, the transition has been smooth. Lots of the things I learned from sports – discipline, teamwork, leadership – all translate into the working world.
What is it about being a student-athlete that you feel helped prepare you to handle the transition into the workforce?
Time management is key. You need to know how to prioritize and execute. Also, the world is a competitive place, so the innate, competitive instinct are essential.
What was the toughest part of the transition moving away from being a full-time athlete?
The working world is harder for me to measure progress on a micro level. I am no longer an expert at my task, it will take a lot of reps and years before I can start measuring the little details in my work product like I was able to in soccer.
Working as an analyst at TPG also requires technical skills that I did not have coming into the job, so getting those under me were definitely challenging. But as with anything, a lot of practice and it will be muscle memory.
Why is TPG and your role the perfect thing for you or someone with an athletic background?
It requires a hard-working and competitive mentality. Also, being very attentive to detail and working on teams are big parts of my job at TPG.
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice as a student-athlete, what would it be?
Don’t take yourself so seriously, it is okay to enjoy success and have fun. I often felt that being a student-athlete was a full-time job. Yes, it requires great deal of time management and drive, but it is also such a privilege. I wish I could have enjoyed myself more in college.
Finish this sentence: My biggest strength as a leader is…
Ungoogleable fact about you:
I am secretly a really talented artist and love to paint.