The Kitchen Table Intervention That Helped A Former Ohio State Soccer Captain Break Into The Nutrition Industry

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A blank sheet of paper stared at Austin McAnena as he sat in his kitchen in the spring of 2014. Then the directions came: Don't worry about work and don't worry about a job. What are your passions? What do you love? Write them down. Sitting next to him asking the questions was his mom who turned their kitchen space into somewhat of a career intervention for Austin. He needed to make a choice.

Just a year before, Austin graduated from Ohio State, ending a college soccer career that almost never happened. “When I got to my senior year of high school, I didn't necessarily know if I had the passion to keep playing soccer, so I initially went to Ohio State for academics. I had a lot of discussions with family about trying out because I could always decide not to play later, but you can't really go the other way.” Austin tried out, made the team, was named a starter as a freshman, helped the team win the Big 10 Championship that year, and eventually became captain. 

With soccer in his rearview, Austin needed direction. From the five things that Austin wrote down on that paper, he couldn’t turn his eye away from nutrition. And years after circling that choice, he’s in his fifth role at Metagenics, a health and wellness company offering functional nutrition products changing medicine in the healthcare industry. Most importantly, Metagenics aligns with Austin’s passion for nutrition, which has empowered him to stay at the company and rise through different departments. 

Trying out for the team at Ohio State perhaps wasn’t as hard of a choice for Austin as trying to fill out that piece of paper in his kitchen. In this interview we talk about what it was like to find success on the soccer team after trying out, that kitchen table moment, and what it was like getting rejected from Metagenics three times before proving himself to the company.

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What was it like being named a starter your freshman year?

When I first got there for orientation, I was totally freaked out. I’m thinking, ‘what did I get myself into?’ I started calling my parents saying I want to transfer and go play soccer somewhere else. My parents told me to wait it out and give it to time. When coach put my name on the board as a starter after the first couple of preseason games, I was freaking out! That’s when things really switched for me. 

From where you started, becoming a captain of the team is an amazing four year journey. What were some of the highlights for you in your four years?

We won the Big Ten Championship my freshman year and it was even sweeter because we beat Michigan at home and it was one of the only games that my parents were able to fly out, visit, and watch. I vividly remember that feeling, looking up to the crowd and celebrating with my teammates the whole day. The second one would probably be my sophomore year when we were playing Akron, the number one team in the country. We're in state rivals and they’re still a powerhouse, so they're usually the more favored team. I scored the first goal that Akron had let up in over a year and a half. We ended up tying them in a 2-2 overtime thriller, but that was one of those moments for me that was really next level.

Fast-forwarding to your transition away from Ohio State, can you talk about what led to the kitchen table moment?

I think we all kind of feel that pressure at some point when thinking about what’s next. The first year after school was definitely a discovery phase. I still loved soccer, so I tried coaching for a year. I worked at a sports complex, coached at my high school and then coached for a club team; I did that for maybe eight to 12 months before realizing that coaching wasn't going to be in my future long term even though I loved the sport. That’s what got me to that moment. 

I still vividly remember sitting in my kitchen with my mom asking me those questions. I was confident in what I wrote down and my mom told me, ‘I guarantee you could make one of those into a career.’ 

What things were you considering and what did you do once you had those ideas?

On my list were: music, nutrition, soccer, playing guitar, and golf. I literally just started going online and researching where I could work. My cousins were in a band and I asked if I could do something for them or support in any way. I looked at some companies in the golf world and somehow it all ended up coming back to nutrition. I really sense my value in holistic alternative medicine. I'm really interested in how the body can naturally heal itself and how we can give the body the tools it needs to support itself. 

How does Metagenics get on your radar?

My stepdad was neighbors with someone who worked at Metagenics and told me about the company and their mission to help people realize their best health. I did some research and immediately knew I wanted to work there. I wanted to be an outside sales rep, work in a territory, meet with doctors, and educate them on nutrition and science. 

I applied for three jobs online. I wore a suit and came in to the office three different times. Not once did they see me. I got completely shut down because those jobs require a lot of experience I didn’t have. I still wanted to work for them so I went online and found a part time customer service position that I knew could help me get my foot in the door and prove myself. I got that part-time customer service role and was very open about wanting to be a sales rep. 

Where did this conviction come from to pursue a job at Metagenics when things didn’t work out initially?

Being a college athlete, failure is not really an option sometimes. And here's the thing, if you do fail, that's all right. You just keep going. I think those are lessons that helped me put my head down and keep running at Ohio State and in getting to Metagenics. A year after that first role, I became an outside sales rep. I had to move to South Florida and Fort Lauderdale to prove myself in those territories.

How long were you in Florida and how did moving there make you feel about this decision to get into nutrition?

I was there a little under three years. I was hesitant because change is hard and it’s human nature to resist change. The first year was definitely a grind because you're learning so many new things. It was lonely at times and I didn't have as many of my close friends and family there. I just knew it was temporary and I needed to prove myself. I met a lot of great people and built some great relationships in Florida. 

After three years in Florida, you moved back to California and Metagenics asked you to move to a product marketing role. What was it like making that switch?

I think I was able to prove myself to the company from my Florida days, but I was young, ready to learn and willing to grasp something else too. Someone gave me this advice to take the role that no one else wants to do because then you're going to have the knowledge that no one else knows. You’ll be able to bring so much more value in so many different areas of the company. At that time I felt like I was a sales guy. I loved sales and had a good grasp of it, but you should always want to learn something new. I figured it was good to test my hand at something else.

You’ve navigated a few different roles within the company. Can you share what it’s like getting opportunities to help the company in different capacities?

After being a sales rep, I went into product marketing for about three years. About four or five months ago, I took on a new role in Sales Operations. I can tell you I've not been qualified on paper for any job I've actually had at Metagenics, but I’ve continued to get opportunities. I'm going to learn and I'm going to develop. The company recently gave my colleagues and I an amazing opportunity for a leadership development course which I’m doing over the next 10 weeks, so I get to intentionally work on my leadership skills as I continue to work on myself.

What is it about the company that still energizes you after half a decade?

The interest in what's kept me on Metagenics has probably morphed over time. When I first got here my initial goals were to be a sales rep and be in this world of making a shift in healthcare to more integrative medicine and holistic health care. And over time, what’s kept me here are the people, opportunity, and growth. I can say that the actual vision of this company and my passions align with what I want to do in life. I’m extremely grateful for that.

Considering the fact that you almost didn’t play soccer at Ohio State, what’s been the biggest takeaway in your journey from finding that love for soccer to now being fulfilled in your love for nutrition?

I came into Ohio state at 5’8’, 140 and got knocked around all the time. The Big Ten is super physical and I was never the most skilled player on the field by far. I just told myself to put my head down, keep playing defense, keep running, and don’t stop. It was actually kind of my mantra. And I think that mentality has just translated into every aspect of my life. I talked earlier about failure not being an option. That and perseverance have been the biggest takeaways from soccer that have positively impacted my career. It really was not that long ago that I was sitting at that kitchen table unsure of where I was heading. Hopefully, this story can encourage others not be afraid of the transition. It's not as scary as we anticipate it to be. I worried a lot in college, maybe way too much. Everything's going to work out the way it's supposed to.