The joy of self-determination

I recently attended my first sport psychology industry conference. I had a wonderful experience over the course of my three days in Orlando. I met a number of my JFK University sport psychology classmates and professors, as well as respected professionals in our field. A number of individuals spent time with me during the conference at my request to share their wisdom and experiences. I am by their willingness to help me as I move toward become a professional and business owner. At one point during the event, it struck me that I had made a conscious decision to pursue my passion for helping others to achieve their athletic and personal potential. I actually feel as if I’m in control of my life now even thought it might be argued that this is somewhat of an illusion. My feeling of autonomy led me to think about my life in the context of self-determination theory (SDT), a critical framework used within the sport psychology field. SDT tells us that individuals that feel in control of their lives, feel they are competent in a particular realm, and are connected to other people while performing in that realm will have their psychological and emotional needs met. My basic needs are now being met. As a result, I am now experiencing genuine happiness perhaps for the first time in my life.

Control is a funny thing. Are we really in control of our lives? Ultimately, I don’t think it matters if we are actually in control of our lives. It only matters if we perceive control to exist. This is a function of whether or not we are willing to take actions to achieve our goals. I know I have control over my thinking and behavior regardless of the ultimate results. My journey started over three years ago when I started to explore a possible career change. The process was deliberate and frustrating at times. However, I was always taking small steps in order to feel like I was in control of my life. I was meeting with a career coach. I was researching potential careers. I was interviewing sport psychology practitioners. Frankly, I had no clue where it would lead. Even after I decided that I wanted to enter the sport psychology field, I still needed my wife’s support because the choice to change careers would have a huge impact on our family’s financial situation. Again, I took the necessary action without concern for the results. I broached the subject with her. I took a risk that she would be against my plan. I was not fearful about the outcome. Contrast this to a conversation that she and I had over five years ago. I expressed immense frustration with my career and told her I wanted to get out. She asked what my plan was. I had no plan. She gave me her support to make a change. I told her I couldn’t do it. I was afraid of disappointing her. I was afraid that others would think I’m crazy. I was motivated by external rewards. I was a people-pleaser. I was insecure and afraid to make mistakes. It’s amazing how far I have come since that conversation. I feel as if I am in control of my life now. I don’t worry about what others think of me nearly as much. I make confident decisions even I’m not 100% sure that they are right ones. The decision to attend the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) conference is just one example of my confidence. Now I have taken my life into my own hands and the feeling is incredible.

I wouldn’t quite call myself competent in my field just yet. I have a great deal of work to do. Nevertheless, I believe that I am slowly moving toward competence. My growth and development as a professional-in-training is quite satisfying. I am constantly learning. I can’t get enough of the material that we are learning in my course work, whether it is theory, performance enhancement skills, or ethics. I look forward to diving into my work every week. I don’t dread waking up thinking about commuting to a job I didn’t like even though I was quite competent at that job. Interestingly, this tells me that competence is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for having your psychological and emotional needs met. I actively ask my professors and classmates for feedback because I like to learn simply for the sake of learning, not for the sake of receiving a grade. I want to master the sport psychology concepts and skills. What a novel concept!

Lastly, I feel an incredible sense of connection to my new field. It is obvious that most of the individuals in the sport psychology field, whether professionals or students, have an incredible passion for sports and helping others. It seems that everybody I’ve met is genuinely committed to the field and doesn’t feel forced to do so for a paycheck or some other reason. It is incredible to share the field with such genuine people. As I mentioned earlier, so many people have gone out of their way to help me in pursuit of my new career goals. Why? So many of the people I have met have expressed the desire to help me the way that someone else helped them. I feel like I share similar experiences with those that have entered the field before me. I feel connected to something bigger than me. Perhaps I am naive, but I feel like I am part of a new family. Families can sometimes be a bit dysfunctional as some in the sport psychology field may admit in a private moment. However, my new family is accepting and supportive. I feel like I belong in the sport psychology field. I guess I felt like I belonged in my original field, but not for the same reasons. My sense of belonging was largely due to my competence and standing in the field. I just didn’t have the same connection to the site selection consulting field as I feel like I have to the sport psychology field. It’s like night and day.

Perhaps you couldn’t tell in the first 1,000 words, but I am pretty content. I love how things are turning out as I strive to establish my consulting practice following graduation from my graduate program. More importantly, I embrace my decision-making and my actions at this juncture of my life. My willingness to take significant risks to have the life I want makes me happy. If I continue to put in the necessary hard work, surround myself with supportive people, and continue to take daily inventory of my behavior, then my contentment will only grow. I feel like the course of my life is now truly self-determined.

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