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The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Gamecocks learn to establish identity after sports

16 days ago
South Carolina Athletics
Photo: South Carolina Athletics

(Editor's note: The following story, written by Brad Muller, was originally published on gamecocksonline.com)

Establishing an identity in something other than sports and knowing what challenges might be ahead were among the topics discussed in Gamecock CEO's latest Summer Huddle series session between former and current-student-athletes. Gamecock CEO is South Carolina's student-athlete development program.

"Every athlete has been told at some point if you fall down, get back up," said former football letterman Donald Bailey (1968-1970), who has enjoyed a long career as an investment advisor. "It's OK to fail. You just have to learn from that failure and get up, find out what you did wrong, and try again until you get it right. Hard work does pay off. Your identity changes all the time, and that's OK."

"Be flexible in what that life goal is," said former track and field standout Chris Campbell (2010-2012), who is now a lawyer working in Portugal. "Things change so much from day to day. Your priorities shift and what you want to achieve shifts.

"The most accountable voice you have is the one that comes from within."

Campbell graduated in 2012 from South Carolina's Darla Moore School of Business and went on to graduate from the School of Law in 2015. He has a wealth of experience in entrepreneurship and international law. Donald Bailey graduated in 1971 from the business school as well. He had retired and then reopened his business in order to help special needs families. Bailey has a 31-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum and was the first go graduate from the Carolina Life program at South Carolina.

"It gives it more credibility when you hear it from them and knowing that here have been people before me who have done it successfully and that I've got those people in my corner now," said track and field rising junior David Olds, who has a double major in political science and geography.

"Having them there and knowing I have contacts and resources with those people to learn from with their experience is helpful," said Ashley Brasfield, a rising sophomore on the beach volleyball team who is studying public relations. "The sense of how the University had given them so much and keeping that in mind for the long term stood out."

While both have enjoyed successful careers, the panelists encouraged the student-athletes to expect struggles and that success doesn't come overnight. They also noted that there will be times when you may not be as prepared as you want to be, but don't be afraid of being uncomfortable and seeking help.

"After graduating from Carolina, I didn't have a clue as to what I wanted to do," Bailey said. "I got a job in the life insurance industry. One thing led to another, and I got interested in financial planning. I started my career as a financial planner with a small boutique firm. I was the so-called expert at 25-years-old. I didn't know what I was doing, but I had to find out in a hurry. I was smart enough to realize there were a lot of people around the country who did know what was going on. I was very comfortable to reaching out to whomever I needed to help me get through whatever the circumstances were.

"The best advice I could ever give someone in any industry is to not be afraid to say, 'I don't know, but I'll find out the answer.'"

"You don't need to fake it until you make it. If you don't know the answer, don't be afraid to ask," Campbell added.

"My last year of law school, I did the entire year abroad in Beijing. I ended up working at a Chinese law firm. I had to go to a law firm where I was the only one who regularly speaks English. Learning how to deal with a different culture, how to build relationships and trust my teammates took a lot of getting used to, but at the end of the day it was a positive experience and one of the most important parts of my career."

While learning about their particular crafts, Campbell emphasized the importance of developing good habits, establishing trust, and formulating priorities in his workflow.

"You have to have tiered to-do list," Campbell explained. "You break it into four categories: emergency, very important, important, and somewhat important. When you can take something off emergency, then you can move something up from very important."

"I like his strategy in how to frame what I need to do every day and what my obligations are," Olds said. "I also liked what they said about not being afraid of failure and not being afraid to put yourself out there and get back up after you fail." Bailey added that making interests outside of work a priority is also important, and there were different motivators contributing to his success.

"Some of the things that have helped me be successful include hard work, a lot of luck, and community involvement," Bailey said. "I wanted people to know that I wasn't just an investment guy, and that I was somebody who was interested in what was going on in the state, the country and my university. I was president of the Alumni Association, and I was on the Board of Trustees for eight years. I was involved with helping to start the Carolina Life program. The point is that I thought community involvement was very important to me because I thought it shed light on who I am as a person. My clients loved it. I can tell you for a fact that they respected that I was involved in some things other than the investment community.

"I would have not gone to college had it not been for football. That's one of the reasons I stayed in contact with the University. It's my way of paying back. The more you give, the more you get back. You're going to get a heck of a lot more back if you put yourself out there and volunteer in whatever you're interested in."

The panelists also understand the struggle of their identity changing from an athlete to someone who no longer has time to do a lot of the activities their accustomed to doing, but they noted that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important, even if you're not competing.

"At some point I had to realize that I wasn't a jock anymore, but it opened a lot of doors," Bailey said. "Taking care of yourself is important. It's a heck of a lot more important than making a ton of money."

"It means something that you played sports higher than the high school level," Campbell said. "You won't be working out for four hours a day anymore. Be careful in maintaining your body. That extends to mental health, too. There's nothing wrong with taking time to making sure you're doing well mentally and physically."

Bailey and Campbell noted that critical skills they've learned as student-athletes such as time management, organization, and humility can serve them well in their next phase of life.

"They did a good job of explaining why you should be involved in the community and what made them successful," Brasfield said. "I feel like the Athletics Department has given us enough resources to where I'm not worried as much about life after college. The mentor program is going to be very helpful in getting me to the next level."

"I wouldn't say I'm nervous, but I'm anxious and excited for life after college and not knowing what's in store for me," Olds said. "This reassured me that if I continue with hard work, focus, and give 100 percent toward things I feel passion for, I'll be alright I guess."