This post is an adaptation of the keynote I gave at the 2021 USL Winter Summit. I tell the story of my career, my anxiety and depression, and how both overlap with my athlete personal branding work.
I was 18 and a college freshman when I got my first sports job. I went to college with the intention of working in fashion. Read: I really wanted to be Lauren Conrad. I’m creative but I am NOT artistic, so a path as a designer was short-lived.
I majored in business, and one day our professor shared with the class that the athletic department was hiring marketing interns. I knew nothing about internships, what the word meant, or if I needed one. I applied anyways and got the job.
I’ll never forget the first game I worked. It was a home football game, and ladies, I was wearing heeled booties … and my heel broke. As in the entire heel separated from the sole. (I was 18 after all so they were probably $10 from Ross.) Too scared to tell anyone I needed to walk home and change my shoes, I walked around the game for hours on the ball of my foot. And while I paid the physical price for days afterwards, I’ll always remember my first taste of working behind the scenes. I wanted more, and from there I chased a career in sports. One I suppose I’m still chasing today.
My journey has taken me from interning for my university's athletic department to a summer internship with the Portland Timbers. After graduating college, I started my first full-time job with the University of Oregon athletic department selling season tickets. It wasn’t a role I wanted to do; I never wanted to be in sales. But, creative and digital roles didn’t exist at this time because social media had yet to evolve to what we have today. Young, naive, and determined, I said yes to selling tickets.
I was there for a year and a half before I moved to the Bay Area, where I live today, to work for the Golden State Warriors. I spent 4 seasons from 2014 to 2018 with the team managing over 450 season ticket clients. Any sports fan knows those were dynasty years. Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. Kevin Durant. But, as anyone who works in sports knows, it wasn’t always glamorous. I was at every single home game for 4 years, missing holidays, birthdays, and milestones. Seasons started early October and ended middle of June. Off-seasons were short and still busy. I was in a client-facing role so any frustrations or complaints were first brought to me, and I was too immature to not take it personally. After awhile I decided if this is what working in sports looks like, then maybe it wasn’t for me.
So, I pivoted and worked for 2K doing all things partnerships and licensing. I helped manage pitches and creative assets for brands who bought in-game placements like Nike, Jordan, Beats, Gatorade, and more. I was taught music licensing, retail licensing, and how video game publishers partner with the Sonys, Microsofts, and Nintendos of the world. I learned a lot, but as much as I appreciate video games, I’m not a gamer. I’m not the target audience, so being passionate about my work was difficult. To not a single soul’s surprise, I missed sports.
So, I gave sports another try but in a different capacity. I joined The Athletic and worked in both community marketing and social media. After 2 years, Blue Wire recruited me to be their Director, Communications, a role they created for me. And this last October, after 6 months with Blue Wire, I made the scary decision to bet on myself and go freelance.
For the last 12 years I've seen it all. Ticket sales, ticket services, partnerships, licensing, marketing, social media, and communications. I unintentionally collected all these different skills and experiences, and it's culminated to where I am today.
I will always remember my first cold call when Oregon football tickets went on sale. It took me almost 20 minutes to dial the phone because I was so scared to lead a conversation with a stranger. I was terrified of rejection. I would never go back to sales, but I don’t regret it because I learned to get over my fear of talking to strangers. I learned interpersonal skills. And also to care less about what people think.
If 22-year-old me who was too scared to dial the phone knew that today we did public speaking and interviewed people, she would laugh. She wouldn’t believe it.
That 22-year-old me also had a difficult battle with anxiety and depression. I know I had anxiety my whole life. We know it's not something you one day develop. But from childhood through college, I stayed busy and stimulated that my anxiety was masked.
My early life was sports, ballet, and school to then 4 years in college where I lived in a sorority, working 2-3 jobs and going to social events/parties. I never had to be alone because I could walk through the sorority and see who was home.
Then I moved to Eugene and was forced to be “an adult.” I worked during the day and went home to simply be with my own thoughts. It was uncomfortable and I hated it.
I went into a spiral. There were many days I called in sick to lie in bed in the dark. I didn’t know how to be with and by myself that I slept so I didn’t have to think. I was depressed and didn’t know it. I wouldn’t be surprised or offended if my boss or peers at the time thought I was being immature or lazy. Maybe hungover. I probably would have thought the same.
It got to a point where I accepted I needed help. That in itself was an uncomfortable experience. I’m first-generation Filipina-American. As any first-gen kid may relate to, mental health is taboo. We don’t talk about it. I was still on my parent’s insurance at the time but they agreed I should see a therapist if it meant no longer calling my mom or sister-in-law crying and feeling helpless.
The problem is I didn't go to therapy with the right intentions. I wanted to show up to my sessions and have my therapist tell me what’s wrong and how to deal with it. I simply wanted her to fix me. I didn't want to do the work myself. In fact, I wasn't mature enough to realize I had to do any inner work at all. So, when I moved to California to start my job with the Warriors, I didn't find another therapist. New job, new life, new friends, new city = stimulation.
I thought I was "better.” Until I wasn't.
Fast forward six years and between the start of the pandemic and leaving a toxic partner, I revisited my relationship with therapy. I'm still happily in that relationship today. I meet with my therapist bi-weekly and actively do the inner work I avoided all those years ago.
Anyone who has been to therapy knows therapists ask difficult and probing questions. It’s literally their job. My therapist says her role isn’t to tell me how to think or what decisions to make but rather to hold a mirror up to me and ask questions requiring me to look inwards.
After two years of therapy, I've subconsciously picked up on the skill of probing and now I'm often told by my closest friends that I ask difficult questions. I'm confident this makes me a great interviewer because I know how to listen and dig deeper to get people to open up. It’s also what brings me to part of my freelance work.
I'm working on many different projects and one area is athlete personal branding. I am so passionate about this because I strongly believe athletes are not set up for success beyond their sport. From the time they’re in high school trying to play in college to when they’re hoping to take the next step and play professionally, athletes are not encouraged or empowered to think beyond their craft and identify what they want to do if being an athlete isn't meant to be. At any level, whether an athlete chooses to leave the game on their own, or in the unfortunate event the game leaves them, that transition can be difficult.
I had a great conversation about this on my podcast with an NFL player, and he shared with me how season-ending injuries have forced him to explain who he is outside of football. This can send athletes into a spiral of identity and value. I've been in similar spirals before and it’s terrifying. It feels like there's no way out.
As I've learned more about myself and started on my path towards self-actualization, I've found a way to marry my love for sports with my passion for mental health awareness. I believe my purpose in life is to empower athletes — and all people — to identify who they want to be in life by holding up the mirror to them. Just like my therapist does for me.
I can help an athlete try to get a brand partner, but that’s not my motivation. My goal is to help set them up for success after sport. And avoid spirals of self-worth.
When I begin engaging in work with an athlete, I ask a few initial questions.
Who are you now? What do you want to be known for? Who do you want to be?
I ask these questions and it makes them uncomfortable. That’s not a surprise. They probably have never thought about it before. My hope is by asking I plant the seed in the back of their mind to reflect on over time.
The funny thing is: I don’t even have the answers for myself. I recently had this conversation with an athlete and someone close to me. Wanting to do more with his social media, he asked how to approach it. So I revisited those same questions.
Who are you now? What do you want to known for? Who do you want to be when you retire from soccer?
Then he said, “Megs, you’re always asking me these questions. What about you?” I laughed — because I didn't know.
This is my way of saying I don’t know everything. I’m not an expert in social media, personal branding, or mental health, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm great at giving advice and helping guide people in life while also doing the same for myself.
As I help clients grow and mold their personal brand, they likely don’t realize they're helping me reflect and do the same. If any of them are reading this, thank you.
Personal branding isn't just for influencer deals or monetization. It's simply an exercise of identifying who you are, how you want to be perceived, and what you feel is your purpose in life. It’s also not only for athletes or public figures. Personal branding is important for anyone who has read this far. It can help you network and get a job. I’ve gotten jobs off my digital presence.
Above all, personal branding can help a person work towards self-actualization.
So no matter where you are in your life at this very moment, I leave with you these questions to ask yourself and reflect on:
Who are you now? What do you want to be known for? Who do you want to be?