Taking a Risk: Alex Williams '11 BSBA (Accounting and Marketing)

Sept. 9, 2016

Alex Williams, Coach, 18U Girls, San Diego Shores Water Polo, and Marketing Communications Coordinator, Hunter Industries

Alex Williams

It’s 2011. I just graduated from the University of Arizona with Bachelor’s degrees in accounting and marketing from the Eller College of Management. During my five-year (yes, five years) college career I played water polo and I continued building my identity as a student. So when graduation approached, I was finally faced with finding a new identity. I had made it a goal of mine to be employed by graduation, but I hadn’t yet put in the proper effort to really target what exactly I wanted to do. Two weeks before graduation I lined up and accepted my first job as a technical recruiter with Aerotek staffing agency. It was the first offer I got and I eagerly accepted. It wasn’t part of any greater plan, other than just finding a job.

So on the first Monday after graduation I strolled into Aerotek’s Tucson office with a suit and tie on and proceeded to place 50 phone calls a day for eight months straight.

The job itself was a great opportunity. The pay was decent. I was learning how to network, how to sell myself and how to become a self-starter. The problem was, it wasn’t part of a bigger plan. There was no goal, no target to aim for. I had no purpose.

One day, as I dragged myself out of bed and opened the blinds, I set a goal for myself: I was going to find a way to work in the marketing department of a Major League Baseball team.

I made a rule for myself: I was going to do one positive thing every day to get myself closer to my goal. This one positive thing was allowed to manifest itself in a job application, reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, improving my resume, anything. But I forced myself to do at least one thing every day.

I sent emails, letters and LinkedIn requests to at least 30 Minor League teams before I finally heard back from the Gwinnett Braves, the AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. They were hiring for entry-level ticket sales trainees for the 2012 season. I nailed my Skype interviews, flew to the Winter Meetings in Dallas to meet again and was offered a job that paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.

I took it.

In the minors, everybody’s job description includes “duties as assigned.” I loved it. I spent most of my time on the phone, but I did everything from helping the grounds crew, to picking up the players from the airport, to even being the batboy. I always felt that I made my most genuine connections with other front office members and athletes in the minors, because no one is there unless they absolutely love it. Life was good, but I hadn’t lost sight on my ultimate goal.

When Spring Training of 2013 arrived, I had just about accepted the fact that I was in for another season of AAA Braves baseball. Then I got an email from a LinkedIn contact about a seasonal marketing coordinator position with the Padres. I eagerly did, and after interviewing with Padres HR, I was packing up the car and moving back to the West Coast.

I was just signed on for the season, but I was confident that I could prove my worth and it would all work out come October. Instead, a series of leadership changes left me without a boss, and on November 1, 2013, I was unemployed, suffering the first major setback of my career.

I kept in touch with the Padres as they worked to bring on a new marketing team, but also reconnected with another passion of mine: water polo. I reached out to the new head coach at Torrey Pines High School and offered my volunteer coaching services. What I got from coaching was so much more than I could have ever hoped. Kids and parents constantly thank me for my time, but I honestly feel that they enrich my life 10 times more than what I put in.

In late February, 2014, after four months of unemployment, I had just about given up on the Padres I got a phone call asking me to come in for a seasonal position. It seemed as though my persistence finally paid off. 2014 was a tough year, with lots of leadership changes and uncertainty. Eventually, in November 2014, I was finally promoted to full time.

At the end of the season in October 2015, I found myself grateful that water polo season was beginning again. I was entering my third year with Torrey Pines and my first as the head coach of the girls’ program. It was during a bus ride on our way to one of our games when, for a moment, I thought to myself, "I care more about winning a high school water polo championship than I do the World Series."

My career in baseball was already wearing on me, but this was one of the first times I realized that my priorities in life were shifting. Instead of thinking of my goals in baseball terms, I began thinking of my goals in terms of skill sets, coaching, human interaction and influencing lives.

I slept on my decision to leave the Padres and baseball for three months.  For four straight years, I had dedicated everything to achieving my goal of working in Major League Baseball. I set a goal, and I accomplished it. But reaching your goal does not guarantee success or happiness. With each additional year I spent in baseball, I was beginning to reject my identity and create a new one.  

I expanded my job search to all kinds of industries. I interviewed with clothing companies, marketing agencies, tech startups and manufacturing companies. I learned a lot from the new exposure, but I was struggling with balancing my job search and maintaining my professional responsibilities with the Padres.

So on February 22, 2016, I walked into Petco Park in San Diego and put in my notice.

Now, six months later, I work in marketing at a new company in San Marcos and during the other hours I am passionately pursuing water polo coaching and photography. I just returned from taking an 18-under girls’ team to Junior Olympics where we placed 4th in our division. 

Although things have been going great, I still don’t have everything figured out. You can change your job title overnight, but redefining your identity is a process. At my new job, keeping with industry veterans is like trying to catch up to a 99 MPH fastball,  working with all the different personalities when coaching is like trying to pick up a curveball and taking the perfect photograph is like painting the outside corner.

Change is hard. Like, really hard. You have to say goodbye to familiar surroundings. You have to say goodbye to people you care about. You have to say goodbye to your comfort zone. Change is risky and full of unknown, but if you’re afraid to make a change you risk getting stuck.

There will be days you triumph. There will be days you hurt. It’s a process. Embrace it.

Top photo by Stephanie Yang.