Conquering imposter syndrome: valuable lessons from international rugby star Mike Brown

“The culture of a high-performance team and the demands placed on those competing at the highest level prepare you for anything. Creating, managing, maintaining and monitoring those top environments provide hugely valuable skills applicable for any situation.”
Mike Brown – England Rugby Union

Despite a playing career spanning nearly two decades at the elite level, Mike Brown still grapples with self doubt when it comes to his future.

Seeking his next career after rugby, Mike wants to stay in the world he knows best, sport, and has had to work hard to conquer personal and systemic challenges to find and secure his chances.

Now studying a Masters in Sport Directorship at Manchester Met University, Mike is forging a path forward, discovering that despite a lack of qualifications there are a myriad of opportunities for him.

We recently caught up with Mike to talk about career highlights, what lessons he learned from playing professional sport and his advice for athletes looking to transition when their playing careers come to an end.

Lessons learned from a career in sport

The pressure of professional sport at the highest level is unlike any other working environment. The relationships between team mates and staff, the bonds made in the heat of the contest, they live forever.

“Winning the premiership with Harlequins in 2012 is something that I will never forget,” says Mike. “There was a special connection and understanding among the group that was driven by leadership and a shared vision that everyone bought into.”

Conquering Imposter Syndrome | Mike Brown | FutureProof

The unwavering belief and confidence in a playing style rooted in the squads strengths bred a sense of inevitability that year for Harlequins, who won the league for the first time in its history.

“We learned how to trust each other and the value of teamwork when you’re aligned around one goal,” Mike continues. “Whatever the challenges we faced individually we tackled together, as a group.

“Even now we all talk in a shared WhatsApp group and the memories and feelings of that time are still strong in the minds. The group learned some incredible lessons that have helped tremendously in this next phase of our lives.”

Seeking support with a transition into work

“I was lucky my career lasted longer than most so I didn’t have the added pressure of finding what to do quickly,” reflects Mike. “Looking back, though, there were probably only a handful of players that were actively considering what they were going to do post playing.”

On the one hand it makes sense, since to compete at the highest level you have to be dedicated to it. But Mike says that even a little investment can go a long way should the worst happen.

“Fortunately, the clubs I played for had people dedicated to supporting players with their careers,” says Mike. “And there are organisations and governing bodies that offer support too, but there’s always more that you can do.”

Recognising the need to build his own personal connections and brand, Mike found the time to connect with people on LinkedIn and use his social platforms to build and maintain relationships that could support his future goals.

“It’s always a good idea to think about what you want to do,” says Mike. “I took the time to consider my options and my strengths and where I wanted to go. This then gave me a path forward and helped to focus my activities in an area that I knew would benefit me.”

Keen to stay in professional sport, Mike considered all the options available in a professional sporting environment and sought guidance from a myriad of institutions and figures that could offer help.

“Ultimately I decided to go to University and study for a Masters,” says Mike. “Elite sport excites me and drives me, and that motivates me to study hard and find a career, ideally in football.

Conquering Imposter Syndrome | Mike Brown | FutureProof
“Initially when I got to university I really struggled with imposter syndrome. There were people from Manchester City, Liverpool, and even someone flying in from the NBA in the USA to come and study.

“But I found that everyone was keen to hear what I had to say since I had played at the top level and my perspective matters most. That gave me the confidence to carry on and share more of my experiences.”

Transferable skills all sportspeople will have

Upon learning of the value he had to offer during his studying, Mike started to think more laterally about what he brought to the working world.

We asked him what skills he felt he had learned from sport that would help him in the world of business.

“I think learning to operate in a winning culture with people from all walks of life is the best skill you can have,” says Mike. “Learning to communicate different instructions, with different intensity depending on what you need is like a super-power really.

“You’re also naturally inclined to taking and passing on feedback,” he continues.

“Not everyone can handle constructive feedback or outright criticism, but a career in sport makes it probably an everyday occurrence because you can always be that little bit better.

“And lastly the whole teamwork thing, you are all striving for the same goal so it’s in everyone’s interest to make it work.

“To do that, you have to understand your teammates, their motivations and aspirations. All great qualities in any circumstance but particularly at work.”

Looking to access a different talent pool?

Here at FutureProof we focus on helping professional athletes transition into the working world. Speak to us today about accessing a diverse, driven and unique pool of talent for your business.

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