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Jim Abbott’s Journey from Professional Ballplayer to Professional Speaker

Oct 31, 2018

Retired from the MLB in his 30s, keynote Jim Abbott had to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Hear how this shy Midwesterner used many of the traits of being a successful big-league pitcher to become a polished motivational speaker. 


JIM ABBOTT:Well, professional sports are an interesting occupation. You know, you'd love to keep playing for a long is you want to unfortunately doesn't always happen. So, I retired in my early thirties. I was done with baseball, and it was a scary time.

I didn't know what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and I was very fortunate. Some people encouraged me to become a speaker and to share my story and to share some of the experiences that I had as a baseball player, that I had growing up. My story is different, you know, I grew up missing my right hand, so there was a lot of adversity and things to talk about with it if I could just think of a message to share. So, the transition was there, I just had to be a little creative had to work through it a little bit and try to think of a message that people might be able to relate to. And I can tell you that it's been incredibly rewarding. I miss baseball sometimes, I miss pitching. I miss being on the mound. I miss those great stadiums, but to be able to come and share my story and to connect with people around the country, usually in great venues and great places, in front of greaty organizations, has been more than I ever expected to have in my post baseball life.

Not at all. I didn't find myself it's, a natural speaker at all. As a matter of fact, I was, you know, I come from the midwest. I'm kind of a shy person by nature, an introvert. So it was difficult for me to stand on stage. I always had this feeling like maybe I was overstaying my welcome or talking too much or talking about myself too much. But over time, I became more and more comfortable with the message that I wanted to convey. I certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way. But the feedback was always so great, you know, when people are an audience watching a speaker, they want you to do well. They don't want you to be boring. They want to  be interested and they want to be engaged. And so I grew into it slowly and just like anything else, just like baseball, just like any occupation, you have to practice, you have to learn. You know, it's to think on your feet, to prepare and then just connect.

The lessons that I've learned... It's very important to be in the moment, which I think has nice carry over into the rest of my life. You know, when you're speaking one of the big mistakes I made early in my speaking career is, I as i tried to memorize every little thing that I was going to say, I tried to get the note cards out and write the sentences, and I had all these key points that I wanted to hit and share, and I found if I didn't remember it verbatim that I panicked. It was like, I didn't know where to turn or how to share, and it really didn't help me very much. So, one of the great lessons that I learned from speaking was to let go of that Prepare, work hard, spend a lot of time thinking about who you're going to be talking to, where you're going to be talking. But then when you get up on stage, you have to sort of let go of that preparation. Be in the moment and connect with the people in front of you. The most important thing was speaking is connecting. And so much of that is just being there, you know, present in the moment. I think that's the greatest lesson that I've taken away from my speaking career.

I think the best advice that I could give you is to be authentic. So many times, you know, the difference between being okay, it's something and good at something or great at something, is the amount of yourself that you invest into it. And it's so much easier to invest yourself into something that you truly love into, something that you enjoy and into something, you know, where your authenticity is able to shine. I think people pick up on that. I think, you know, in any endeavor, you're going to have a lot of interaction, you're going to have a lot of phone calls and meetings and dealing with people and in those interactions and in those moments, I think people pick up on authenticity. People pick up on genuine concern for what you are doing and your concern for them. So, I think the greatest advice that I could give is we're not all going to find something we love exactly in this world, but we can find things that we can come to love, and that we can bring our authenticity to think people pick up on that. And many times, I think, it's the difference you know, between being good at something and being great at something.

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