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leadership lab

Sam Roworth, a former international-level athlete, chronicles the trials and tribulations of his hunt for an entry-level sales position in Canada. College graduates are struggling to find suitable full-time work.

Part One

Twenty-six years old. Educated. Unemployed. At risk of becoming a statistic.

It's not who I am, it's where I'm at.

In the fall of 2016, I retired from life as a high-performance athlete, having spent 14 years training and racing internationally as a sprint kayaker. Coming up just short of qualifying for the Rio Summer Olympics, not wanting to commit to another four-year training cycle and ready to move onto another pursuit – I hung up my paddle and began job hunting.

I have spent my lifetime training to compete – even having a World Cup medal to my name – but that doesn't seem to translate onto my resume. I've worn the Maple Leaf on my chest and stood on podiums amongst the best in the world. I know a few things about working hard and digging deep.

It took 14 years to reach my goal of racing for Team Canada. Long training weeks – on the water and in the gym. In Canada, Hungary, the United States, Spain – wherever the world's best were training, I was chasing them down, pushing myself to constantly improve. It took six years to complete business school at Ryerson University, while working concurrently toward my Olympic dream and my degree. I added a 20-hour work week, taking on retail jobs and coaching to supplement the expenses of my training.

I have learned much about persistence and pursuit, but didn't foresee it would be so hard to parlay my education and life experience into the start of a career.

I have been applying to dozens of jobs each week through online application systems, with little success. While others might have more obvious and conventional work experience to flesh out their LinkedIn profiles, I believe I have ample translatable skills which come from a different life experience – one that many of the online applications don't leave space for. Dedicated, self-motivated, skilled in driving hard – little did I know how strongly I would need to draw upon my sports background to launch my next career.

I've met with people willing to mentor me and working with the services designed to help athletes transition into the work force. I'm networking and reaching out through friends, family and contacts acquired through years of coaching and volunteer work – but with little or no results.

Perseverance seems to be a recurring theme for me. As resumes pour out, rejection floods in. This seems like the safe way to look for a job – detached and almost anonymous. That way, the rejection letters sting less.

I have lost sight of one of my favourite quotes by former track Olympian Steve Prefontaine: "To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift." What worked for me in the past was to get out of my comfort zone, take risks. I need to do that, but I need help.

I have called in the cavalry, Peter Caven at Launched, a career advisory service focusing on young professionals like myself – talented yet unsure of their career direction, and lacking the knowledge and skills to develop and implement an effective job-search campaign.

We began working together, laying the groundwork to launch my career while chronicling the process here. Having a guide and mentor has the nostalgia of being an athlete with a coach. This will be a process of self-discovery and I'm keen to learn how to better my approach and become successful in finding my next pursuit.

Editor's note: According to Statistics Canada, between 2014 and 2016 the rate of full-time employment for men aged 17 to 24 was 59 per cent for men and 49 per cent for women. In 2015, according to the federal government's 2015 Labour Market Assessment, 40 per cent of university graduates were underemployed, and 66 per cent of parents were supporting adult children financially, according to a CIBC poll.

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