Pitching a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium, winning an Olympic gold medal game, and being named the nation’s top amateur athlete would all be great accomplishments on their own. Former University of Michigan pitcher Jim Abbott accomplished all three. And he did so despite being born without a right hand.
Abbott decided early on that he wasn’t going to let his disability hold him back, and after an 11-year Major League Baseball career he took the opportunity to carry his inspirational message to others.
LiveBIG spoke with Abbott about his current career as a motivational speaker.
How did you manage the transition to life after baseball and becoming a motivational speaker?
It’s a pretty difficult adjustment. You do something your whole life and you have all your eggs in that basket, and all of the sudden it’s over. For me, it ended a little bit earlier than I had hoped.
There’s a transition period that’s really difficult. You’re most comfortable in that uniform, on a baseball field, and all the sudden you’re spit out into this world where you have to find a niche for yourself. You miss it a lot – the structure of that life, the routine, the camaraderie, and the competition. That is a tough thing to replace. But I found different things that helped me replace that.
I began a speaking career where I was getting up on stage or in front of an audience trying to inspire people and tell a story and that became an incredible outlet for me to frame what I wanted to say. Also, it gave me that sense of accomplishment and feeling good about myself that I’ve done something that had a positive impact.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced with motivational speaking?
Some of the same things that influence you as a pitcher also influence you as a performer. One of the things I really battled against as a pitcher was belief and confidence, standing up on the mound and looking at the competition and saying ‘I have what it takes to get you out’.
Those same things sort of came to manifest themselves standing up in front of an audience. The biggest challenge, I think, is fear of failure. Being up on stage and you’re going through your presentation, and invariably you have these thoughts of ‘you’re talking way too much about yourself’ or ‘people don’t want to hear this’.
I know that sounds like a very mundane challenge, but that’s what it is. It’s getting up and telling your story, and believing in it, and believing that people care and are interested.
Can you give me a brief overview of your message?
I sum up my talk with three things: creativity, determination, and belief. Creativity, in a nutshell, is optimism. It’s a belief that there’s a way. It’s a struggle. For me, that was switching the glove on and off of my left hand and finding that method; throwing the ball off a wall and getting that glove on and off.
Determination is just that refusal to quit. Just sticking with it and telling yourself ‘I’m going to do this, and the influences in my life that may push me away from that, I’m not going to concede, I’m not going to give into’.
Belief, at the end of the day, is just about knowing who you are, what you do best, and following through. Sometimes life is just about belief in yourself and getting it done.
Those are the pillars of my talk.
To learn more about Abbott’s career and his message, visit www.jimabbott.net.