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What I’ve Learned About Transitions After Helping Pro Athletes Navigate Change

by | Jun. 04, 2019

Makes You Think

The following has been adapted from a talk Aubrey Darger originally delivered at BYU Women’s Conference on May 3, 2019. It is published here with the speaker’s permission, and the thoughts expressed belong solely to the author. 

If you were one of the .01 percent of high school athletes who was good enough to get noticed by a professional sports league, you would receive an incredible amount of resources before you even step foot in a locker room. I worked in a professional sports league’s player development department for eight years, and we were determined to eliminate any potential for awkward transition. We’d give you PR training for your big draft night, ensure you had access to grooming and fashion experts for your worldwide debut, and meet with your families about having the proper support system.

After a player is drafted, we would hold what’s called the Rookie Transition Program every summer. We quarantined all draft picks in a hotel for four days and taught them everything they need to know about being a professional athlete. Topics included table manners, healthy relationships, and financial management. We taught about philanthropy, media and social media training, and even stress management.

Just like these rookie players, I think a lot of us find ourselves in the midst of transitions but without the knowledge or tools of how to go forward, without a four-day Rookie Transition Program, and we experience the discomfort of finding ourselves in a new stage, desperate to go back to familiarity or back to a title we once greatly identified with.

Marvin J. Ashton said, “There is nothing so unchanging, so inevitable as change itself.” Or I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Change is the only constant in life.” There’s change in our circumstances, changes in family dynamics, change in our day-to-day tasks, even change in the Church with continuing revelation. But even with this knowledge that change is coming or change is normal, as welcome as it may be, as mortals, we are hardwired to avoid any sort of discomfort. Change can be paralyzing or trigger anxiety and unrest. Some change we choose, and some happens upon us as a result of health, age, tragedy, or the choices of someone else. So why do we have to experience change?

After working as a transition expert for eight years, I suddenly felt like a novice when my rapid life changes began. In a period of just two years, I went from being a single professional living the NYC fast-paced life to, months later, finding myself married in Connecticut transitioning to suburban life. We then moved to Utah where I am now a stay-at-home mom living in the cinderblock bliss of the BYU dorms, where “fast-paced” means getting to take a shower AND leaving the house all in one day. A lot of it is clouded in the fog of post-partum, but change has been a constant for me over these last few years! Even though some of these were welcome and expected changes— things I prayed for, sought after, and worked hard to make happen—a lot of stretching and refining and very low days accompanied it.

I’m learning to rely on faith as I navigate my own personal transitions.

The Children of Israel in the Wilderness

A fascinating biblical story is that of Moses and the Israelites. The Israelites were slaves, in bondage, tortured, and demeaned. After generations of slavery, they would then experience unbelievable miracles in their exodus, including a river turning to blood; Aaron’s rod turning into a serpent; the plagues of frogs, lice and flies; the killing of the first born; and an inexplicable parting of the Red Sea; and then their release into freedom. Except upon crossing the Red Sea to safety, it would turn out to be not quite so simple.

With God at the helm, and while physically following a prophet of God, interestingly, the Lord required the children of Israel to wander through and learn from a wilderness before they reached their promised land.

But with new topography, different daily challenges, and trials that consisted of thirst and hunger, they longed to go back, not just back to their homes but to slavery. When the tests and rigors of desert life became too difficult, they hurled insults at Moses to the point where Moses felt like the people were ready “to stone him,” they murmured consistently, and they broke commandments the Lord had set. In their complaints and ridiculing of Moses, they lacked faith that where they were going would be a land that held more promise. The known of bondage seemed better than the unknown of what would lie ahead, surely better than thirst and hunger.

Interestingly, where once the people didn’t think twice about the source of their food, they now had to depend on the Lord for their daily sustenance, as the climate they were in didn’t provide it. They would ask and immediately receive manna and quail from heaven. Where water once wasn’t an issue, it was now a great scarcity. So when they were thirsty, Moses was commanded to hit a rock and water flowed. They learned to lean on the prophet and the Lord for their daily needs, and time and time again, the Lord delivered. They learned a new kind of dependency on their Savior.

After the children of Israel stopped at Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments, we learn that it’s about one year in the wilderness before they finally arrive at their promised land of Canaan. Camped on the border of this land they had been seeking, they send spies to check Canaan out. The spies come back with reports of a fruitful and fertile land but also a land of military strength with people taller and greater than they. The people are discouraged, seemingly forgetting the enormous and most powerful army they had just escaped that the Lord had defeated for them.

Moses beseeches of them, “Dread not, neither be afraid of them. . . . The Lord your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deut. 1:29-30). He reminds them of the incredible miracles and of what the Lord had done for them in the wilderness! The immediate blessings of food and water straight from unfathomable sources! The destruction of the Egyptian army! The release from slavery!

Even so, the people were afraid that the Lord couldn’t be depended upon to bring them into the promised land. They seemed to lose all confidence that everything would turn out for them. Seemingly, the incredible miracles that got them through the Red Sea and into the wilderness and through the wilderness didn’t matter. They had seen the delivering power of the Savior time and time again, yet they doubted it applied to them in this new situation. The children of Israel are even heard to have said it is better that they go back and die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2). So with their lack of faith, they are condemned to do just that, to wander in the wilderness for the next 40 years.

The scriptures and history of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ are full of God’s people being asked to go through a wilderness. Whether it’s Lehi and Sariah leaving all of their wealth, prosperity, the land of their forefathers, belongings, and social status, or the pioneers escaping mobs and fires and torture all for the cause of their new faith, God has asked His people to “physically transition.”

But if we are following the prophets, doing what they say, seeking revelation, giving up everything, why isn’t the promised land next door? Why do life’s challenges appear to exist in the promised land? If we’re striving our best to be obedient, why does God ask us to go through these tough transitions, especially if He’s leading us and aware of our every move? What do we learn in a wilderness that we couldn’t have learned without it? What do we become because of our transitions that we wouldn’t become without them?

Facing Our Wilderness of Transition

In our own wilderness of transition, we face challenges that are both unexpected and new. A newly widowed spouse might have to attend church alone, an empty nester might desire to know what purpose she has next, a new marriage might turn out to be a lot more difficult than anticipated, or we might feel the apprehension of being called on a mission to a foreign country.

We might be tempted to think that our past life held more promise. Like the children of Israel, we might prefer the known of the past to the unknown of the future. But are we learning daily dependence on God and the faith that the children of Israel were required to have? Are we having faith that what lies ahead is for our learning and betterment and trusting that blessings await us? Do we “fear not” when we arrive at our promised land or do we doubt and give into fear, thinking that there’s no way the Lord could help us with THIS new set of circumstances? Do we continue onward, remembering that it is the Lord giving us strength and who is fighting our battles anyways?

What about the times when we can’t see the greater blessings in store or we can’t see how it’s going to work out in the end? How do we continue to have faith and what does faith look like?

In the hymn,“Lead, Kindly Light, authored by John Henry Newman in 1833, we sing:

“Lead, kindly light, amid th’encircling gloom;

Lead thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead though me on!

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distance scene – one step enough for me.”

How often do we feel like this verse is the exact description of our lives, away from familiarity and comfort, feeling a suffocating and dark mist of despair creeping around us. When we can’t see where our feet are planted and where the next few steps will take us, do we trust that one step forward is enough?

God plays the long game. No matter if we feel that our petitions aren’t being granted, that this new phase of life is painful or not what we intended, if God’s main purpose is to get us back to Him, sometimes, or often times, we are going to feel the pain of transition.

So back to the initial question? Why do I have to experience change? In the eight years of my profession, I saw hundreds and hundreds of players both enter and exit professional sports. Hardly anyone does it gracefully or without some form of incident. And sadly we don’t have a four-day Widow Transition Program, Divorcee Transition Program, Infertility or Empty Nester Transition Program. But we do have one whose title we literally refer to as the “Counselor.” He is the expert in all of these areas. We can call upon Him. We can counsel with Him. We must experience and go through change, as there is nothing that will produce as much personal refinement or align us with the vision God has for who we can be.

So what have you personally learned in your wilderness of transition? Who are you becoming that you couldn’t have become without it? Are you learning a daily dependence on God like the children of Israel? Are you coming to know Him, be nourished by Him, commune with Him regularly? Are you inviting God to show you how your life can unfold?

While we’re marching through our wilderness of transition, may we make God our partner, trust that He can help us in the future as He has in the past, and pray for the perspective and peace that only He, the Counselor and “High Priest of Good things to come” can bring. Lead kindly light, one step enough for me.


Aubrey Darger was raised in Connecticut and worked at a professional sports league in New York City for 8 years. In an interesting turn of events, the life skills she taught professional athletes is translating quite well to raising a wiggly 1 year-old: healthy dieting, sleep habits and anger management. Now living out west, she is trying to like nature and enjoys all that the Mountain West has to offer.
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