School has started, making me think about students who have transitioned from college to professional and the various stages of our careers and life.

Let me explain. In our 20s, we are taught to “get in the game.” In our 30s, we are taught to “move up in the game.” In our 40s, we try to “stay in the game” because those 30-year-olds are so good. And in our 50s, studies show, we finally ask “what is it that I really want?” Asking ourselves what we really want made me think of a recent exchange with one of my students and the lessons I learned along the way.

Anthony Dudley earned his degree in English from Florida State University. Two years after graduation, at a standstill in his professional career, he decided to follow his passion and enrolled in the graduate program at Middle Tennessee State University in the hopes of one day working in the sports industry.

During that time we developed a personal relationship that, over the years, would pay huge dividends for both of us. Until recently, Dudley was the senior director of development for the Nashville Sports Council and Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, the postseason college football bowl game that serves as that prominent middle Tennessee organization’s premier annual event. He would call me over the years and check in, catch me up on his family and the challenges of life and work. I would listen and offer some advice from time to time. As the challenges became greater the calls became more frequent and the conversations became longer and more meaningful. I watched Anthony grow.

I watched him become a professional – in the sense that he did the work and delayed the gratification knowing that success would come after making the sacrifice. At one point I looked up and I was serving on a nonprofit committee that he was heading and I was proud to know the relationship we had and the commitment he had made to himself and his career.

Anthony called me recently and wanted to talk. He said he had a significant opportunity and needed my input. The opportunity was an administrative post with a new professional soccer team locating to Nashville.

I instantly remembered when I first met him years ago and he told me then that his goal or dream was to work in the soccer industry, which he had a passion for. I reminded him of that conversation and it was all I needed to say to take us back to how our relationship started.

We laughed about how in our first meeting, after reviewing his resume and speaking with him, I looked at him and said, “I think I have figured out the problem and the problem is you.” Anthony didn’t run away from that. He stood in it and asked me what I meant and our relationship was born. It’s what led us right up to the conversation we were having about his current opportunity that brought us full circle.

As I was driving down the road, Anthony said something to me that made me pull over. It’s the kind of moment where you can feel yourself moving into the next stage of your career. He said, “Dr. Jubenville your advice during my college years was always good, but today, this is exactly what I needed to think about in order to gain clarity, focus and direction about my career.”