6 min read

Pivot #16: Eric Cressey's career advice

Pivot #16: Eric Cressey's career advice

Eric Cressey is the Founder and President of Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) and the Director of Player Health and Performance for the New York Yankees. Cressey’s resume is too long to fully list, but he is one of the premier strength and conditioning coaches. With CSP facilities in Hudson, MA and Palm Beach Gardens, FL, athletes from all over journey to train with Eric and his team. Despite limited personal experience in the sport, Cressey is best known for his extensive work with baseball players, having worked with hundreds of professional players, including Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber (recently retired), Paul Goldschmidt, and the entire Yankees roster. How is it possible Cressey finds himself in the professional position he sits today? A high school tennis-player from Kennebunk, ME is now a thought leader in exercise science and a coveted baseball strength coach. 

Last year Eric Cressey sat down for an interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast, where he mostly talked exercise science and sports performance, but there's a brief segment where Cressey opines on career advice for any field and shares insights of his own career path. I’ve copied the transcript of the interview segment below so you can read verbatim from Cressey, but I’ll add insight throughout the remarks.

Segment begins at 1:52:48

Tim Ferriss: What is the worst advice or terrible advice that you hear or see being given out often in your world? Just bad advice.

Eric Cressey: I’m going to throw one out there that might be a little controversial is: follow your passion. I actually have never loved that advice in our field or really, really any field. If you look back, when I was dealing with all these shoulder issues as an athlete, I was passionate about fantasy sports and stuff like that. There was no livelihood to be made at that time. So I think what I did really well early in my career was, without even knowing it, built some career capital, to steal a Cal Newport term.

We’ve hit on many times in the Pivot Newsletter how following your passion can lead you astray and Cressey perfectly supports the idea. Focus early in your career on cultivating “career capital”. These are skills, experiences, credentials, and education that are highly valuable. Double down on investing in yourself. Hockey players, specifically, find themselves in trouble when they do not build career capital outside of hockey. Back to the interview…

Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by that?

Eric Cressey: Just marketable skills. Skills that would eventually serve me without even knowing. When I was going through shoulder rehab and all this shoulder stuff, I was actually working much more with basketball and soccer athletes during my grad degree at the University of Connecticut. It just so happened that some of the first athletes I worked with in the private sector were baseball players. And because I had had all these shoulder issues and dealt with them myself, I think I identified a really underserved population even more than I otherwise would have. Would that have been the case if I had spent my undergraduate year boozing and not doing anything? I didn’t do that. Instead, I worked, I experimented. I was in the gym every single day and I was annoying people that I knew were a lot smarter than me. 

So that’s how Cressey became the baseball guy. First, he prioritized learning. Likely stemming from his own injury troubles, Cressey dove into strength and conditioning building his skillset in the space. He gained early reps in his career working on himself and other athletes, and specifically gained a deep understanding of shoulder anatomy. Cressey quickly capitalized on the serendipitous opportunity of working with baseball players for the first time by combining his shoulder mechanic expertise with what he recognized as an underserved community. Applying valuable skills to an underserved niche is how you create value. 

Hockey players need to build a skillset. Analyzing P&L statements, building communication skills, understanding social media algorithms, fluency in contracts, leveraging a foreign language. There’s endless possibilities. Common areas to look to build skills include frictions in your own life (like Cressey with his own shoulder injuries) or endeavors tangential to hockey. Back to the interview…

So I never loved the idea of people following their passion. I think you follow your marketable skills and eventually as Newport, this book was to be So Good They Can’t Ignore You. He talked a lot about being able to redeem those eventually for other things. Maybe it’s more compensation, maybe it’s a better work-life balance, more autonomy, whatever it may be. But too often in our industry, everybody has these very similar resumes. Everyone has an exercise science degree. Everybody has a letter of recommendation from their academic supervisor and their high school volleyball coach or whatever it is. And very rarely are they heavily differentiated. In my world, I’m like, “I want to know what’s weird about you. Do you speak Spanish? Do you have experience with particular technology?” None of that is necessarily about being passionate.

Be different. No matter the field, find a way to stand out. The breadcrumbs concept is a tactic on how to differentiate. Build things and participate in endeavors outside of your 9-5 or hockey (if you’re still playing)  that you can bring to show people your unique character traits.

Importantly, Cressey identifies the value of building career capital, which is to use the capital as currency in exchange for future benefits, namely compensation and flexibility. The real challenge for veteran hockey players pivoting out of the game is they are low on career capital in fields outside of hockey, but they are at an age in life where they want or need a certain level of compensation and flexibility. The player has a few options: 1) Lose their ego, start at the bottom of the ladder, grind it out for the desired compensation and autonomy down the road 2) Figure out how to bypass several rungs in the proverbial ladder to achieve the desired level of benefits or 3) Feel stressed, opt for a job within hockey because they know they have career capital within the sport and hope to earn a particular level of compensation and flexibility. A challenging dilemma to navigate. Building marketable skills outside hockey as early as possible is crucial, as Cressey alludes. 

Tim Ferriss: You’re talking about hiring?

Eric Cressey: Yeah, for sure. So when I talk to young coaches in this field, I’m always, “Figure out what you can do to be differentiated.” And very rarely does following your passion get you there. Because everybody in my field, you have to remember, most people wind up in this world because they like to exercise or they were former athletes that wanted to stay competitive, but it’s not a differentiator, it’s just something that they’re passionate about. And I think you quickly realize when you open a training facility that some days it’s not much different than running a restaurant or an accounting firm or something like that. So I think where I’ve been served well is I always try to actually develop skills that could in one way or another, make me differentiated in the marketplace.

I think of Cressey’s comments in comparison to hockey players that aim to go into media after their career because hockey is their passion and it’s viewed as a less arduous job. I’m always skeptical. One, there are limited seats in official media roles. Yes, anyone can start a podcast or a social media presence. Are you good at that? Are you interesting? Do you communicate well? Have you put in any time towards this media endeavor? There are thousands of former players that played a cup of coffee in the NHL that can provide the same insight as anyone else. How are you going to be different?

Tim Ferriss: Makes a whole lot of sense. Passion does not automatically equal differentiated, for sure.

Eric Cressey: You still need to have it.

Tim Ferriss: You still need to have it.

Eric Cressey: It’s not the most important, I’d say.

The Passion circle in the Pivot Framework diagram is a dashed line for a reason. It’s a nice-to-have, but can often lead you astray when searching for your career path. A better compass is to analyze your skillset and focus on building your marketable skills as early as possible.

Game Notes

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  • Who will draft Trevor Connelly? Inside the NHL’s evolving scrutiny of top prospects - The Athletic

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