A Saluki at heart, Connor James loves his current work developing student-athletes for Southern Illinois University.
James played linebacker at SIU (2007-2011) and graduated with a master’s degree in Sports Studies. Here are some of his Saluki achievements:
• 2011 First-team Academic All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection.
• Voted team captain in 2011 by SIU teammates.
• Ended his Saluki career with 22 consecutive starts.
• Earned the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award.
• Earned the President’s Academic Award from the MVFC.
• Awarded Top 25 Most Distinguished Senior in 2011 by the SIU Alumni Association.
James has also developed student-athletes at SIU, John A. Logan College and more than 10 regional high schools.
Basically, James leads. His unshakable optimism and relentless work ethic have paved the way for his success.
But it hasn’t come easy. When James was 13 years old, his dad dropped him off at basketball practice. That would be the last time he would speak to his father, who died later that day of a heart attack.
“That traumatic event transformed my daily approach and really is the driving force behind who I am, the attitude I carry, and how I try to inspire others,” he said.
James recently took time out of his packed schedule to share his insights with the WorkHappy audience. He hopes his message can inspire you to find career happiness today.
Can you explain your approach to student-athlete development? Why is it such an enjoyable role for you?
Basically, what we focus on grows. If we put our energy into something, it will enhance and get better. When you invest in the relationships around you, you have no choice but to be fulfilled. It’s the act of reciprocity. I believe that anything you receive, you need to give back to others. This becomes a cycle and everyone benefits.
When you have an engaging talk with a student-athlete, what is your message?
I usually break down a talk into perspective and intention. When we don’t orient ourselves to the things that are going on around us, we lose track of what we should appreciate. We need to be able to ask ourselves, ‘Do I have it better than others.’ And if you are earning more than $2 per day and have clean drinking water, then the answer is yes. So what do you do with what you have and what you’ve been given?
On intention, I also tie in personal investment. You’re never going to be in an optimal state unless you invest in others and yourself. Intention is great and all, but you have to combine action with intention. The reality is that only we can control that.
What do you enjoy most about getting in front of a student-athlete and making an impact?
It’s the opportunity to move somebody’s needle just a millimeter. I believe that if you are passionate and authentic, you can truly transform somebody’s life. You never know what people are going through. Being able to deliver a positive message to someone who might really be needing it — that’s what I love most about student-athlete development.
There are a lot of people in our audience who feel stuck at work. For whatever reason, they are unhappy and unsure of how to get out. What advice do you have for them?
My conviction is that no negative work situation is worth your happiness or stress. Getting out of these situations goes back to having a holistic approach and making positive strides one step at a time.
You have to be motivated and stick to your plan to improve. There has to be a vision you don’t let go of. And you have to find a way to channel that vision into action.
You also have to understand that you matter. Your contributions matter. This is a truth. I ask people, “Is the world happening to you or are you happening to the world?” We all control our actions and attitude.
When we understand this power, we have the ability to change our mental and emotional state.