The Wasps back-row talks about how he's learnt to strike the right work-life balance
Jack Willis on life in lockdown
Adversity and unpredictable challenges are part and parcel with a career in rugby. When sport was quite rightly put on hold during these strange and challenging times, it took some getting used to.
I was immediately faced with an overriding feeling of uncertainty and, like many others, questioned, ‘What do I do now?’ It was a feeling I had experienced only too well before in my career with Wasps.
At the end of the 2017-18 season I was selected to go on tour to South Africa with England, an incredible opportunity for me in my ‘breakthrough season’. However, after sustaining an injury to my ankle against Saracens just nine days later I was sitting on a hospital bed, with my left ankle in a boot and right knee in a brace, thinking, ‘What am I going to do if I don’t come back from this?’
It is hard to separate rugby from your ‘everyday life’ as the daily structure of a player affects every aspect of life, including what you eat, wear, think and when you can train or live your normal life. It means that you only have a sense of normality during our scheduled off-season.
The injury caught me at a time where I was consumed in the ‘rugby bubble’ and showed me how quickly the most integral part of your life can be taken away from you, ultimately changing your life in an instant.
While it was a difficult time, the injury gave me a bit of perspective and taught me the fundamental importance of achieving a better work-life balance moving forwards.
Since I regained my fitness, I have loved every minute of training and playing, not only because of how much I missed it, but because of my new-found balance. This has allowed me to remain focused on things outside of rugby during the pandemic, which has significantly helped me mentally.
There are two ways we can look at the adversity we face during this lockdown: as a boring and frustrating experience or an opportunity to grow and learn.
In order for me to take full advantage of this time, I’ve found it crucial to maintain a form of structure to my day, taking inspiration from playing. I set the agenda for when to wake up, eat, train and ensure that I put time aside for interests outside of rugby to ensure I am as productive as possible.
Without a structure or purpose to each day, I believe that this time that we have on our hands will be gone before we know it and I wanted to ensure I was able to be as productive as possible before I got back to the season and training.
Getting to this mentality hasn’t come without difficulties and through the experience, I’ve found that I really struggle to motivate myself to train if I leave it until later in the day but I find that training first thing is the best way to start my day. It makes me feel more productive and energised and allows me to focus my mind on my agenda.
Not having my team-mates around to laugh and joke with, or coaches to motivate me has been a real change. Now it’s just me, a pair of boots and any patch of grass big enough to run on.
Since my injury, I have pursued an interest in property, and have recently launched my own property finance and search agency business, RockCap, with former team-mate Alex Lundberg, sourcing opportunities for investors, funds and developers.
As team-mates you have to be open and honest with each other, able to take constructive criticism and advice, bring the best out of your game, and have a positive impact on the wider team and we have taken this off the pitch to set us in good stead for a strong business partnership.
Starting your own business can see you faced with different challenges; through rugby I have learnt to deal with adversity head-on which has benefitted me enormously in these first few months.
I am constantly seeking new opportunities to expand my knowledge and talk to experienced property professionals and the lockdown has provided me with the opportunity to invest more time into the business. I’ve been fortunate to talk to some very experienced people from across the sector in the West Midlands who I’m looking forward to working with during and after lockdown.
Investing time in my business has already been hugely rewarding, enabling me to also further my skill-set through online courses with Open Learn on Asset Allocation in Investment. So far, the courses have given me a great insight into different portfolio models and asset classes.
The rugby community helps bring people together and through Wasps I have already been able to expand my network. I feel this work sits perfectly in supporting the creation of a better work-life balance alongside my rugby, giving me a different focus outside of the training ground, leading me to become more relaxed, and allowing me to have a clear head building up to training and games.
It’s exciting to bring together my passions for rugby and business, and to be heading into the new phase with a former team-mate. I’m really looking forward to getting back with the team once the lockdown has lifted and continuing to strive to improve both on and off the field.
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