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Matthew Stokes
Kicking career goals: moving from one challenge to the next

In mountaineering, they talk of the false summit: a peak that looks like the pinnacle of the mountain. You think you’re approaching the top but as you get closer it becomes evident that the summit is actually higher. You’re not there yet.

It’s a concept that also applies to careers. Having your sights set on a goal can make it hard to see what is beyond. It can seem like once you reach that peak there will be nowhere else to go and it’s all downhill from here.

A false summit can be disorienting, but if you push through the confusion, there’s always a new challenge ahead. We spoke to retired AFL player Matthew Stokes about how his career goals have changed and evolved over time.

Career goals are never fixed

Matthew’s AFL career was impressive, kicking 209 goals over 200 games and contributing to Geelong Football Club’s AFL Premiership wins in 2007 and 2011. After retiring as a player Matthew took a position with the Australian Football League as Indigenous Engagement and Programs Manager.

In taking on this role, Matthew had a new career goal in sight: ‘I was working at the AFL for three years and always wanted to come home to Geelong Football Club, but I wanted to get a better understanding of the industry so that when I did come home, I was in a better position to influence change,’ he explains.

Matthew’s new role as People and Engagement Manager with Geelong Football Club allows him to support and mentor players, something he feels very passionate about. ‘As a player I was able to achieve the ultimate success and be a part of such a great era,’ he says. ‘I want this group of players to be able to do the same and create their own legacy and if I can play a small part in that, I’ll be a happy man.’

During his playing career, Matthew remained focused on the present moment rather than focusing on his successes. ‘You don’t think about it much while you’re playing,’ he says. ‘When you retire and look back at what you have achieved is when you get a sense of pride and are able to enjoy it.’

'I wanted to get a better understanding of the industry so that when I did come home, I was in a better position to influence change.'

Matthew Stokes,
Geelong Football Club

Planning the next move

Career changes don’t just happen overnight. They can require extensive planning, further study, and some soul searching. When the time came for Matthew to retire from football he started to prepare for his next iteration. ‘My last few years of playing I studied and did part time work at the footy club to prepare myself for life after my career,’ he says.

Matthew believes it’s important to have challenges in front of you. ‘If you get to a position where you think you have peaked it’s probably time to move on; passion has always been my motivation in life.’

For Matthew, mentoring and supporting others has become his sole focus. ‘I don’t want to be remembered as a footballer,’ he explains. ‘I want my career away from the game to be the first thing people think of when they speak my name.’

Other famous reinventors

Sometimes pursuing the next career peak can take you surprising places. If you told a career advisor that you wanted to be a doctor and a comedian they’d likely tell you to pick a lane, yet funny man Adam Kay delivered around 1200 babies before writing a bestselling book and touring the world with his comedy show.

Gwyneth Paltrow collected a Golden Globe, an Emmy and an Academy Award for her acting before reinventing herself as CEO and founder of wellness empire worth an estimated $250 million dollars. Fellow actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was better known as The Terminator before his high profile political career and there has been much discussion around the career changes of the 45th President of the United States.

So what’s common to those who move comfortably from one career peak to the next? According to Matthew, it might be a passion for challenge: ‘I’ve never been satisfied and have always wanted to get better and improve,’ he says. ‘As long as I’m happy I don’t mind what I’m doing in work or life.’

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