What’s Between Being A Professional Basketball Player And A Leading Healthcare Investor?

Assaf Barnea
Managing Partner of Sanara Capital & Sanara Ventures

It started with jealousy. Assaf’s older brother played basketball when they were kids, and so, as littles brothers do, Assaf wanted to do the same. He started playing when he was only 8 years old, and 3 years later he was scouted and moved to Hapoel Haifa, which was an empire in Israel at the time.

He traveled everyday by bus, coming home from games and practices late at night.

When people asked him when was the point where he started playing professionally, he still points to the age of 8 -

“That was the tipping point. It wasn’t when I started getting paid, the mentality was always there because you dive into it and then you can’t leave.”

The values he was taught by being an athlete later became a passion for him to teach and pass on: about leadership, postponing immediate gratification, tolerance, resilience -

“those values, those abilities to overcome frustrations, the importance of having the ability to explain yourself while being in a team, understanding that sometimes you're in a good shape but are not able to perform, like in a startup company, you’re in a team but you’re not positioned quite well, being able to maintain yourself and going through the ups and downs over and over  again - this is where I feel that I can truly add value.”

What’s next

He had to leave basketball at the age of 31 after wrist and knees’ injuries. He remembers his physician telling him a year before -

“One day if you're going to continue playing basketball, you’re not going to be able to pick your kids up in the air.”

It was a tough change to make, but Assaf combated this early on by doing 3 degrees while he was still a professional player - in Law, Business and Political Science and Psychology, and also by hosting a TV show called “Sports TV” with Yael Arad and many other amazing athletes. 

So when it was time to move on, he already had new exciting directions.

He shared:

”When I grew up a little I understood that I needed to have different angles - I had to have more than just the legal aspect, I needed the psychological one, the business one, the global aspect of those, I felt that being only a lawyer would not satisfy my inner wishes to the extent that I was able to recognize them at the time.”

Sitting with ourselves, asking ourselves - what do I want to do after this current project I’m working on, weather it’s going to turn out good or bad, it can help us adjust ourselves for the future, being more mentally prepared and clear about our goals, because when a big project or job ends, it can leave us with a great sense of emptiness. 

We need to know how to handle change, Assaf said, because there’s nothing constant in life aside from change, like the Buddhist quotation:

“Everything changes, nothing remains without change.” 

Knowing yourself through therapy

“On the first time I came to my therapist, I asked her - how long is it going to take? That’s how naive I was. Eventually I found myself after 3 years of regular therapy, being asked by my therapist if I wanted to do Psychoanalysis, and I agreed. It was a long long process of going 3 times a week and not finding emotional insights in the beginning, but it’s like walking in the desert in order to find a well with water, in the end it can be one word that opens the gate to your subconscious mind and triggers you - and I truly found so many things.” 

He described it as a rabbit hole, which you can dive again and again to, it allowed him to understand himself in a much more deep and profound way. 

“So many people say there's a stigma about going to therapy, I’m saying therapy is the best course that I did, I wish I could take it more.”

Knowing ourselves is so important, because in our world, with all the noises, the feedback, the reviews from other people, it’s so easy to get caught on the external side of our life, without really knowing if the outer success actually matches our interior sense of success and fulfillment.

This doesn’t mean that we need to listen only to ourselves, as Assaf explained:

“Good entrepreneurs understand that there has to be a balance between their side of expectations, wishes, enthusiasm and motivation which is amazing, and the other side of knowing how to work with a board, how to listen to their chairman or to other investors and the ecosystem. You have to balance the external and your internal validation to be really able to adapt and adjust.”

I (Gali) believe that knowing ourselves is the most important part of our growth. Knowing our strengths, our boundaries, our values, our goals, the way we operate and react to things, we can learn how to work with and develop ourselves. Only when we develop ourselves we can help develop our team and our startup, or like Assaf concluded:

“You have to surround yourself with yourself.”

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