What an NFL Player Taught Me About Life + Career Success

What an NFL Player Taught Me About Life + Career Success

Super Bowl 50 is around the corner and, while normally I’d never write about football on this blog, it relates to something that’s been on my mind recently: people who reach the pinnacle of their careers and how they do it.

Two years ago, one of my elementary school classmates played in the Super Bowl. Let’s call him LP because I don’t feel comfortable trading on the name of someone I haven’t spoken with in 20+ years.

When mutual friends told me LP was playing in the Super Bowl, I was surprised and impressed. I hadn’t followed his career. I didn’t know that he played football in high school much less in college or the NFL. What I do remember, though, is that he talked about making it to the NFL when we were kids—and I pooh-poohed it.

The odds were with me, of course. High school seniors have less than a one percent chance (.09% actually) of making it to the pro league, and we were in fifth grade at the time.

Let me give the story a bit more color: LP was slight, of average height, maybe less, and we met in a magnet school for academics, not athletics. We also lived in a small city known more for its televangelist than anything else. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I doubted his ability to make it to the NFL, but I was wrong.

Here’s what this experience taught me:

Dream big.

As the quote says, “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Figure out what you truly want and go for it.

Don’t listen to the naysayers.

We all wish we had perfect friends, families, and connections who would support our every intention, but that’s improbable. In fact, some of the most impressive people I’ve met are also the most resilient. They’re the ones who’ve slogged through seemingly impossible situations and made it to the other side.

Your success ultimately comes down to how badly you want it. And so the person who has to believe in you is yourself.

Don’t be a naysayer.

At 10 years old, I was surely repeating messages I’d heard, and you better believe that I applied them to myself as well.

Do you know the odds of becoming a professional dancer or published author, two of my goals back then? Slightly better than LP’s chances, actually, but I didn’t think I could achieve either and so I didn’t try. What would have happened if I had, I wonder?

Don’t be a dream killer. It’s not your job to give someone else a reality check, even if you think it’s for their own good. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming as long as you’re also willing to…

Work hard.

We have to be willing to work hard to achieve our goals. Sure, natural ability helps, but perspiration is a far greater contributor than talent.

I’ve heard that, at the professional level, athletes are almost always evenly matched and you have to fight for every inch you get. That’s probably true in a lot of fields, so it’s a good lesson for all of us.

Keep at it.

LP wasn’t a superstar in the conventional sense. He didn’t attend a top-ranked college football program. He wasn’t drafted straight out of college. During his career, he was signed and released multiple times. In fact, he was several years into his career before he managed to play a full season with one team. And yet he’s also been voted team captain repeatedly and he played at the Super Bowl.

If LP’s story isn’t an example of career success through perseverance, I don’t know what is. Obstacles always come up, even on relatively smooth rides. Each time, you have to decide if your goal is worth picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back in the saddle.

Love what you do.

While I haven’t confirmed this with him, I can’t imagine that LP chose his career for the money or the fame. From this outsider’s view, his journey looks like it was fueled by love for the game.

If it had been about money or fame, do you think he’d have been able to sustain his commitment over the long haul? Especially given that he wasn’t a star or constantly followed by paparazzi? I sincerely doubt it.

It’s loving the work that makes us willing to make sacrifices—often painful sacrifices—for it. It’s loving the work that makes the hard times worth the effort.

Bottom line: It’s easy to think that you can’t achieve amazing career success when the odds are stacked against you, but someone has to. Why not you?

Kate Watson