Ryan Harris with the staff of the event.

3 Books that Helped Me Transition and Build a Completely New Career

Audiences laugh during a speech when I say I’m 33 and retired. I enjoy saying that because I worked hard in my previous career, and I enjoy reminding people of something big they often do not plan for: retirement.

In my case, retirement does not mean a hammock-sleeping, golf-club-swinging life. I have a young family and needed to find a new career when I left the NFL. It was a huge transition, building a completely new profession for myself from the ground up, in environments I had never experienced (like offices).

I didn’t even know how to work a printer. Seriously.

Even when you voluntarily change careers, move to a new place or make any other big change, transition takes effort. Take the opportunity to make it easier with some know-how and inspiration. These three books helped me get through my transition and re-create a new life for myself. Check them out.



The first book is “Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life” by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard. What I love about this book is how it highlights the fact that when we are facing transitions, we often go through periods of denial.

I did that. Other athletes I know went through it. Getting through this denial may be particularly tough if your transition is forced upon you — usually by injury in professional sports. But it could be by losing your job, your company going bankrupt or being bought out, or having to quit and move with your spouse.

You deny that you are in a transition. You deny that you need to build a new network, develop new skills or change. You deny that life is moving on. But it is.

“Who Moved My Cheese” tells the story of three mice, one of which realizes there is no more cheese left in its room and goes to find new cheese. And the other two end up languishing because they are still waiting for cheese that will not come. It was a powerful illustration of the cost of not accepting that it’s time to move on, that you need to make a move and seek out new cheese.

What’s the cheese in your life? Are you in a happy, healthy, rewarding place right now, or is there some area of your life where you need to move on? Take a look at “Who Moved My Cheese” for some motivation and understanding.


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“The Book of Five Rings”, by Miyamoto Musashi, is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s about how to craft a successful life.

This book was written almost 400 years ago by an undefeated master samurai swordsman who, at the end of his life, shared his wisdom about how to master anything. It’s considered a military classic, but there are hidden gems of advice for self-mastery, discipline, practice and life-mastery, in between his description of sword work and fighting.


From this book, I learned how to commit and how to take action with utter resolve. He also talks about having a free mind that does not obsess or ruminate about anything in order to focus in the moment. Another piece of advice revolves around understanding other people and where they are coming from so you can move forward with the deepest understanding of yourself.

The largest impact came from the last chapter, “No-Thing.”

When you’re done playing in the NFL, even when you are still playing, so many people tell you, “You need this,” or, “You need to do that.” As in: “You need to get an MBA,” or “You need to take this course with me for $50,000 where I give you the secret on how to build a network.”

In transition, we often look for something to give us meaning. We seek answers outside ourselves to create success by passive participation. We are looking for something to give us identity, importance or a sense of purpose. A new degree, a certification, a class, a program. We think that if we add something to ourselves, we will be more marketable, more appealing, more likely to succeed.

Not entirely true.

While it’s always good to learn, and training may be helpful, it’s really on us to create our own identity and purpose, and to find resolve around that. The chapter “No-Thing” helped me to realize I needed no thing outside of myself to decide what I wanted to do. Incredibly empowering.

I loved this idea that there is no thing that you need for you to be great. Your greatness is within you.

Your success depends on no thing outside of yourself — only your willingness, your commitment and your resolve. True, further training can be useful, and knowledge never goes wasted, but the first steps are what YOU decide they are. That was powerful for me and helped me work on those aspects of myself first and foremost.


The book “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People”, by Vanessa Van Edwards, taught me a couple of things about how to present myself and be a better listener. It’s full of great tips.

As a 6’5″, 260-pound black man, others tend to see me as physically imposing. It never occurs to me of course. I forget! As human beings, however, we are always subconsciously checking to see if others are a threat. This book taught me small tips on communication that I did not pick up in a decade in the NFL. I found little actions I could implement immediately, such as presenting your hands, especially your palms, makes you seem less threatening.

Another tip was that when you use someone’s name in a conversation, you give them a dopamine hit much like their favorite drug (coffee or recreational, I don’t judge). We love hearing our own name.

Now when I meet someone, I shake their hand and leave my palms out forward to show subconsciously that I’m not a threat. I work on remembering their name and using it.

In every meeting, Coach Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers taught us “listening is a skill.” It took a couple months for me to understand that idea in the context of football, and even longer to understand that in the context of my life after football. Yet this book also taught me how to listen better. It taught me how to listen not just to what people are saying, but for the emotions they are experiencing, too. Then, to show someone you are listening, how to say something they said back to them.

For example, say you are in an office building, which I suddenly was for the first time after 17 years of playing and performing on a field. Someone comes in and says, “Oh, I’m so pissed off about my boss.” Today I might say, “I can tell you are angry about your boss. What did they say or do? Did you feel like they disrespected you?” I use words the person used, showing I am listening, and encourage them to take the space to disperse that anger. We love to feel heard and to be given space to express ourselves.

When you show someone you are listening to them, you are able to build a better connection. And good connections can help you through transition into your new way of life.

What books have helped you through your life transitions? Let me know in the comments below!