“I’m 33 years old, black and retired.”
I love that opener when I’m speaking at corporate events. And yet there is something beyond.
In the NFL, being able to choose to retire (not having the game retire you) can a tremendous gift. And retirement life should be a gift too. When you get to retire, it means you dedicated yourself not just to a job, but a career. You persevered through tough times. You overcame obstacles. You did things you did not want to do and you saved your money to set yourself up.
Whether we’re talking about me retiring from the NFL or you retiring from your career, you will be in a completely new place in retirement. And it’s a place you really need to think about before you get there.
Surprisingly, I find that few people ever think about:
- Planning financially for their retirement (saving).
- What they’re going to do in retirement. (I suppose if you don’t do the first one, you won’t get the chance at the second one.)
If you do plan to retire, here are three lessons about retirement that I wish I had considered ahead of time.
1. IDENTITY: WHO WILL YOU BE WITHOUT YOUR JOB AND SALARY?
Aaron Taylor, a mentor of mine for over 15 years now, always says, “A fish doesn’t know it’s in water.”
When you retire, you become a fish out of water. You do not operate by your work schedule. You are not doing things that you’re used to doing. And, out of water, nobody instantly understands what knowledge or expertise you have worked so hard to attain. You walk around with no title, salary, awards, anything.
Retirement exists as a new world. Even as the most professional professional, you will now be doing things you’re not good at. Sometimes, things you have not done for a long time. You will have to figure new things out as a beginner. Colin Powell has a funny story where, on one of his first days of retirement from the military, without the aides that always helped him do minor tasks at work, he looked at his wife and said, “How does one go about getting lunch around here?”
The number-one thing that I had no idea I would need to work on was my identity. I did not understand how much of who I thought I was came from being an NFL player — tied up in the job I held — until it hit me by its absence. I’ve seen this issue make trouble with some former teammates as well as people who left non-sports jobs. Who are you without your job?
We all need an identity. When you’re in your career, you are a fish in water. You’ve got an identity even though you might not be aware of it. When you’re in your career, you have your title, whether that’s left tackle, or director of sales, or managing partner, or doctor. Whatever your title, it signified to others that you had wisdom, that you had experience, that you had put in your time, that you had accomplished tasks.
Who are you without that recognition of the intelligence, the knowledge and the wisdom you’ve gained?
People who meet me today do not know I have deep expertise on a range of topics including leadership, mental focus, football, travel and much more. Sometimes when I am on the field for a broadcasting gig people hand me their tickets and ask where their seats are. Ha!
No, no, no. I’m retired. I have had a career. There are valuable things I learned because I literally got a cleat in my nuts when I failed to listen to this advice, and I did not prepare. Now I am prepared and I have mastered those lessons. I know who I am.
2. ACTIVITY: WHAT WILL YOU DO?
The next thing to ponder ahead of time is activity. What do you want to be doing?
About two weeks into retirement, my wife turned to me and said, “You need a workout.” I had forgotten in the NFL how we work out almost every day. For me, without my old routine, I had no activity. Even with the broadcasting I do now, I would just go in when I had to be there. I had to set up my physical activities and schedule myself — a new experience.
What will get you up and out of the house? One, you do not want to annoy the s#it out of your partner, and two, you have an opportunity do something and see the world in a different way. One teammate, a young retiree as well, has gone headfirst into practicing his golf. I wrote a book and jumped into broadcasting.
When you’re retired, new physical activity can bring you a new perspective. Anything I do on a Sunday in the fall is new to me. I just went through my second August without football in 18 years. I had no idea what other people did in August! I was always on a training-camp schedule.
When you take on physical activity in retirement, you build a new perspective and get to enjoy activities that you may have never done.
3. CONTRIBUTION: HOW WILL YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Lastly, in retirement, you have to make sure you continue to contribute to society. I broadcast because I love to educate and humanize people about the game they love. I do speaking engagements because when I won the Super Bowl with my team, everything I believed about myself came true for other people. And I want other people and other businesses to experience that moment in their lives.
Every morning possible, I start my day with my family, who is my top priority. Nurturing my kids, being there for them, will contribute both to their lives and to the greater world when they grow up and become positive adults.
Find a way to contribute. How can you continue to share your value with the world? Do not contribute just for other people, but do it for yourself, to give your daily life value and meaning.
ENJOY VALUE, LAUGHTER AND JOY IN RETIREMENT
Be careful — do not flip these three tips into the pitfalls of your retirement. If you retire and fail to find a new identity, you will experience problems in how you feel about yourself. If you retire and fail to do physical activity, you will literally waste away. And if you do not contribute to your community or your family in retirement, then you are doing nobody any good and you will feel that. Fail at these three things and your entire career will have been for nothing.
However, by building your identity, by embarking in a physical activity and by giving back to your community, you can bring value, health and joy to your retirement in ways you had never imagined.