In a stunning post-game press conference this weekend, 30-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck officially announced his early retirement from the NFL.
Luck, formerly one of the highest-paid NFL players, was “mentally worn down” and constant injuries have deteriorated his love for the game. He suffered torn cartilage in two ribs, a torn abdomen, a lacerated kidney, a concussion and a torn labrum. This pre-season, Luck missed parts of training camp due to an ankle injury.
Jim Irsay, the owner of the Colts football team, claimed that Luck earned almost $100 million over his seven-year career and could be walking away from about $500 million.
In what seemed like an impromptu news conference, Luck said, “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game…the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. He emotionally added, “This is not an easy decision. It’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”
This is a cautionary tale for all of us. In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, they found jobs, trades and professions and stuck with them for their entire working lives. You put in your time, were loyal to your company and after 30 years, you retired with a gold watch.
We don’t have that luxury any longer. This is a new era of dramatic change. Automation, artificial intelligence, globalization, near and offshoring jobs, the gig economy and other factors strip away any sense of permanence in a job or career. There are no guarantees that the job you hold now will even exist in 10 or 20 years. The company you work for may be taken over, their products rendered obsolete or the jobs have moved to other countries. There is no loyalty on the part of the companies any longer. If you are of value today, they love you. If you don’t produce to their satisfaction or management can find someone cheaper who will work longer hours, they’ll let you go in a heartbeat without any regrets.
It’s a free-agency economy for everyone in the corporate world. You alone are in control of your own destiny. No boss, manager or mentor will save you. You can’t solely rely on a company for a safe and secure future. This sounds cold and harsh, but it’s not. There is a zen calmness when you come to terms with the fact that you’re the quarterback of your own life. It is all up to you—fail or succeed.
You need to prepare every day for being called into the human resources office and given a pink slip. However, you can also prepare every day to lead your best, most rewarding life on your own terms. Think of what you really want to do and achieve in your career and go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back. Give it your all. Some people deride Millennials, but there is validity in their ethos to move on if they’re not appreciated.
It must have been tough on Luck to walk away from something he worked so hard to achieve—and the money. Yes, I know you will say that he has millions in the bank, so nobody is going to cry for him. However, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a human being and subject to the same emotions as us. I don’t know if he has a back-up plan, but most regular people require one. You need to always think about what’s next. Have a few plans in the works, so that if you cannot continue with your current job, are sick and tired of your career or are fired, you don’t have to scramble and start from a dead stop.
A big part of Luck’s decision had to do with his mental well-being. He acknowledged that his mindset had changed and he no longer possessed the same drive, passion and enthusiasm for the game as he once had—due the constant injuries. It’s the same for all of us. We don’t like to discuss it, but sometimes we’re just mentally and emotionally exhausted in our careers. It wears us down, ruins personal relationships and makes us unhappy. Instead of ignoring this, you should find a job that is better suited for you—mentally and emotionally—or at least take a break to get yourself together, decompress and heal.
We may not be subject to the painful blows that a quarterback receives, but we do get our fair share of punishment in the corporate world—lack of recognition, failure to receive a much-earned promotion or raise, lack of mobility up the corporate ladder, discrimination and prejudices, getting laid off or just stuck in your career. Like Luck, you will need to know when to walk away and start something new and different. Have the confidence to follow your convictions and do what’s right for yourself, even if the fans in the cheap seats boo you.