A New Career. A New Beginning.

by Ken Ruettgers

I picked up a book shortly after I retired from the professional football. I was looking for some insight into the next step of life's journey. The author asked an appropriate question: "If you had the time to pursue your dream and money was no object, what would you do?"

I tossed the book onto my nightstand and muttered to myself:"If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn't need to read this stupid book!"

I had played football for two-thirds of my life. It seemed like all of my life. It was my passion and purpose. It's what I was made to do. And then, it was over.

So now what? Everyone else had a great idea for what I should do with the rest of my life - everyone, but me. "Retire, play golf, take it easy" someone said. I did for a while, but it didn't take long before boredom set in. Even Michael Jordan needed more than 18 holes a day. "You have a business degree, buy a company or start a business and run it," I was told. It sounded like a great idea, but without any "real life" experience, I'd probably run it into the ground.

There were some great opportunities (before the phone quit ringing), but there always seemed to be a downside – no off-season, not enough pay, and nothing that really seemed to turn my crank long enough for me to follow through on with a commitment. Besides, it always seemed like a step down from the NFL. Even my wife was beginning to get tired off me hanging around the house.

"You need to get a job and get out of my kitchen," she said. I couldn't have agreed with her more, but what? Playing golf, traveling, and hanging out with the "buds" was not going to fly at home with my wife and kids – especially the wife. Me out having a great time while she stayed home and took care of the house and kids – no way!

Retirement seemed more like a roller coaster than "living the good life." One minute I was self assured and determined to go in one direction, then lost and unsure, then off to a new direction. I was driving my wife nuts. "Can't you just find a job – a regular job like all the other guys," she said. But, I wasn't like all the other guys – all the "regular" guys never played pro ball.

I like what Yogi Berra said about making difficult decisions in life: "When you come to a fork in the road – take it!"

And that's what I did. After enjoying stints as a High School coach and donating my time to a non-profit organization, I committed to take a "regular" nine-to-five job with a publishing company as an assistant to the publisher and president. It was an entry-level job with some great opportunities and working for a guy that understood the unique challenges of transitioning from pro sports.

It didn't matter that I had faced the best pass rushers the NFL had to offer or that I earned my Masters in Business Administration, I was anxious about taking the next step in life. Would I measure up? What did corporate America expect? What did my boss expect? What did other people think about an ex-pro-ball-player working with them? How would my wife and kids react to the idea of me having to go off to work every day after being home for so long? Could I really work 50 weeks every year for this little money?

It wasn't easy. I started out working in a cubical and learning how to work a computer, answer the phone, and win the corporate political game. Six months later I had learned the system – it was like learning a new offense. I recognized transferable skills that helped me achieve my goals. I was promoted to a new position managing 16 people – it was like coaching – and I moved into an office with a view.
I learned a lot about myself and about corporate America – something I couldn't buy with cash. I used what helped me succeed in the NFL – hard work, commitment, and consistency. And in the end, even though there were days I didn't want to get out of bed, I'm better off today because I took the fork at the end of retirement.
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