Guest MMQB: Austen Lane on the struggle to succeed on- and off-field
When Peter King asked me to fill in on MMQB, I immediately accepted the offer. What better ammo for my grandma to brag to all the ladies at the laundromat than the fact that her grandson was writing for Sports Illustrated?
While most of you reading probably have no idea who I am, it's refreshing to see Peter did his homework and selected someone with such a prestigious writing background. A few of my accomplishments include:
• 3 1/2 years as a journalism/mass communication major at the former public ivy league institution known as Murray State University.
• Author of the participation-ribbon-winning "Why I Want To Be An Astronaut" at a grade school essay contest.
• Author of an apology letter to my neighbor for breaking her window while playing Power Rangers when I was 8.
• Watched half of the Dead Poets Society before falling asleep.
As you can see, my résumé speaks for itself.
The process that has led to this column was a stressful one. Originally, I was supposed to write about being a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the season ahead, but I was released from the team a few days later. Feeling overwhelmed by the news and clueless as to what to write, I almost threw in the towel. But in being released by the Jaguars, I confronted something every player struggles with -- striving to be the best player possible while also looking ahead and trying to plan for a post-football life in the future.
"Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has yet to come. We have only today." - Mother Teresa
"Your future is always more valuable than today, the sooner you realize that the better" - Steve Douglas
Wait, so which one is it? Are we supposed to live in the present or plan for the future? Do we focus on today, or is what's ahead really more valuable? As a current NFL player I am constantly asking myself this question.
As players, we are always taught to focus on the task at hand, and to do our job. A job which only lasts 2 1/2 years on average. So where is the line? How do we focus on football while providing for a solid and stable future? While there is no surefire formula, I believe the following is a guide to developing not only a successful career but, more importantly, a successful life.
In The Present
Prioritize: Outside of your faith, family and friends, football needs to be your top priority. You need to treat it as not only your career but your livelihood. It is imperative that you never get too comfortable, the only time you should feel comfortable and satisfied in this profession is when you are done playing.
Be a professional: Whether we like it or not, we are role models for the next generation. Set the right example for them. Being a professional also means abiding by the team rules and policies. I don't have to go in-depth explaining how many players have lost the opportunity to play football because of foolish decisions. Not only will acting the right way extend your career, it will also help you down the road when you are done playing.
Realize that you can only control what you can control: The media will always be the first ones to put you on a pedestal when you do something right and the first ones to tear you down after a mistake. Take the good with the bad, never get too high or too low. You can't control what other people say about you, but you can control how you react to it.
Remember that your body is your business: Take care of your health, whether it's getting extra lifts in after practice or sitting in a cold tub. Even 10 minutes more can make a world of difference. The point is to make sure you do something every day. This will not only help take care of your body, but also mentally reinforce to yourself and everyone around you that you are taking your career seriously. Of course you can go out and enjoy yourself; I don't think you'd be mentally stable if you didn't. But keep it all in moderation. There is no need to show up Lindsay Lohan and make one of her benders look like bible study camp. Remember: The more you invest into your business (your body), the more possibility for profit.
Assemble a support system: The NFL is an extremely stressful environment for a player. One of the most important tools you can have is a support system. Whether it's family or a friend, it's imperative that you have someone to talk to. One of my biggest support systems involves my PS3. While it may sound far-fetched, instead of talking to my friends on the phone we engage in playing Call of Duty online together. This is how we keep up with each other. It gives me time to turn my brain off and not think about the stressful world of football. Whether it's video games, talking on the phone, yoga or reading, find something to relieve stress. Work belongs in the stadium, not at home.
Enjoy: Through the stress, injuries or just overall struggle to get out of bed in the morning, we must always remember not to take this job for granted. While other people slave behind a desk, struggle to make ends meet or are overseas fighting for our country, we have the chance to play a game that we have been playing since we were children. Those people struggling with economic hardships depend on us to take their minds off of their own stresses. We give them something to cheer for and believe in. Always be thankful for that.
For The Future
Get your college degree. The college degree is the single most important thing we can have in choosing our next career. Most NFL players are blessed to have had a full scholarship and not have to take out student loans. When we are done playing we already have a leg up in that regard. Beyond that, the NFL will cover up to five years of continued education, pending a passable grade, after retirement. Take advantage of that.
Meet as many people as you can: Networking is vital; the more people you meet the more likely you'll have someone in your corner when looking for a new job. Whether it's a brief conversation, a meeting, or even just getting a business card, use the NFL to your advantage. As players we have the unique circumstance of gaining resources others just don't have access to. The NFL also offers a variety of bootcamps in areas such as broadcasting, music and journalism. It was the NFL's journalism bootcamp this past spring that led to the opportunity to write this column.
Don't live outside of your means: This one should be obvious. I'm not going to tell anyone how to spend their money, but if you have a car for every day of the week then chances are you may find yourself in some financial trouble down the road. It's a rude awakening for players when we start post-football careers and realize that the paychecks aren't as big as before. It's OK to treat yourself; in fact, i encourage it. Just keep it within reason.
Invest in a 401(K): I shouldn't have to say this, and at 25 years old I feel a little weird doing so, but it's something you should do. It absolutely baffles me how some players still don't buy into this program.
Have a Plan B: If your career ended tomorrow, what would you do? If you can't answer this question within five seconds, then you don't have a Plan B. A Plan B can be going back to school, applying for a job or even just making a call to someone you met during your career. You just need to have something in mind, because when that day comes and you get called into the coach's office and told you no longer have a job, the only thing from keeping all of your emotions and thoughts from tearing through your brain is a Plan B. Trust me, I've been there.
To sum it all up, I leave you with this: If you find yourself at the crossroads of present and future, just go straight. You may not see a path right away, but if you continue straight you will discover the destination you are looking for.
Tweets of the Week
How am I supposed to pick a Tweet of the Week when the only things out there were the hashtag #Merica, reviews of the new Jay-Z and Amanda Bynes ensuring herself a nice window view at a mental institution?
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think if I'm not collecting medical compensation from the NFL health insurance policy by the time this column is posted, thanks to my Fourth of July combination of Illegal fireworks, Red Bull and YOLOing, then I may have failed as an American.
2. I think we need to bring waterboarding out of retirement and find whoever is responsible for the high-waisted jean shorts females are rocking this summer. I've campaigned on behalf of this idea for a while. I don't know if this is God's punishment for the yoga pants movement, but someone needs to be held responsible.
3. I think The Discovery Channel has to give the people what they want: please upgrade to Shark Month! It's bad enough that the prestigious week occurs when I'm in training camp every year, but what's the point of only going for a week? The shark is the relentless juggernaut of the animal kingdom, and it needs to have the month it deserves.
4. I think as social media grows, people's self-satisfaction diminishes. There used to be a time when people could go to the gym and not have to post a picture of themselves -- they were just satisfied being healthy, they didn't care what other people thought. Keep it in perspective people, it's not as if likes or retweets are going to be our nation's currency in the future.
5. I think we need to ban the clichés from Twitter. If I have to look at one more NFL player with his shirt off in a sepia-toned picture with the caption "There is no offseason" or "Doing work" I might lose it. Let's not stop there, how about the phrase "Rise and grind?" Is "Rise and grind" some sort of visual subconscious B12 shot where, whenever you see it, you immediately get amped and want to bench press three times your body weight?
6. I think the world of science is skewed and immoral. How did we develop the capabilities to clone a sheep almost 10 years ago, but we still can't solve the 80-year-old problem of Milk Duds sticking to the backs of our teeth?
7. I think tattoos are starting to become a big part of today's culture, and you should never judge a person based on their ink ... unless they have a tribal armband, then by all means judge the crap out of that person.
8. I think the architect of Arrowhead Stadium deserves a raise. I'm not sure who designed that audible Pandora's box but it's by far the loudest stadium in the NFL. Then you mix that with some of the most diehard fans in football? Needless to say, I'm excited for this season.
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9. I think the media needs to pay more attention to the good things happening in sports. I understand we live in a world that loves drama and feeds off of confrontation, but for every athlete that messes up there are 20 out there doing something inspirational, and their stories deserve to be heard as well.
10. I think ... actually, I know that this has been an honor and I am blessed Peter considered me for the job. The experience has been outside my comfort zone, and in turn have made me a better writer. Thanks for reading, and look out for some of my other work down the road.