Dear fresh-out-of-college, pre-draft self,
There are so many things swirling in your life right now. You're working hard, training like you've never trained in your whole life. There's tremendous pressure and a whole lot of expectations from family, peers, and, most of all, yourself. It's easy to get caught up in all the hype (trust me, I know), so I want to give you two simple pieces of advice that I wish I had known. If you embrace them, they will save you a lot of heartache and prepare you for success wherever you go.
1. Remember, you are more than a football player.
Repeat that with me, out loud, slowly. "You are more than a football player." The world of football is glorious, intricate, and dangerous. You will be evaluated constantly. You will be considered a commodity. You will be judged by everything: your "measurables", your appearance, your intelligence, your speech, everything you ever did (and things you didn't do), even your beliefs. You will be found wanting by many, decent by others, and, perhaps, good by a few. You will make mistakes. Things will not go as you expect, but it's alright. You are more than a football player.
You will have some success. You will accomplish goals. You will be lauded. Friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers will come from, seemingly, everywhere to wish you well. You'll be congratulated. Everyone will have "always been a fan of yours". You'll know who actually has been. Everyone will want to talk sports, all the time. Almost unconsciously, they will ignore every other aspect of your life. Meanwhile, you will know the success you have is short-lived. You can't rest easy. There is still tremendous uncertainty and pressure surrounding the novelty of pro football in your life and everyone is watching, but don't worry. You are more than a football player.
You will fail, repeatedly. You will make mistakes. Things will not go your way. You won't measure up to others expectations. Things outside your control will, ostensibly, usher chaos into your life. You will be insulted. The well-wishers will disappear, but the few, real supporters will remain. The competitor in you will cringe as others ride high, while you sit at the bottom. You will be alone. You will be in physical pain and it will be a constant reminder of your limitations. You will be in emotional pain and people will still only want to talk sports, unwittingly prodding the source. Your life in pro sports will end and you won't know what to do. Please…remember, you are more than a football player.
2. Your post-football life begins at the same time as your football career.
Since there is more to your life than football, do not neglect to invest in your life outside the game. From the moment a football player's career begins, he is reminded, almost daily, that it is in peril and will end one day soon. We are, rightly, inspired by majestic careers of the greats who ride off into the sunset after conquering the world, but for every great there are thousands of men whose experience is fleeting and who find themselves on the outside looking in far before they ever wanted to be. The odds are never in your favor, but don't get me wrong. The situation is not dire.
The one thing all pro athletes are afforded (to varying degrees) is time and money. As intense as the rhythm of football life can be, most jobs in the world don't have an offseason. You can't effectively train 16 hours a day. At some point, every football player has nothing football-related to do. At that point, you will have unencumbered time to do whatever you want and, in many cases, the resources to do it with. Even you practice squad guys (which I was one) can't complain; you may not be making even close to the amount the guy in the locker next to you, but six-figures is no small amount.
You have the time, money, and opportunity to consider the man in you that isn't an athlete and make him better. Make the choice right now to abandon locker room comparison. Don't spend your time and money trying to live someone else's life. What do want to be? Where and how do you want to impact the world? Turn off your TV, put down the "sticks" for a bit, take a pass on the club and start looking into what your life will be like when your bubble bursts. The doors to great professional and personal discovery are open to you right now.
There's no formula…
Ultimately, there is no prescription. There is no silver bullet that will make everything work out the way you want it and the unseen, uncontrollable nature of life will not change, but if you know who you are and have even the smallest idea of where you want to head, you'll be ready for whatever comes.
With love from your future self,
Babatunde Oshinowo Jr.