Football? It’s Complicated…

Initially, I was not fond of the game of football. I vividly remember my first football season; I was a short, fat, uncoordinated, 6th grader that was terribly allergic to grass. Add insult to injury, our team was utterly awful and finished the season with one win and eight losses.  The damage I dealt lead me to take a hiatus for two years. Though it was a terrible first impression, little did I know how much of a positive impact it would have later on. Thanks to the struggles I faced in football, I became quite successful and earned a scholarship to Dartmouth. 

My obsession and passion for the game stemmed from my undying desire to disprove anyone who didn’t believe I could be successful; this helped me endure the rigorous workouts, critical injuries, and continual pressure to perform well. When it came time for me to make my leap to the next level, I ended up in a position where I was forced to give it up, with no choice but to accept the ultimatum that many find: attaining a job. Thankfully, my work ethic from football prepared me for the corporate world; all I needed to do was find out where I could commit next.

When considering my “backup plan,” I believed I could still work in sports. My background even included an exciting internship with the NFL and I didn’t think I would have any problem finding another sports-related gig. However, after applying for numerous professional league and team positions, I was turned away at every corner. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get back into the sports realm. In my free time, I began to reassess my potential occupations. After returning to Dartmouth to enroll in the Tuck Bridge Business Program, a six-week intensive crash course in business, I discovered a new interest: consulting. Feeling more qualified after some job hunting, I came across an opportunity with a consulting firm in downtown Atlanta; coincidentally, they just so happened to be looking fill one, last Analyst position. Of course, I applied, and after some lengthy, tedious interviews, I was offered the job. 

I’m still unsure how I got so lucky to be in the position I am today. I believe my preparation and networking helped me along the way. Nonetheless, my adjustment to the corporate world was profound. In management consulting, you are constantly challenged mentally and must critically brainstorm how you’re going to support another business solve its quandaries. Of course, being the youngest and most inexperienced coworker in my office, I’ve consistently found myself frustrated when I feel as though I am falling behind the learning curve. Then, I end up asking someone for help, regretting why I put myself through the torture of trying to figure it out myself in the first place. As a competitor, we are always taught to strive for perfection, we believe it’s essential to compete against our peers; I was wrong. Unlike the game of football, this was a completely different arena, but like the game of football, you can never go wrong receiving coaching along the way.

As time has passed, I’ve learned to embrace and welcome new challenges. Stepping away from football has allowed me to discover and cultivate other interests such as kickboxing, drawing, and investing. I began to realize that I had inadvertently escaped the stigma that athletes can only succeed in the sports entertainment industry and stumbled upon an opportunity to be different. While it’s tough to not see myself in a professional football uniform, I have grown an appreciation for suits. I believe they symbolize respect, intelligence, professionalism, and a constant drive to improve; values that I similarly found on the field. My job has allowed me to traverse distinct areas of expertise that I would not have ventured. In every business meeting, I consult with executives, vice presidents, and CEOs; listening to their concerns and working with a team to promote solutions. These issues sprout across various fields, so there’s always something different to digest. The key to success is the ability to adapt, have the right attitude, and be willing to grind when it’s necessary. It’s truly engaging and keeps me interested in the work I do.

I still can’t explain how I made it this far, or what my next steps should be. Undeniably, I still have recurring thoughts (“regrets”) of “what could have been” had I not stopped playing football. Periodically, as I make my commute to work, I replay all the events that occurred during my football career: the ups, the downs, and the everlasting friendships I made along the way. I often think of the injury I suffered a week before my pro day. I knew that it was over. I had a week to be at my best, and that didn’t happen. I think to myself, “Did I give up too early? Did I make the right choice to focus on something else?” I think all athletes go through this thought process. It’s our natural competitiveness that makes us wish we could play at the highest level. Even watching football became monotonous. After nearly twenty years of having my eyes glued to a TV set watching football, it took me months before I could watch it again. It was irritable; seeing someone else live out your “dream.” Admittedly, watching football still feels like studying film, rather than pure entertainment; and that’s okay! Eventually, it will subside (I hope). 

The best I can do now is take things one step at a time, and with each day my mindset grows so that I can count my blessings, rather than dwell on the ones I didn’t receive. As a former athlete, I think it’s our spirit that prepares us to attain the most senior positions in something other than sports. Right now, this is where I am meant to be, and it has worked out thus far.

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About the Author

Justin Edwards

Justin Edwards ’18 is a former Defensive End at Dartmouth College. A native of Suwanee, Georgia, he started playing football at the age of 12. Growing up, Justin always envisioned playing professional sports, but that dream never came to fruition. In school, he gained a stark interest in Sociology throughout his undergraduate career and later earned his business certification from the Tuck School of Business. He currently works for a management consulting firm that specializes in Utilities and Shared Services. His hobbies include working out, kickboxing, and drawing.