From NFL to business professional: tackling a tough career transition
The NFL is the dream of many football-playing kids, and for a small handful, it becomes reality. But what happens after you make it?
Nick Greisen ’15 (EMP 96) spent eight years in the NFL as a linebacker with the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. After the NFL, though, he faced a new challenge: transitioning into his post-NFL-retirement life and finding a second career.
Greisen shared his story and some tips for transitioning your career.
When you decided your time with the NFL was over, how did you manage the transition into another career?
Moving from the NFL to a business career was a more difficult transition than I had expected. I thought it was going to be easy: I had graduated from a good college, University of Wisconsin—Madison, and I saw my time in the NFL as an experience that developed a desirable skill set.
What I found, though, is people didn’t always see the intangibles I brought to the table. They didn’t recognize I was used to a competitive environment, where my job was on the line every day, or that I was conditioned to work well with a highly diverse group of people. They were interested, but never took the time to look outside the box and understand how my skill set could add value to the team. All I ever heard was, “You didn’t have the transferable skills for the job.”
What did you do to combat this mindset?
It comes down to this: Do you want to be a passenger or a driver? I sat back and let others drive the direction of my life for so long. I decided to take control of the wheel. So I actively sought out prospects. I stopped waiting for the interviewers to ask the questions. I took the initiative to learn their business and began actively showing potential employers how I could add value to their company and why I was worth the risk.
How did the Executive MBA Program become part of your transition plan?
During the transition, I realized three things. First, I never wanted to be told I couldn’t move up the corporate ladder because I didn’t have enough education. Second, I needed the credibility from a top MBA program like Kellogg, because I knew it would illustrate my capabilities and potential to a future employer and break the stereotype of being an NFL football player. Finally, I didn’t want to feel inadequately equipped. I wanted to be able to lead teams at a high level. An MBA was my route to achieve that.
What was the biggest challenge in the business world compared to working in sports and vice versa?
In a lot of ways, they’re very similar. One thing about being an athlete I miss is the physicality and competition. During physical competition, your brain rewards you by releasing endorphins and raising your serotonin levels. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true when you hit send on an email.
However, in sports and in the business setting, there is the same need for leadership and teamwork. The questions are the same: How do we reach this goal? How can we turn this group of unrelated people into a highly effective team? How can we influence and inspire them to be greater than the sum of their parts?
One in six NFL players file for bankruptcy within 12 years of leaving the league. Why do you think that is?
The mentality a lot of players have is that they’re never going to fail — because they wouldn’t have gotten this far if they had any doubt in themselves. I remember one player say, “I came into league broke, and I don’t care if I leave broke.” But the NFL has so many programs to help prepare you for life after pro football. I think colleges are the missing link in this equation: they need to start focusing on helping their players build valuable skill sets. After all, only 1.6% of college athletes get drafted. And if you do, the average career is only three years. That’s another 40 years of work ahead of you. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket.
What suggestions do you have for other players looking to plan and manage life after retirement?
When your time as a player is over, you have to adjust your lifestyle to the income you have. The best thing you could ever do as a player is put all of your income in the bank and pay yourself a reasonable salary. Have a financial action plan in case you have to go without an income for a while. Bankruptcy is real: money doesn’t last forever.
Beyond money, my advice to younger players is to create a goal for beyond football. Are you a river or a flood? A river has banks, containing the water and allowing the energy to focus in one direction. A flood has no boundaries, allowing water and energy to go in all directions and causing mass destruction. I like to think of my time and energy as a river flowing all in one direction. When I have a goal, I create banks to limit what I am doing. Without a goal, I expend time and energy in an unfocused way. There are no banks, so I become a chaotic flood, going every which way and never reaching any goal.
The reality is, you are the only one that can and should drive your own life. Remember to have a goal and strive to reach it.