Do my classmates know about my NFL background? Most people know. It seemed like a lot of people knew before we even started school. I think oftentimes people can have preconceived notions about what someone with my background would be like, but this can change quickly by your interactions with them. They know who I am and that I play football, but everyone has a background. There are people who are bankers. There are people who are pianists. I played football. When it comes down to it, I’m just like everyone else. My classmates value my perspective and they’re more interested in knowing what I can bring to the discussion.
There is pressure on me to perform above average during Darden Cup which is a year-long athletic contest where the five MBA sections go head to head. But, other than that, the expectations are the same for me as they are for everyone else.
Four adjectives I would use to describe Darden are inclusive, rigorous, collegial, and principled. This has been the most rewarding educational experience of my life. I like to say that I’m “anti-concentration” because I’m too intellectually curious to focus on just one thing. One of the things I love about Darden is that it’s general management.
In the true spirit of the school, I don’t want to limit myself to one concentration. Finance is extremely interesting, but I have to know what operations is all about. Plus I’m really interested in strategy and what drives companies and company cultures. At Darden you can pursue a mix of things and be as deep as you want or as broad as you want.
We also get the chance to meet face to face with people from Wall Street, Fortune 500 companies, private equity moguls, and extremely successful entrepreneurs. You talk to these people who have lived the life that every MBA wants to live. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from them is to avoid the urge to plan your life and career. You want to map everything and say, “This is my 10 year plan.” But once you get out in the real world, nothing is going to happen as planned. Playing in the NFL, I learned that you can get called at any moment, but you can also get cut at any moment. It’s always best to have options in life and see where they take you.
What is the best advice I’ve received? I had a great opportunity to play with Kurt Warner when I was with the Cardinals. He pulled me aside one day when he saw that I wasn’t playing the way he knew and I knew I was capable of. He’s a very astute guy in terms of understanding people and connecting with others. I expressed my frustrations of not getting the opportunities and play time I felt I deserved.
The conversation with Kurt went something like this:
Kurt: Can you control the opportunities that are given to you?
Me: I guess not.
Kurt: Can you control how you react when you don’t get the opportunities you’re looking for?
Kurt: Can you control how you play when you do get in?
Kurt: Quit worrying about things you can’t control and focus on what you can control. Once you realize your ability to react to the opportunities and challenges before you, you can either be positive or negative. But you always have a choice.
Kurt may have given that advice to a lot of people, but it stuck with me and changed my entire perspective. What he conveyed to me that day is that if you approach every new challenge as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, the challenges seem more like opportunities to get better instead of roadblocks. Being the low man on the totem pole, I realized I needed to take advantage of every opportunity I got. From that day forward I’ve only focused on how I control my emotions and how I react to things.
Kurt’s advice also made me feel less entitled. It made me see that no one is owed anything in life
An event that changed my life? I would say getting into Darden was pretty big. I think these have been rather formative years for me. Even though I entered as a 26-year-old adult, the Darden experience and the knowledge that has been shared with me have been invaluable. I’m sure I would be a completely different person had I not had this experience.
Two things I am most grateful for. Definitely my family. You don’t think about it when you’re growing up. I was fortunate enough to be the youngest so I got advice from my siblings that I could ask for (and some I didn’t) and I have two loving parents who have been supportive no matter what.
I’m also grateful for all the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have. I’ll be 28 in January and I’ve been pretty lucky. I had an opportunity to go to all these great schools. I played in the NFL for a few years. I’ve had this really fun ride, but it’s also just the beginning.