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The Back-Up Plan: Preparing for the ‘what if’

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July 25, 2023

When I was nine, my mother said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Like most boys at that age, my mind was on sports – and I said, “I want to be a football player in the NFL.”

My mother, like any good mother does, said, “What if that doesn’t work out? What’s your back-up plan?”

Her statement caught me off guard – being an NFL football player was really the only thing I thought about.

Noticing my bewildered look, she quickly followed up with, “The next time I ask you, I want you to have an answer for me.”

Six months later, she came back with the same question.

My answer was still, “I want to be a football player in the NFL.”

“What if that doesn’t work out?” she responded again.

This time, I was prepared and replied with confidence, “Then, I want to be a businessman.”

“A businessman?” she said. “What kind of businessman?”

That part I hadn’t thought through, but suddenly, the answer was crystal clear, “I want to be a businessman who helps people.”

My mother liked that answer.

Bumpy road
Life was not easy growing up in New Bern, North Carolina.

That nine-year-old boy was feeling a little lost and confused – my mom and dad separated and I was left with many questions.

Though we were poor, we always had faith and my mother did what was needed to make sure I was taken care of.

My mom worked in a daycare center and always lived to serve others.

That was another part of her message to me – to remember service is the most important – making sure I was doing whatever I could to serve the neighbors, family and friends around me.

Success found
I played football at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, before transferring to East Carolina University in Greenville, where I majored in construction science/construction technology.

After college, I did fulfill my boyhood dream to play in the NFL.

I spent eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was on the winning Super Bowl XXXI team – Go Pack!

I spent a year with the Seattle Seahawks before retiring after the 2000 season.

At 23 years old, I was earning enough to help my mother finance her own daycare center.

I was able to help her live out her dream because she sacrificed to help me reach mine.

My time with the NFL, my first dream, was over, but thanks to my mom and her conversation with me when I was nine years old, I had a back-up plan.

I fulfilled my dream of becoming a businessman who helps people.

After football, I continued my education, earning a Masters in Sports Management from East Carolina University and a doctorate in sports administration and sociology from Marquette.

I’m currently senior vice president for University Relations for Marian University in Fond du Lac, where I develop private and public partnerships that allow us to bring to campus students of all faiths and ethnicities.

I have also helped students with their journey from college to the working world.

In addition to helping students at the university, I also serve on several boards, including Ascension Health Care, because good healthcare is critical to our survival; The Nature Conservancy, because I like the idea of people taking a break and experiencing nature; and Church Mutual Insurance, because of its history of insuring organizations that help others.

And of course, I’m on the Packers Board of Directors, because there’s something special about the only fan-owned NFL team.

The back-up plan worked – and not because I didn’t succeed with my first plan, because I did – but because after my time in the NFL ended, I had something else I was passionate about to move forward with.

Having a back-up plan – or more than one if needed – isn’t just for athletes – it’s a good move for everybody.

Do you feel stuck in a job you don’t like?

What would it take to do something else?

More education?

More training?

A mentor?

Many universities throughout Northeast Wisconsin offer adult learning programs – many that can be done online and part-time, while you continue to work full-time.

It’s also important to surround yourself with positive-thinking, supportive friends and colleagues who want the best for you.

And in return, it’s important you are a positive-thinking, supportive friend or colleague to others.

Reflecting on my life’s vocation, it all ties back to that conversation I had with my mother.

Innovation is about forward thinking.

My mother was thinking forward about our lives.

She knew we needed a good education and to look past what our current dreams were/are.

And being a businessman who helps people is a great back-up plan.

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