What Tony Romo and other athletes can teach you about retirement

The other day, Tony Romo announced that he's retiring from the NFL and football.

This is big news in the Dallas area where I live. Tony Romo has become the face of the Dallas Cowboys as sure as Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith personified the team in the 90s.

This is big news in my family, too. One of my wife’s favorite things to do is to watch Dallas Cowboys games with me (even though I can never give up on my Detroit Lions).

But it’s also big news for me as the Retirement Answer Man.

See, Romo isn’t just retiring to a golden palace on a lake to live comfortably off his huge NFL salary for the rest of his life. Instead he’s switching gears.

Romo is becoming the lead NFL analyst for CBS.

Related, but completely different.

That’s reimagining retirement.

As I’ve said before, even if you have the money to retire comfortably for the rest of your life, there’s a good chance you’ll want to keep working.

How many people go back to work after retiring

In fact, about 1 in 3 people who retire intending not to work for the rest of their life get bored and return to the workforce. There’s only so many back 9s you can take before it’s time for a more engaging game.

The funny thing about that comparison is that during the interview I watched with Romo, he was being interviewed in a golf shirt from a tournament in which he was competing.

Already ready for something else.

Something more…challenging.

Not that I can ever golf a scratch game myself.

But the commentator asked Romo about his chances of returning to football, a course many athletes take when they flounder in retirement. (Looking at you, Brett Favre.)

Romo started to joke about it before he realized that joking was a bad idea.

“Oh yeah, probably a good chance [I’ll return to football]. We'll see how it plays out,” he said, completely deadpan. Then he realized not everyone can read deadpan midsentence and rolled his eyes, laughing. “I think you'll find -- I'm joking. Like I said before, I'm done."

So it looks like Romo, at least, is planning to stick to his reimagined retirement plans.

What other athletes do in retirement

Athletes are, by nature, competitive. So if they decide to switch gears in retirement, they can often fit in super well with the competitive environment in business.

For Romo, that will be learning a new trade—TV journalism—with the help of new coaches. Sure he’ll be talking about a game he knows better than just about anyone, but broadcast journalism is a completely different game with a distinct set of rules.

No fourth down and one yard to go.

No turnovers.

No interceptions (for which I’m sure Romo is grateful.)

Other athletes follow a similar course. Look at the commentators for the NBA on TNT. You’ve got guys with big personalities in there like Charles Barkley. People who also reimagined their own retirement.

Venus Williams left the tennis court behind and entered the startup world in a big way.

People know George Foreman almost as well for the silly George Foreman grill as for his illustrious boxing career.

Basketball greats Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady both switched to a lower-impact sport—baseball.

Meanwhile, baseballer Curt Schilling started a video game company (which failed miserably, but that’s beside the point.)

Drew Bledsoe, the guy that put the New England Patriots on the map, now has a vineyard.

Many athletes use their fame to become spokesmen for companies looking to cash in on someone else’s fame.

Jesse Ventura, a wrestler, became governor of Minnesota.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, another former wrestler, is now one of the most recognized names in Hollywood.

I could go on.

Athletes have to retire early because nature dictates to them they can no longer compete in high-impact sports as they age.

But what about the rest of us?

How you can reimagine retirement

You know, the point I’m trying to make here is that you’re not as locked into your career as you probably think. These athletes all came from similar professions and ended up in disparate fields doing all sorts of things.

The most important consideration is if you can be engaged in doing something long enough to find success.

In fact, let’s put this in a brief list form if you’re already considering how to reimagine your retirement.

  1. Consider your interests: Find a retirement career that will keep you engaged. If you’ve done something throughout your career you hated to make money, I suggest that you ditch that mentality at the retirement door. Whether it’s politics, startups or something else entirely that will keep you happy, chase that down.

  2. Consider the personal impact: For athletes winding down physically, this is important. Their career isn’t something they could sustain indefinitely. Chances are that you may have to reimagine your retirement in terms of the impacts it has on you mentally and or physically.

  3. Consider the societal impact: My friends at The Lions Pride are great examples of this. They both had great careers in different fields and transitioned into life and business coaching because they wanted to better the lives of 1 million men, and by extension, 100 million people, before they retire for real. Think of what you might like someone to say about you at your funeral. You might want to consider doing something with your retirement that will push someone to say that about you.

  4. Consider parallel tracks: Like Romo switching from quarterbacking to commentating on quarterbacks, you may want to chase something that draws on knowledge from your former career, but is totally different.

Whatever the case, remember, it’s not necessarily work you’re retiring from, it’s the work you were doing. Keep that in mind as you, like Tony Romo and other athletes, reimagine your retirement.

Question of the week:

Who’s a great example of reimagining retirement that you’ve noticed? Chime in in the comments below.


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