Once upon a time in Indianapolis, everyone’s phones exploded with breaking news alerts and confused texts from friends, family, and fellow Colts fans. Andrew Luck was retiring from the NFL two weeks before the start of the regular season.
And no, it wasn’t a joke or a rumor. There he was on TV moments later, delivering his emotional farewell at a hastily-arranged press conference. He shocked the city and the entire sports world with his retirement bomb. The 29-year-old franchise quarterback was walking away from football altogether, citing pain, fatigue, frustration, and ultimately the reason everyone heard on a visceral level: “I haven’t been able to live the life I want.”
The city experienced a weird cocktail of emotions in the following days. Unbridled disappointment, bewilderment, and yeah, maybe some anger. But at the bottom of that big, bitter cocktail, most of us found the same thing—acceptance and respect. It was clearly a tough call for him, and an even tougher road that led him there. Since then, Luck’s decision has prompted many of us to take stock of our own work/life balance, and what we stand to learn from our former QB.

It’s not all about the money.

Climbing the professional ladder is practically etched in our good American brains, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiration. But there is something wrong once you start trading your wellbeing for a fatter paycheck. Some studies claim happiness doesn’t budge much after you cross the $75k threshold, anyway. If Andrew Luck can walk in the opposite direction of a cash pile most of us can only imagine, there must be something out there worth more.

Protect your health. (All of it).

This goes for your body and your mind. And funny enough, they’re connected. Pain might start off small and compartmentalized, but has a way of spreading into other parts of our being until it’s reckoned with. Luck didn’t have the luxury of restoring his health to the level he needed to stay productive, and he decided the exit ramp was his only option in the end. But most of us don’t have to be in fighting form every Sunday, and can tend to our health when we feel it waning either physically or emotionally.

Your first reaction isn’t always your best reaction.

We have the booing fans to thank for this particular lesson, who unleashed their displeasure from the stands when Luck’s retirement news slid into their Twitter feeds. When we receive some bad news, we have two reactions: the initial, knee-jerk, gut response comes first; followed by a less emotional, more fully-processed one. Maybe these two reactions align in the end, and maybe they don’t. (Let’s go ahead and say they usually don’t.) To avoid responding to less-than-great news in ways you’ll regret, it’s best to take a beat and let your second reaction catch up. Otherwise, you may get labeled as an asshole fanbase. Or just a regular, run-of-the-mill asshole.

Stay future-focused.

Professional football is a punishing sport, as the Next Man Up philosophy reflects. When one player goes down, the next one is waiting in the wings to pick up right where he left off. Looking back helps no one; moving forward is what matters. When things take an unexpected turn, don’t drain your energy lamenting or ruminating. Ask what’s next and move that way.

It’s OK to be human.

It’s a little disappointing to admit, but none of us are actual superheroes. We get tired and stressed and run down. We are not always #CrushingIt. Luck was honest and direct about his struggles and, for the most part, people can empathize with this level of soul-searching. Most of us want the same things at our core. Most of us share a desire to pursue the life we want. When you feel a pull to slow down or take a new direction, give yourself permission to be human and re-route when necessary.

Change isn’t a bad thing.

Sure, it’s unsettling and uncomfortable. But it’s also exciting. If life is anything, it’s continuous change, and our job is to adapt and make the most of every new circumstance. Do we miss Andrew? Of course we do. But it’s hard to not notice the Colts’ winning record at the midway point in the season. Endings mean beginnings, and beginnings mean new possibilities.
The work/life balance thing will always be tricky to navigate, but we’re grateful to the ones—like Luck— who model their journey with transparency and authenticity.