3 Important Career Lessons Learned On And Off The Field

J.T. O'Donnell reflects on lessons professionals can learn from athletes.

I've been thinking a lot about athletes and sports recently.

Part of this is because I've had the opportunity to get to know Chris Gronkowski and to learn his amazing story about how he made the transition from pro football player to inventor and CEO of Ice Shaker.

Another reason for this is because the Super Bowl was held recently and it featured 43-year-old Tom Brady winning his seventh championship. As I watched the game, I couldn't help but think that between Brady's success on the field, and Gronkowski's success off the field, there are a lot of lessons that both pro athletes and working professionals can learn from these two, particularly about taking chances and finding success.

Here are a few lessons that come to mind.

Don't Be Afraid Of Change

Whether you're changing companies, or changing careers, some professionals are naturally a little apprehensive. While it's okay to be a little nervous, it becomes problematic when you hold yourself back and start making excuses for not making a change.

  • I've had too much success to make a change now.
  • I'm too old to make a change.
  • I wouldn't know where to start.

All of these excuses can only hold you back, and are easy to overcome if you're willing to take some action.

In Gronkowski's case, he was pushed into early retirement because of lingering injuries, but had some experience helping his wife build her online startup business. Knowing how difficult it can be for pro athletes to transition into new careers, Gronkowski decided to throw himself into his wife's business in hopes of eventually becoming an entrepreneur himself.

Gronkowski knew that entrepreneurship could be risky, and that he had a lot to learn, but Gronkowski ultimately felt that not making a change at all would be a greater risk. Gronkowski would go on to spend five years helping his wife build a successful gift personalization business.

Brady switching football teams may not seem as dramatic, but after spending 20 years with one football team and having the level of success he had in New England, no one would've blamed him if he decided to stay put or retire.

While the outside world will never know every factor that went into Brady's decision to go to Tampa Bay, I think most people can respect the idea of wanting a new challenge and opportunity to achieve success somewhere different.

You Define Your Own Success

After a successful 20-year career with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.

The business that Gronkowski and his wife built was thriving and he was professionally happy. But, a small part of him wanted to start his own business that he built from the ground up.

Following a trip to the gym, Gronkowski was frustrated with his protein shaker and took it upon himself to develop an all-purpose cup that could be used at, and outside, the gym. Through his passion, determination, and a very hands-on approach, Gronkowski built Ice Shaker.

Just because you experience some level of career success, doesn't mean you should stop pushing yourself for more. I always say that if your career isn't growing, it's dying.

Gronkowski could've been content working at his wife's business, but by pushing himself to start his own business, he became a true entrepreneur. As he continues to grow professionally, he'll get to define what success means to him.

In Brady's case, many outside voices say he's the greatest football player ever and he had nothing left to achieve. Some even said that his skills declined and he should retire because 43-year-olds can't play football at a high-level.

Brady ignored all the noise and has reached the unique point in his football career where he's still raising the bar. He seems to love what he does and is still defining his success. We should all be so lucky.

I think that type of determination will serve him well in his future endeavors beyond football.

Brand Or Be Branded


It’s way more than a game ##thegronks ##football ##nextgeneration ##nflplayers ##nfl ##nflfootball

♬ original sound - chrisgronkowski

This is one of my favorite sayings and Gronkowski is the perfect example of the importance of building a personal brand.

Despite his business success, there were still some people who viewed Gronkowski as a "dumb jock" or as "Rob Gronkowski's brother." To change that narrative, Gronkowski took to TikTok and answered questions about life as a pro football player, fitness, and entrepreneurship. This level of engagement made people want to know more about Gronkowski, which benefited both him and his business.

Now people don't just view Gronkowski as a former jock, but rather an engaging personality and entrepreneur. Gronkowski has taken control of the narrative, and will continue to use social media to build his brand.

While it may seem like Brady may play football forever, even he knows that it will end at some point. Brady already has his TB12 health and recovery brand, and has been a lot more active on social media.

People are starting to get a small look of what Tom Brady is like outside of football. I wouldn't be surprised if Brady really opens up his social media more in the next couple of years. Whether he decides to continue building TB12 or pursue other endeavors, Brady probably knows that some people will only view him as a former athlete and he'll have to work to build his brand outside of football.

Whether you're a professional athlete , or CEO, we all face similar challenges and choices in our careers. If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to make the tough choice and tackle all challenges head on.

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