Moving On: Transitioning at the top of your game

On February 7, 2016, I watched an epic event unfold and end in a grand way. It was full of hope and promise for two of the best teams in the National Football League. On the one side of the field, a team with a steady-handed quarterback only a handful of years younger than me. On the other side, a young quarterback with a team that will be back to the big dance soon enough. Both had a tough and exciting road to the fiftieth, or golden, anniversary championship game at the Super Bowl, an anniversary nicknamed America’s Passion.

I identify more with Peyton Manning and the vice president for football operations John Elway of the Denver Broncos than the other team. Both were part of great teams during their long-running careers in the NFL, and both were able to win the Super Bowl twice. Elway set a precedent that a handful of other superstars should follow by retiring the season following his second Super Bowl victory. Manning should consider doing the same in order to avoid becoming like Brett Farve.

Farve, a Hall of Fame quarterback with numerous Super Bowl victories, stayed around a handful of seasons past his prime playing days. In some ways, it is just too hard and too painful to let go of a profession that has defined you. Farve may be similar to many military members in that regard, as choosing to transition is never easy. This was the comparison I made when finally committing to retire from the Navy Reserve; I could go out like Elway, or I could go out like Farve.

I enjoyed a wonderful start to my career in the Navy. I achieved satisfying results during my first five or six years in the submarine force that helped me determine that I wanted to stay in the service until retirement. Qualifying as a submarine warfare specialist in less than one year’s time and being accepted to the commissioning crew of the USS WYOMING (SSBN 742) were the highlights of my early years. Like Manning, I enjoyed basking in the glow of victory.

I began to struggle just prior to year six, and it became apparent to me that it was time to leave active duty. Like so many professional athletes, I began to see my career fade before my eyes without ever making it to the big game. I left active duty feeling a bit washed up and really confused about what was next. I decided that going back to college was my best option, so I went back to college and graduated, later moving into the Reserve to continue my service.

As I completed my first transition from active duty to reserve, I reinvented myself as a different kind of professional. I became a professional student for nearly three years and I enjoyed a degree of freedom that I didn’t previously enjoy while on active duty. I suppose that post career retirement from professional sports would be about the same as returning to college as a student in your mid-twenties, except retired pros usually have more money to spend!

Fast forward to mid-career, in the Reserve, the private sector, and professional sports. By this time, Manning had moved on from the Indianapolis Colts with one Super Bowl victory under his belt. I had crossed over the ten year mark in the Reserve without promotion, and my career in the private sector was sadly slowing down. After Manning was let go from the Colts, he might have thought, “Is this it, two Super Bowls: one win, one loss?” I know I was considering what it would be like as an E5 retiring at twenty years! Fortunately for both of us, there was another chance to make a strong finish.

I decide to get serious about my career options in both my military and professional lives. Manning picked up another chance with the Broncos. Manning and I worked hard to recapture the fire that had burned down to smoldering, glowing embers. I saw not one, but two, promotions, two career changes, multiple personal awards, and two college degrees rise from my push to reinvent myself. Manning took his skills to the Broncos and returned to the Super Bowl for a third time and put a number of winning seasons together during the lead up to Super Bowl 50.

In early 2015, I decided it was time for retirement from my beloved career. My family needed me home and I had wrapped up my last deployment to Afghanistan to support Special Operations Forces. I received the recognition and satisfaction of serving with the best warriors the United States has in combat. I was feeling like Elway, having just won a second Super Bowl, intent to go out at the top of my game.

I hope that, like Manning, you see how important it is to choose your transition wisely. Like Elway and I, you can go out at the top of your game knowing you left it all on the field. I wasn’t going to go out like Farve, looking for one more victory or record to break, hanging around past my prime.

Originally published at