Monday, August 08, 2011

Go for It, Brett; Retiring Successfully Is Harder Than It Looks

After retiring, why do so many athletes like Brett Favre change their minds and come back? Why can't they just go out on top?

After announcing his retirement, Brett Favre was asked, "What are some things that you are looking forward to doing?"

"Nothing," he replied. "And I am going to stick to that until I do something else."

This was an extremely bad sign of the potential for Mr. Favre having a successful retirement.

In my job as an executive coach, I have spent a lot of time with leaders who are dealing with retirement. While some make the transition pretty well, for many it is a disaster. I am a little surprised that Brett lasted as long as he did.

The fact is, after being a huge success in a career that has brought benefits like leadership, relationships, contribution, meaning and happiness, playing mediocre golf with a bunch of old men at the country club isn't really that great. Eating the same chicken salad sandwich, at the same table, and talking with a bunch of retired folks about the person you "used to be" gets old very fast. And after the third cruise, most former leaders are ready to kill the entertainment director.

Many executives who 'retire' immediately proceed to drive their spouses crazy. After a month or so, Brett's wife was probably thrilled at the idea of his going back to football.

One retired military leader reported that - after three months of retirement - he was alphabetizing the cans in the kitchen. When he asked his wife if 'baked beans' should be placed under 'BA' for 'baked' or 'BE' for beans, she screamed, "Get out!"

One former corporate executive is now conducting performance appraisals every month - with his gardeners and house staff. As he 'rank orders' their performance, I am sure that their eyes roll as they think, "Get a life."

A CEO friend of my family's sold his business for millions of dollars. He was about Mr. Favre's age. When I expressed grave doubts about his ability to successfully retire, he scoffed and assured me that he was different than the other leaders I had worked with. Within a few months, his wife had gotten a job selling dresses. (Hint, hint.) His kids were away at college. (Uh oh.) He was sitting at home watching sitcoms when the delivery guy came over. They had a very interesting chat. It was so interesting that he smiled and thought, "That was great! In fact, talking with the delivery guy was the highlight of my week!"

Then he looked into the mirror and realized, "Oh my God! The highlight of my week was talking to the delivery guy!"

He started looking for another job the next day.

If you have ever watched Brett Favre play, you know that he loves football. For him, football provides meaning. It makes him happy.

I watched him on TV this week at practice. He was smiling. No, he was beaming.
When he "retired," he was crying.

Beaming is better than crying.

My advice for Brett Favre is - go for it.

Will he eventually fail? Of course. Might he eventually look old and pathetic?

Sure. Who cares? It is his life. It is his decision. If he can do something that provides meaning and happiness for another year or so - or even another month or so - why not?

He is no longer looking forward to "nothing." He is now looking forward to "something" - every practice, and especially, every Sunday.

Life is good.


Every two years there is a global survey to determine the world’s top 50 business thinkers. In 2009 Marshall's friend the late CK Prahalad was ranked #1 and Marshall was ranked #14. To participate in the 2011 Thinkers 50, visit

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