The Jersey Effect

What Is Your Life’s Work

In my book, The Jersey Effect, I asked Tony Dungy to weigh in with his thoughts on our purpose and mission in life. Previously, we posted here about his four pillars of growth. But in his chapter, he reveals much more.

What’s interesting is how we start this chapter by Coach Dungy. The opening line, taken from Abraham Lincoln, sets the tone.

“Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” — Lincoln

I’ve learned much from Coach Dungy, but it’s this story from his coach that is important here, and probably set the foundation from his life and work – even today.

Here’s what Dungy writes:

My first coach in the NFL was Chuck Noll. I was drafted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1977. The Steelers had won two Super Bowl championships by the time I joined the team, and in our very first team meeting, Coach Noll said something I had never even thought about. I walked into my first team meeting as an NFL player with my notebook and pen. I was ready to write down every word and capture the essence of what it would take to become a Super Bowl-winning NFL player. I was ready to pour my life into the NFL. What Coach Noll said, however, surprised me.

“For you new guys, welcome to the NFL,” Coach Noll said. “But you need to understand that this is not your life’s profession. Just because you get paid to do this doesn’t mean this is your profession for life. Football is not life. Football is not your life. Part of my job is to help you get ready for your life’s work.”

I was stunned. I had just spent my whole life up to this point striving to get to the NFL, and this man was telling me that football is not my life’s work. Fortunately, I was around Coach Noll for ten years, and I had the unique opportunity to understand what he really meant. I was also around a bunch of other guys who understood this truth as well. I learned early on in my NFL career that sports is a great “laboratory for life,” but you have to keep it in perspective.

The life lessons Coach Dungy teaches here are amazing. First, in his writing, he suggests that the company we keep shapes who we will become, and, secondly, whatever you do – whether it’s playing football, or running a large company – neither is your life’s work. What is your life’s work?

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