Not All Storms Come To Disrupt Your Life: How I Used Failure As A Kicker in College and the NFL to Make It In Consulting

When people ask me about my football career and journey to McKinsey, on the surface it seems everything went according to plan.

I earned a scholarship at Stanford as a placekicker, broke 6 school records, won three PAC-12 Championships, appeared in three Rose Bowls, was voted senior MVP, went to the NFL Combine, and was a member of 5 different NFL teams.  I currently work at McKinsey & Company in San Francisco as a Business Analyst. 

However, when I dig deeper, the journey was filled with tough moments where my perseverance was tested. Viewing through a broader lens, my career has been full of ups and downs.

When I arrived at Stanford for my first fall camp in the summer of 2012, I was a skinny preferred walk-on with no scholarship, slated to be the backup behind a returning starter who was two years older than me. Over my first three years, I started only 6 games while the first-stringer was injured.  In practice I was on cruise control.  I thought that once the Senior graduated, my talent would vault me to the starting job.

Courage to fail – perseverance to succeed.

Heading into my Senior year I was finally slated to be the starter, and I thought I was ready for it. I did well in our low-pressure spring practices, and went into our spring scrimmage with confidence.  Unfortunately, I missed all 3 field goals with family and friends watching on ESPN.  I had been waiting three years for my opportunity to start.  I had failed.  I felt like I’d let everyone down. 

Life is tough. Handle it like a baller.

After my poor performance, I was at a crossroads. The first path was the one of least resistance, continue on cruise control like I had during my first three years at Stanford.  The second option was to realign my goals, create a plan, and grind. I chose the latter.  That summer, I created a detailed plan for every single day between June 1st and our season opener at Northwestern on September 1st.  I focused on the process by planning out my practice schedule, kicking schedule, and routine, which ended up changing my fundamental approach to the game.

Thoughts of the outcome will only disturb you – focus on the process.

I decided to focus solely on the process of each kick – meaning my alignment and my steps before the kick – rather than worrying about the outcome.  In my mind, once I had proper set up, the kick was already good.  After that, it was as simple as going through the muscle memory that I had practiced thousands of times.

This newfound focus on the process helped me bounce back in a big way. That year, I set the Stanford school record for the best field goal percentage in a season, earned a scholarship, won a PAC-12 Championship, and beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl.

After a successful 5th season the following year, I was one of four kickers nationally invited to the NFL Combine. My NFL experience started a lot like college, with ups and downs, pressure to perform, and goal setting. I was a part of 5 different teams and gave it my very best. After it all, I learned that sometimes in life timing rules everything. 

NFL = Not For Long.

I bounced around in the 2017 preseason but never stuck on a roster for long.  When the season came, I didn’t make a team.  I knew I wanted to gain work exposure while I continued to train and give the NFL one more shot.  So, I started working for a start-up every morning, and trained at Stanford every evening.  After 8 months of this routine, I felt like I had a foot in the door in two completely separate things. I wasn’t really getting better at kicking, and I wasn’t fully applying myself in the corporate world like I knew I could. I had a tryout with an NFL team on the calendar for March 2017, and I decided that this would be the breaking point. If they signed me, I would continue kicking.  If they didn’t, I would move on from football.

When the tryout came, I was proud of my performance given my current balance between working and training. I kicked as well as I ever have, and felt good about the outcome.

The team decided not to sign me. I remember sitting in the airport feeling exhausted. I realized that the NFL just simply wasn’t meant to be, and it was time for me to move on and apply myself elsewhere.  While I was disappointed in the moment, in hindsight it’s apparent to me that not all storms come to disrupt your life – some come to clear the way for the future.

It’s better to say “I tried” than “what if.”

With a clear focus beyond football, I began to think about what I wanted in life. I’ve always been passionate about starting my own company; however, if there was one thing I had learned at that point, it’s that I had a lot to learn. With that in mind, consulting seemed to be the best fit for me, so I started messaging literally every person from Stanford until I finally landed an interview at a top-three consulting firm. I had a week to prepare.

Much like my performance at our spring scrimmage, my first big interview did not go well. I wasn’t prepared because I hadn’t spent enough time practicing. I didn’t get an offer. 

Bend don’t break.

I was disappointed, much like the feeling after missing a field goal in a game. Rather than move onto a different career path, I decided to regroup. I went back to the drawing board and made a plan to practice 15+ cases each week until I landed a job at a premier consulting firm. I continued to network and push for what I wanted. 

Eventually, my determination to be a consultant led to interviews at two top firms.  When these two came around, I was ready. I used the same confidence that I had learned from adversity in athletics, and took the challenge head-on, much like kicking field goals in the Rose Bowl. 

I received offers at both firms, and felt exhilaration similar to winning a big game with my teammates. McKinsey felt like the team I was supposed to be a part of. I knew I had picked the right path.

At the end of the day, when life hits with the hard times, it is easy to take a narrow perspective. I challenge you to focus on your goals and keep a broader lens on your career, focusing on the process of earning what you want in life. Performing as a college athlete or getting a job at a competitive firm take the same fundamental drive. Outline your career goals, make a plan, and go get whatever you want in life, just like you did on the field.

Life’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond, and how you finish.