The Courage to Quit

“Andrew Luck is retiring!” came a scream from the living room. I was sitting on the back porch of a friend’s house with a handful of neighbors, when Mathew, my buddy’s 15-year-old sports-obsessed son broke the news.

“It’s got to be a joke,” we all thought. But, just like everyone else in Indiana (and anyone on the planet who follows the NFL), we all pulled out our phones and tried to figure out if there was any truth to the rumor.

A few hours later, the Colts threw together an impromptu press conference where our (I live in Indy and love the Colts) deepest fears were confirmed: Andrew Luck was retiring from the NFL. No one saw this coming — the news left the football world in complete shock. Luck was coming off one of his best years as a professional, and the Colts were one of the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl. Luck was just shy of his 30th birthday when he made the announcement — the age when most of the great quarterbacks hit their prime.

In addition to the ridicule and second-guessing he received from every sportswriter and football fan, Luck left a ton on the table. Not only did he give up 10+ years of being on the center stage of the most popular sport in America (a sport he had been playing since he was a boy), his decision cost him hundreds of millions in future earnings. He wasn’t quitting a volunteer position for a local community organization. He was deciding to walk away from being one of the most popular, highest-paid athletes of all time.

Many in the media called him a selfish coward who didn’t have what it takes to work through the injuries and keep playing. I disagree. Andrew Luck’s decision was one of the most courageous acts I’ve ever seen.

The easy path would have been to continue playing a sport you love, enjoying the accolades, winning multiple Super Bowls (I am a little biased — Brady must eventually retire) and coasting into the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest. Luck was living the dream of anyone who has ever played football. Walking away when he did was far more difficult than staying.

Follow Your Own Path 

Most people would not have had the courage to make this decision. When facing big decisions, many of us allow the opinions of others to have far too much influence on how we live. It’s easier to take a poll of friends and family before deciding where to go to college, what career to pursue or even who to marry.

You don’t have to go out on a limb when all you’re doing is what everyone else expects. Following the advice of the crowd reduces risk and makes you feel safe. But safe decisions don’t always deliver joy, satisfaction and meaning. It’s time to consider that there might be a better path.

Author Howard Thurman says that we’re all wired differently and challenges us to reexamine the status quo: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Find Your Purpose

Are you chasing someone else’s dream? Recognizing that is easy. Deciding what to do next is hard. In fact, having the courage to find your purpose is so challenging, most assume it’s for someone else who doesn’t have a demanding career, bills, mortgage, etc.

I get it. I was 33 years old with a kid on the way when I decided (with my wife’s encouragement — I was scared to death) to quit my job, drain our savings and start a business in my basement. If I can do it, you can too.

Here are a few simple tactics to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Be patient.

I’ve coached more than 300 professionals in the last 16 years, and not once has anyone told me that finding their purpose in life happened overnight. For every person who was taking a long walk on the beach and had a sudden burst of inspiration, there’s 10,000 of us who took years to find our purpose.

2. Fail.

Perfection is your enemy on this journey. In the beginning, your goal isn’t to find your new dream career. Initially, your objective is to figure out what isn’t the best fit. It took me going to law school for a semester to realize that I would be the worst attorney of all time.

3. Research.

The good news is that the marketplace is a little obsessed with the idea of finding your purpose. This focus has resulted in tons of books, podcasts, workshops and an entire new industry (life coaching). Take some time to learn from these resources.

4. Flow. 

In 1975, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argued that we’ve all got some activity, calling, job, etc., that comes easily to us, is fun and brings us joy. While you may not be able to put your finger on it right now, chances are you’ve felt this at some point. Go back through your life and look for times when you felt fully in the moment and success seemed almost effortless.

5. Journal.

As I mentioned, you’re unlikely to have this amazing eureka moment, when you’re suddenly blinded by a flash of light and you know exactly why you’re on this planet. It will likely be a long journey filled with lots of starts and stops. The best way to keep your momentum moving forward is by writing down your lessons learned.

You are different than anyone else on this planet. You have unique skills, aspirations and fears. If you have the will to try something new and the determination to stick with it, your purpose will find you. The question is, do you have the courage to quit?

The Courage to Quit was originally published on Forbes.com.