Andrew Luck, star quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, shocked the world Saturday night when he announced his retirement from football--at the age of 29.

"This is not an easy decision," Luck said in an emotional, impromptu press conference he held on Saturday evening. "Honestly it's the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me."

Statistically, Luck has been one of the best at his profession for several years. He went to the Pro Bowl in four of his first six seasons. And while he missed all of 2017 after shoulder surgery, he came roaring back last year to have one of his best seasons yet, winning the NFL "Comeback Player of the Year" award.

So why would Luck, one of the best quarterbacks on one of the best teams in the NFL, a man who easily could have earned hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade, retire at an age most would consider his physical prime?

In his press conference, Luck explained that for the past four years he's been in a cycle of "injury, pain, rehab," which has continued to repeat itself. He described the cycle as "unceasing and unrelenting," and said that it had taken his joy away from the game he's loved for so long.

Then, Luck said something especially interesting:

"I haven't been able to live the life I want to live...After 2016 when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice I made a vow to myself that I would not go down that path again. I find myself in a similar situation and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle that I've been in.

[I've] come to the proverbial fork in the road. And I made a vow to myself that if I ever did again I would choose me, in a sense."

As Luck continued to explain his decision-making process, he seemed to repeat one word over and over:

"It's sad, but I also have a lot of clarity in this."

"Again, I feel so much clarity."

"I understand the suddenness and maybe the surprise behind it...But I also know I have so much clarity about my next steps moving forward."

Clarity.

In a few short sentences, Luck gave us a glimpse into his thought process. He helped us to understand how a man who makes millions of dollars to play the game that he loves can walk away.

And he taught a major lesson in emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence leads to better decisions

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. Since this quality helps you to balance emotions with rational thought, it greatly increases your ability to make good decisions--the kind that you won't regret years down the road.

For example, consider Luck's situation. Those who've followed the NFL star's career know the kind of issues he has suffered--and even played through. 

  • Torn cartilage in multiple ribs
  • Abdomen tear
  • A sliced kidney that led to blood in the urine
  • A concussion 
  • A labrum tear in his throwing shoulder

Now, you might be asking: Who in their right mind would continue in a job that's caused those type of injuries? Who would continue to put their health on the line, especially if he or she was already financially secure?

Of course, hundreds of professional football players do it every year. 

Granted, maybe they're willing to take the risk. Maybe they're willing to live with the consequences, which could include increased risk of suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's, depression, severe aches and pains, and other physical and mental ailments.

Ironically, there are some who will argue that Luck was soft. In fact, Colts fans booed the quarterback at the conclusion of Saturday's preseason game, shortly after news of his retirement broke. 

But Andrew Luck isn't soft. His decision-making shows signs of mental toughness--and high emotional intelligence.

Luck was only able to reach this decision because he learned from past mistakes. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, he described his previous shoulder injury and subsequent surgery as a "blessing in disguise," one that caused him to "reevaluate many, many things" in his life.

And in an interview with the Indianapolis Star he said the following:

"Something I learned last year, that if my worth as a human was going to be tied into how I did--the result of a performance in a football game--then I was going to have, pardon my French, a real (expletive) life."

So often, we live in our own cycles of damaging behavior and habits. 

But it doesn't have to be that way. When you encounter extremely difficult moments in life, use your negative emotions to help you pause and self-reflect. 

When you do, ask yourself:

  • What can this experience teach me about what's important in my life--my values and principles, or the people who matter most to me?
  • How does this situation fit into the big picture? That is, how will I feel about it in hour? A week? A year? 
  • What would I change if I could do it again? What can I say to myself next time that will help me think  clearly?

Answering these questions can help you achieve, say it with me...

Clarity.

And with that clarity of mind, you're more likely to make sound decisions you won't regret. 

I know Andrew Luck won't regret his.

Published on: Aug 25, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.