Recently retired NFL great Doug Baldwin reached the height of popularity in Seahawks-obsessed Seattle. Then a slew of injuries brought his career crashing down. He says one book, Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck helped him get through and focus on what's really most important.
The former Seahawks wide receiver has had a lot of ups and downs over the past eight years. Signed by the Seahawks in 2011, Baldwin was twice chosen for the all-star Pro Bowl, and he helped his team win the Super Bowl in 2013. He had the team's second highest number of touchdown receptions.
Then 2018 happened. He injured and re-injured his elbow, and also injured his knee and groin. He had three surgeries. The Seahawks released him with a failed physical designation on May 9, and three days later Baldwin announced his retirement on Twitter. A superstar football career was officially over.
For 31-year-old Baldwin, who'd been playing football nearly all his life, being a football player was tough, but so was leaving the game, he told the audience at the recent GeekWire Summit in Seattle. [Disclosure: I am also a GeekWire contributor.]
"I was Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin for a long time. Don't get me wrong, it comes with its perks, but at the same time there's an emotional, spiritual consequence that comes with selling yourself to that industry," he said. "You're only showing people what they want to see and as I went further down that road it became more unbearable for me because I felt dishonest."
Playing sports in front of thousands of fans came with instant feedback, he explained. If he dropped a pass, the fans would immediately make their displeasure known; if he made a touchdown, they would be equally forthcoming with their adulation. "It was this roller coaster ride," he said.
Then the roller coaster came to a stop. "When football was gone, I was left with a lot of questions I had to answer and questions I had to find," he said. "It sent me down the wrong path."
Limiting the scope of what you care about.
And that's when Manson's book helped. "First and foremost, read the book--it's a beautiful book," Baldwin said. "It's not necessarily not caring about life, it's not that you don't care about things that are important. It's just about limiting the scope of the things that you care about and understanding truly, 'What is the value of this thing that I'm caring about? Am I placing the right amount of value and effort towards that thing?'"
In a way, it's a layman's guide to "understanding the spirituality of just living life," he said. "There are some things that we place so much value on that add stress to our lives that are irrelevant and don't even exist yet we put it there and that wall that we place, that obstacle that we place that doesn't really exist can sometimes inhibit us from moving forward."
That process of deciding what's really worth caring about came up moments later when an audience member asked about Baldwin's former Stanford teammate and former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who surprised the football world by announcing his retirement at age 29, also after being injured.
"What it comes down is we're human beings," Baldwin said. "No matter how much money you make, at some point there is the law of diminishing returns where I've got to really evaluate where is my life headed? And when you get to a point when you have to start contemplating whether you're going to be able to run around with your kids when you're older or hold your children when they're born--if those are questions you have to ask yourself, then there's something wrong."
These days, Baldwin's new priorities have inspired him to help launch the planned Family First Community Center in Renton, Washington near Seattle. The center's goal will be to provide recreational and educational opportunities for local families. He's also a senior advisor of product concepts at Intellectual Ventures, an invention and investment lab based in Bellevue, Washington.
"I'm not going to proclaim I'm this all-knowing being on how to overcome obstacles and challenges," he said. "But what I've learned that's resonated with me is that I'm not seeking success anymore. I'm seeking failure." If you're not failing, you're not learning, he explained. "If you're not learning, you're not evolving, and if you're not evolving, then you're going to die."
His advice to others facing life's road blocks? "Look forward to those." They're a positive, not a negative, he said. Facing an obstacle means, "I'm out in the world and I'm doing life out in the world," he added. "And of course, when you're out in the world, you're going to face those challenges. And that's how you grow."