Welcome to the Rashard Mendenhall thinkpiece. In this thinkpiece, we’re gonna talk about the recent retirement of NFL running back Rashard Mendenhall. It’ll be pretty serious, and will attempt to rationalize a somewhat forced argument that caters to some sort of brand-oriented agenda.
A few days ago, the 26 year-old Rashard Mendenhall (born in 1987) announced that he was retiring from the National Football League. People were pretty shocked, because retiring at 26 years old is seems like a negative thing to do — especially for someone like Mendenhall, a two-time Super Bowl champion who was “successful,” made some $$, and presumably had a number of seasons ahead of him. If you need a #postgradlife comparison, Mendenhall had a bright future with the company (The NFL), and could’ve been “a solid asset for years to come.” Barring further injury, Mendenhall certainly would’ve been the type of employee who’d eventually gain a modest corner office — the type of guy who’d go to the company-sponsored happy hours and end up talking to the wide-eyed rookies about what it’s really like working at this place, and, how that as long as they don’t fuck up, they’re in for a pretty sweet deal. The type of guy who’d say all that and look happy on the surface, but would clearly be hiding some pain behind those eyes. Because those eyes would be lined with a deep-seated misery, the type that would clue you into some sort of greater dissatisfaction. You’d get the feeling that the 33 year-old Mendenhall, your prototypical not-hugely-successful-but-successful-enough-to-have-no-reason-to-complain company man, was not exactly happy.
So instead of marrying himself to the corporate NFL grind, Mendenhall put in his two weeks notice via a very well constructed blog post. The highlights of which, you could read here:
The truth is, I don’t really think my walking away is that big of deal. For me it’s saying, “Football was pretty cool, but I don’t want to play anymore. I want to travel the world and write!” However as I told the people around me that I wasn’t planning on signing again, there was a surprising amount of shock and bewilderment.
So when they ask me why I want to leave the NFL at the age of 26, I tell them that I’ve greatly enjoyed my time, but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment. I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality. And physically, I am grateful that I can walk away feeling as good as I did when I stepped into it.
As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me? I say to that, I will LIVE! I plan to live in a way that I never have before, and that is freely, able to fully be me, without the expectation of representing any league, club, shield or city. I do have a plan going forward, but I will admit that I do not know how things will totally shape out.
Mendenhall, in addition to sounding like a classic 20-something (travel the world and write? You writing a Thought Catalog article, bro?), reminds me a lot of the girl who came up with some sort of app, sold it at the right time, and is now looking into opening a roving food truck. Or the guy worked a bunch of years in finance but then quit to do something he actually wanted to do. The type of people who #grind, get what they want, and then go off do what they want. Basically, overambitious Tom Riddle types minus the supreme evil.
Mendenhall then, very much fits into this boundary-adverse career ideal that feels like a glorified version of The Social Network – an emerging school of thought that doesn’t necessarily look at success as something that’s track oriented, but rather something that’s talent, work-ethic, and personal brand oriented. From reading his post it seems pretty clear that he wants to do him, and use that angle to experience and achieve things elsewhere, whatever that may mean. He’s put himself in a position where he can now pursue things he wants to pursue, all on his terms – the way we’d probably all like to look at careers if we had the means, abilities, drives, and resumes to do so.
So by leaving the NFL, Mendenhall is no different from the guy who spent nights tutoring overprivileged kids in math, and is now looking to open up his own improv comedy venue. Sure it’s a lot more high profile than your friend who just quit his job to move to Austin, but all he’s really doing is undergoing your quintessential, idealized “if I had more than 0 in my savings, I’d get the hell out of here” career change. And he’s doing it for the same reasons anyone else would — he’s not looking for structure, he’s looking to broaden his life experiences, and he’s not looking for compromise. And above all that, he’s certainly not looking to be the 34 year-old guy who’s too comfortable to be allowed to regret anything.
Although I’ll miss him on SportsCenter, I very much respect Rashard Mendenhall. He’s well on his way to being the super-millennial the rest of us thought we were gonna be.
When I was a child I thought I might be a teacher or a veterinarian, a psychologist or a writer. I wanted to work with animals. I wanted to teach others how to read. I wanted to explore the world. I wanted to write books and help people feel less alone. I wanted to be all of these things at once or maybe, if I was lucky, just one of them. Then I got a little bit older and a little bit older and most of those dreams died for one reason or another. Practicality was an issue, I guess.
I remember being 13 and talking on the telephone to my best friend. He lived in a log cabin and I lived on a farm. We asked each other when we might die and we both agreed we couldn’t picture living past 26. What happens after you’re 26? We weren’t sure. We were reading books like The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted and White Oleander and similar literature that made us feel a little more human on days when the rural landscape of our homes felt like it could swallow us up.
My dad was dying of cancer and always in the hospital so my mom would leave me alone a lot to go be with him so I didn’t have to deal With All That. My best friend and I were a 20-minute drive from each other, which doesn’t seem like too much, but when you’re 13 without the ability to drive 20 minutes feels the same as three time zones away. We had a lot of phone calls.
Now we’re older, older than 26, but I’m not sure if I’ve figured out how to be this really great person. You know, the kind of person that people are like, “Damn, she’s so cool.” I’ve never won a contest. I’ve never won anything, actually. I lost the 5th grade spelling bee. I’ve never been skydiving. I don’t know how to swim. I wish I rode my bike more. Wait, I don’t even own a bike. I hate taking selfies. I forgot to Skype my mom yesterday. I don’t understand why there are so many think pieces over guacamole.
It’s not a matter of not knowing who I am but rather still feeling a bit ambivalent about things – big life things like, should I live in this city? Should I settle down or keep traveling? Some things I do know for sure – like I know that I’ll never be in a folk band or release a chapbook of poetry. I know I’ll never live in my hometown again and that I have a great aversion towards Hawaiian pizza.
I guess life is just this weird thing. It’s like you’re 18 and you feel weightless and untouchable and like this sort of freedom could last forever but then one morning you wake up and you’re almost 30, staring down at the bottom of your coffee cup, wondering if any of it happened at all.
It’s cliché to say but life is really short – too short – it’s something you don’t really think about until someone you know dies or you’re reminded of your own mortality that sends you into a state of shock. You remember that nothing is permanent, certainly not life, so you think you’ll take up a painting class or visit your uncle you haven’t seen in 10 years – all of these things that you think could make life a bit more memorable.
But soon, as it always happens, you get back into your old routine. You forget about the canvas sitting in your closet or you forget to call your uncle. You keep living life and waking up and working and doing whatever it is you do. And that’s okay, of course, it’s just what we all do as humans, but sometimes I wish those moments that remind us just how alive we really are lasted a bit longer. We’re all so numb it seems.
I think about my ex who’s on the fence about us. I wish I could just say to him, “Listen up, do you love me or not? Stop fucking around and let’s do this. Let’s go to Thailand and be unnerved for a bit. Let’s run around Bangkok like kids. Let’s get a tan and drink rum on the beach and eat heaps of pad thai.” Or I wish I could call my sister and say, “What’s your problem? You’re the only sister I have. Stop being such a colossal shit head.” These things, of course, I cant and won’t say to these people, mostly because you probably shouldn’t swear at people you love when you’re trying to convince them of something.
It’s hard being a people some days because the things you want or need are sometimes completely out of your control. There are no instruction manuals for relationships or how to properly manage adulthood or any of the things that can be so very confusing.
I’m 29 now. I’m a writer. I’m a traveler. Those are the things I tell people and yet still…
1. On Halloween you didn’t get to go trick-or-treating. Instead you went to a Hallelujah Party at church where everyone had to dress up like a Bible character. Basically you had to wear a bathrobe.
2. The only time you could buy CDs is if they came from here:
3. You knew about all of the hidden, Satanic messages in rock songs if you played them backwards.
4. If one of your friends got a piercing other than her earlobes your first thought was, “Well, she’s definitely going to hell!”
5. Every time you heard a loud rumble of thunder in the middle of the night you thought it was The Rapture.
6. If you grew up in Church of God, your college options were either Lee University or Lee University.
7. You knew who these guys were:
8. And also this couple:
9. You knew that Camp Meeting had nothing to do with exploring the woods.
10. Instead of calling adults Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jackson, it was Brother Smith and Sister Jackson.
11. If someone said “God is good” you knew to respond with “all the time” and then they would say “all the time” and you’d say “God is good.” It was basically a secret handshake.
12. The only R rated movie you were ever allowed to watch was The Passion of the Christ.
13. You had a cassette tape labeled “Michael W. Smith” but it was actually an MC Hammer mix tape because you would never be allowed to listen to that.
14. Everyone that had a tattoo was going to hell.
15. You got in trouble for taking the center cup out of the communion tray instead of just taking the next one in line.
16. Instead of joining the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, you were earning badges with the Royal Rangers and Missionettes.
17. You didn’t go to parties, you went to fellowship.
18. Weird Al had nothing on this guy:
19. You knew that just because the pastor said he was about to close didn’t mean he wasn’t going to keep preaching for another 30-45 minutes.
20. The most terrifying experience of your life was a little production called Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames.
21. Hip-hop was strictly forbidden, unless it was by this guy:
1. The one who broke your heart for the first time
Whether this happened in middle school, high school or years later, this was the one that threw you for a loop. You bought prescription ice cream and cried into your sweatpants as you’re supposed to. This is how heartbreak works, right? you thought, a faithfully sad movie playing faintly in the background.
How you’ll get over them: Cry. Eat that ice cream. Dribble it on your sweats. Trash all the gifts they’ve ever given you. Go through the motions. You’re supposed to face your first heartbreak this way, because it shows you that the sun’s going to shine again and you can wash your sweats and that this is only the first in a long line of relationships and subsequent aftermaths.
2. The one you weren’t ever really dating
But to explain the intricacies of your kinda-sorta-maybe-maybe not? relationship would take a lot of therapy, a lot of screenshots of text messages (and oh, you have those in spades, my friend), and general frustration of the ??????!!???!?!???!!!? variety. And even though you were ‘just hanging out’, the way that flirtation gave way to kisses and feelings was undeniably real, so to chalk it up as nothing when it was clearly something is to discount weeks and maybe even months of effort and butterflies in your stomach. You’ll never know what went wrong or why.
How you’ll get over them: Give yourself enough time and space to understand that sometimes things just don’t come to fruition. And that’s okay. There might have been a whole world of potential in this one person, but if it was never cashed in, what good does that do? Spend a night going out with friends, flirt with strangers, and just revel in the fact that you were kinda-sorta single all along. A rebound here isn’t really a rebound, after all. Faking it until you make it is a real life strategy – you can fake being happy about being single until you (surprise!) actually are.
3. No-Closure Charlie
No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to really understand why the break-up happened. You thought everything was good, everything was wonderful — and then you were blindsided by The Talk. Maybe you were taking the good time vibes for granted and were oblivious to Charlie’s growing restlessness or resentment, or maybe they just had their own M.O. that had nothing to do with you. It’s okay to not go searching for the answers, however desperately you want to. Sometimes it’s not your responsibility to have this knowledge. It will be super tempting to always wonder about what went wrong, but that’s a k-hole of replaying every moment in the relationship ever and that never ends well. And sometimes, as infuriating as it is to admit, you can’t find the answers because they simply aren’t there. Sometimes things really do just fall apart, and trying to make sense of the vague, intangible decomposition won’t yield answers, just prolong the hurt.
How you’ll get over them: Repeat after me: Sometimes things just happen. We don’t have control over everything — only how we react to them. The minute you’re exes with this person, it’s officially not your responsibility to dissect their every last motive. You can’t control what they do, so take a deep breath and focus on your next move. Take it step by step, and soon enough you’ll realize that you’re far enough away from them to think straight. There is closure in distance. Make your own here.
4. The one where you miss their friendship more than the romance
Maybe this was the first boyfriend or girlfriend you ever lived with, someone who was a friend before you took the plunge and began dating them, or somebody who you just clicked with. Whatever the case, you miss the inside jokes, the laughter, and all the knowing little looks you shared. Sure, these things are unique to the person, and it’s not that you don’t miss them, but while you know you can move on and mend the romantic hole they’ve left in their absence, friends like that are few and far between. If you can actually put your differences aside and remain friends, then this is admirable and very grown up of you. If not, that’s only human, and you’re going to have to take a step back and really just take time to breathe.
How you’ll get over them: Hide their Facebook profile, unfollow them on Twitter and Instagram for a little while, and cling tight to the friends you maybe didn’t see as often when you were in your relationship. Rekindle those connections, and remind yourself that there’s a whole bunch of people who care about you. When the time comes, you can tweet at them, but only if there’s a genuine care for who they are and what their 140-character jokes are, not that maybe enough favs will win you a reconciliation. Actually wanting to be friends with an ex, and pretending to want to be friends with an ex because you really want to get back together, are two very different things – make sure you’re honest with yourself about which applies to your feelings before you reconnect.
5. Boomerang Bob
You break up, you get back together, you break up, you get engaged, you call it off, you reconcile… I mean, you get it. No matter how much you try, you just can’t seem to quit this person. Even if it’s volatile, it’s some kind of stability, right? Maybe? Really, as hard as it may seem, it’s best to walk away, wait a little while, and see if you’re still really into them for them, or into your set ways and patterns.
How you’ll get over them: Try some new hobbies. Take up a new sport, read a new book, spend a whole day exploring a part of town you’ve never seen before — by yourself. Sometimes all it takes is putting yourself out of your comfort zone to see how much you can still grow when you’re left to your own devices.
6. The first one who broke your heart for real
This one is where you really felt just… not even sadness, but an inconsolable void, an acute sense of hurt that blindsides you and settles firmly in the left side of your chest cavity. This is the kind of hurt that really makes you believe that the heart is the muscle that holds love. Sometimes this is the one you never quite get over, and sometimes this is the one that measures exactly how much the human heart can hold.
How you’ll get over them: It will feel impossible, but it will happen. Eventually. Just give yourself time, and compartmentalize them slowly, bit by bit, until they live more in your gradually fuzzing memory and less in your heart. You may not ever fully recover from this pain, but at least you’ll know that this too shall pass. Try not to tell yourself that you never want to face something as difficult as this again. Of course you don’t. Nobody does. But hopefully, you won’t have to. It’s this hope that will keep you going.
7. The One Who Got Away
The fabled One Who Got Away is the person you never really appreciated while you had them. They really might not have been perfect, but hindsight tends to either put things in stark relief or glaze them over in a pretty little sepia-toned filter. Either way, you deeply want what you can no longer have, but living in the past isn’t going to help you win them back or get over them. Whatever ultimately drove you two apart — their job, your hangups, the fact that you couldn’t agree on kids/marriage/whatever — is an opportunity for you to learn from it and better yourself, so that maybe, if someone else like them comes around, you won’t mess it up the second time. Onward, starcrossed lover.
How you’ll get over them: As much as it may hurt, spend some time really thinking about why it was that you didn’t appreciate them when you had them. Were you complacent? Were you being selfish? Was there something else going on in your life competing with your time for them? Sometimes things are really just all about bad timing, and we have to realize how much we can handle at once. If you really lost them due to things you did, try to learn from them so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes next time.
8. The Worst. Ex. Ever.
You and your friends might compare horror stories to see who wins out on having the One Ex To Rule Them All, or you’ll commiserate over your shared agony. We all have our own Vietnams, after all. The Worst Ever could have been completely awful in the relationship and you couldn’t get out of there fast enough, or they turned on you in the break up and transformed into a veritable monster of ex-dom. Nobody willingly wants to be someone’s Worst Ever — I mean, maybe you do, and you’re just vying for the Worst Human Ever award — but sometimes rebuffed emotions just take over and you’re left with a shell of your former self and lots and lots of hurt feelings.
How you’ll get over them: Go to brunch. Bitch about them. Get really angry and really scandalized and really upset… until you begin laughing at how outlandish some people can become. Sometimes all it takes is laughter to put things in perspective, and to remind you to maybe not be this crazy person yourself.
9. The one who gets married before you do
You’ll be there, just minding your own business, logging onto Facebook, when — bam! suddenly you see it. A life event, a relationship status update garnering likes into the veritable hundreds — they’ve become engaged. You’ll spend approximately 5-17 minutes searching for any and all existence of the ring (your peace of mind in the situation will rest largely on how nice the ring is), the details, their overwhelming happiness of it all. You’ll then be subjected to countless posts about planning, tandem juice cleanses in preparation for The Big Day, and cheesy engagement photos galore, all the while wondering why you haven’t found somebody to share these experiences with.
How you’ll get over them: Facebook has a handy “hide updates from this person” feature. Use it. Better yet, unfriend them. You really don’t need that recipe for jealousy in your life.
10. The one that helps you realize that you are one (or more) of these exes to someone else
Heartbreak is a very self-absorbed thing. This isn’t inherently bad. Of course you’re going to focus on how you feel. It gives you time to reflect on the experience, maybe even in the hopes that you can work on yourself, mend your wounds, and learn to open yourself up to somebody else who you can maybe grow to love. But still, you’re not going to be at your best in the middle of the heartbreak, and there’s going to be one person who reminds you that somebody else is going through the break up, too. Getting outside perspective is helpful, and reminds you that sometimes, break ups just are. There’s nothing to do, really, but learn from them and hope that maybe, the next time won’t end this way.
How you’ll get over them: Promising to try to be better next time to the next person. that’s all you can do. Because as much as we don’t want to be someone’s Worst Ever, we can also strive to be someone’s Best Ever, and neither of you will want to get away.