Retire with a Purpose

By Brian dawkins

For me, retirement is a place to truly explore, expand and learn why I’m really here on earth.

In retirement, I’m blessed to do a lot of things; blessed to say “no” to things that don’t line up with my purpose. For me, retirement isn’t a place to sit with your feet up and kick back. It’s been a place for me to truly explore, expand and learn why I’m really here on Earth.

  • Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I played basketball and football. I initially loved basketball more than football and thought that would be the road. I was a good athlete and continued to get better at football as I got older. I realized that I could earn a scholarship and get to college —my brother played college football and made it to the pros for a few years. For most of us, seeing is believing, especially someone from your own household. If he could take that route, I knew it was possible for me, too.

    My sophomore year of high school, I met a student who’s been influential throughout my career and life. Connie was a majorette.

I’d see her in the halls, and even took a specific hallway out of my way, just so I could see her and potentially talk to her, someday. My friend introduced us, although I didn’t tell him to —because he knew someday meant never, more than likely, as I was shy. Things took off from there and to this day, we’re still together and she continues to help me grow spiritually and mentally.

Looking back, I wasn’t supposed to have the success that I’ve had. It wasn’t supposed to be me. I wasn’t that cat in the neighborhood. I wasn’t even the star in my household. That was my brother who got the accolades. I had to grind. I had to out-work, out-lift, out-run and out-hit; in other words, be more physical and a lot stronger. Being smaller, I always had that mindset and it never changed.

Even during the recruiting process, I was overlooked. Honestly, I got on the team because the coaches were scouting my teammate. They wanted him and threw me in to make sure he came there. Despite that, around my sophomore year, I realized professional football was a possibility. I knew I played well enough to get there, but going into the draft, there were questions about my size. I was labeled a “tweener”; the scouts weren’t sure if I could play safety or cornerback. I knew I was a first-rounder, but fell into the second round. The last pick. I still see that as a third rounder.

Brian Dawkins in full uniform in the middle of a game at Lincoln Financial Field.

You might say, “Well, you were a second-rounder.” The competitor in me says I should’ve been a first-rounder. That was my approach to life. That’s how I go. When I walked into training camp, the starting job was mine in my mind every year. Don’t care how many first-team honors I’d earn, my job was to make sure the Eagles knew my position was well taken care of. Every year. I always had something to prove in my mind’s eye.

There were things that set me apart from the average safety. My versatility. My speed. The fastest I was blessed to run was a 4.3 40-yard dash, so I could cover ground. I wasn’t afraid of contact —matter of fact, I loved it. Thanks to my hips, there’s a lot of power generated, even when taking just one step before hitting someone. The explosiveness I was blessed with allowed me to jump out of the gym as well. Our defensive coordinator ran his scheme through me many times, which was unheard of. All of this helped me become a Hall-of-Famer.

  • You might still think I had nothing to prove, I always believed I had something to prove. You’re never the same every year —you’re either getting better or worse. You fall for the illusion of maintaining in this life, you lose ground. That was my mindset for 16 years, and it’s how I kept my consistency for any organization I played for. Along the way, I got wiser but always maintained the same level of passion. It’s an approach that I follow now, even in retirement.

    That same mindset guided me during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. It was a tough and joyous time, as we had twin daughters born prematurely while I was getting ready for training camp. 

While my wife recovered, I had to be mom and dad —which made me appreciate even more what Connie does for our family. It was draining physically, mentally and spiritually. I tried hard, but knew I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be. I ended up injured and missed some time that year. There were questions if I was finished. I thought and said to myself, “Okay, I’ll show you next year.” A clear and focused mind is a powerful thing. And, I went out in 2008 and proved it. Because that’s who I am. That guy you know as “Weapon X” exists within me.

Brian Dawkins in uniform running out onto the Lincoln Financial Field

Along the way, I learned that it’s important for those with wisdom to pass it back; to share it. When I played, guys needed to talk —so I’d make time in my schedule just for that. I don’t think the success I’ve had should be housed in me forever. I try to share it, so others can use it and then give it to someone else.

There are things I know now that I would tell myself back when I was drafted. Get help to better understand the issues I had going on inside. Be open to the people that love me. And, don’t buy that convertible. That wasn’t a smart move when I was about to have my first baby. I ended up trading it in for an SUV for my wife, which is what I should’ve bought in the first place.

I’d want my eyes and ears open to successful people; they leave trails to follow so you can get to where they are and beyond. I’d tell myself to have the right team around me, people who’d say, “You don’t want to do that.” They might even have to be willing to upset me sometimes. And, they may say some things that I might not want to hear —but that I needed to hear in order to make the best decisions.

It was important for me to retire when I wanted. I watched too many of my heroes hang on too long. I got a piece of advice that it’d be best to leave the game two years ahead of time. So, I thought about it and found peace with the decision before I made it. I walked away from the game, not limped away. I took care of myself while playing, so I’m not dealing with chronic pain during my retirement. I gave everything I could to the game of football and was ready to move on to the next phase.

I was able to put on a championship ring and a gold jacket. That’s storybook material. But now in retirement, I can step out in other arenas —and am still proving myself. I still use that same energy I had as a player to motivate others. I’ve learned and shared tools for better mental health to help myself process some of the things I saw growing up in my neighborhood, while helping others cope with their situations through my foundation. And because we were diligent about saving, my wife and I have an opportunity to live the way we are now.

Regardless of your occupation, planning gives you the power to do what you didn’t think you’d be able to do. The first thing I thought about planning for and protecting was my wife and kids. I thought about their futures. I thought about the stability of them being able to have successful lives and be the best versions of themselves. If you fail to plan, you have a plan to fail. If you’re not protecting yourself and planning, you’ll have to do things you don’t want to do when that time comes.