Super Bowl champion Matt Birk is a 15-year veteran of the National Football League. Since retiring from football in 2013, Matt has held a number of roles inside the NFL League Office. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Matt was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998 and was a key off-season acquisition of the Baltimore Ravens in 2009. A six-time NFL Pro Bowl Selection and two-time All Pro, Matt proved to be an undisputed leader on the field and was named the sixth smartest athlete by Sporting News.
More importantly, he has established a legacy of community service that will last far beyond his years of football. A graduate of Harvard University with a degree in economics, Matt is the founder and CEO of Matt Birk and Company, LLC. He was the recipient of the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his excellence on and off the field, including his commitment to emphasizing the importance of education through his H.I.K.E. Foundation.
He speaks to organizations across the country about the value of true inspiration, lasting leadership principles, the dynamics of teamwork, and fulfilling potential. Clients such as 3M, Coca Cola, Northwestern Mutual Life, and Walmart have benefited from the programs Matt has presented to their teams. Matt is the author of All Pro Wisdom: The Seven Choices that Lead to Greatness, and resides in Mendota Heights, Minnesota. Matt and his wife, Adrianna, are the proud parents of eight children.
In this episode, Matt and Cindra talk about:
- How he has mastered a focus on the process over outcome
- Why “living radcially in the present” is his life’s motto
- How went from Harvard to become a 6-time Pro-Bowler
- Why failure it not the same thing as losing
- How to make specific goals focused on the process
- And, why “appropriate fear” is helpful
Matt: My day’s been good, you know, Fridays. You gotta, you gotta wrap everything up and my days, you know, my days end when the kids get out of school. It’s like my life turns into a pumpkin. So, which is good because I have just a window that I need to get stuff done. And when kids go to school, they get out of school. So it’s a great way to end my week.
Cindra: Well, I’m looking forward to talking to you about the mindset of just what it’s like to play in the NFL at such a high level and then now transitioning to your speaking business and all the other things that you have going on. I also think about your just the work that you do in the community. So I’m really looking forward to highlighting that so maybe just to get us started. Tell us a little bit about what you’re passionate about right now and tell us what you’re what you’re doing right now?
Matt: Yeah, yeah, very passionate about to too many things, but you’re going back to even my playing days. One of the great things about playing in the NFL is you do have a platform and not talking about the platform like social media because back when I played it didn’t, it didn’t exist but you remember the first. I was just, I was just thrilled as a rookie to make the team to make the Vikings team and the first week of the season. We had practice on Monday and Danny Green said look for the guys that are new here. Tuesdays, we call it community Tuesday, make sure you get out there and do something and so I went to our community relations director Brad Madsen, and I said, Hey, do you have anything for me to do tomorrow. So yeah, I sent you to this school and I went to a school and you know nobody knew who I was. But they do I played for the Vikings and so all these kids were all fired up and you know my message was and still is about education. Yeah. Wasn’t a great, great, great football player. I didn’t have a chance to go play big time college football, but because I was a good football player and a good student. I got to continue that being a good student help me continue my football career in college. I’ve got to go to a great university.
Cindra: Yeah, really?
Matt: And I never thought that I’d end up sticking around NFL for 15 years. So I thought sooner. Sooner rather than later that education was going to come into use and so I thought that I was like a an appropriate messenger for to tell the kids that to tell them about, you know, how important is to try hard and school and do your best and it was just that that experience really touched something to me. I was like, wow, you know, people actually listen kids. I love kids. I have a lot of kids. It was just, it was really life giving for me to be out there and two years later, my wife and I started our own Foundation, the foundation which was centered around education helping kids get through those key transitional points in their, in their academic careers and, you know, just really proud of the work that we were able to do certainly couldn’t have done it without great team with without great corporate partners in the community to fund it and you’re able to do some pretty big things. My last year in Baltimore. We had over
100,000 kids in our, in our reading programs and and I guess post football that work continued I helped co found a Catholic High School in Burnsville called Unity high school this is this is year to where we’ve tweaked the education model a little bit to make it a little more relevant to the to the times that we’re living in. And you know, I just something that I’m super passionate about, because I was fortunate in my life to have parents that cared, and had teachers that cared and you know, they saw me through they they encouraged me they taught me about hard work and discipline and yeah I think that there isn’t a kid out there that can benefit from getting a great education.
Cindra: Well I you know I just think about the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. I think that’s the year that you want it. Right. I mean, what a prestigious honor and all the work that you’re doing in the community is incredible. That’s, I wanted to ask you to start just about the power of mindset and what led you to, you know, Minnesota to Harvard and just tell us a bit about your journey, then to the Vikings and what that experience was like for you?
Matt: Yeah. Well, I mean, I would consider myself overall sort of a low talent guy. I mean, I wasn’t you know i don’t think i was naturally super smart certainly wasn’t super talented in athletics, but you know, one of the things that my dad always told us. I shouldn’t say always told us he wasn’t like he was sitting down talking to us every day. It wasn’t that kind of thing. But he had a thing that stuck with me was always just best effort always
Matt: Okay. And, you know, that was just the never cared about how we play it or what grades. We got it was just start. Are you put in the effort and he’s not a, not a mindset guru coach or anything like that. He’s kind of an old school, common sense kind of guy. But there’s a lot of wisdom in that, you know, when you just you just focus on effort and not worry about results, you know, that’s a lot of the talk today around this is about process right yeah, when you’re not concerned about getting a certain result, you don’t have any anxiety or stress about it, you’re just really focused on the moment and what you can do to get better, or to get closer to your goal. And that was just kind of how I approached school and football and everything I know, obviously I never thought I’d play in the NFL. I just played football, because it was fun. And yes, I do and just kind of fell in love with the process of football, I love, I love lifting weights. I love eating food that those things bode well if you’re going to be an offensive lineman never, never, specifically set a goal. Like, I’m going to play in the NFL. It was just like, I’m just going to get as good as I can get because let’s see. Oh, good. I can get and that ended up that ended up in the NFL. Because of that, but that was kind of my mantra throughout my entire football career and it’s it’s really my mantra for my life is just best effort. Always. That’s all you can control.That’s all you can do is, is what you know what what you can do today. What you can do right now in the moment. And so I guess I was really fortunate to, kind of, you know, be conditioned to think like that at a very young age.
Cindra: I think so many kids are results focused and you’re right that leads to worry and anxiety and what a great message right away from your, your father just like best effort always.When did you sort of have the realization that maybe playing in the NFL was possible. And did you ever find your kind of attention shifting more to the outcome versus just this process. And then what happened if it did?
Matt: Yeah, it’s about halfway through my senior year in college, obviously it’s not like Harvard sending guys in the NFL every year. Back then, there’s never. Anybody gone and there was a scout that came by, about halfway through the season. And I was like, really. I was like, I just asked him, Do you think I could play in the NFL and he’s like, yeah, I think he got a chance. I was like, wow, okay. So, you just wanted to make is going to be an opportunity was available to me that I did everything I could to exhaust that I guess I’m also big into not having any regrets. And I think if you if you give everything you have. And then you can’t have any regrets.
Matt: And when I did get drafted sure my mind went to those places where it was going to be like, hey, cheese, NFL. This is the best of the best. I’m going to be famous and make millions of dollars and play for 10 years and all these things about the results and I found out pretty quickly. The NFL doesn’t really work like that I was, I knew, day one, that after one practice and trying to block john Randle that I was, I was in for the fight of my life. In fact, I kind of felt like, wow, there’s, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this like these. This is just this is to this is too much. These guys are too good. So, like, what was I gonna do I’m gonna quit. You know, you’re not going to quit and I just went back to that. I said, Well, I just better make sure that I’m I’m at every meeting on time. I’m at every workout. I’m studying my playbook. You know, all those things that I can control. I’m gonna, I’m going to do it. And I’m going to be great at all the things that don’t require talent because really this is kind of how I thought that like they’re going to cut me and you know, but I’m gonna be able to say, hey, I gave it everything I had that because that was that was all. I was going to be able to have when I when I left. So yeah, it was I envision you know the the end in mind and yeah yourself being successful. I was like, no, they’re gonna cut me because I can’t black jack Randall scope. So it really made me just make everything really small and and really. it kind of forced me to just live live in the moment and and let go of those results. And as it turns out, that’s it. That’s a pretty healthy approach when you’re trying to accomplish something so, it’s as simple as it sounds, and that’s simple doesn’t mean easy, obviously, but as simple as it sounds, it was, it was just the way that I could I could wake up every day and do something, you know, move, move, move forward. And so, it, it, it, it worked.
Cindra: Well, Matt, you know, that is a secret I see in the at least the guys I work with who are consistently really good and who can last a long time in the NFL and I think for you to just have experienced that that you feel like the you are so great at the beginning and you might get cut, you know, but then you focus just on the process which you could get could control and that’s what I see that the best of the best. Do they aren’t focused on the outcome, they they’re really not even dreaming to the next year, five years away just because you know it feels like it’s can be so fragile you know, in terms of how long you stay there.
Matt: It’s, it’s funny, you know, it’s sort of funny the things you remember when I was a senior in high school that summer before I went to college. Somebody gave me as a graduation gift certificate to go to the to the Stephen Covey workshop, you know, the seven Habits Korean. I don’t remember any third for that workshop except one thing you know they had us do a goal setting exercise. And I remember it was s the goal I wrote down was I won’t be able to bench 300 pounds and so you see write down the goal. And it was like, Okay, that’s great. But that
doesn’t mean anything. So it’s like now write down the steps, the things that you need to do to accomplish that goal and focus on those things. And so I remember I wrote down about, you know, not missing any workouts and eating this much protein a day. Those things just breaking it breaking that goal that result down into small actionable steps, things that I could do every single day and, you know, for some reason that that stuck with me and that’s kind of its kind of how I approach it. Are there times where I sometimes do think about the result do things that happen as quickly as I want to, you know, the great thing about football is it’s like every week there’s a test, you know, you study, you prepare and on Sunday. It’s like you either successful or you failed. I mean, that’s, that’s it. Real Life business is not like that. Right. A lot of times you’re you’re working on projects or you try to start new businesses, your new initiatives. There’s, there’s a million different pieces and there’s really no clear cut scoreboard progress, sometimes is slow, or sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you take steps back. There’s a lot of ups and downs and so even becomes more important. I think that it should become process focused and really only really only focus on those things because there’s, there’s a lot of days that it’s a grind you feel like you’re kind of walking in quicksand, or a swamp and I think you can get you, you can become almost, almost defeated if you if you keep worrying about you know what, what the, what the result is.
Cindra: Absolutely. Matt, I have this rule. I call it and it’s just my theory, working with some of the best of the best. And, you know, your mind can be in three places, past, present or future and I call the 99% rule because literally, I think that the best players are 99% focused in the present. You know, once in a while, they might drift their attention and maybe visualize the next game, but they’re not too far in the future and not too long, and they’re not necessarily focused on stats or you know where they are in the season, it’s like, Okay, what do I gotta do right now to grind?
Matt: Absolutely, I think, you know, again, I kind of football is everything. And I think it’s a great metaphor for life. It’s pretty easy to understand, but you know you have a saying that like after you watch the film. It’s, it’s over. We have to move on and you do because you need every second of the week to get ready for the next opponent. I always feel like there’s not quite
enough time. So I think you do have to develop that skill of pay. The past is the past, you take what you can from it, you know, okay, that mistake or whatever it is. Okay. I learned. I’m not going to do that again. But you don’t have that emotion like that that regrets. You have to learn to move on from that, and it’s even, you know, in a game, you know, play to play. You see it all the time and sports somebody has a bad play than that, you know, they’re still thinking about and have another bad play and other bed play and you just have to be able to just move on next play one of my coaches my head coach in Baltimore john Harbaugh had a great and a little thing he’d say, you know, bad play, you know, whatever. He goes, You just brush it off and just go yes you just brush it off and you’re on to the next one and I use that in football and I use it in life as well. So being present and then yeah, just always been, you know, I guess, mindful of the of the ultimate goal of, you know, kind of direct what you’re doing in the present. So, you know, once in a while, reminding yourself of the goal and it could also, I guess, at times, maybe provide some motivation when you’re saying, you know, why am I, you know, why do I have 500 pounds on the bar. Why am I squatting and, you know, why am I, you know, making 2020
lead calls today. It’s just kind of to provide some motivation and inspiration. But yeah, for majority of time needs to be needs to be in the present moment, I have this I have this little saying I came across, it’s live radically in the present moment and that’s a, that’s something I go back to a lot.
Cindra: Well, I can hear that was one of the reasons you are successful. So I kind of go back to that moment when you first plate. We started playing for the Vikings and you weren’t sure you know if you are going to make it or not. And then to become a six time pro bowler when did you start to feel like okay I got this?
Matt: You know, honestly, I would say I would say never. I mean, I, you know, started at the bottom and then got to the top pretty. I mean, relatively quickly, but in the NFL. It’s always like, okay, you see. You, can do this. Okay, you can. And now that you’re here. The challenges. Well, how long can I do it for you know it’s almost like a young player. I mean, I remember looking at the old player single man. They’ve been here 678 years they must this must be easy for them and then once I got to be a couple years in. I was like, it’s never easy, I mean like, it’s never easy, you’re either fighting to prove yourself where you’re fighting to prove that you can that you can keep doing it. You know, once you are a starter. Once you do you know, if your name to the Pro Bowl, the guy you’re playing against he knows that he knows I’m going to make a name for myself because I’m gonna have a better game than then then this Pro Bowl guy. I’m gonna make a name for myself. And so it’s never like oh I’m I’ve arrived. I’m there in the NFL. It’s just so competitive that you know, every single day. You need to you. You have to bring it the navy seals have a saying that the only easy day was yesterday. Yeah, and that’s a good one because in an NFL and I think in life in business. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it 1000 times before, the only thing that matters is that you’re doing it again today. So, you know, my career, whether it was early trying to prove myself or trying to trying to stay at the at the highest level, or even at the end, you’re just trying to prove that, hey, I can still do this. You know, he’s got he’s old he’s lost a step you’re trying to prove it to them into yourself that I can that I can still do this at a good enough level even if even if I am at a, at an older age, there’s always, there’s always something to prove to yourself and always something to prove to everybody else.
Cindra: So I think about what you just said about you know it can. It’s never easy, and it’s always competitive and at least what I see working in a pro sport, it’s like man, it can seem like people are just cut like that, something that I kind of, I had to really get used to. And so how did you handle the pressure of that because I could imagine that if you let that if you overthink that or a few that’s in your awareness too long, that it wouldn’t have helped you perform very well. So how do you handle the pressure and just being able to perform on demand always?
Matt: Well, I think, I think you just have to accept it. That’s, that’s reality, whether you like it or not, it’s just, that’s just the way it is and you can’t do anything about it and we’re talking about your time at the NFL. I mean, you’re talking about the top 1% of the 1% so it’s super competitive and there’s a reason why you make millions of dollars because it’s really hard to do. So you just you just you just accept that and again go back to the process, but I’d also say to it’s, I mean, that’s for that’s for teammates are so valuable you know, you’re gonna have good
days and bad days teammates are there to, you know, patch on the back and also pick you up off the ground. After a tough day also, you know, just watching them work as hard as you are. Is it is inspiring and so, you know, I don’t think anybody goes it alone. I think, I think you’re foolish. If you try to try to think that you can or that you try to do it that way, you know, life is a, it’s a team game and you should, you should you should be a good teammate to others because that’s the right thing to do, but you should also realize that you can do it, you can learn and draw from, from other people as well there’s certainly no shame in that. It’s actually I think smart to realize that and do that and you know for you and for the other individual, but then also for the team right I mean football is a team sport. Our ultimate goal here is to win the Super Bowl. I mean, I’ve been on teams where we went five and 11 or six and 10 and I made the Pro Bowl, but it wasn’t Wednesday was a ton of fun. It’s not a ton of fun to lose and you know fortunate enough to be at the top of the mountain. One time to win to win a Super Bowl and that’s a way better feeling than then being in Hawaii by yourself at the Pro Bowl of being able to celebrate something like that with all your teammates. That’s something that is just it’s more worthwhile and it’s, it’s something that everybody remembers you know in sports there is. I mean, there is a there is the aspect you are on the biggest stage right and so it’s, it’s, it’s nice to have won a Super Bowl and to sort of have that on your resume, if you will, because it kind of I think, I think people remember that and respect that more than anything you do individually right it’s whether it’s business or football. I mean, after a while, nobody really cares how good you were, you know, I mean, I grew up watching Jerry rice. I think he’s the greatest football player ever my kids don’t know who Jerry rice is they don’t care. So as a football player. It’s like, hey, when you when you’re done playing nobody really cares how good you were so like, like let’s do something that we can all you know, I mean, create a create a memory here together that we can all take with us and something special. And so I guess I mean, my point is that a team success is much more much more gratifying than an individual successes.
Cindra: So I’m thinking about Matt, what it’s like to play in the Super Bowl. What, what did you learn while you were playing in the Super Bowl, or you know that with the honor of playing the Super Bowl. What did you learn and I’m thinking about people who are listening who are maybe experiencing a pressure packed moment? You know, maybe it’s not the actual Super Bowl, but it might be the Super Bowl in their mind. And I’m just curious, you know, how, how you performed well in that environment and what you learned you know, because I didn’t look at it like I was playing in the Super Bowl if I’d have thought of like that way, probably waiting in that lockeroom I might have been so nervous?
Matt: Right. I think I just broke it down into a this is this is just football. Yeah. And it always goes back to fundamentals. I mean we practice every single day and we do we practice the same drills, the same fundamentals every single day. So I just looked at it as I broke it down into really small. I just made it super small and I said, I’m just going to go out there and try to execute the fundamentals that I practice every single day for 15 years that was that in my mind. That’s how I was looking at it. I didn’t think about how big the moment was or trying wasn’t to think about that. Just trying to focus on on the little things, you know, my, my steps in my hands and coming off the call and those kinds of things. And, and I think that’s like, I think, I think that’s what that’s what high performers do and you are going to have those moments
we’re all going to have the Super Bowl moments, those, those big those big spots where we need to perform and it doesn’t do any good to to hope that you’re going to perform well to think you might perform well you just prepare as hard as you can prepare and then, and then go out there and execute those fundamentals and you know you’ll see if you see if your best is good enough or not. I think you also just have to be aware and accepted losing is always a possibility notice there’s two outcomes you win or you lose and losing is not a sin. Not, not necessarily the desired outcome that you might want but it’s a possibility. And I think you’re kind of I think you can kind of fool yourself if you don’t recognize that you know i’m i’m not i’m not a fan of positive thinking but you know i just i just hoping and keep saying that it’s going to happen doesn’t do anything. And then I think you kind of lose that it’s not real. And you kind of lose that edge that a things might not work out. I mean, understand that you might lose is also helpful in it makes you keeps you sharp make sure creates a little bit of I’d say Healthy. Healthy stress. What is a, I think, is it a Gregg Popovich from the San Antonio Spurs he calls it appropriate fear. Appropriate fear, where you’re making sure you’re doing everything that you did you did you should do and then some but not fearful to the point where it’s paralyzing
Cindra: Yeah, and I think about just always thinking positive, you know, that doesn’t always help us prepare or motivate us or, you know, I think that’s realistic.
Matt: Or it’s a deal with, you know, things that come up deal with challenges, you know. See, you’re not doing something well if you’re in a while. It’s going to be okay. No, it’s not like you need to get to go fix that problem. You understand this is a problem. I need to get better here. I need you to go attack that versus saying, Wow, it’s, it’s gonna be okay.
Cindra: Well one thing that I heard Matt when you were describing the Super Bowl is you went back to your process. You know, like it could have been really easy in that moment to get focused on the outcome or the distractions of all the people watching right but it’s like it just went back to the fundamentals in the process?
Matt: Yeah. Again, I can’t use the well okay if we if we do lose right, I don’t want to I don’t want to come out of this saying, well, we lost and but I really had a good time that week in New Orleans, and I really soaked in the Super Bowl experience and I don’t want to say that I just, I wanted to say we lost but and I knew everything I needed to know and I my body felt good and I played hard. I mean, I want to be able to say that I gave it my best shot. And you know, it’s a it’s fine, because the one of the pieces of advice that we got from your coaches are guys that came back to talk to us. We played in the Super Bowl or guys in the team that played the super before it was make sure you enjoy it makes you enjoy it. I was like, I don’t think I’m here to really enjoy myself right i mean i knew what they were saying was, like, maybe take a second and be grateful for the opportunity. Yeah, but I didn’t want to walk away saying, yeah, we lost, but I really had a good time, that’s that that’s that that was that what I was looking for.
Cindra: So tell us, in general, Matt, what role do you think mindset played in terms of going from Minnesota to Harvard to the Vikings and then the Ravens. What role do you think mindset played and all that?
Matt: I think it’s everything. I really do. Because I look at the NFL, you know, what’s the differentiator, because there’s plenty of guys who are big enough and strong enough you know talent is not an issue, finding enough talented, guys. Everybody has talent. But the guys are able to take their talent and then able to perform at a level where they can play in the NFL, you know, stick around, play, play for a long time, be one of the best ever. It’s, it’s, it’s all about mindset. And I got to play a lot of great players the all time greats Chris Carter Adrian Peterson Randy moss Ray Lewis said read you know those guys they were they were so into the process. I mean, Wednesday for them was, they, they were putting max effort into Wednesday’s just like they were on Sundays. And so they took the process. Seriously. It wasn’t like hey, just kind of hang out during the week and rest up and then go out there and make it happen on Sundays that their mindset really was, you know, every single day. It was like how do I get better and I would be even a little more specific with that is there, which is why just won’t get better today. Okay. You know, or want to get 1% better, I’d say, you know what 10 things can I get just a little bit better at today? Just you know, a 10th of a percent better at it at five things or two or 10 things and then the next day, same thing over and over. And I think it’s the law of compound interest right if you just keep just a little bit every single day. You keep stacking day after day after day after day. You can get pretty good and if everybody on your team is doing the same thing. Then over, over a period of time, you guys. Can you guys can be really, really good and so, yeah, that was that was just that was the mindset is really, of course, you want to get
better. But then, just try to try to get. I mean, even if there’s like, you know, I’m going to work out like this monkey tomorrow’s workout. I’m going to do five pounds more than I did last workout. I’m going to make sure that might know this. I know the world of an offensive lineman isn’t that interesting, but there’s like today, in practice, I’m going to make sure that my left hand gets inside every single time when I when I punched a guy in past bro just getting i mean really digging down into the into the minutia. I think is is is a way to make progress. Sometimes we just think that I’m just go out there and get better and you’re going to be 20% better than you were yesterday, you know that that that doesn’t happen and it doesn’t. You’re not going to get better. If you don’t try to get really specific with your goals.
Cindra: So being specific with how you want to get better. I think also just setting that intention helps you focus on that. Right. Because if it’s like I’m just going to get better. What is, what does that even mean? Matt, can you tell us about a time where you think mindset really was important to you while you’re playing maybe a time where it played a role? Besides always.
Matt: Just say always. I think I mean, I’ll go back to my rookie year I can remember being in Mankato sharing a dorm room engage hall with Corey Withrow, Oh yeah, he was undrafted I was a late round and we’re beginning again we’re most pride ourselves to sleep at night because we were like, this is this is so hard. We’re, we’re so bad you know we were used. I mean, you’re used to be in like the one of the best players on your team right high school and college and then it’s like, Oh my gosh, we’re terrible like if we ever played football before, but I just kinda remember it’s like, boy, we’re gonna be here for three or four weeks, whatever it was, and every day. We’re going to wake up and we’re going to get our get our lunches and to do as a practice by these guys. I remember that it was like, I’m not even gonna look at the
calendar. I’m not going to count the days.You know, it’s like just going to wake up and and we we actually broke the days into half days because we had two practices back then. So there’s a morning practice and afternoon practice. So would wake up in the morning, it’s like, okay, what do we got to do it. It was just like breakfast meetings practice like that was it like get through that and then after lunch. It was like, all right, what do we all we have left. Today we kind of break it into even the days into two days to try to just make it as small as possible. And I think that’s the thing just make everything as small as as you possibly can. I think that helps you focus in the present and also doesn’t you know this huge task of going through training camp and making the Vikings in these things. That’s a daunting task right like that can be that can discourage you from the start. And so yeah. Again, I mean, all the things we’ve talked about, you know, being present in the, in the present moment, making the goals really small. I think that right here, I think kind of learned just in order to survive know honestly it was almost like a survival technique because it was like just got to try to get out of here. I mean, I want to, I want to be able to leave man cave like I was like Santa at the base of Mount Everest. Like, I don’t think I should do this.
Cindra: Yeah, I appreciate the dis realness. And just describing how was it like when you got there it was perfect, or you know that you had some questions and doubts as well. And I was wondering if maybe the time that you were injured and you had to have you had to leave the game and you had surgery if that was a time, where you felt like just getting back I’m just thinking about the psychology of injury and how it can be really discouraging when athletes no longer can play. And I was curious about that experience for you and the role that you think mindset played there?
Matt: It’s a great question. I forgot about that. Cindra: Yeah.
Matt: I mean I had four surgeries over 11 months and I didn’t like I would wake up every day and I didn’t feel good. I mean every day I’d wake up and maybe today’s the day I’m gonna put my foot on the floor. Get out of bed and I’m going to feel good. I had these hurt. He is, and it’s just this like debilitating injury and every day I wake up and I didn’t feel good and you as an athlete. Like, that’s right. Your body is how you make your living and physical pain can affect you emotionally and psychologically too. And I’m thinking, geez, I was like in the prime of my career and I didn’t know if I’d ever play again and that was super stressful. Also too, because you’re wired a little bit as a football player to be like well I can, I can play through anything you know pain is not a. It’s not a factor. Yeah, this was an injury that I couldn’t, I couldn’t play through and it was, I was like, Well, I don’t know. I said, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel good again after a few months, you forget what it’s like to feel good. You almost can’t envision yourself being out on the field again pain free plan and so I said, well, all I can do is go to the facility do all the reason they tell me to do. I mean, to a to a tee. That’s, that’s all I can do. And so I just kind of made it. That was my that was like my mission every single day was they had the list of stuff. And I just check it off as we went and you know that when I went home. I just kind of I tried to stop. Stop trying to assess myself which physically but i mean i think that’s valuable in
life to would in your in your work is, you know, stop, stop, stop, stop trying to assess yourself. Stop. Stop looking at the scoreboard every two seconds to see how you’re doing and just what’s that, what’s that list. How can I go down the list and just check off all the things and then when I left when you leave work. It’s like okay I did it today. I did everything I said I was going to do. And you can, you know, we do need to feel good. We need to feel good about what we’re doing about the process, but that was that was hard to let go and I don’t have any problems saying this is that it you know it’s a spiritual journey as well. I mean, let’s not fool ourselves. I mean, we’re all spiritual beings and so ahead to also accept that and do a lot of a lot of searching and come to grips with it that like maybe, you know, maybe this maybe this is how it’s supposed to end for me and I’m going to need to accept that and so yeah, those were that was, that was a tough time. The other thing too, I would say, made it tough. I think at that point in my life, you know, prime of my career and had everything that I ever wanted professionally. But I would say that my identity. My personal identity got wrapped up into my job and my performance. Yeah, that that’s not healthy. Either you know pride, a little bit of pride can be good, you know, take pride in your work and those kinds of things. But success we I think all of us as human beings have the tendency, we can get too prideful and that’s, that’s, that’s that that’s not good that can that can either over time lead the lead to your demise or, you know, listen, we’re all going to offer our careers are going to end at some point, and I see a lot of times with men and women who, you know, worked for two years in an industry and they’re 65 years old and they retire and they have this really hard time with retirement because they don’t really know who they are because their identity was wrapped up in in in what they did. And so it’s if you want to have, I think, if you want to have a great life, you better get better not tie your identity to what you do.
Cindra: Oh, that’s such a powerful statement right there. And do you feel like, because we can over identify with what we do and I’m thinking about, just as an athlete. You can look over identify as an athlete as a football player do you think your injury helped you understand your identity and your athletic identity better or was this kind of something you just realize maybe after you’re done playing?
Matt: I think it did it at that point because I said why it might be over like again I just keep saying I’m going to be fine. I’m gonna be fine. And I kept having surgeries and a couple months later I wasn’t fine and so I’m like, well, maybe I’m not going to be fine. And so again, you kind of have to stare that fail not failure, but losing in the in the face and say this is this is a possibility and so yeah, I had to. I had to come to a head to come to grips with that, fortunately, I guess. Fortunately, it wasn’t, it wasn’t the end of my career. But yeah, that was that was a process, there was some humility that went on there. There were some there were some tough times. Like, I remember every time because I get the facility first and to get my rehab done so I could go to meetings and stuff and you drive into work and it’s dark and you just have to just you alone in the car, you can have some tough conversations with yourself and it’s a tough conversations with God to try to really trying to figure it out.
Cindra: Yeah That’s powerful. And I’m also hearing like throughout that, you know, comes back to your theme of like living radically in the present. Rather, that’s how you are able to get
through it, especially when you were describing at the beginning. So you said the word failure Matt and I wanted to ask you, what do you think failure is and tell us about a time that you failed and what you learn from it and the reason I met asked that asking that question is because I asked that question to almost every guest. I have like, What is failure? And it’s really interesting that everyone has a different definition. And then, if we can, you know, why don’t we just decide how we define failure. So what do you think it means?
Matt: Seriously, one of the best questions I’ve probably ever been asked. Well, I’ll tell you my definition of success is it’s doing the best you can with what you have. Yeah, and so I guess failure is the opposite of that. Yeah, not doing the best you can with what you have I guess I mean to kind of put it in the terms. We’ve been talking maybe not adhering to the process, you know, looking back and saying, well, I mean, listen, I mean I, you know, I’m in business now. So there are times where Oh, I didn’t, didn’t see that common. I didn’t know that I didn’t, I didn’t see that potential power is that failing. I don’t know, I guess, I guess it is if five people told me it was a possibility. I just said, now you’re wrong. Everything’s gonna be okay. But you know, sometimes you’re just not going to be smart enough for your products not going to be good enough or whatever it is, but I think I think failures, looking back and saying, essentially that I could have worked a little harder.
Matt: I’d be like, Jimmy, Jimmy. That’s what failure is if you look basic I could have. I could have put a little more into it. I mean, we’re always going to want to play better perform better. I mean, I years after I watched. I didn’t watch the Superbowl that we played and that was my last game. I didn’t watch it till years after because I kind of felt like once I watch it, then my career’s definitely over like at least I have one more thing I haven’t watched the film yet so, but I mean I’ve watched the game. And there’s a couple plays. I’m like, oh man, because it’s just like the worst when you watch film and your guy makes the play when you get these like so, of course, I was like, well, I wish I would have we would have gotten beat. Yeah, you gotta say that, but I know looking back on my career, I was kind of always in in my mind was when it’s all over, when they, when they ripped a jersey off your back and they say you can’t play anymore makes you look bad. You say, Well, I did everything I could you know I mean every workout when every meeting watched all the film did everything that I could have done I squeezed every ounce out of it that I that I could. To me that’s success and so again, it goes back to the process. It has nothing to do for me failure has nothing to do with the with the results. It’s really about. It’s really about the process.
Cindra: Well, and I think it goes back to what your dad taught you really early on, like, give your best effort, always. And if you’re not giving your best effort, that equals failure to you, but I what I also really appreciate what you just said is that failure isn’t tied to an outcome. And if you think about how most people to find failure. It’s all right, we lost or something related to the outcome that we really ultimately can’t control.
Matt: Yeah, I think, I think, losing and failure to different things. I mean, you can, yeah, you can absolutely lose that’s probably lost more than I’m one when the final scores in the final tally sheet I probably lost more than I’ve won but failures different and yeah I definitely, I definitely subscribe to that.
Cindra: Great point. So tell us a bit about your transition. Then out of the NFL and starting your own business and your speaker and you do all these this great work in the community. Just give us a little insight on what that was like. Then after retirement and into kind of the world outside of the NFL?
Matt: So I would say probably didn’t handle retirement. The best from the standpoint of right, I guess for 15 years you’re playing football. And the nice thing about playing football. One of the things is you look back every day. Is it. Well, I got a lot done today we got a lot done. I mean it’s, you know, every team. Everybody knows the goal. You get to work. The whole days laid
out. And there’s. I mean, you’re doing stuff you’re boom, boom, boom, boom. You’re you’ve got a long to do list and you’re checking it all off, and then all of a sudden you wake up one day and it’s like I can do whatever I want. I don’t necessarily have a clearly defined goal that was not a good feeling for me and so I if I look, if I look back I would have done it differently. I would just take in six months and done nothing and just sat there and kind of been still and I would have thought and just talk, I’d be I wouldn’t have done anything, but I did. I wrote a book. It was like, I gotta write a book and I got to do this and that. There’s no clearly defined plan, which I’m a little I think planning is a little bit overrated. You know, there’s you always have a plan. But then there’s what happens, which is nothing like the plan. I kind of live my life a little bit to sort of just kind of take things as they come and figure it out on the, on the fly, a little bit, but yes. I do have a business where I do a fair amount of speaking to all sorts organizations involved in a couple startup businesses sort of nothing. No, in particular sector, but and the way I’ve kind of got involved in those is knots. I’m a, I’m a, I’m a fan of business I econ major if that means anything but it’s by people just fortunate to met a lot of people when I played to meet a lot of people now and I like people obviously I like being part of a team. And so when I meet people that get me excited and then inspire me and that I look up to, in certain ways and it’s like we have let’s let’s bring this product to market that’s exciting. Like I like I like the challenge, but I also like the idea of, you know, getting in the trenches with people that I respect and look up to and trying to do something really hard, which is which is which is entrepreneurship and so there is some, you know, there’s a football player. You have to learn to kind of like pain, you have to kind of like you started in some weird way perverse way like taking a beating and so I look up look at entrepreneurship as kind of like that that’s just kind of how I’m wired, I think. And so yeah, that’s, that’s what I that’s what I do during the day when I’m not when I’m helping my wife take care of our children.
Cindra: That could just be a full-time job right there.
Matt: It is a full time job. Luckily, luckily I’ve been blessed. I have a lot of energy. I don’t require a lot of sleep, but also to I feed off other people and fortunate to have. I do think one thing that I mean we could go for hours about things. I don’t do well. But one thing I think I do. Well, is I
do surround myself with good people, you know, high energy, high integrity. I’m just, I’m drawn to those people. And so I think they help, they help pull the best out of me as well.
Cindra: Well, I appreciate what you just said about entrepreneurship. I know those people who are entrepreneurs, I agree that sometimes it feels like you got to be ready to take a beating and, you know, one step back to take, you know, or two steps back to take one step forward or, you know, just adjusting and pivoting, and I think especially with code. So yeah, tell us a little bit about what you speak on Matt and I know there’s so many different ways we could go into
that, but maybe just generally tell us about what you speak on?
Matt: Yeah, leadership, teamwork performance, those types of things. Right. And those are applicable to all walks of life where we’re all part of a team, whether it’s at work, whether it’s at home, whether it’s a church or community. I mean, I really think I mean how you get along with other people.I just how you get along. But how you function and how you as a group, come together to whether it’s achieving the goal of, you know, selling a million widgets or whether it’s how do we raise, you know, how do we raise these children to healthy adults right it’s that mean that’s really life and you know NFL is a great case study, it’s, there’s a everything footballs easy to understand twice so popular, but also it’s fun and it’s also like the NFL, right, it’s all, it’s all about parody so you know everything’s the same right but essentially talent is the same on every team because everybody’s got the same amount of money to spend on talent and the same number of coaches and all those things. But there are those teams that seem to year after year are at the top of the league and fortunate, to play a long time was on some good teams was a lot of bad teams to. And so I think I learned a lot and have some have some has some somewhat unique insights on those topics and it’s everything’s kind of football lies so it tends to be somewhat entertaining versus maybe a dryer, more, more, more, more corporate approach to those topics.
Cindra: And you also have a pursuit Academy that you have been working on to develop some curriculum for fourth graders. Tell us a little bit about that. I think that’s a really a unique thing you’re doing in the community among all the other things that you’re doing?
Matt: Well, thank you. Yes, we’re, we have a couple curriculum that are there in schools across the country and we say this one called pursuits Academy, which I did not invent the content, but it came across it is fantastic. We actually have it at unity High School in Burnsville and so I said, you know, be great as fourth grade is kind of it first key education transitional point for kids. It’s also the point now where kids start to kind of like, you know, develop clicks were really start to interact and where things can get kind of negative socially for kids and so we said, hey, what can we do in this this pursuit Academy really teaches kids how to be ethical entrepreneurs have their own lives, right. We’re all entrepreneurs of our own lives. When I might not be entrepreneurs and business. But regardless of our own lives like we have to you know, we’ve got to set our trajectory and we’re going to have to pivot and duck and figure out this thing, this thing called life and you know what, why do we wait until kids are in high school. There’s a lot of I don’t want to say damage done. But there’s a lot that happens before high school. And so we’ve taken this this pursuit Academy curriculum and breaking it down to a fourth grade level
and teaching kids these skills that I think they need in order for them to thrive and to have a successful life, but also to, to, to bring others with them. Like, like, one of our skills is teach kids the value of opposing peer pressure we tell kids. Well, don’t give into peer pressure peer pressure. Well, first of all, if you just do it. They’re dead doesn’t. There’s no value proposition there. So it takes show them the value of opposing peer pressure, but then also have the like be a source of good peer pressure, don’t, don’t try to force others to conform to how you
think, or how you want them to be right, except people for their for their differences and I don’t see any reason why we can’t start teaching fourth graders that I think. The earlier, the better in fourth grade I again. It’s kind of one of those key points where kids start to they start reading on their own, a little bit there, they’re thinking, you know, they’re not they’re not in nursery school anymore. And so super exciting projects again just working on it with some amazing people and excited to get the product done because the way that we’re going to approach it is we are going to obviously this is for educators and which they had a strict correctly. Here you have to do it this way. Teachers are the experts and so we give a lot of latitude into how they want where they want to take it after we kind of just give them the bones of the of the subject matter, but I think to what we’re going to do is reach out to the business community and see if they will help bring it to market because I think sometimes the sometimes good ideas come outside of industries. I’m not a professional educator working with some people who are in education but creating a product and then let’s have the private sector and the business community come together and bring this product to market and offer to our to our students. So really excited about that open that launches in 2021.
Cindra: Awesome so great and so powerful. So Matt, I am so grateful to spend some time with you today. I love this this like honest real conversation. And I’m going to do my best to summarize some of the high points that we talked about, because I think you provided so much value for everyone listening today. I really when we started we talked about what your dad taught you just like your best effort, always. And then that connects to what we are talking about related to failure. That failure is different than losing right but your definition of failure is I could have worked harder. I loved this focus of like process instead of outcome. And I thought that was really powerful in this conversation and just your idea of this like live radically in the present and I’m hearing how you know just how both of those helped you really stay in the NFL for a long period of time and perform really well and just I really am grateful about your the conversation. The stories at the beginning of when you were talking about getting to the NFL and how it wasn’t something like you had just arrived and never felt like you really arrived that it was, it wasn’t really easy. So I’m just grateful for the time we spent and this idea of like the small specific goals. I think it’s really helpful. Everything that you share today. So thanks so much for joining us.
Matt: Absolutely. My pleasure Cindra. Thanks for having me.
Cindra: Tell us how people can reach out to you or find more about your speaking or just follow along with what you got going on that?
Matt: Yeah. MattBirkCompany.com is our website. And if you if you want a good chuckle and maybe become irritated once in a while. You can follow me on Twitter.
Cindra: You’re good, I follow it. Do you have any final advice for people?
Matt: Something that I haven’t some that I haven’t said already, I would say this. I think that wherever you are, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be right now. I think we need also need to remember that we always want to maybe fast forward to the end and have like the success or whatever it is. But you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be right now.
Cindra: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’m so grateful for your time. Matt: My pleasure. Cindra. Thank you.