Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and while you contemplate leaving your friends and family for the consumer madness of Black Friday, I wanted to share a good story that is in the spirit of the holiday with you…
Former star NFL offensive lineman, Jason Brown, had reached the pinnacle of sports success. The kind that most dream of, yet few achieve.
After being selected in the 4th round of the 2005 NFL draft, Brown’s performance warranted him being considered one of (if not the) best center in the NFL. After his first contract was up, he earned a huge 5-year, $37.5 million dollar contract – $20 million of it guaranteed – in 2009. It made him the highest paid center in the league.
Three years later, Brown was cut to open up salary cap room, but was then offered another contract by a team greatly in need of a center and the one that originally drafted him, the Baltimore Ravens, for certain millions. Against his agent’s best wishes (“You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.”), he shockingly decided to turn down the contract and walk away from the game altogether, at the young age of 28.
At this point, you’re probably guessing at what comes next, and I’m guessing you are expecting something along the lines of the following: retired athlete burns millions on lavish lifestyle and ends up filing for bankruptcy.
Not quite. This story takes a much welcomed odd turn from the tragic default post-athletic career script we are all accustomed to. And it’s much more heartwarming. I’ll let you watch the short video and then we’ll jump back to the commentary.
Brown teaches himself to farm by watching YouTube videos (how else, these days?) and uses a sizable chunk of his savings to buy a 1,030 acre farm in his home state of North Carolina. He names his property “First Fruits Farm” because he intends to donate the first part of every harvest to local food banks. And he does just that – donating 10,000 pounds of cucumbers and 100,000 pounds(!) of sweet potatoes already.
Brown’s wife, Tay, leaves her career as a dentist to home school their three young children.
And it sounds like they are just getting started, with big plans for expansion ahead. They want to double their sweet potato output next year, and have hundreds of unused acres beyond that.
How’s that for an unexpected turn of events?!
When asked why he turned down millions, Brown eloquently responds,
Love is the most wonderful currency that you can give anyone.
Now, I’m guessing less than a handful of you will go on to become NFL offensive linemen or earn $20 million+ in your lifetimes. So other than warm fuzzies, what’s the takeaway here? What can you or I learn from Jason Brown’s story that we can hopefully apply to our own lives?
- Financial independence opens doors. Jason realized that he had accumulated more than he would ever need for himself. He had enough. He turned down millions, sold his mansion in St. Louis, and chose a humble lifestyle. Easy to say when you have millions in the bank? Perhaps. But “enough” for you or I can be a tiny fraction of Jason’s earnings – and achievable by most of us – when we lead low-consuming and humble lives.
- Next, he didn’t let the potential to earn more money overrule his passion. In turning down MORE, he avoided the pursuit of more money trap that many of us fall victim to. When we reach our peak in our careers, there will be offers of more and it will be extremely hard to walk away from them. You’ve got to know where to draw that line in the sand and then stick to it. And you’ve got to know when to walk away.
- Finally, he pursued his passion and used his money in a way that he feels maximizes his value to humanity and makes him feel good about himself. I admire that. And it’s why I do what I do – the frugality, the savings, the earnings, sharing the message here with others – there is a greater purpose and passion behind it. I’ve been labeled a cheapskate by more than a few, but labels like that make it difficult to see the forest through the trees.
It is admirable that Jason walked away from millions, but his final step is what makes this a great story. Jason wanted to become the best possible version of his self, and live a life of service. For Jason, that meant using his money to feed those less fortunate. For you, it could mean something else. But shouldn’t we all aspire to do the same? When we exist mostly to accumulate more money and the stuff that it can buy, rarely are we able to achieve the goal of maximizing our value as human beings.
Cheers to you, Jason.