Your next act

Growing up, I loved baseball. The Atlanta Braves were my team, and I loved watching them play. It doesn’t hurt that they won 14 straight division titles during that time!

I haven’t followed baseball in a few decades now (I stopped around 2001/2002), but I was recently reminded of one of my favorite pitchers from that era.

His name is John Smoltz, otherwise known as “Smoltzie”. Smoltzie was part of the Braves’ starting rotation which also included fellow Hall of Famers Greg Maddox and Tom Glavine.

Unlike those two though, Smoltz actually changed his role late in his career. He wasn’t just a starter his whole career. In fact, he became one of the best closers in the history of baseball. He is even one of the first pitchers to have both over 200 wins and over 150 saves in his career.

Smoltz was a fantastic starting pitcher through his career, so why did he switch to being a closer? Simply put, he had an injury and surgery called Tommy John surgery. Basically this surgery replaces a tendon in the elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in the body or a cadaver’s.

This can be a career-ending injury in baseball and especially in pitchers, as the elbow is put under extreme stress on every pitch.

Smoltz could have made the decision to retire. I have no doubt the idea crossed his mind and it wouldn’t surprise me if he seriously considered it.

But being that he was 32 years old (or so), it appears he felt like he wasn’t done with baseball. Unlike other professional sports, it’s not uncommon for professional baseball players to play into their 40s. So realistically, it seems Smoltz felt like he had some good years left.

After taking the 2000 season off, he came back to pitch as a closer for the following 4 seasons, amassing 204 saves, before once again becoming a starter and winning 55.78% of his remaining starts (53/42) until his retirement in 2009.

I respect John Smoltz for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is that he didn’t just throw in the towel when he hit some career turbulence (in his case, Tommy John surgery).

Instead, he decided to reinvent himself as one of the best closing pitchers in the major leagues for a few seasons until he was able to return to the starting rotation and dominate once again. In fact, he had 4 of his best 6 career seasons (by winning percentage) in the years after Tommy John surgery!

As professionals, we can sometimes get caught up in overanalyzing what to do next or what to do when things don’t go our way (via layoff, company going out of business, company being sold, etc).

Over the last 5 years I’ve been asked many times both publicly (on podcasts especially) and privately how I knew it was time to work for myself after getting laid off from my last corporate job in 2015. You could also ask a similar question to anyone who changes jobs – “How did you know it was the right next step?”

The reality is – I didn’t. And when you’re the one making the decision, you don’t.

Instead you’re making the best choice you can with the information you have at the time.

Maybe that next step will end amazingly, or maybe it will never end – it will be the company at which you spend the rest of your career.

Maybe that next step won’t work out well. You’ll get laid off or you’ll get so frustrated with your coworkers that you quit on the spot.

But then you’ll move on and do the next thing, and the next, and the next. Some of those will work out well and others won’t.

Personally, when the time comes for my next step, I hope I’ll approach it like John Smoltz. He probably could have retired and still made the Hall of Fame, but he chose not to. He chose to take the year off to recover from surgery, then came back stronger than ever as a closer and then eventually again as a starter.

Maybe you’ll start another company. Maybe you’ll take a corporate job for a bit before doing that. Maybe you’ll take some time off.

But ultimately we all get to make the choice about if we’re done or not, and if so then what that means.

When I left my last agency job in 2013 to go in-house, I was pretty done working with clients. I wanted to work on one product and grow that, and I did for the next few years.

But when I got laid off, I picked up a few consulting clients for a while to bootstrap my company into existence.

A few years later (end of 2018), I stopped SEO consulting to focus on building the company and leveling up my professional skillset as a leader and executive.

Now I’m focused on growing the company and empowering the team. Someday we’ll likely sell the company.

At that point maybe I’ll say I’m done. Maybe I’ll say I’m not finished and it’s time for the next act (company).

When you start thinking about your next move, I encourage you to ask yourself “Am I done, or is it just time for the next step?”

Maybe you can stay at your current company and go through an internal change there. Or maybe it truly is time to move on.

Only you can decide that for yourself.

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