The Talking Series is a weekly segment that delves deeper into topics discussed by guest of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior Podcast.
You may know Drew Brees as one of the most prolific quarterbacks of all time, a man who amassed 80,358 passing yards over 20 seasons in the NFL. While this is how most people know him, his loved ones know him as a father, husband, son, and brother.
That’s because who we are largely depends on who we’re with. For you, that may mean being a parent at home and a leader at work. For Brees, it means being a family man at home and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer everywhere else. Regardless of who we are, there are actions we can take to set ourselves up for success and reach our full potential. For high performers, these habits are simply non-negotiable. We recently had the legendary Brees on the Everyday Warrior Podcast to talk about life and football.
Watch our full interview with Brees in the video above and read about his non-negotiables on life below.
1. Set an Intention Every Morning
In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven (Ret.) told a graduating class, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day…by the end of the day, that one task will have turned into many.” Brees has a similar philosophy: “How you start your day is an absolute non-negotiable.”
Both men believe it either sets you up for success or failure. The routine is different for everybody, but for Brees, it’s reading the Bible and having a cup of coffee.
“It just lays the foundation for the day and puts me in the right frame of mind to be the best husband and father I can be,” Brees explains. For everyday warriors, beginning each day with purpose is nothing new; if you haven’t tried it, we recommend making it a regular practice.
Admiral McRaven went on to tell the graduates, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.” To make an impact on others, you must first do the work in your own life.
“Set a moral compass and choose how you’ll treat and interact with others,” Brees recommends. It’s as simple as that.
2. Find Your Inner Motivation
Football is not an easy sport; it takes dedication, determination, and the ability to push yourself beyond your limits. Quarterbacks with the talent, drive, and grit to make it into the NFL face such intense competition in the league that the average career is just three years. With only 32 starting quarterback positions, talented individuals are always ready to step in and take their shot at the slightest sign a player is slipping, making what Brees accomplished over two decades even more astonishing.
Since 1920, a total of 721 quarterbacks have taken the field during an NFL game; of those, only six have reached their twentieth season. Brees is number six. He believes motivation is key to continued success, saying, “You have to feel like you’re chasing something—like there’s still room for improvement.”
Many high performers become more focused when they stop competing against others and start internalizing their motivation.
“I was constantly in this race to improve and stay ahead,” he explains. “But I was competing against myself more than I was competing against anybody or anything else.”
Each March, after spending a couple months resting with his family, he’d sit down with his mentors and determine where he needed to improve, decide on his objectives, and make a plan to reach them. Then, all that was left to do is “get to work,” Brees says.
3. Seek to Continuously Improve
Success and failure aren’t on opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re steps in the same process. What separates those who succeed from those who fail is the willingness to get back up, dust off, and push forward. Brees is a great example; in 2005, he tore his labrum and rotator cuff while attempting to recover a fumble during a game against the Broncos. The sports media speculated that his career was over. Although he wondered if they might be right, he decided to keep fighting.
Nine months later, he returned with a new team, the New Orleans Saints. Over the next 15 seasons, he carved out a legacy that included a decisive Super Bowl victory, two Offensive Player of the Year recognitions, and a record for leading the league in passing yards seven times.
Now a father of four, Brees sees the importance of failure from a completely different perspective, “As a parent, you want to make things as easy [for your children] as possible, but you have to sit back and let them fail, get back up, fail, get back up,” he says. “Then you watch their progression as they get better and their confidence grows.”
He may have hung up his cleats and left the game-day roar of the Who Dat Nation behind him, but Brees is far from done leaving his mark on the world. Now, his focus is on using the wisdom he’s acquired over the past 20 years to help others and raising his four children with the same mentality that allowed him to achieve greatness.
“So much of what I think about now is impact and significance,” explains Brees. “There’s so much work to be done, and that’s what motivates and inspires me every day.” Although he built his career on making the seemingly impossible appear effortless, even he recognizes that “there’s so much need out there and you can’t just go out and accomplish it all at once.”
Instead, the legendary quarterback says he “sets objectives and tackles challenges one step at a time,” a philosophy that everyday warriors know very well.
You can catch Brees in a back-to-school marketing campaign for Great Clips, in which he commentates on “Dad’s Back-to-School Playbook.” His three sons star in the short—just another example of how the athlete is putting his family first.
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