When to Jump is a curated community featuring the ideas and stories of people who have made the decision to leave something comfortable and chase a passion.
It was a Monday my junior year in college. I woke up and checked my email to find a message from someone I didn’t know that worked in our college athletic department. Due to injury, I was no longer actively playing football but still held a big role off the field so it wasn’t completely strange to receive something from athletics but it stood out enough to open up first that morning.
Someone with the Detroit Lions had reached out to the school requesting permission to approach me. I replied immediately granting permission but largely wrote it off as a mistake. What NFL team would want me?
A few hours later I got a call from a hidden number. It was a man named James Harris, the head of personnel for the Detroit Lions. It was a short call but he said that he was considering hiring me as an entry level member of his scouting team. He was to call me back later.
I did as much research as I could think to do. James “Shack” Harris turned out to be the first African-American quarterback to regularly start for an NFL team, an esteemed name in football circles.
He called back and we talked for twenty minutes. The job was to scout small colleges in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Being that I had been recruited by many of them as a high schooler in Cincinnati, everything seemed to fit. If all went well, we would meet up in Boston that Thursday to sign the paperwork.
The next morning, Tuesday, his assistant sent me the terms of a contract.
I remember sharing the contract with my grandparents. They didn’t know what to say. It was a five-year contract with a base salary the first year of $117,000. Between the signing bonus, relocation bonus, clothing stipend and everything else, I would make $34,000 immediately just for signing the dotted line. That was more money than my grandfather made annually in his career and here I would be making it day one.
“That’s a lot of money, Kyle,” my grandfather told me.
To take the job, I would have to drop out of college. It wasn’t even a decision for me. My grandfather and I had theorized many times before about the advantages of leaving school, or skipping college completely, for the right reasons. This fit the criteria.
The contract included health insurance for my immediate family which would have been the first time my whole household had health insurance, ever. If I was smart I could realistically have half a million saved by the time I was 26. I couldn’t comprehend how different my life would be.
Mentally, I checked out of school. I had an assignment due that Friday in my African-American literature class that I tried to start but I couldn’t get my mind off the fact that Friday I would likely be explaining my withdrawal from school to the Admissions office and therefore wouldn’t care at all about a lit paper.
I had just picked up my suit from the dry cleaners that Wednesday evening, when the phone rang. Blocked caller.
“Hey, how you doin’ Mr. Harris?” I began.
He cut right to the chase, “So I talked to some more people about you. They say you’re a different kind of guy. What do you have to say about that?”
I was taken aback and somewhat offended by his premise but I answered the question nonetheless, “Well, yeah. To get to where I am from where I came from, you have to do things a little differently but it’s gotten me this far and I’m proud of that.”
He paused uncomfortably long, “How old are you, Kyle?”
“I’ll be 21 in December.”
I called the number I had for him but his passcode had been changed. I called back five times before I emailed his assistant. It was over. Confirmation came the next morning when I received a reply email from his assistant saying simply, “Oh, it’s not gonna happen.”
It was Thursday morning, I wasn’t headed to Boston, my life was shamefully the same and I had a paper due the next day. Mr. Harris had assumed or been informed that I was a graduate student helping out with the football team as opposed to an undergrad. I couldn’t figure out how it took him three days to discover my age but it didn’t matter. The chance was gone.
The opportunity of a lifetime doppler-ed right by me and all because of something I couldn’t control: my age. I vowed then to never again let myself become so emotionally invested in something that was so dependent on things outside of my own control.
I promised myself that I would do a better job of positioning my jump to be more of a bet on myself than a roll of the dice.
And, most importantly, I actually convinced myself that the mistake was in him hanging up, not in him considering me in the first place. I was worth the value of that contract. Realizing my perceived value, in this or other scenarios, has been a catalyst for many things in my life but it all stems back to me believing in myself.