In my most notable career, I was a wide receiver with the New Orleans Saints. In spending ten years there, I was fortunate to win a Superbowl and leave as the franchise’s all-time leader in most statistical categories at my position. But even after the success, when my time there was up, the end came a lot quicker than expected.
When I retired I was still just 32 years old. In football terms, I was an aging veteran, but I was still a very young man to the rest of the world. And as I looked around, there was no “blueprint” on what to do with the next chapter.
I had always been curious about technology, but mostly as a consumer. Leaning into that interest led me to angel investing and venture capital, a space other athletes were getting into at the time. My career as an athlete gave me access to doors that were otherwise hidden. It was a great opportunity to experience different roles, especially within an industry whose innovation was defining the future in real-time. But at that time, I didn’t really have a plan going forward. I was just moving fast, networking, and trying to squeeze into any door or opportunity I could find. My end goal wasn’t clear yet, but I knew finding a viable lane forward meant that I had to keep learning and immersing myself in new experiences.
But after a few years of hustling, I started to see a trend. In many of the roles and opportunities I came across, people wanted to pick and choose which parts of me they wanted to leverage. Most people only saw me in one way– the football player. And with that came a lot of assumptions about who I was, what my capabilities were, and what was important to me. People didn’t take time to consider what additional value my experience could provide.
Some entrepreneurs and founders saw dollar signs and wanted me to invest in their company as a way to entice other investors to commit. Some wanted to leverage my network to try and get into doors they couldn’t on their own. While others only valued me as a mascot or spokesman for their companies.
But I knew I had something more valuable to offer. I had just spent the last 20+ years of my life priming my mind and body to perform at the highest levels of competition. Competing at that level, against the best athletes in the world, took more than physical ability. It required leadership, emotional intelligence, strategy, and other critical soft skills that are universal to success. I knew there were valuable skills that could translate. But after a few years of feeling minimized and reduced to a fraction of myself, I knew I had a decision to make…
Keep traveling this path. I would have to keep fighting uphill to change perceptions just to get to level ground. It meant accepting that others will only value pieces of me. Continuing down this path meant that I was hopeful that I’d eventually be able to change minds. But ultimately, it felt like my potential was in someone else’s hands.
Choose to change direction. I would have to start over to build a new path forward. I would have to turn my back on the momentum I worked hard to build. But a new start would allow me to utilize 100% of my skills, talents, and lived experiences. But it would allow me to take my future into my own hands.
I eventually chose to pivot. Changing direction wasn’t an easy choice. But if I was determined to be authentic to myself, it was the only choice. Much of the branding, positioning, networking, and business development I had done the previous few years was no longer viable. In order to unwind it and rebuild something, I needed to dig deep within myself to define a new path forward– a path that would make room for the full breadth of my skills and lived experiences.
That pivot is what brought us together today. It led me to launch my own company, Marques Colston Enterprises (MCE) to help others navigate the same challenges.
Our mission at MCE is to inspire athletes, entrepreneurs, and executives to shift the paradigm and reimagine professional success that embodies their authentic self, values, passion and lived experiences as much as their skills. We provide tools, strategies, and strategic guidance to help them unlock creativity and possibility that allows them to create personal and professional separation.
Change is opportunity masked as adversity
I believe each of us has a unique and differentiated value that exists beyond the technical skills that our job or profession requires. Unfortunately, it often gets overlooked, goes unrecognized, or is under-appreciated. The reality for many of us is that our current professional roles don’t make space for 100% of our authentic selves to show up. We feel like we have to show up as a representative of ourselves in order to climb higher. And when that occurs for so long it becomes easier to lose our authentic selves in small, daily increments until that representative becomes how we start to view ourselves.
That type of incremental shift and the gradual erosion of your self-concept takes a toll on your personal and professional growth. Ultimately, it changes how you view your long-term goals and what success actually looks like. In realizing this for myself and trying to reframe my position and purpose, I was able to discover a passion for helping people like myself who may be facing similar challenges. The journey ahead is a long one, but the vision is crystal clear.
Sometimes, you have to shift your approach to take your potential into your own hands. By embracing change and uncertainty, you learn to unlock new professional creativity and the untapped possibility that exists beyond the limitations that others place on your potential.