How Vikings WR Adam Thielen got his Dream Job

Photo by  Ben Hershey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Why Be Realistic?

"Why would you be realistic? What's the point of being realistic?" -Will Smith

One of our key themes when we work with anyone on living their ultimate life is that nothing is unrealistic.

This mentality helped us leave 6-figure jobs in Corporate America at 25 and 23 to bootstrap the company of our dreams.

And it's the mentality top performers use to rise above obstacles and traditional limitations to accomplish their ultimate goals.

But it's hard for most of us to think this way. Because even though we weren't afraid to dream when we were really young, we're trained as we grow up to "think practically" and "set realistic goals."

In order to help people rewire their brains into thinking unrealistically, we love using examples of people achieving "unrealistic goals."

Recently, a close friend sent us an article from The Player's Tribune written by Adam Thielen, the 5th-year Minnesota Vikings WR who is having a breakout year.

Like I really wish I had him on my fantasy team...

Thielen's journey to the NFL, a journey many consider unrealistic, is similar to just about every "unrealistic" story we've come across.

In addition to our own journey, we've discovered clear patterns for what it takes to achieve "impossible" goals. 

How to achieve an Unrealistic Goal

1. Believe that you can

"The only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be." Vitruvius, The Lego Movie

That may sound obvious, but it's why most people stay dreaming and never even get started.

For some context- according to the NCAA, the percentage of college football players that make it to the NFL is 1.5%.

Thielen was only recruited from high school to play football by one college: Minnesota State- Mankato. A Division II school that landed him on exactly nobody's radar for the NFL when he graduated.

The stats for Division II players in the NFL draft?

In 2016, 3 out of 256 (~1%) were Division II.

So of the 1.5% that make it to the NFL, roughly 1% of those are Division II players.

Which loosely means there was a 99.99% chance that Adam wouldn't make it to the NFL, where the average lifespan is 3 years.

Let alone start and become an elite receiver, now playing in his 5th year.

Definitely "unrealistic." But Thielen stayed focused on his goal.

2. Take it step by step

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Getting to the NFL when no one is recruiting you is a challenge, as evidenced by the stats above even if you are getting recruited. The path is not easy and hard to envision.

But instead of keeping the NFL a dream, Thielen broke it down into action steps:

  1. Train
  2. Research how to even get noticed
  3. Get an opportunity to get noticed
  4. Perform well at that opportunity
  5. Get invited to try out
  6. Make the team by performing well at the try out

3. Endure the doubters

"She didn't say it in an unsupportive way, but more like... let's be realistic." -Adam Thielen

One of (if not the) hardest parts of going after unrealistic goals is the doubt, and lack of support, you will receive from others. Even those people that are closest to you.

Thielen's wife Caitlin, when he told her he wanted to try to play in the NFL said:

"You sure you don't want to just get a normal job?"

4. Be creative

"We’re all creative people. Unless we’re just going to disappear and die, you have to spark it up again at some point." -James Altucher

In his article, Thielen wrote, "What I've learned is that everybody's journey is different."

Since he wasn't being recruited to the NFL after college, Thielen had to research how to even get his shot.

He had to pay his way to try out at a small combine, and hope that an NFL team would like his results enough without seeing him to get a shot at a regional combine.

He got his shot at the regional combine. He paid his own way and performed really well.

The NFL draft came and went, and his name wasn't called.

But after it was over, he got invited to be a practice player at two rookie camps: the Carolina Panthers and the Minnesota Vikings- his favorite team being from Minnesota.

5. Be persistent

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence..." -Calvin Coolidge

After the draft, NFL teams don't have enough guys to run a full practice. So they invite 30-40 guys to fill those spots, but they don't have a real shot to make the 90-man pre-season roster.

Thielen was one of those 30-40.

By doing everything in his power, he somehow got the Vikings to cut another receiver they had already paid a signing bonus to so he'd have a spot on the 90-man pre-season roster.

Although he played well in the pre-season, he didn't make the final 53-man roster.

He was signed to the practice squad, which is definitely an accomplishment. But in the NFL it's often a death sentence for your career.

Instead, Thielen continued to make the most of his opportunities. He played well at special teams. He got better at wide receiver. 

Eventually in his 4th year, Thielen received the starting nod in place of an injured Stefon Diggs and had one of the best performances of his career against the Houston Texans.

He topped 100 receiving yards in a game for the first time in his career and finished with seven catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.

Now in his fifth year, Thielen's numbers place him among the NFL's most elite wide receivers. 

Set unrealistic goals

In his dental equipment sales interview (his backup option) a week before his tryout with the Vikings, his interviewer asked him:

“If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?”

He answered honestly, "To play in the NFL.”

As 2017 draws to a close, ask yourself:

“If you could have any job in the world in 2018, what would it be?”

Then go after it like Adam Thielen.

Check out Adam Thielen's Player's Tribune Article here.

Disrupt the Cycle

If work and life feel separate, if you get substantially more excited for life outside of work, it's time to make a change.

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