Sean Conley: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes”

We can get stuck in the mind frame of thinking, thinking, doing, doing, and planning, planning, planning. When this happens our creativity, spontaneity, big ideas, and inner peace get blocked. I have found that doing yoga or meditating regularly allows me to find some balance and strength. Stress is not something that happens to us, […]

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We can get stuck in the mind frame of thinking, thinking, doing, doing, and planning, planning, planning. When this happens our creativity, spontaneity, big ideas, and inner peace get blocked. I have found that doing yoga or meditating regularly allows me to find some balance and strength. Stress is not something that happens to us, it is our reaction to it. Meditation and yoga can help build our “resilience muscle”.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Conley.

Ex-NFL kicker Sean Conley (Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets) suffered career-ending injuries from overtraining. He began practicing yoga as part of his rehabilitation, and soon embraced yoga’s mindfulness, meditation, and philosophy as a new life direction. Now a yoga teacher himself, he owns Amazing Yoga in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife. His new book is The Point After: How One Resilient Kicker Learned There Was More to Life Than the NFL (Lyons Press, 2020). Learn more at

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Thank you for having me! I grew up in Erie, PA and was a walk-on placekicker for the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, I signed an NFL contract with the Detroit Lions. I later played with the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets. It was in New York where my injuries caught up to me and ended my career prematurely.

I looked for a job that could fuel my competitive drive so I became a sales executive in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. During this time, I was dealing with the effects of my old football injuries and my wife convinced me to take up yoga. After months of persistence, I took my first yoga class. After a few months, yoga healed my injuries and helped me calm my mind. The calming of my mind was an unexpected bonus. As a child, I was diagnosed with ADHD.

Yoga did so much for me, that I wanted to share it with others. A few years later I quit my corporate job and became a full-time yoga and meditation teacher with my wife. I have been teaching for almost 20 years now. We own three yoga studios in Pittsburgh today.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I was in college training to be a kicker for Pitt with the hopes of making the NFL, I trained almost every day. Hard. I didn’t give my body and mind time to rest. My dedication and hard work helped get me to the NFL. However it came at a price. After just three years and three different NFL teams, my leg was shot. The biggest lesson for me was that working smart was more valuable than working hard. Since then I have strived to find balance in my life and work.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have always tried to make our studios as accessible and fun as possible. Most people who are new to yoga will find yoga intimidating. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We use modern music and teach simple poses in class. We use upbeat music to make it more fun. We have always wanted to inspire people to be happy. Our style of yoga is consistent and is known to be challenging, yet light-hearted.

We also focus on fostering community. Students come to a studio to feel a connection: not just with us but getting to know other students. When this happens, they feel more connected and more like a family.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My special teams coach at the University of Pittsburgh, Amos Jones. Amos is now an assistant for the New York Giants. When I first came to Pitt, I had a strong leg but I struggled to kick the ball straight. I was the “Happy Gilmore” of kickers. After practice I would go into Amos’ office and watch myself on video for hours.I I would analyze every kick to see what I did wrong. One day Amos shared a story with me from when he was a coach at Alabama under legendary head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. He told me Coach Bryant would let the players see their mistakes from the game for just a brief moment. Then he would show them their successful plays again and again. He told the players to picture themselves making these successful plays over and over. Amos taught me the power of positive visualization. That season I had the second highest field goal percentage in the nation. I never again struggled with accuracy.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back quickly from adversity. But more than that, it is the ability to reframe one’s challenges and obstacles as opportunities for growth and new possibilities. Resilient people are not afraid to make mistakes.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Louis Zamperini. One of my favorite books is “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. His story of surviving for 47 days on a raft, and then tortured in the POW camps, and somehow making it through, demonstrates the amazing power of the human spirit. Not only was he resilient, he also was kind, compassionate, and found the strength to forgive his captors.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Before I walked on at the University of Pittsburgh, I first tried to play college football at Division 3 school Grove City College. When I arrived on campus, the head coach told me “I already have a kicker” and “I don’t need you on the team.” I used the rejection as motivation to remind myself that I needed to believe in myself and had to ignore the doubters.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

My football career had just ended and I was still coping with that when my father called me and said he had some news. He had colon cancer. He passed away a few years later.

However, I discovered over time that my grief turned to gratitude for all the time and experiences I had with him. It taught me that even in loss, we will eventually see the positive. Now I try to see the good in everything and not take any moment for granted.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

When I was nine, my doctor diagnosed me with ADHD and put me on Ritalin. I felt very alone. I first thought that something must be wrong with me. I rebelled and never took the pills. I would secretly throw them out at school.

Playing sports gave my busy mind a break. That’s all I did. I believe that my time playing sports and learning how to lose helped me build resilience. Looking back I believe that I turned my ADD into an ally as I learned how to be self-reliant.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

One. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

There is power in learning from our mistakes. Einstein said, “Someone who has never made a mistake, never tried anything new.”

Two. Ignore the “inner critic”

Each one of us deals with “that voice”. There’s a old Cherokee story about two wolves that I think about a lot:

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “my son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one that you feed.”

What we put our attention to grows and thrives. Notice which wolf you are feeding.

Three. Give up the need for approval or being liked.

Quite often we make decisions based on how others will perceive us. This keeps us from taking risks which is where new opportunities lie.

Four. Expect the unexpected.

When I was with the Detroit Lions, the special teams coach, Frank Ganz always told us, “Expect the unexpected.” This stuck with me especially when I get caught up in trying to control things or wanting certainty. This is extra challenging right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. But remembering that life is always changing and it will have its ups and downs, and letting go of control can be liberating.

Five. Give yourself some headspace.

We can get stuck in the mind frame of thinking, thinking, doing, doing, and planning, planning, planning. When this happens our creativity, spontaneity, big ideas, and inner peace get blocked. I have found that doing yoga or meditating regularly allows me to find some balance and strength. Stress is not something that happens to us, it is our reaction to it. Meditation and yoga can help build our “resilience muscle”.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

More yoga and meditation in places where people have limited time or access to it. Schools, law firms, health care workers, corporations, politicians, community centers, etc. We have become a very busy and anxious country. We need to prioritize self-care more to help people get more headspace.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

Chef José Andrés. His amazing nonprofit sets up mobile kitchens that feed thousands of people at the scene of natural disasters. He is now feeding people suffering from the economic effects from COVID-19.

There is nothing more inspiring than someone who goes out of their way to make life better for others.

How can our readers follow you on social media?




This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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