Most of us needed answers to the same question when our playing days ended…NOW what do we do?

It did not make any difference whether we were a future Hall of Famer or had been just on special teams for a season or two. The answers to the “Now What” question were not always obvious.

NFL quarterback alum Alex Smith, retired 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and former kicker Joe Nedney participated in a four-day conference last year where one-time pro and amateur athletes gathered to discuss their future life now that the cheering had stopped.

“Playing football, I broke my leg, had a crazy infection and almost lost my leg and my life,” Alex Smith told his 80 fellow attendees at the Athletes Voices summit in Santa Cruz (CA). “It was a long journey after that, and it really had a profound effect on me because here I was an athlete, and this was my identity. It was all I wanted to do and suddenly, I’m coming face to face with what’s important and who I am and what do I really want in life?”

Smith played 16 years (2005-20) in the league. He participated in the conference because he, like most of the attendees, wanted a new non-profit mission and was looking for ways on how to leverage his NFL platform.

Patrick Willis was a seven-time Pro Bowler for the 49ers and is in the team’s Hall of Fame.

“It wasn’t til after I retired (in 2014) when I felt like I almost had to become naked again,” Willis said at a group discussion in Santa Cruz, according to The Athletic which recently wrote about the event. “Part of that came because I was trying not to just be identified with my past. I didn’t want to get stuck there.”

Joe Nedney played 15 years in the league.

“When football ended for me in 2010,” Nedney said, “I retreated from the game because I needed to find out who I was right away. What was the calling for me? I finally got to the point where I was like, you know what? I just need to find me and not the ‘me’ associated with football.”

Former 49ers executive Joanne Pasternack is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Athlete’s Voices. If you want more information regarding the organization, Google Ms. Pasternack or Athletes Voices. You will not be the only former athlete who has.