Keeping his career options open

Updated: July 26, 2004, 2:47 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to

In his new role as career counselor to the stars, Ricky Williams has already made a statement so bold that nobody has actually seen it since Johnny Paycheck.

But for those billions among you who don't like old country music standards, here's a taste of the new Ricky Williams, Job Maven -- the go-to guy for those facing employment crises or worrying that they might be soon:

Ricky Williams
AP Photo/Alan DiazTired of the beating he was taking on the field, Ricky Williams has decided to call it a career.
Q: I'm thinking of making a career change, but I don't know if I should ease into it or hold my nose and jump. What is your advice?

RW: The key here is in knowing when your talents are most valued and the time of year they're most needed -- because that's the time to bag the gig. Right before inventory, or when the new line of products comes in, or my personal favorite, training camp. The looks on their faces are priceless.

Q: Is this entirely fair to your employer?

RW: I think you're missing the inner question, which is, "Do you want them to miss you, or not?" I mean, quitting is no big deal. People do it all the time. But to quit with panache also means quitting with timing, and the best timing for you is almost by definition the worst timing for them.

Q: Is there a social conscience component to a good resignation?

RW: Absolutely. If you can arrange it so that a guy in your department that you like gets your job, you've done a good deed. I did that with my last job, and I felt almost as good about it as he did.

Q: In your experience, how hard are the first weeks of unemployment?

RW: Purest, unalloyed bliss. You can see the world, and if you're really clever about it, you can stay in your room and see even more amazing stuff.

Q: But what if you like your work and your employer?

RW: Well, I can't speak to the first part of your question, given that my work was running into people trying to run into me. That's basically coal mining while people are pushing the trolleys into you. Trust me, no matter what NFL Films says, it sucked. Crazy people do that stuff.

As to the second part, you have to remember that your employer is going to replace you even if he loves you beyond comprehension. You may be a much-beloved widget, but a widget you are nonetheless, and even if you like your supervisor, his supervisor is probably a creep, and HIS supervisor absolutely is. It's the Third Law Of Job Thermodynamics --- Eventually, Your Job Satisfaction Is Controlled By An Utter Weasel --- so you have to think to yourself, "Somewhere along the line, I'll be pissing off someone who deserves to be pissed off. That's a very liberating feeling.

Q: What about your co-workers?

RW: They will envy and hate you for leaving. Or they will envy and love you for beating the system. Either way, they will envy you.

Q: If you're not independently wealthy, though, won't you have to get a new job? And won't quitting your old one hurt your chances of getting a new one?

RW: Absolutely not. If they want you, they don't care about references -- they'll use your page of references as a coaster for their coffee for all they care about what others say. And making them want you is a required skill of the employment world.

Q: What about compensation?

RW: If you're talking about while you're out of work, use your savings, or unemployment, or hope a rich relative goes room temperature. Or be independently wealthy yourself, which is the easiest and least objectionable to your relatives.

If you're talking about job compensation, three rules. One, get an agent who isn't nuts. Two, don't wear women's clothes in public no matter who asks you to (unless you are a woman or are really strident about wanting to become one). And three, incentive clauses are insulting, because they assume you need the money to do your best. When they start talking about bonuses, slam your fist on the table, and say, "Straight salary and lots of it, or choke on a pork chop, Milt."

Q: What is the most rewarding part of having a job?

RW: In a word, leverage. Leverage is, without question, the most important slice of life there is, even better than sex. Sex, you can get. Tons of it, in fact. But leverage, pure leverage, where someone wants to give you lots of money and won't take "Hmmm, let me get back to you" for an answer, that might happen once or twice in an average lifetime, four or five times for the luckiest people alive.

So if you can't quit, try to get some leverage. Myself, I had leverage and turned it down, which is even rarer.

Q: How rare?

RW: Well, let me put it this way. People are still talking about me as the smartest, luckiest, stupidest or craziest man alive, which is kind of fun in its own way.

Q: You're a lucky man.

RW: Me? Ask Travis Minor how lucky he is, then get back to me.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to