From ‘the penthouse to the outhouse’ … and I have never been happier.

That in a nutshell best explains my two-years-and-counting as an ex-NRL player. I often say to people that I would never trade anything back.

I wouldn’t change anything – I would do it all again. But that doesn’t mean you don’t learn from what you have done so that in the future you can even enjoy life even more and be even happier.

Well, that’s my story. I am happier than I have ever been. I am happier now on the sidelines of rugby league than I was as a player. Sure, I loved playing and tasted the pinnacle, winning a premiership with the Dragons in 2010. So many great times.

Jamie Soward exclusive insight

But sometimes the pictures don’t tell the whole story. There were the obvious battles with things like form and injuries. But more often than not they are battles that you can win.

My tougher struggles were with issues around my personal life – anxiety and depression – things like that. They are struggles that unfortunately you can never ‘win’, but you can learn to manage them.

The ‘penthouse to the outhouse?’ What I mean by that is …  in 2016 I retired from rugby league. Part of that season I had played with Penrith before linking with the London Broncos, who I had been with in 2013. By early November that year I was retired.

Like many players I hadn’t put enough thought into life after the boots are hung up. When you are playing footy at the top level it is all about footy. Sure, there was some talk about courses etc, but all my time and energy was spent on the game.

Jamie Soward

Three months into retirement my wife helped me to get off the couch and get a job – selling toilets (hence the ‘outhouse’). It was actually much more than toilets, it was basically all bathroom fittings.

Initially I did struggle with that. It wasn’t so much about being embarrassed at the fact that one day people are watching you on TV and then soon after they are buying a toilet from you. It was more about being anxious and nervous because I was in a situation that I wasn’t used to and having to greet and talk to people.

However, the older I get the more I realise everything in life is an opportunity and a learning experience.

So, I really threw myself into the job. The old competitive instinct kicked in. I had some success and earned a bit of coin, but also met some really great people around that business.

My wife was such a big help through this whole process. Those close to me know how much she has changed my life.

Jamie Soward exclusive insight

So, although I enjoyed the bathroom gig, it wasn’t quite me dream job. While playing I had always envisaged a career in the media, post-footy.

However, I guess initially I didn’t have the right CV. I hadn’t played for Australia, or been a 10-year State of Origin veteran. But the universe has a way of rewarding you. I did work very hard and was committed to doing the best I could in that first job. All of a sudden the media opportunities started to open up at the end of 2017 and then this year it has been quite hectic.

Channel 9, Fox, nrl.com, Triple M – it has been great and I am working with some really good people and I’ve been pretty fortunate that those people have accepted me for the person who I am.

I’m not going to agree with every opinion all the time and I’m a little bit different … and a bit weird. I am also learning a lot.

The biggest plus for me is that in terms of happiness … I’m more happier out of the game than being a player. It’s about being able to enjoy family time. Yes, I still have to work, but these days I rarely miss a major family event, such as a birthday. My time is my time. I’m not not recovering. I’m not doing video. I’m not preparing for a game.

Don’t get me wrong, for the majority of my career I enjoyed those things. Not so much towards the end of my career, because by then I started to pay the price of not looking after my body more earlier in my playing days.

I was also plagued by a back injury. I had three surgeries in 2015 within the space of 6 months and that was pretty devastating – mentally and physically. At the same time I was going through a divorce and the self-doubt started to creep into my life.

Now, I look back at the highs and lows throughout my career and I can say that I’m happier now than I ever was in the game. And that includes the ultimate, winning a premiership. I’ve been lucky enough to do that and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. But certainly in terms of happiness, well …  on November 9 my beautiful daughter Indiana Rose Florence was born.

Becoming a Dad and marrying Madi are the two moments of my life that are the pinnacle of happiness and have pushed the premiership down a peg.

Jamie Soward exclusive insight

Previously my life was all about footy and that is where I guess I looked for happiness and other things in my life took a backward step. I have no doubt that thought process contributed to a lot of ‘the stuff’ that I went through mentally as a player.

That ‘stuff’ will always be there. As anyone who has been through mental illness will tell you, you never fully get over it. You just learn how to manage it.

Madi helped me through all that while I was playing, so by the time I retired I wasn’t seeking any sort of help. It was just a case of letting her know when I felt uncomfortable and talking to someone when I needed to.

I have no doubt my first job outside of football – selling toilets – was also a big help in getting me to sort that stuff out. It got me back into the community, talking to people, focussing on something outside of footy.

And it led me to where I am now, the happiest place I have ever been.