Photo taken by Bobak Ha’Eri, on November 1, 2008. Used with permission.
Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, winners of Super Bowl XLVIII (the NFL loves those Roman numerals)! Congratulations to all of the players, the coaches and staff, the team owners and management, and to all of their terrific fans who have cheered long and loud for their team.
Yes, I’m a sports fan. My dad and I shared practically every weekday breakfast during my years from elementary school through high school, taking turns reading the sports section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I love athletics, competition, games, and the many, many lessons that one can learn through playing and watching sports. Team work, discipline, self-confidence, striving to be one’s best, developing good habits around health and fitness, and having fun; despite everything that’s wrong with sports today (and there’s plenty!), these fundamental aspects remain at the core of all that’s good about sport.
As a sports fan, I was one of the 108.7 million people who tuned in to watch last Sunday’s Super Bowl. I may have been about one of the 3 viewers who could care less about the commercials (I mute them, regardless of the show or event that they are part of). I tuned in to watch the game. And to watch Pete. I tuned in hoping to see Pete Carroll coach his team to victory. And he did.
Why Pete Carroll? Well, I’ve followed his career for awhile, from his early failures in the NFL (the Jets and the Patriots), to his success at the University of Southern California, to his return to the NFL with the Seahawks. If you’ve never paid any attention to him, even if you give not a whit about football or sports, once you see or read any story about him, it’s pretty hard not to be captivated by him. The guy’s outlook, his energy, his enthusiasm … it’s downright infectious. He makes competition and hard work and continued focus fun.
Now I live in New England and I cheer for an awfully successful NFL team (Go Patriots!) with one heck of a head coach (arguably the best ever), but seriously, if I’ve got to pick between Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick as to who I want to hang out with on any given day of the week, I’m looking for Pete eight ways to Sunday. I like upbeat. I like positive energy. I like fun!
And if I was ever asked to pick a head coach for a team of professional librarians, I’m going with Pete, too. Here’s why:
Last week, a discussion broke out on the medical librarian listserv, MEDLIB-L, around the topic of libraries closing. Sadly, this is not that uncommon of a discussion. Too often the list gets another email from another librarian who has recently lost his/her job due to his/her library being closed. This happens more often to hospital and/or clinical libraries, but even academic libraries are not immune from huge changes and the continual loss of positions (see my posts from this past summer for evidence of that very thing happening in my own library). For several days, people offered any number of ideas for how librarians, collectively and as individuals, could approach this problem/issue. Some were far-fetched. Some have been tried before without much success. Some were new and worth giving a go.
The discussion went on this way for about three days, i.e. in a generally positive tone, even when calling for big changes, until someone lobbed a “None of it matters anyway” grenade onto the gathering.
Now in truth, I take real issue with this kind of communication etiquette. Be it during an online discussion, face-to-face meeting, or supper table conversation, I don’t care for the practice of loaded comments that are thrown in for no other real purpose than to silence the whole talk. Some folks found the comment “realistic.” That’s fair. It may well be the reality of many a corporation and/or hospital with a highest priority being the bottom line, that libraries and librarians are an easy target for cutting. In an age of easy access to information, why do hospitals need libraries or more, librarians? Why do schools? Why do towns? Yes, it is a reality of the world in which we live that institutions and entities that do not generate profit are deemed less valuable.
That said, I couldn’t help but feel my hackles go up when I read a colleague saying to a group of colleagues, “It doesn’t matter what we do, administrations will make the decisions that they make, regardless” (paraphrasing) and it made me furious when another gave thanks for a “voice of reality” begin spoken at last. If this is our reality, I thought, then why do I even show up in the morning?
Perhaps the comments bothered me most because I took them personally. Many years ago, my friends had a nickname for me. This nickname grew out of a tendency that I had (still have, sometimes) to see the worst in reality. I often defaulted to the same, “What difference does it make?” attitude that I heard (interpreted) being shared by some of my colleagues on that list. My nickname was, “The Prophetess of Doom.”
Fortunately, since those days, I’ve learned some practices and the science behind them to be a little less “doom and gloomy” in my disposition and outlook on life. A lot of this centers around understanding how intricately connected our thoughts are with our behavior and attitudes. There’s an awful lot of evidence to support the fact that what we see and how we see it, what we say and how we say it, what we think and how we think it, and what we do and how we do it, are all intertwined. I’m not talking the Practice of Pollyanna, but of cognitive theory:
The basic proposition of cognitive theory is that information processing is a defining feature of what it means to be human, enabling individuals to make meaningful representations of themselves and their world. Humans are in a continual state of processing streams of information from their external and internal environments. They receive, encode, interpret, store, and retrieve information; this information processing plays a vital role in human adaptation and survival (Clark DA, Beck AT, Alford BA: Scientific Foundations of Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Depression. New York, Wiley, 1999).
When librarians say that our reality is, “Nothing that I do matters,” whether we believe that we’re being self-defeating or not, we are setting ourselves up for defeat. We are interpreting our environment as one in which we cannot win; where we cannot find value. How is this possibly a strategy for professional survival?
Enter my favorite coach:
After he got fired from the New England Patriots, Pete Carroll set out to purposefully articulate for himself his core values and beliefs, those things that were most true about himself and how he approached life (and by default, coaching). He dubbed his philosophy, “Win Forever“, and based it upon the value(s) of competition. For him, competition was at the root of his being. It made him aspire to always be the best that he could be, regardless of the circumstances. While it’s easy to see competition in sports, his larger point is that we all compete to be ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you have an opposing team, an opposing management, an opposing societal shift in information use and delivery that’s sucking away the foundations of your very profession; in the end, you are competing with yourself to be your best and when you succeed at that, you’ve succeeded. Period.
I believe that there’s a message that librarians can take from Coach Carroll, and not just because he won the Super Bowl on Sunday, but because his message seems to say that in a time when we may feel like nothing much matters, that’s exactly the time to believe the we matter the most. It takes discipline, a willingness to work hard, and a willingness to adjust your focus and attitudes so that you can make the changes that you need to make in order to reach the potential that you wish to reach. It’s a process of self-discovery, creating a vision that is true to yourself, and competing to hold onto your vision and ideals through any number of ups and downs in your career. It’s not about “nothing that I do matters.” It’s about “everything that I do matters.”
“If the goals, strategies, and techniques you have laid out for yourself are really true to your core self, you will always be able to get back to them. You will always want to get back to them.” (Pete Carroll, Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion)