The Power of Positive Pete

7 Feb
Photo taken by Bobak Ha'Eri, on November 1, 2008. Used with permission.

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)

13 Responses to “The Power of Positive Pete”

  1. Susan Warthman February 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Dear Sally- Now that I have time to breathe, I can actually read one of your blog posts. I must say that I did not appreciate them quite the way I do now after reading this one. I must admit apathy and lack of time for hitting the delete button before. You can be somewhat winded, but this one comes together nicely. Admitting your past attitude and nickname enabled me to see another side of you I never would have thought existed. Ending with Pete’s quote helps me, and hopefully others, feeel inspired and rekindle my self-esteem, if nothing else. Thanks. sue

    • salgore February 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      Thank you, Sue. I’m glad that you got something out of this one. One can be wordy on one’s own space. That’s what those delete buttons are for. 🙂

  2. Kellee Selden February 7, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

    Thank you for your article and for speaking up. I agree and endorse everything you stated here. My hackles also went up with the defeatist attitude. You can be 100% sure that failure will come if you choose to give up, not try or ignore the situation. However, if you keep going, try new and different ways to showcase your skills, your department etc. then you have a chance and hope. I say that is 100% better than giving up or doing nothing.
    . . .I too have followed Pete Carroll since his College Football days and I love his positive enthusiasm. That is why I even watched the S.B. He and his players looked like college guys who gave it their all and it wasn’t just for the money. It was for pride and fun.

    • salgore February 7, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

      Thanks, Kellee. I respect that we all have differing opinions and outlooks on our profession, but honestly believe, like you, that we have to keep trying new things and putting ourselves out there.

  3. djg29 February 7, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Your wonderful post Sally reminded me of a truism I heard once:
    “It took an optimist to invent the airplane, and a pessimist to invent the parachute”.
    So, even though some in our profession are pessimistic about its future, it is essential that we keep trying to reinvent ourselves, or to invent entirely new ways in which we provide value despite the circumstances.
    We cannot allow “nothing I do matters” to evolve into “therefore I’ll do nothing”.

    • salgore February 7, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

      Thanks djg29. I guess we can believe that even the inventor of the parachute wanted to survive!! 🙂 Thanks for staying positive.

  4. djg29 February 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

    Your wonderful post Sally reminded me of a truism I heard once:
    “It took an optimist to invent the airplane, and a pessimist to invent the parachute”.
    So even though some in our profession are pessimistic about its future, it is essential that we keep trying to reinvent ourselves, or to invent entirely new ways in which we provide value despite the circumstances.
    We must not allow “nothing I do matters” to evolve into “therefore I’ll do nothing”.

  5. Valerie February 7, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for this, Sally. I’ve had similar real-time conversations in the past with other librarians who embodied the same defeatist, Eeyore attitude, and there’s very little that gets my hackles up faster. In work as well as in life, one is all but guaranteed to go exactly nowhere as long as they keep digging their heels into the past and insisting that there’s no action they can take that will make a difference. Optimism, enthusiasm, and gratitude can take us a very long way.

    And in six months you have my permission to kick my @$$ if I’ve devolved to the point where I’m no longer displaying those traits 😉

    • salgore February 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

      Thanks, Valerie! And I’m keeping my eye on you now. 🙂

  6. Maureen Dunn February 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Very much enjoyed this, Sally – thanks!! I found out last weekend that my husband is also a fan of Pete Carroll’s (something I never knew before), and he explained his admiration in a way that closely resembles yours. Made me way more interested in the game! I like the idea of having a personal vision, and now I’m wondering what mine is. I have a stated vision for the library, which can be found in a hospital file in my “Scope of Service” document, but that’s different than my vision for ME. I think I have one, since something drives me to keep plowing forward no matter what, but I’ve never attempted to put it into words, and now I will. It’ll be an interesting exercise! Especially since I realized the first thing that popped into my head would actually be a beter vision statement for the library than the one I currently have…but it was still more vocation-related than core-me-related. Whew…heavy thoughts ahead – and on very little sleep! 🙂

    • salgore February 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

      Thanks, Maureen! I also like his thoughts on taking the time to create a true vision/philosophy of yourself and your values, apart from the context of work. His book gives some insight into it. I enjoyed reading how/why he undertook such a thing.

  7. suzy February 10, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    Now I’m a fan of Pete Carroll. I need a fun coach to look up to. Thanks, librarian-I-look-up-to!


  1. Ask and You Shall Receive: Obtaining Presentation Session at a Life Sciences Conference | e-Science Community - March 5, 2014

    […] recent on the Medical Library Association’s (medlibs) listserv, to Sally Gore’s blog post in reaction to some of the opinions and attitudes of fellow librarians, and planned topics for the […]

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