One Person, Who Believes They Have Agency, Can Change the World.

Donald Miller

Last year I interviewed Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. We spent two hours in his Seattle office, talking about leadership, humility, success, family, spirituality, politics and everything else save the one topic he speaks of so often, football.

I interviewed Coach Carroll to learn more about the work he started with inner-city, at-risk kids while he was coaching the USC Trojans in LA. Several years ago Coach Carroll started a program called “A Better L.A.” providing opportunities for under-privileged kids in the inner city. He has since duplicated that program in Seattle.

Coach Carroll started the program after driving to work at USC one morning and hearing a report about gun violence between gang members in a nearby neighborhood. The next day he learned of another killing and by the end of the week eleven gang members were dead.

Most of us would have heard similar reports and felt bad for the kids and their families, but we wouldn’t have associated ourselves with a solution. Perhaps if we were social workers we’d know a theory or a program, but Coach wasn’t a social worker. He was running the most successful college football operation in the country.

And here is where Coach Carroll differs from most of us. Coach didn’t start a committee to research the issue or read a book or call around looking for information. Instead, he got into his car, drove into the neighborhood where the violence occurred and befriended gang members. He helped their mothers carry in groceries, played basketball with them on the courts and invited them to come watch the USC football practices.

I’d known all this before interviewing Coach Carroll, so my question going in was why? Why did you assume you could be a solution? And why did you care?

The answer was two-fold, and someday I’ll release the book detailing this and many more interviews. But for now, I’ll give you the top two things I learned about not only Pete Carroll but about you and me, too.

Here they are:

He believed before we help others we needed to get over ourselves. I asked coach why he cared about those kids, and he struggled to answer. He wasn’t sure, really. He just did and he didn’t understand why anybody else wouldn’t. I pointed out that most people are too busy dealing with their own lives and their own stories to care about anybody else.

I wondered if Pete Carroll weren’t some kind of exceptional humanitarian or something. But Coach set me straight. He said early on he was consumed with winning, and to some degree he still is (though he cares more about helping other people win than himself, another key to his success as a leader) but after achieving success at an early age, he found the experiences somewhat empty. He got over himself (my words, not his) and realized he was much more fulfilled leading teams of people toward success, whether in football or life. It wasn’t enough to win on his own, he wanted to win with people he cared about.

Secondly, he believed we had the power to change the world. Like few people I’ve met (although I’ve met a few including Bob Goff and Tom Ritchey) Coach Carroll believed he was the solution to a problem. He wasn’t an expert on the inner city or on gang violence, but he knew he was intelligent and physically capable to go in and figure it out. He took action, he moved, he went to them and listened and made a massive contribution to the well being of others.

I can’t stress enough what a massive paradigm shift this is for most people. As we argue about who has the solution to many of life’s problems, few of us understand the absolute truth that we are the solution. If somebody is hungry, we can feed them. If somebody lacks education, we can teach them. If somebody is lonely, we can befriend them. There was no part of Pete Carroll’s personality that didn’t believe he could be a solution to the problems around him. If that doesn’t define a leader, I don’t know what does.

After meeting with Coach Carroll and reading his book Win Forever, I’ve had a paradigm shift. I’ve stopped complaining about whose solution is better, I’ve stopped letting my social action get bogged down in talks about theory. If there’s a problem, I ask what I can do, not what should be done.

What problems around you could you solve? What hurts in the world could you contribute a solution to? And what scares you about taking action?

* If you’re wondering what your purpose in life is, consider registering for a Storyline Conference. You can learn more about Storyline here.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • Honestly, the biggest thing that stops me is the amount of time I think most problems/opportunities/challenges will take. And then I feel shallow and uninspiring. Is that what I want my story to be? No. Also what stops me is that I feel cut in two — part of me in China and part of me in America. I’m pulled by both, needs surround me.

  • Tricia L

    Thanks Don, You know, I just thought to tell you that recording such wisdom and passing it on is helping us too. You make us think and come to epiphanies and then we pass it on and it’s helping.

  • Don, I think the biggest problem with trying to change the world is the very idea of changing the world. It’s a daunting task to take on, too tall of a mountain to summit. But when we reframe the idea as to what I can do to change the world around me, that becomes an ideal that is far more plausible and actually attainable.

    Great to see you in Boston for the Blue Like Jazz screening. Thank you for including us on the tour!

  • Ron Steury

    The one thing which bothers me about Coach Carroll are the circumstances surrounding him when he left USC. I have not read his book but saw the “60 Minutes” piece on him and was so impressed. Then I read the details of the USC cheating scandal. This wasn’t just “I misremembered the rules”… this was wholesale very obvious cheating to lure people to play at USC. (Reggie Bush’s parents were given a deluxe home to live in, among other things.) This occurred during Carroll’s tenure and I just cannot see how he could stand for what he says he does, yet turn a blind eye to such rampant breaking of rules by which, supposedly, all in the coaching fraternity must live. It ruins his life story for me, especially when at the time penalties were handed down (years after the major incidents) by the NCAA, Coach Carroll fled for coaching the pros in Seattle rather than work towards cleaning up the mess in which he participated. (See,247361)

    Did you bring any of this up with him? What is his answer to this? I am very willing to forgive because I have been forgiven by many, and especially by my God and creator. But I have never heard Coach Carroll take responsibility for these events or ask forgiveness and admit he really screwed up.

    BTW, I am really looking forward to seeing “Blue Like Jazz.” I am an old guy (64 yo) who still leads, with my spouse, our small church’s youth group (cuz no one else will.) I hope to take our youth with my wife and me when we see it. God bless you in your work!

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  • This is great! I always want to be a better neighbor and get these grand ideas of how I’ll do that, remember I’m painfully introverted, and then put the idea on the back burner. This inspired me to think of something I can do this week to take a step in the right direction. Thanks!

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