Bonus: Kevin Carroll – Overcoming Tough Circumstances


Jonathan: Hey, everyone! Jonathan Bailor coming back at you with another bonus, Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. Very, very excited about the today’s show. Very unique and inspirational show. We have an individual with us, who as soon as I started uncovering his work and digging into what I just said, got to share this. Because there are some nuggets of wisdom and insight that we can apply to our mission of just living our best lives in a way that is just presented so insightfully and uniquely. He is an author, a speaker, an agent for social change. Overall, just a catalyst. His name is Kevin Caroll. Kevin, welcome to the show.

Kevin: Hey, Jonathan, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it!

Jonathan: Kevin, Kevin, it’s absolutely my pleasure. Before we get into the details, can you tell us a little bit about your story?

Kevin: All right. I always like to tell people we all have a story to tell. I think it’s interesting that each of us don’t necessarily practice telling our story. I get a chance to share my story on stages all over the world and in communities all over the world. I always talk is really just simply about a childhood filled with upheaval and uncertainty and dysfunction.

The fact my parents were addicts. My grandparents came to our rescue, myself and my two brothers. In the neighborhood where my grandparents lived just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there was a playground. The playground was the focal point of the entire neighborhood energy. That was the place that I found as a sanctuary. That place was a catalyst for me in my ability to rise above my circumstances.

Because of that playground and then locating the local public library, then the school system and sports that the community encouraged us, I got an opportunity to turn that seemingly insurmountable childhood into a life of chasing my passion, my purpose and my intention. I got a Bachelor’s degree. I got a Master’s degree. I spent ten years in the Air Force. Worked in the sports industry, high school, collegiate. Then the head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia 76ers. Then Nike scoops me up from there. I work at Nike for nearly seven years.

My official title there is catalyst. I serve to someone who turn ideas into reality with others. I’ve been on my own as the official catalyst [inaudible 02:28] if you will on my own for the last nine years. I’ve left Nike in 2004. I have been on my own as an author speaker and a change agent globally. I like to say I act ‘glocal’, global and local. I am a ‘glocal’, glocal human catalyst. That’s what I do. There’s the clip notes of my journey.

Jonathan: Kevin, there are three things in researching you that just stood out. I really want to make sure there’s many. There’s three we could focus on in twenty minutes. The first and foremost is you always talk about the difference of ball can make but more globally, the importance of play and physicality. Not only just from… sometimes when we think about physicality we think about exercising. It’s drudgery. But you really talk about… we are talking about play. Fundamentally, how can we use play in physicality to transform ourselves?

Kevin: I just always break it down to energy. It’s all about energy. You need to requisite energy to turn an idea, dream into reality. How are you fueling up to get after something? The whole notion that we all speak ball. We all play. It is a universal language. It’s a universal activity. I always talk with people about so “What you are chasing, though? What inspires you to get up in the morning? How you are making sure and ensuring that you have the energy to go after that dream that idea and manifest it?”

That’s the key thing. We should never marginalize our plays. As we get older, we should celebrate it even more. We should celebrate our physicality and recognize that we need energy to get after anything that we want to manifest into reality. That’s really how I kind of call it down into its most basic form. It’s all about energy.

Jonathan: Kevin, when you talk about play, you talk about this paradigm, especially with children. We’re intrinsically playful. When we are playing, when we come at life with an attitude of play we don’t avoid obstacles. This is profound here. We don’t avoid obstacles, you say. We actually look for them when we have a spirit of play. Can you tell us about that and how we can then apply that attitude towards our life in general?

Kevin: Yes, if you’ve got the attitude “There are no obstacles, only opportunities”, that’s the key. When we’re kids, it was just about rewriting the rule on the fly or reworking something or stepping back and say “How do we not let this game, this play, this wonderful moment of joy end? Why not just keep that going in life? Is that really an obstacle? Is that really a challenge? Is that an opportunity for you to use your creativity, your innovative spirit, your problem-solving in an unexpected way?” I really do believe that that ability to have that creative confidence, that ability to believe that I can solve all sorts of things starts in our childhood but we actually….

[End of Audio 05:29]

Kevin: And we’re back.

Jonathan: Hey, Kevin. I don’t know what happened there but…

Kevin: I know. Yeah. Well, Skype, it’s free. I never get upset. You can’t get mad at it, man. Look, if you aren’t paying any money for it, just like it’s all good. We just start up again. I just started laughing. I said “Well, he can edit that. That’s okay.”

Jonathan: Yeah, I know. I’m so… the good news is we just actually started a question there so if you just want to pick up with your answer.

Kevin: Yes, absolutely.

Jonathan: Rock and roll.

Kevin: Yes. I really do believe that creative confidence if we can hold on to that attitude like we had as children and bring that forward into our adulthood, we’ll never see an obstacle. We’ll never face a challenge. We’ll only see opportunities. We’ll only be open to it. I think that’s the wonder of what it is. I love this Albert Einstein quote “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” I think that’s so beautiful when you think about that. Having that attitude of curiosity and let’s just figure it out.

Jonathan: Kevin, I love that you drew the analogy in your work to play and how… because I think some people, they hear this message. It’s a message that is often communicated. They’re like, “Well, okay. Yeah. Whatever.” But when you give the example of play or even digital play like video games, for example. What is a video game but a set of problems?

It literally is just “Here’s a problem. Here’s another problem. Here’s another problem.” People pay money and spend hours to solve problems that really have no meaning or purpose. It’s a virtual world solving virtual problems. They pay for that. What is different about a video game that people want to solve problems and its play versus these real-life situations?

Kevin: But isn’t it all the same? We’re all trying to level up, right? It’s always the same thing. Let’s level up in life. Let’s level up in the game – the game of life. We can draw all kinds of analogies and metaphors. I think it’s taking that same attitude that you’re trying to level up. You’re putting in that mental slit, that mental equity – that slit that you’re pouring into it.

Do the same thing with your ideas and your dreams. I think that’s the key thing that people need to recognize. The research is out there. Play has been identified as a global trend this year by J.W. Thomas Research Organization. They talk about play being a competitive advantage for businesses and individuals who celebrate it and don’t allow it to atrophy. I think that’s the key thing. It’s recognizing that play is serious business. Play is serious in business. Play is serious business in our lives.

Jonathan: When you talk about play, and you’re talking about in this context, can you… you don’t necessarily…

Kevin: Be super broad about it.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Kevin: You know what I mean? I think people already go to childhood play and maybe childish play. I always like to impress upon people there’s a lot of learning happening when you’re seeing a child. Simply staring at a ball or trying to manipulate it, there’s amazing things occurring that are… literally, you’re putting content on your hard drive, on your brain. That’s your hard drive as a human being. If you’re doing it in play, that’s no different as we pursue things in life. Our hobbies, our avocations, our interests, our endeavors professionally, those are all have the opportunity to be playful in the opportunity to grow and learn and to get better at mastery of something.

That’s what play is really about. It’s gaining knowledge, gaining confidence. It’s being able to manipulate something to master something. I look at play in a very broad context as relates to any endeavor that you’re trying to get better at. It can be lots of different things. There’s play for play’s sake, fantasy play. There’s so many levels of play when you start to do the research in it. I just think people would be pleasantly surprised if they really wanted to take some time to understand play even more so and its value and its role in our lives.

Jonathan: When it comes to, specifically the arena of health and enabling… taking in foods that maximize our health and energy, moving our bodies in a way that maximizes our health and energy, how can… so often this is perceived as something as the opposite of play: drudgery, healthy food, exercise. What can we do? What are some specific practices to have a more playful approach to our health?

Kevin: I think it’s just… once again, if you’re pursuing something, if you have a passion, a purpose, an intention that you need to manifest, you have to think about your energy. You have to think about “How am I going to make sure that I fuel myself to be able to get after this?” I think you should be having fun so that you’re getting after it on a regular basis. We all have things that we enjoy doing or that we… maybe, you don’t recognize or really a value to us.

The more knowledge you have, the more that you’re learning about yourself. The more awareness you’re getting about “What are things that fuel me? What are the things that give me that requisite energy?” That’s how you can really start to be empowered in your play and your choices of things that you’re surrounding yourself with or involved in to fuel up.

I think that’s they key thing. It’s gaining more knowledge, gaining more understanding of your body and your need. Then those things don’t ever look at “Oh God, that’s food. I don’t… that’s healthy food.” No, that’s energy. That’s potential. That’s opportunity for me. I’m fueling up. I think the more that we understand that, the more playful we can be with that, the more choices we have. We start to learn we’re empowered. We can go after stuff even more so.

Jonathan: When we think about keeping a playful attitude and being healthy on living on our passion, on our purpose and living our intention as you described, so eloquently Kevin, often we can claim circumstance as a barrier. Clearly your life, you live as an example that doesn’t have to be the case. How do we overcome these sometimes circumstances that seem to be holding us back?

Kevin: Yeah. Well, I’m a believer that circumstances never dictate someone’s destiny. We have a choice to be either a victim or a fighter. I think that’s our choice. You have that choice every day. If you’re having the requisite attitude of a spider, someone who’s going after it, someone’s who’s fighting for something that really wants it desperately enough and you’re going to avail and surround yourself with people who believe in that and challenge you and encourage you, they hold you accountable, I think that’s the key.

I truly believe that circumstances never dictate someone’s destiny. There’s so many amazing stories that people rising above their circumstances and doing amazing things with very little resources. Go back to that childhood attitude, right? That “I can do a lot with very little.” As a child, we’re resourceful and resilient way beyond what we can even imagine many times. Then we see and hear these stories all over the world of people doing so much with very little. Using their creativity, their innovative spirit can do a lot with very little.

We take it for granted. All you need to do is travel around the world a little bit, Jonathan. You’ll see in these developing countries, you witness creativity, innovative spirit, problem solving with very little. That should absolutely inspire us in a developed place to say “I could do so much more than in what I’m doing right now. How do I get after that?”

Jonathan: What have you found to be… what is the intangible difference between an individual with so little, who has such noble and momentous aspirations and an individual who has so much and may approach life in the opposite way?

Kevin: I really do believe that we’re viewing these circumstances… even more so now because we live in what I call the world is flat times, right? We have access to everything. I’ve been to a developing countries where there’s no phone lines but there’s satellites. Therefore, we can get these payable phones and we can get access to the internet. Then I can start to learn what’s happening out there. I can see why people are being successful. I want a little bit of that. How can I do that? Well, let me step back and think about it.

They’re having these same conversations that we’re having right now about “Well, what can we potentially do?” To have farmers using their cell phones to share weather reports with other farmers, by texting them along using the satellite feed. That’s so brilliant, right? Maybe we’re sitting here and say “Well, I can’t get anything done if I don’t have that headcount and I don’t get that resource and I don’t have that budget.”

Well, no, you can. You’ve just allow yourself… you’ve allowed your creative muscle to atrophy. You’ve gotten weak. You’ve gotten lazy. You’ve got to step it back up. You have to get back to that place where “I have the confidence, that I… It doesn’t matter what you put in front of me. I’m going to figure out a way.” I think learning and hearing these stories and witnessing what people are doing with very little, really emboldens us to stop griping about it and do something about it. My grandfather said “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”

Jonathan: Well Kevin, it sounds like in there is a wonderful recommendation where if we start to turn inward and get into these moments of “Oh, I can’t do this. I can’t do that.” Oftentimes, if we look outside of ourselves and we see all the other things that are going on in the world and we dedicate ourselves to maybe something more noble and something bigger, then that which may seem like an obstacle. Again, we can more approach it with a sense of play. Is that kind of what you’re trying to get at?

Kevin: Absolutely. There’s a beautiful Samuel Beckett quote “Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” I love that, right? Because that’s about triple-dog daring yourself, trying stuff, like skinning your knee, putting a Band Aid on it and keep it moving, right? We got to keep going. I don’t want to stop playing. It’s not enough to derail my dreams and my ideas. I truly do believe that there are so many great examples out there of people being able to do a lot with very little.

That should be motivation enough. That should be inspiration for all of us to recognize that we can. We have the capacity to do amazing. We just have to be willing to put the time and the energy in. Making sure it’s your point from a healthy standpoint being fueled to get after it. I think that’s a key thing in celebrating that energy in our physicality daily to fuel up. I think that’s our opportunity on a regular basis.

Jonathan: Kevin, certainly you are living proof of all that you represent. I think that’s wonderful that you are being the change you want to see in the world and that what we all want to see in the world. Kevin, what’s next for you?

Kevin: Oh, wow. I have some exciting things. I have an art exhibit of… you mentioned the whole notion of a ball and all that. I have a ball collection from all over the world that I’ve been traveling around. There’s my global artifacts and personal artifacts from my globe-trotting. We’ll be showing that at the University of Oklahoma this fall.

We just finished up the show here in Portland, Oregon, where I live. It’s heading to the University of Oklahoma on the campus at the Sam Noble Museum. That will be from October through January of 2014. That’s very exciting. Look, I continue to try to change the world and do my level best daily so there will always be new adventures and new things going on.

Jonathan: Well Kevin, thank you for, again, being that change we want to see in the world and setting such an inspirational example. Listeners, I would highly encourage you to check out Kevin’s life and work. Truly an inspirational man. You can do so at his website which is KevinCarrollKatalyst.com. Carroll is spelled with two R’s and two L’s. Kevin, thank you again for joining us today.

Kevin: Yes. Katalyst is spelled with a K. That’s the other thing they need to remember.

Jonathan: Yes.

Kevin: Yes.

Jonathan: Two R’s, two L’s and katalyst with a K.

Kevin: That’s it. Thank you Jonathan for having me. I so appreciate it.

Jonathan: Thank you, Kevin. Listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did. Please remember, this week, and every week after. Eat smarter, exercise smarter, based on our chat with Kevin, play smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Kevin Carroll. In his own words:

Rules of the Red Rubber Ball: Find and Sustain Your Life’s Work

“Kevin Carroll is the founder of Kevin Carroll Katalyst/LLC and the author of three highly successful books published by ESPN, Disney Press and McGraw-Hill. As an author, speaker and agent for social change (a.k.a. the Katalyst), it is Kevin’s “job” to inspire businesses, organizations and individuals – from CEOs and employees of Fortune 500 companies to schoolchildren – to embrace their spirit of play and creativity to maximize their human potential and sustain more meaningful business and personal growth.

With his consulting endeavors, Kevin has helped turn creative ideas into reality for organizations such as The National Hockey League, ESPN, Nike, Starbucks (his words appeared on 17 million Grande cups), The National Basketball Association, The Walt Disney Company, Mattel, Hasbro, Procter & Gamble, The Discovery Channel, Capital One, and many others.

Raised by his grandparents in Philadelphia, Kevin spent endless hours at the neighborhood playground where he found his calling: a red rubber ball. His subsequent pursuit of play and his ‘red rubber ball’ took him overseas with the Air Force, where he served as a language interpreter and translator, gaining fluency in Croatian, Czech, Serbian, and German.

After serving in the Air Force for ten years and earning his college degree, Kevin became an athletic trainer at the high school and collegiate levels in Philadelphia. His expertise in sport performance recognized by the 76ers organization and led to his job as the Head Athletic Trainer for the Philadelphia 76ers in 1995. While at the 76ers, Nike tapped Kevin to bring his unique experiences to the sneaker giant in 1997. Although no job “officially” existed at the time, Kevin was directed to create a position at the company that would add value to the overall mission of the brand. Kevin accepted the challenge and stayed for seven years as “Katalyst” (the ‘K’ is for Kevin) – a creative change agent. At Nike, he was instrumental in helping the company develop a deeper understanding of athletic product performance, team dynamics and interpersonal communication. Kevin left Nike in 2004 to create his own company, Kevin Carroll Katalyst/LLC, committed to elevating the power of sport and play around the world.

In May of 2005, a notable moment occurred when Kevin addressed dignitaries from 31 nations at the United Nations about the importance of play in their developing countries. Kevin is also heavily involved with many social entrepreneur organizations that use sports as a catalyst to change lives.

Kevin holds a MS in Health Education from St. Joseph’s University, a BA in Speech Communication with a minor in Physical Education from Angelo State University, and an Associates Degree in Interpreting and Translating from the Community College of The Air Force. Kevin is also a frequent visiting adjunct lecturer across the United States.”