How a Stapler Changed My Life

How a Stapler Changed My Life
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“What do you want to do with your life?”

This question can haunt any of us no matter where we are in life. When it started bouncing around my head as a junior in college, a level of anxiousness and restlessness hit me hard. At 20-years old, I had a competitive spirit that had already led to me to accomplish some of my personal goals – I was attending the college of my dreams, the University of Pittsburgh. I had walked on to the nationally-ranked football team, made the squad and even started a handful of games. Even with these personal achievements, I was still feeling the time to start making professional life decisions was approaching quickly and those choices would impact the rest of my life. I was slightly lost and confused…until spring break and a chance meeting in Hermosa Beach, CA that helped light my purpose for the rest of my life.

While a typical college spring break night might involve lots of drinks and little thinking, I, instead, found myself at dinner with one of my best friend’s dad who was treating a couple of poor college kids to a really nice and much-needed dinner. In between bites of a green salad, his dad listened as I talked about all of the things that were bouncing around in my head and causing me concern.

As the meal ended and I was trying to figure out the best way to thank him for taking the time to listen to me and feed me, he asked me a seemingly simple question: “Yogi, what do you want to do in your life?

“What do I want to do with my life?!” Oh no. Not that question. It’s the one that had been bouncing around my head for months. Almost instinctively, I said, “I want to impact the world in a really cool way.”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I began to analyze what just happened.

Yes, this was exactly what I felt and had wanted to say but what would my friend’s dad think of it? What would he say in return? If I left the table immediately would anyone notice? Oh, and did I mention my friend’s dad was Pete Carroll, at the time the head football coach at the University of Southern California (USC)?

Without flinching, came a piece of advice which helped shape my life - “Then all you need to do, Yogi,” Coach Carroll said, “is create value. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Don’t worry about climbing a ladder of success rung by rung. Just create value in everything you do. Once you commit to that approach you’ll start to leapfrog the competition.”

Wow! Could it be that simple? My achievements in college showed I was passionate, hardworking and optimistic and according to one of the greatest coaches in the world everything needed to build the life I wanted was already inside me.

Three years later, with a diploma in hand and a passion for coaching, impacting young people’s lives and a craving to surf the California coast, I joined Coach Carroll’s staff at USC. As one of the youngest guys on his staff, I was determined to make a difference, to show not only that I belonged but that I heard him loud and clear and could create value. With Coach Carroll’s advice reverberating in my head I took on every task my position required with a commitment to excellence…and I mean every task.

Part of my job was to assemble the daily practice scripts and what most people would amount to pounding sheets of paper together with a stapler as quickly as possible became something much bigger to me.

And so each morning, I would diligently, and some might say obsessively, put a staple in the upper left hand corner of each practice script as if I was a chef creating a signature dish. The action of assembling those packets became such a methodical and important process of precision for me. While other staff members would get a kick out of watching me do it and the coaches’ office would be filled with them teasing me about it, in my mind, all I could hear was ‘Create value, Yogi’.

I truly felt 18 perfectly positioned staples holding the practice scripts together each day gave us a competitive advantage and that small win would play a part in leading the team to victory each Saturday on the football field.

Silly? Of course.

Obsessive? Maybe.

Worth it? Definitely.

But here’s the thing, putting those packets together was my responsibility and by embracing this seemingly meaningless task and being fully in the moment while doing it allowed me to reimagine my job. Sure, no one aspired to stapling practice scripts and the job was not on the same level as calling plays for the country’s best football team in a sold out stadium on national television, but in my mind it actually was just as important.

More than 10 years later, I’ve been fortunate enough to trade stapling practice scripts for other activities but the principle behind it has led me to experiences my 20-year old self was worried about missing or never achieving. My four years on Coach Carroll’s staff took me from the locker room to the broadcasting booth for the Pac-12 Network, which allowed me to continue to be a part of the sport I love while also afforded me time to embrace my passion of storytelling – writing books, directing films and exploring the world. Yet no matter where my adventures takes me that stapler in the USC coaches’ office will always be a part of my path.

I often go back to Coach Carroll’s advice to a lost 20-year old and marvel at its simplicity, as it applies to all of us. There are so many things in life we can’t control but focusing on a task, no matter its perceived level of importance is something we can all do. Put your heart into your craft. You’ll prove quickly you have a competitive spirit, a desire, as Coach Carroll often says, “to do things better than they have ever been done before.” Create your value so people will have no choice but to keep recognizing your value.

We are all seeking our place – whether it’s on a team, a staff, or in a company. We all have the ability to leave a mark and possibly impact the world in our own cool way.

What if, on this journey, we reimagine each step, no matter how small, and truly trust it all matters? Trusting that creating value, even in the tiniest of moments, when no one is watching, can lead to maximizing our potential and living our most authentic story.

I bet we would leapfrog not just the competition but what we think is possible in our lives. One staple at a time.

Yogi Roth has partnered with Capital One for their Banking Reimagined program. Believing confidence in one’s personal finances, allows people to fuel their passions, Capital One has created a banking experience that is both deeply personal and digital driven to help each person map their own path to where they want their money to take them.

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