Third Act Podcast

Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.

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Encore - The Head Coach with Chris Petersen

success experience

Coach Chris Petersen’s humble philosophy about football, life, and relationships stems from his beginnings as the UC Davis quarterback. He reached a crossroads following graduation, deliberating whether to teach or go the coaching route after college. Chris followed his passion for football to his first coaching job at the JV level, rising to the ultimate challenge of becoming head coach of Boise State and later the Washington Huskies. At the pinnacle of his career, the Rose Bowl, Coach Petersen found himself yearning for wins beyond the field.

Coach Petersen stepped away from the game at the end of the 2019/2020 season to focus on what he calls his personal scoreboard, family, relationships, values, and friends. He’s also helping other coaches learn to better balance what he calls society’s scoreboard with his own personal scoreboard.

Off the field, we see Chris implementing his Built For Life philosophy in his own life, prioritizing his family, friends, and purpose in the everyday. “Be here, now” is Chris’ philosophy heading into his Third Act.

(03:00) Winning is learning from losses

(05:02) Master of the mind

(07:14) You don’t know what you don’t know

(08:32) Weighing the options: psychology or coaching?

(10:21) Head coach at Boise State

(11:15) 24/7/365

(13:01) Fiesta Bowl 2007: Boise State vs. Oklahoma

(14:12) Protecting the people

(15:39) Built For Life leadership philosophy: real men and championship teams

(21:01) UW, a new set of challenges

(22:54) Rise to the Rose Bowl

(25:25) One life to live

(26:59) Stepping away from the field

(27:59) Success masks the true journey to fulfillment

(30:20) Silver lining in the thunder clouds

(31:10) Society’s scoreboard of extrinsic motivation

(32:35) Living out the personal scoreboard

(37:41) Fritzky Chair of Leadership at the UW Foster School of Business

(38:38) Top 10 influences are women

(43:06) Me vs. Me, the main hurdle in life

(43:59) Be here, now.

To hear about more Third Act stories, subscribe to and follow the Third Act podcast at

Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The Third Act begins when your script ends, but your show’s just not finished. Today is the last episode of season one of Third Act, and I am thrilled to be joined by one of the most successful coaches in college football, Chris Petersen. Few things are a bigger part of modern American culture than college football, which is often cited as both a training ground and metaphor for success in business and other pursuits. Football is often portrayed as a uniquely masculine sport and is described using military terms such as air raid offenses, attacking defenses, blitzes, and trench warfare.

Liz Tinkham (01:04):
Because of that, some of you may think that the lessons offered by a successful football coach will have little relevance for you. But hang on, Coach Petersen retired from college football at the end of the 2019/2020 season to focus on what he calls his personal scoreboard, family, relationships, values, and friends. He’s also helping other coaches learn to better balance what he calls society’s scoreboard with his own personal scoreboard. Sound familiar? Well, keep on listening. Chris, welcome to Third Act.

Chris Petersen (01:36):
Yeah. Thank you for having me on Liz, I appreciate it.

Liz Tinkham (01:39):
Yeah. And your son, Sam, who is a good friend of one of our interns, connected us and he said, given that you’re in your next phase of life, you’d be a great guest for the podcast. So thank you to Sam.

Chris Petersen (01:51):

Liz Tinkham (01:51):
I’d like to start with what people did and what I call their first act, which is school. And typically, most of my guests were real overachievers and got really good grades in college. But I think you told me that didn’t really apply to you. So tell me a little bit about your first act.

Chris Petersen (02:08):
Well, I did work hard when I was in college because I had to, I always say I was a hardworking B student. I was around a lot of others that maybe didn’t have to work as hard and the grades came easily to them. But I didn’t love school. In fact, I really disliked it. And I think the reason was, is because I just didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I thought about being a physical therapist and so I’m in anatomy classes and just different things, and nothing really touched my heart. So you’re sitting in geology class and going, what does this have to do with anything? So college for me in terms of enjoying the academic part was a struggle.

Liz Tinkham (02:55):
You said though, you are type A, but you were destructively competitive. So what does that mean?

Chris Petersen (03:00):
Well, now you’re heading into the arena that I do like. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved competing. I loved doing all different sports, and I was fortunate to win a lot along the way. And I don’t know, I think when this thing really hit me is, I was in high school, my dad was a football coach at a community college forever, so I grew up around football, some of my earliest memories. And I remember watching some of his games and I remember the guys losing and thinking that I cared more about them losing than watching their expressions and how they interacted after a loss. And when I thought about getting into coaching and those type of things, and in fact, I told my mom then, I was like, I would never get into coaching.

Chris Petersen (03:55):
I’d never let 18 to 22 year olds control my happiness. That’s what coaching was so much about. And so it was like, I was just really into winning always and I was on a lot of good teams that won a lot. And when we didn’t win, I mean, I’d hang on to those losses and it would fuel my fire in a lot of ways. You can start getting off course when you are not just really learning from losses, you’re just being upset by losses.

Liz Tinkham (04:25):
Was football your sport? I assume you are a multi-sport person, but was football always your main sport?

Chris Petersen (04:31):
No. I mean, you could consider it a main sport because my dad was a football coach, but he really wasn’t one for having me play as a youngster, so I didn’t really play till I was in high school. But I was into tennis, I was into track, I was into basketball. I mean all those types of things. In fact, I probably liked basketball more than football when I was in high school. I was probably too short to play basketball. I was six feet tall and excelled more in football, so I just headed down that path.

Liz Tinkham (05:02):
So after you got out of college, you went on to grad school. But then how did you end up actually getting into coaching? And what were you thinking since earlier you had said, you never thought you’d become a coach?

Chris Petersen (05:12):
Yeah. Well, so I’ll backtrack in terms of, I was really focused on getting a degree. I knew that was important. I went to a good school, I went to UC Davis and it was a hard school. It was a great school and I had to work at it, even though I didn’t like it. And I remember calling my dad, when probably in junior college and saying, “Dad, if it wasn’t for football, I’d be out of here.” And he was like, “Great, keep playing football.” And I’m like, “What? It’s okay that I don’t like it?” “Yeah. Just keep playing and you’ll connect it off later in life” I know is what he was thinking. Then I got done playing and I obviously loved to play, but I really had no plan. And I had an opportunity, I thought I was going to Canada to play football. And right before I went to go up to Canada, that team had folded up. It was Montreal all the way to the Diamond.

Chris Petersen (06:02):
And so I had really no plan and I did not know what to do. So I sat there for about three weeks and tried to figure out, okay, what am I going to do? And I talked to one of my professors. I was a psychology major, only because those classes I could tolerate more than the other classes. And so he said, “You’d get into grad school, if you have interest in that.” And I had a little bit of interest, but I really just had no plan.

Liz Tinkham (06:25):

Chris Petersen (06:25):
So I called my mom and I said, “Mom, I got a plan.” She’s like, “Did you get a job? Great.” I said, “No, I want to go to grad school.” And she goes, “Grad school, why would you do grad school?” And I’m like, “No, I think it’ll be okay.” I didn’t want to tell her, I don’t know what else to do. So I was doing that. And then at the time, at UC Davis, we had a freshman football team that had about 90 players and it just didn’t have a young head coach type that usually would take over that team. They usually had the young coaches coaching, and I knew that it was a hard gig to get. So they asked me, when my Canadian opportunity fell through, if I wanted to coach the team. And I said, “Well, if I’m going to grad school…” I knew it was a hard position to get.

Chris Petersen (07:14):
So I said, “Yeah, okay, I’ll do that.” And the second thing is, I think I got all the answers. I just got done playing, I think I know what coaching and teaching is all about, and so I agreed to do it. And little did I know at the time, until about two weeks taking the team over, I knew nothing. It was the most challenging thing that I’d ever been through.

Liz Tinkham (07:37):
Did you ever do anything other than coaching before you went into coaching or did you just keep up as a coach?

Chris Petersen (07:45):
Yeah. No, I didn’t do anything else. I obviously had some odd jobs and worked through college. Well, I mean, I will say this, I was going to school and UC Davis at the time was a Division Two non-scholarship school. So I was working during school and it took me 10 years to pay off my student loans and all those types of things. And so I did odd jobs, but really just went to school, I was coaching on the side, and I started enjoying the coaching part of things. It started becoming really intriguing to me. It was hugely overwhelming to start with, because I thought I knew everything, and then I quickly realized I knew nothing. And so I coached the first year, that was really interesting to me. I mean, I just learned so much about leadership and organization and team building.

Chris Petersen (08:32):
So the next year, the coaches wanted me to coach up on the varsity team and I said, “I really want to coach this JV team again, I want a do over.” And so they said, “Huh?” And I said, “Yeah, I just feel like there’s so much I need to go back and redo. I can do a better job.” It was just like an internal thing. And this thing, I still wasn’t thinking about coaching for my career, but as I was going to grad school, so I said, “Yeah, that’s fine.” I did it again, got a little better at it, was more intrigued with it. And then I coached for another year up on the varsity. And as I’m finishing my master’s, I made a decision, I need to think about, am I going to get into coaching or going to pursue some of the psychology thing?

Chris Petersen (09:13):
I was going to be a school psychologist and go down that avenue. And I think the thing that’s really intriguing about that is, I remember my wife now, fiance at the time, we were talking about the two different paths to take. And one of the issues we talked about was the money situation. If we decided to go down the coaching route, we were going to live a very humble lifestyle. I mean, just not in the coaching thing.

Liz Tinkham (09:42):
A lot of moving around too, right? Potentially?

Chris Petersen (09:45):
Yeah. A lot of moving. It’s like being a high school teacher. You’re like, you teach a class and you get paid primarily for that. But the coaching, there’s no money in it. And then, fast-forward, 30 years later, the whole script flips in terms of the economic piece. But we consciously said, you know what, I think the coaching thing is going to be more into what I’m aligned with, even though it’s not going to be about money. That’s going to be a sacrifice. And so we decided to head that route.

Liz Tinkham (10:21):
So you coached at UC Davis, at Pittsburgh, at Portland State, at Oregon, and then you get the job at Boise State, and that turns into your first head coaching job. How was that? How did that change your life? Maybe we needed two podcasts for this. This is a big deal, I know.

Chris Petersen (10:44):
Yes. Yes. Yes. This might be the fourth or fifth act, I don’t know. The coaching world and college football is super, super demanding in terms of time. As a head coach, there’s usually stuff always going on. Think about this, you have 120 males between the ages of 18 to 22 year olds, that’s just your team.

Liz Tinkham (11:11):
I’ve got two of them. That’s enough.

Chris Petersen (11:15):
Yeah. I mean, I’ve joked many times, it’s like, I’m dealing with the dumbest group in America. The 18 to 22 year old males that just get together and there can be some bad decisions being made. I was one at one time, so I know. And then I’ve watched it for 30 years. So there’s always something going on. Yeah, and so it is, because you don’t just coach football, there’s a huge recruiting piece and that never ends. And nowadays, you’re recruiting kids that are in ninth grade, sometimes eighth grade, you have them on your radar. So it’s not just a senior class that you’re recruiting, there’s a junior class, there’s a sophomore class in high school. And so, it’s nonstop in terms of visiting and visits they take to your campus and phone calls and Zoom calls, and then let alone just running your team and your organization. So it’s 24/7/365.

Liz Tinkham (12:08):
Now, when you were telling me you had phenomenal success at Boise State, and you said you got to a point where you maybe weren’t loving it. Talk a little bit about that. And what was going through your head?

Chris Petersen (12:19):
Oh, yeah. So I’m there five years at Boise State as offensive coordinator. And then at that time, our head coach decides to take another job to go to the University of Colorado. And so I have to make a decision, do I want to go with him and keep doing the job that I was in, or stay and be the head coach? And my first inclination was to go with him. I was still getting better at being an offensive coordinator. I was really starting to, I felt, get good at it and I was starting to enjoy it quite a bit. And I knew, obviously from being in the business, that being a head coach is a completely different skill set. And a lot of those skills and a lot of the job responsibility requirements was something that I wasn’t super excited about.

Chris Petersen (13:01):
So I decided, for three days, to go with him. And during that three-day period, I just realized in my heart, I had no excitement about moving again to do the same job. And so I started thinking about being the head coach and at least I had a lot of energy coming my way. It was probably nervous energy, scared energy, excitement, all those things, thinking, well, maybe I’ll take a shot at this and just see what it’s like. I’ll do it for a year and just test the waters. Well, I was set up for success and we hit the ground running. We had a really good team. I inherited a strong culture, I’d been part of it, I knew how to tweak things and take the next step.

Chris Petersen (13:42):
And so, we started out my first year, which everybody thinks is the greatest thing ever, but also could have possibly been a curse in some ways. We won all of our games, we’re 13-0, and we won a really memorable game against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. And so there starts my head coaching journey. And so I’m the head coach there for…I think it’s eight years.

Liz Tinkham (14:07):
Do you feel your sense of identity change as you become the head coach?

Chris Petersen (14:12):
Yeah. Gosh, that’s a great question. I’d like to say no, but probably. It’s almost like that frog in the frying pan. You don’t know what’s really happening to you as you go through this and you probably do. Maybe start to take on a different identity some way, somehow and you try to, I don’t know, live up to that. I mean, I think that’s one of the things that bothered me about the job, is I felt like I couldn’t be completely authentic to who I really was. And maybe some of the things that were going on in our program. One, because the recruiting was so intense. You really didn’t want to let out too much what you were doing to the public, you knew that would go to your competitors. And then two, with the media, it would be such a public … if something happened to one of your players, so they didn’t play well or a coach left or a group struggled, your job as the head coach is to protect your people.

Chris Petersen (15:12):
So my job was to take all the arrows and just deflect it from them. And so I felt like I couldn’t be really authentic and as honest as I wanted to be in saying, well, this is what really happened. And so there were some struggles for sure, all along, in terms of, we were having great success on the field, and I did feel like we were building and getting better, but certainly there were a lot of internal struggles building up inside.

Liz Tinkham (15:39):
Is this when you started your program, the Built for Life program for your athletes?

Chris Petersen (15:45):
Yeah. So that was one of the things that did give me a sense of purpose and a sense of joy and fulfillment. It was really the theme or the purpose, part of the purpose of our program. Everybody gets you’re there to win games, but that’s a whole nother conversation. And if you don’t win games, you’re not going to be there. We all get that. And I learned early on that I certainly was not going to be fulfilled enough by just winning football games. If it’s just about competing in the games, that was not what this was all about. So we really developed this Built for Life program and just tried to create a program like, if our sons were playing for us, what would we want to do for them? And so it became like a program to help these kids build a vision and a value system and a skill set for a real, successful career and an extraordinary life.

Chris Petersen (16:44):
And we wanted to use football as a platform, that we’d say, to build real men and championship teams. And so that thing started to take a life of its own. I really started to feel like this was really important work. And the feedback that we would get from our players, they understood they might not really want to hear some of these messages and lessons, but it turned into a 24/7 program. This is who we were in our DNA, and really I think appreciated it at the end of the day.

Liz Tinkham (17:17):
You said to me earlier, when we were prepping for this, that you always said football was plan B.

Chris Petersen (17:21):
So many of the guys, certainly at the level that I was coaching at Boise State, Oregon, Washington, everybody in their minds is thinking, my goal is to get to the NFL. I want to go to the NFL.

Liz Tinkham (17:35):
In those top programs, roughly what percentage of the student athletes end up in the NFL?

Chris Petersen (17:40):
Probably 1%.

Liz Tinkham (17:41):
Wow. Yeah, it’s hard.

Chris Petersen (17:43):
We actually, at Washington, we had a handful of guys every year, more than a handful, go get a shot in the NFL. But to be able to stick to the average span of a career in the NFL is a little less than three years. So they would say it’s probably about 1%, maybe a little bit over, of all the college kids that make it in. But we were fine with that. We wanted to help kids chase their dreams. We just wanted to put the same perspective and say, okay, as we’re pursuing these football dreams, football is going to come to an end someday. That is plan B. We are playing plan B first, it’s semantics and we get that.

Chris Petersen (18:27):
Plan A is the rest of your life, whenever football is going to be done. So let’s just say you go to the NFL, have this unbelievable career of nine, 10 years, you’re all pro, you’ve made all this money, you’re set, so to speak. And then you’re 29 years old and you have 60 years left to live your life, and you have no plan, no vision. You see slowly guys just go awry, lose all their money, get divorced, all these issues. We just see this over and over and over again. So we’re like, we want to make sure they’re chasing their dreams, but give them a skill set on how to do life.

Liz Tinkham (19:04):
Yeah, it’s terrific. Because as you said, I know enough football players, friends of my children, that if you’re dedicated to that sport, you do get a bit myopic thinking you’re going to play at the top levels, and so few people actually do. How is it that you decide then, you’re at the top of your game at Boise State, how is it you decide to go to UW?

Chris Petersen (19:26):
Yeah. So very interesting. At the end of my time there, I was always pretty energized about, there’s something more to do, something more to build, even though we were winning a lot. A lot of people asked, why are you staying here? You can’t really do much more. We were going to the big time bowl games, at the time they were called the BCS games. They were the best of the best bowl games. We had a couple of undefeated seasons. So people would go, right. But I never felt like … that wasn’t what I was chasing. I wasn’t saying, I got to win in national championships. I just wanted to do the best we could and really help these kids on the Built for Life stuff and put together really awesome, cool, elite teams.

Chris Petersen (20:09):
But towards the end of my run at Boise State, I just started … it’s very hard for me to describe, even to this day. I just started having some really weird feelings, is maybe the best way to put it. That I was now all of a sudden, for some reason, not as fulfilled. I was becoming a little bit frustrated. I just didn’t feel I was being my best with the players, with our coaches. And my wife could really feel it, and she’s like, “You need to figure something out. You either need to get out of this thing and get on another path, or you need to take a new job or figure something out.” And I’m just thinking, I’m not really sure what’s going on. I don’t know what this is. I mean, like I said, we were having really good success, but I was not fulfilled and at peace at all.

Chris Petersen (21:01):
Then the opportunity of Washington comes along and I knew that my values fit the University of Washington. I was about academics, I was about trying to recruit elite kids that were really into the academic world. And if football didn’t work out, I knew we were going to give them something special with Built for Life, with the power of the Washington degree, all those types of things. The city of Seattle, the connections. So that really aligned with me and I thought, well, maybe this will help me just … maybe I just do need a new set of problems.

Liz Tinkham (21:37):
I love that. A new set of problems, new set of challenges. So you go there, obviously you’re very successful.

Chris Petersen (21:48):
I will say this, I was under no illusions that I was going to come to Washington and my football life was going to be better. I knew winning in the Pac-12 when coming to Washington was going to be much harder than how we were winning at Boise State. I just felt like, okay, maybe it’s time to take this challenge on and see how we can do. Boise State was just such a great set up in terms of who we were playing that was in our league. We changed leagues a couple of times. But the type of talent that we could attract, the community of Boise, it was just, in the arena we were competing in and playing in, we just had such a really nice advantage. You get in the Pac-12, the margin for error is so much thinner, and everybody has great resources, and everybody can pay their coaches a tremendous amount, and everybody has great facilities. So all of a sudden, the competitive advantage that you have over someone gets very, very thin.

Chris Petersen (22:54):
And then after two years, we took off and we hit our stride a little bit. We got to the College Football Playoffs, we went to some big time bowl games. But after about this fifth year, I started having similar feelings that I had at Boise State. And one of the eye-opening moments for me was, we went to the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl, for me, was a bigger deal than going to the College Football Playoffs like we did a couple of years earlier. I grew up on the West, in the Pac-12, paying attention to that coaching in the Pac-12, and so it was always about the Rose Bowl. And I always thought, oh … while I was even a kid, if I could ever play in the Rose Bowl, that would be so special.

Chris Petersen (23:42):
Then when I was not good enough to play in the Rose Bowl, if I ever got there coaching. If I ever coached in the Rose Bowl, I would have made it. So fast-forward, we get to a Rose Bowl and we play in the Rose Bowl. We played a really good Ohio State team, we did not win. And so about a month after playing that game, I’m reflecting on how much I did not enjoy the week of the Rose Bowl. And they treat you like Kings. It’s just beautiful, it’s such a reward for our players. But I was really worried about the game, us competing again. Are we going to be able to hold up against these guys? Can we beat these guys? And I thought Ohio State was a highly ranked team, but I even thought they were a little bit underrated in terms of how good I thought they were.

Chris Petersen (24:26):
So the week was really stressful in our preparation. We played the game, we really probably don’t play as well as I think we should. We make the game close at the end. And I leave the game just with not really a good taste in my mouth at all. And about a month later, I’m thinking, what is wrong with me? This is what you’ve been aspiring to for your whole life, and you don’t appreciate that? You are in left field, what is going on? And I mean, I’m having this conversation with myself in my head thinking this, and I’m like, wow, here we go again.

Liz Tinkham (25:03):
And I think there’s a lot of parallels to our listeners who are in corporate and I’ve had the same feelings as well. I’ve had a big job, I’ve loved it, I feel like I’m the top of my game. And then I just get that angsty itchiness, like, something’s not … And it’s usually my husband who calls it out as well. So what happens after that? Do you leave? That’s not the season, you keep going, correct?

Chris Petersen (25:25):
No. So that’s my fifth season here in Washington, and so I have those thoughts in my head and we were going into my sixth season, which ends up being my last season. And in the summertime going into that, or maybe right in fall, before we start football, one of my coaches hands me … he goes, “Hey coach, I saw this awesome quote.” Because I’m really huge on the culture and the team building and how to make us better. And so all of our guys are always talking about these types of things. But he goes, “Hey, have you ever seen this?” And he hands it to me and it says, “A man has two lives. The second one begins when he realizes he only has one life to live.” And I looked at that and I’m like, “Whoa.”

Chris Petersen (26:11):
And I don’t know why it just hit me so hard. Because I’d always been that person to think, hey, down the road, I’m going to do this. And maybe someday I’ll get to the Rose Bowl, and maybe someday I’ll coach here, and maybe someday I’ll get out of coaching and do something else. And maybe down the road, down the road, I’m always like, next thing, next thing. And that just hit me. It’s like, wait a minute, I’m getting older here in my career, there is no down the road. My life is going to be over. I’m going to look back and go, what happened? And so that quote … I didn’t even know who said that quote. It was Confucius. That was ringing in my head, even going into the season, my last season.

Chris Petersen (26:59):
And then we go through that last season, and again, I’m starting to have some of these feelings, same feelings of frustration, lack of fulfillment, very little peace in my heart, and everything is a struggle. And we go through that season towards the end, and I just realize, I am not doing the best job I can, I’m having the same issues that I started to have at the end of Boise, and I cannot get clarity of what’s going on. This job is too demanding, it’s too 24/7/365. And the only way I’m going to be able to figure out my life is for me to step away from this and hopefully figure it out. I don’t know if I will, but I know I haven’t been able to figure it out in this crazy, hectic life that I’m living. So I decided to step away.

Liz Tinkham (27:59):
You said that it’s allowed you to gain a lot of clarity since you stepped away. How has that happened?

Chris Petersen (28:02):
It was really good. And I will tell you one thing, I mean, one of the first moments of clarity about winning and achievement and all this thing is probably a month after I had stepped away and was feeling great about things. I really felt like a lot of pressure had come off my shoulders and it was the right decision. Although I had no clarity why, I just knew, this is right for me right now. And I told my wife this. I think it was the very end of pro football because college football finished. Yeah, we played our bowl game, we won our bowl game and we were watching. And I think we were in, I don’t know, play off game, NFL or Superbowl, and I don’t even know why I said it. And I said to my wife, I said, “Hey Barb, do you think I’d still be coaching if we had a really good season, went back to the playoffs, won the Rose Bowl, something like that?”

Chris Petersen (29:00):
I don’t even know why I asked it, and I completely thought I knew the answer that she would say to me. I thought she was going to say, there’s no way. You got enough, you’ve been through this enough times. And she says, “Oh yeah, you’d still be coaching.”

Liz Tinkham (29:13):
Oh, wow.

Chris Petersen (29:14):
And I’m like, “Get out of here.” I’m like, “There’s no way.” I mean, for like an hour, I’m like, you think I’d still be … And so we discussed it back and forth. And for a month, I could not get that conversation out of my head. And by the end of the month, I came into a conclusion, you know what, she’s probably right. That winning, success, achievement masks so many things and keeps you moving along your journey, even if it’s not the journey that you really you’re wanting for yourself.

Liz Tinkham (29:47):

Chris Petersen (29:47):
And that’s what I felt, looking back, had happened to me a lot of times. I was not being fulfilled, but all this winning and success still masked all these things and kept me on the path, but I really needed to be on a different act or mountain or path.

Liz Tinkham (30:06):
And going back to the scoreboard notion, so you’re putting all these points on the board. But from a football perspective, it’s very easy to measure. But mask maybe things that were on the personal scoreboard that were perhaps lagging?

Chris Petersen (30:20):
Yeah. So again, with a lot of reflection time … And really, the interesting thing too was then COVID hits, and so now we’re really locked down. And probably, like everybody, I mean, there’s always that silver lining in the thunderclouds. And so for me it was something like, are you kidding me? We’re getting locked down? This is my one chance. I’m finally not doing this after 33 years and I can’t travel anywhere? I can’t go, we’re just locked down? But it really gave me a chance to really reflect, talk to a lot of people, read a lot. And so what came to my mind after … I’m not an original guy, these are other people’s original thoughts, whether the scorecards or scoreboards, but I’m a sports guy, so everything has always been about the scoreboard.

Liz Tinkham (31:09):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Petersen (31:10):
You watch a little kid play in a basketball game and it’s the participation world that we’re in, the participation trophy world we’re in. Oh, in this league, where the seven year olds are just starting to play their first game, there’s no scoreboard, we just play for the love of the game. I’ve been to those games, and those kids know exactly what the score is.

Liz Tinkham (31:29):
They do. People are wired to keep score.

Chris Petersen (31:34):
The kids that lost are like, oh, we lost by two points. And the parents are like, what? They know. So it’s about the scoreboard, and that’s the world I’ve been in forever. And so the society scoreboard is all about wins and losses. It’s about approval, it’s about money, it’s about status, promotions, power, rankings, followers. Hours worked is a badge of honor. All those types of things. And so that scoreboard continually gets expanded. That’s where you get all your reinforcement for. Even if you know, that’s not me in terms of my heart, because that’s all extrinsic motivation. And we all know from any Psych 101, extrinsic motivators are very short-lived. And so that’s all extrinsic motivation. Everything in my life was going to be rewarded by winning and losing and status and promotions.

Chris Petersen (32:35):
I would get more and more of that, and it didn’t make me feel any better. And a lot of times, it made me feel worse. And so then you start thinking, okay, we all have this personal scoreboard. Some of us don’t even know we have, or some of us do know we have it, depending on the world we’re living, the job that we have. It gets shrunk, it doesn’t get emphasized. And the personal scoreboard is all about your relationships, it’s about your family, it is about your colleagues, it is about your purpose in life. Who thinks about their purpose in life? I mean, certainly not me. Actually I did think about these things, and I tried to give them some lip service or writing some stuff down, but I didn’t lock into them enough to live it.

Chris Petersen (33:28):
It’s about your values, it’s about faith, it can be about health, it’s about growth, it’s about mindfulness, it’s about creativity, it’s about job mastery, it’s about you being really authentic. So it’s a big list of things that are going to be all intrinsic motivation that really can touch your heart. And so for me, that was an ‘aha moment.’ It’s like, okay, I get this. It has been all about society scoreboard for ever, competing, beating the guy across from me and getting rewarded for it and thinking that that’s going to make me good.

Liz Tinkham (34:05):
I know when I left my job that my identity was tied up with it. I had a big job, had a big title, I made a lot of money, when I walked in a room, everybody knew who I was. You even more so, I mean, because you were out in the media, you got a Wikipedia page, there’s thousands of articles written about you. How was it without that constant reinforcement? What do you find to fulfill yourself, to build yourself back up now that that’s been taken away or you stepped away from it?

Chris Petersen (34:38):
That’s a really good question, and I’m still figuring all that out.

Liz Tinkham (34:42):
Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah.

Chris Petersen (34:44):
But it’s great. I will just tell you this: I’m not saying that society scoreboard is a bad thing.

Liz Tinkham (34:51):

Chris Petersen (34:51):
But I think achievement and having some approval by the people that are close to you, that you really respect and admire, your friends, your colleagues, people that really know what’s going on and understand you, I mean, all that. It’s good to have money, but you can never get enough of what you don’t really need more of.

Liz Tinkham (35:14):

Chris Petersen (35:14):
And that’s all about society scoreboard. And so my thinking on this is, it’s about balancing the scoreboards. It’s not about, get rid of the society scoreboard. Or if one gets too out of whack … At least for me, if it was just all about the personal scoreboard, well, to me, I’m probably going and living like a monk somewhere, and that wouldn’t do it for me. I still needed to win and chase things. It’s that kind of toggling back and forth, keeping things in perspective. And I think one of the keys to life is just being able to control the quality and balance of your life, and I had no balance.

Liz Tinkham (35:52):
I can’t imagine. I mean, corporates all say they don’t, but if you really think about it as a head coach, especially with the 18 to 22 year olds. When you’re in the business world, you can hire your people, you can hire them for the best and you can fire them, et cetera. But we’re not dealing with 18 to 22 year old men. I mean, that’s just mind boggling. Because your life was dependent on it, what they did. I assume you got some calls where they went bump in the night a few times too, right?

Chris Petersen (36:18):
Yeah. I mean, your life depends on it. That really tied in strongly to the Built for Life program, because some people would talk about coaching high school football. I know a lot of coaches that say, hey, I want to stay in high school because I can make more of an impact with the kids. I totally get that, that makes sense to me, those are super formative years. But what I learned is, these kids, they come to college, they need you more than ever before, because now they have more freedom than they’ve ever had. And so parents are just keeping their fingers crossed and all these lessons they hopefully taught them and hope they learned. And what we found is it takes a village.

Chris Petersen (37:03):
We’re taking the baton and saying, okay, we got you parents. Now watch, we’re going to pour gas on the fire on all these fundamentals and success and principles of living a good life, and they need to hear this over and over and over at the bottom of the level. So one, they stay out of trouble, but two, they get this and understand. I mean, really what we’re talking about is your personal scoreboard, like how to pull it together, how to have values. Values as an 18 year old, what are you talking about? My value is trying to run fast and score touchdowns. Not that type of value, a different type of value.

Liz Tinkham (37:41):
So now that you’ve stepped away from coaching, you’re still part of the University of Washington, you’re the Fritzky Chair of Leadership at the Foster School of Business. So what are you going to do at Foster? What does that entail?

Chris Petersen (37:53):
One of the things that I was … and I still may do down the road, is possibly even teach a class. I do a lot of presentations, I come into a lot of classrooms and give my experiences on teams and leadership and all those types of things I’m very passionate about. I mean, my deal is, I want to educate and impact. I mean, that’s really what it is. And so I just want to find a new platform and a new way to do this. I want to help coaches figure out how to coach and all the hard lessons that I’ve learned. I always say, I got my PhD in the school of hard knocks.

Liz Tinkham (38:28):

Chris Petersen (38:29):
It just means like, you worked through these things and you’d say, why didn’t somebody just tell me this? And looking back, most of them, I was told, I just wasn’t hearing it.

Liz Tinkham (38:38):
Yeah. I’m going to ask you a question that I don’t know if you can answer, but again, most of our listeners are women, and women don’t play football generally. Right?

Chris Petersen (38:48):
So, when I started 30 something years ago, in 19, I don’t know, 1987, my first year of coaching. So I played all through high school, all through … there were no women around football. I mean, there were just women like your mom in the stands or something. Fast-forward to my time at Washington, I think about the 10 biggest influencers in my life, in my job as the head coach at the University of Washington, they were 10 women.

Liz Tinkham (39:16):

Chris Petersen (39:18):
And I will just tell you, here’s the list. So obviously, you start with your wife, your spouse, right?

Liz Tinkham (39:23):

Chris Petersen (39:24):
And she doesn’t know very much about football, but she knows me, and she knows about treating people right and she knows those. So much would come…you just have so many discussions with her that you can’t have with your staff or other people. So much, by far, obviously the number one influencer. But then it goes to the president at the University of Washington.

Liz Tinkham (39:46):
Ana Mari, yeah.

Chris Petersen (39:46):
Our athletic director, Jen Cohen. My administrative assistant that was involved with everything, female. Our team doctor, female. Head of academics, female. Director of football operations, female.

Liz Tinkham (40:02):

Chris Petersen (40:03):
Head of our football marketing, female. Our sports psychologist was female. Director of compliance, the rules that we got to adhere to, female.

Liz Tinkham (40:13):
And now we see women in actually doing college football coaching, as well as in the NFL, which is fantastic. The thing about football and about big team sports, and there’s more of it now obviously with women’s soccer and things. But one thing I missed out on is, I think there’s a lot to be gained by playing team sports and being put under the pressure of high school and college football and figuring your way through it. And as you have worked with the 10 women, and also as you’ve gotten more exposure to the Foster School and maybe some of the other women, I mean, are there any lessons that you’ve seen that women may have missed because they’re not involved in these big money, big sports kinds of games? And I know, again, that’s changing with basketball and soccer and the Megan Rapinoes of the world. But generally, most women would never have had any exposure to it.

Chris Petersen (41:19):
Yeah. And I think the beautiful thing about the era we’re living in now is how fast things are changing. People are waking up and opening their eyes and saying, why can’t they be involved? There’s those guys that coach football at a very high level that did not play the game. I mean, those are few, but it doesn’t matter. You can study the game and still become an expert. You can study leadership and be an expert.

Liz Tinkham (41:42):
Yeah. Oh, so there’s still hope for me to go back to Ohio State and coach?

Chris Petersen (41:48):
There is. And so that’s what I think about that. I mean, I think the stereotypes are just … the walls were being kicked down so fast as we speak.

Liz Tinkham (41:58):
So in addition to your work at Foster and extending the Built for Life program, what else are you doing now that you’re in your third act or fourth act or whatever we would call it?

Chris Petersen (42:09):
Yeah. So another thing that I’m doing is, I am doing some consulting with some coaches. And so that’s really another way to make an impact on some of the things that I’ve been through and the way we set our programs up, to be able to share some of those things and help some guys is really good stuff for me. And so that is interesting. I don’t know if I’m going to do any one thing. I’m going to probably do some speaking, I’m probably going to do a little bit of teaching, I’m getting into some broadcasting things. But the thing that I know where I am right now is I still really want to impact and help people on just some of the things that I’ve been through. And it’s like, if I can share my experiences to help somebody else in their journey … The one thing that I’ve learned, Liz, is, we’re all just wired to struggle. It goes back to evolution, right?

Liz Tinkham (43:03):
Yeah. Yes.

Chris Petersen (43:06):
We’re just going to struggle. And the first fight that we have every day is me versus me. It’s not the competition, it’s not adversity, it’s not the vision within, which those are all fights. We would always talk about, we have these four fights every day. But the main hurdle I got to get over is myself. And to create awareness on just different things. Like, what do I struggle with? And knowing the way we’re wired, we’re not wired to be super optimistic. We’re wired to be paranoid so we can survive. Some of us are wired to be selfish, but that’s not what touches our heart, it’s the opposite things. And so when you understand that, that’s like a cool battle, a cool competition to have every day. Win over yourself and getting yourself right. And then you got a chance to do some other things and help some other people.

Liz Tinkham (43:59):
I was going to name this podcast, I’m not done yet, because that’s the way I feel. So what aren’t you done with yet?

Chris Petersen (44:06):
Trying to figure out how to live this one beautiful life that we have and try to truly appreciate most days. I mean, I just love the mindfulness work that’s coming out and meditation, all these things. And some of the stuff is like, okay, touchy, feely, I’m a football coach, blah, blah, blah, right? But what I think about that is this mindfulness of like … and something that we would always talk about, be here now. That your mind and your body are in the same place at the same time. That is so hard for me to do. And so to train my mind to be right here, be in the moment, appreciate with gratitude that I am here, I am healthy. And even though you might be struggling with something, what can I find that is like, wow, this is pretty cool?

Chris Petersen (45:05):
And so as I go on to this third act, I’m excited and energized because of all the hard lessons I have learned and have created a lot of clarity for myself. And if I can help bring clarity to others through some of the stuff that I’ve banged my head on the wall a million times, that will be awesome.

Liz Tinkham (45:27):
Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this, and thank you again to Sam. It’s interesting, as I said, our audience is … I don’t know how many of them are football fans, hopefully most of them. But so many things that you’ve said so parallel my life. And you just have some great lessons. And so I thank you. Where can we find you online, if people want to follow you?

Chris Petersen (45:50):
Good luck.

Liz Tinkham (45:51):

Chris Petersen (45:55):
My last tweet was sent out December of 2019, leading to Las Vegas. And so that is a whole ‘nother conversation, social media. It’s like, put that on the society scoreboard that makes my life a lot less enjoyable.

Liz Tinkham (46:17):
Yeah. So no LinkedIn, none of that. So we’ll just look for you in the press and follow you that way.

Chris Petersen (46:23):
Find me at the Foster School of Business.

Liz Tinkham (46:26):
Perfect. Perfect. I teach there too, so we’ll see you there. So Chris, thank you so much for your time and all of your lessons, and we look forward to having people listen. Thank you.

Chris Petersen (46:37):
Thanks for having me on, Liz, my pleasure.

Liz Tinkham (46:41):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act Podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham, I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.

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