Carolyn Campbell explains the fascinating journey she’s on to understand rural America by listening to the people she’s sent to by others. I met Carolyn as my first coach several years ago.


  • Carolyn has been on a mission to deeply listen to people in rural America for the past two years
    • Hearing their stories and learning from them instead of trying to immediately help
  • Her project as a result of a community dinner that didn’t happen
  • In her travels she met over 2,000 people and formally interviewed 500
    • 37,000 miles in nine months
    • 8,000 miles of the total was in Mississippi alone
  • Carolyn set out on her trip with the intention of not having an agenda
    • Other people chose where she would go next
    • Similar to the way coaching is about connecting to clients without an agenda
    • Not a trip to push a political agenda
    • It was about digging into social issues
    • Going into communities to discover what the social issues really are out there
      • Determine if the media is painting a clear and accurate picture
      • She wanted to know for herself
      • What are the real economics of an area?
      • What really goes on there?
      • Is the world is as divided as it seems?
    • Primary goals were listening, watching and connecting
  • One goal of the trip was to challenge her own judgements about things and places
    • Find out if she could challenge her own assumptions and sit with people who were fundamentally different than her
  • The first choice of where she should go was given to high school students. They had to provide:
    • Why a particular place was important
    • Questions to ask people
    • The types of people they wanted her to talk to
  • How Carolyn’s van for her first trip materialized 24 hours after deciding she couldn’t take her current car

picture of Carolyn Campbell's Van

  • Where the term stranger-talking came from and how it can make the world a better place
  • People in small towns always notice who you are even if you don’t think they do
  • The time a man helped her get clear about what she was up to
    • “If you are here to judge you’ll only last a day, but if you are here to listen we will tell you everything you want to know.”
  • Carolyn had a general rule that she would not debate or disagree people… instead she would just ask more questions, particularly when she really disagreed internally
  • Three Levels of Listening
    1. What do I believe about what’s being said or how does it affect me?
    2. Hearing the words the person is saying and really taking them in
    3. Taking in the words … hearing the words and taking into account the energy of the space, their body language and everything
  • Asking another question when you don’t agree with someone instead of going to judgement (being curious)
    • Bringing deep curiosity takes us deeper and deeper in a way that judgement can’t
  • Historically “help” in the rural communities Carolyn visited made the situation worse
  • It takes approximately eight years for local people to trust outsiders
  • Tourism as an industry does not pay as well as original industry in those places did
  • Sometimes we are called to something at a level we don’t know (and in doing so we find out)
  • The critical importance of getting a greater understanding of “other”
  • People in rural America are used to living along side people they don’t agree with
  • Carolyn believes that the next frontier of coaching is helping communities to heal
  • Changing the “either/or” nature of the world that is so familiar yet unhelpful

What’s Next?

Carolyn is working on several goals at the same time

  1. Raising money to go back on the road again
  2. Figuring out how to get more of the voices of the people she met heard
  3. Getting to know the people in rural communities better so she can get coaches invested

More About Carolyn and Her Work

Other Mentions


  • Hallon by Christian Bjoerklund
  • Cold Funk by Kevin MacLeod
  • Photos provided by Carolyn Campbell

All songs licensed under Creative Commons