Motivational speaker Bob Kittell figures he’s talked to more than 5 million people around the world during his 30-year career, including more than 12,000 at then-First Niagara Center a few years back as part of a national Get Motivated Tour that included Colin Powell, Rudy Guilliani and Terry Bradshaw.
That didn’t impress a junior high student three years ago who logged on to Instagram during a school presentation and could find no trace of the Cheektowaga native.
Kittell recently returned to the same school with more than 9,900 followers on his bobmemory Instagram page.
“I said, ‘What if I only had three followers?’ Some of the girls said that would be really bad; then said not bad, just that you don’t know anybody. I said, ‘Do you really think I know 9,900 people?’ These poor kids have bought into the idea that their worth is tied into the number of followers.”
Kittell, 59, a field goal kicker in high school and college, left Western New York after high school to attend Brigham Young University and settled outside Salt Lake City. He will return to his hometown next week to visit his father and two brothers, and stop in to speak to students at his alma mater, John F. Kennedy High School. The talk is for students and staff only but he shared the subject matter during a telephone interview this week. He will share how he overcame anxiety and depression that overwhelmed him seven years ago – and discourage them from making smartphones the center of their universe.
He said he’s willing to talk at other schools across the region – for free – about the same subjects. Reach him on Instagram or by email at email@example.com.
Q: Can you talk about your challenges with anxiety and depression?
A: I could be in front of 30,000 people in the Georgia Dome and I’m just fine, but I would walk off stage and curl into the fetal position and go into a massive panic attack where my stomach would turn into a knot. You can’t think. You feel like you’re having a heart attack. It felt like I was choking. This thing didn’t go away for four months and it got to this place of a horrible depression. We can’t just pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Somebody helped me. ... I learned all about positivity and gratitude. I’ve gone from panic to peace, a busy brain to a quiet mind.
Q: What have you discovered since?
A: It releases oxytocin in your brain when you’re truly connected with another human being, which is stronger than the dopamine addiction for smartphones or gambling or pornography. A person who helped teach me walked away from all of his addictions when he got connected. I had an addiction to being busy all the time, to thinking all the time. I did all that to push away all the stuff inside that I didn’t want to face. That all went away when I started learning how to get connected.
Last November, I was talking at Utah State and the organizer who paid for a talk (about anxiety) said I could take the talk across the country because every school is experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety.
Q: You say an overreliance on smartphones can spur anxiety?
South Korea and China have addiction recovery centers for electronics already. And people who used to work at Apple and Google have become whistle-blowers going, “It’s variable rewards. You get on your phone and it’s like a slot machine.” This was done purposely for advertising.
Q: Who inside and outside WNY do you consider your mentors?
Inside New York, I would say some of my teachers in high school. There was Miss Molenda, who taught me that learning can be fun. She was my biology teacher. David Peters used to be the principal at JFK. I was a freshman and discouraged and he saw something in me that I didn’t see. Teachers have great powers to influence kids, to inspire and give them hope. I wish they all did, but there are teachers who really, really care.
Marv Bateman used to be the punter for the Bills years ago. When I came home after my first year at BYU and didn’t have a very good year, I ran into him. He picked me up every single day for a week and took me to Rich Stadium and straightened up my kicking, and I ended up starting a few games because of him. I never forgot that I was nobody, that there was nothing I could do for him and he did that for me. He changed the way I see everything. Anybody asks me to help them with anything, sure, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those who helped me along the way.
From the celebrity world – because I’ve met a lot of people throughout the years – Terry Bradshaw, of all the speakers I’ve ever seen on stage, I thought was the most inspiring because he was authentic. He taught me authenticity and gave me the courage to stand up on the stage and say I had panic attacks, I had depression, and it lets the entire audience know that I’m not above them, I’m just like them, and I struggle just like they do. I found that made a greater impact than anything I’ve ever done on stage.
There’s so many people backstage who are catered to. Terry is walking backstage saying hi to everyone.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon