Be The Change

On January 20, 2017, in Spartanology, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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This morning, I was talking with our amazing student team about the history that was made today. Most are deeply troubled about the state of our nation, although I suspect a couple may quietly be ok with what’s happening. I told them about my own memory of this date 46 years ago.

I was about their age and Richard Nixon had just been elected, to the horror of many of us in my progressive home town of Ann Arbor. While we all know how that story ended (and how long it took us to get there), my point was that it was at on that day that I realized that I had to become the change I wanted to see in my world.

Yup, I smelled my share of tear gas, marched, protested, wrote letters and met with my elected representatives. But there was a deeper change that ultimately forged an iron resolve to take responsibility for causing my own effects in life.

That moment made me the person I am today.

May the events of this past year be a reminder that each of us can be relentless, positive change agents. It’s within our power to alleviate the suffering of others. And we CAN change history, if we are willing to commit to doing the hard, often painful, necessary work to make it so.. and to convince others to follow in our footsteps.

Looking around that room at the smart young people I’ve come to know and admire, I have great hope for our future. I also have high expectations that we’ll all do our share of the heavy lifting to make good things happen and work to inspire those who cross our path to join us in the journey.

Change won’t happen any other way.


What I Learned on the Farm

On January 15, 2017, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” Daniel Webster

My first radio job involved reading commodity prices on our local radio station. I was just 14 and did not yet have a driver’s license. So every morning as the sun rose over Washtenaw County, I rode my green Schwinn 10 speed down the long expanse of Liberty street to the studios of WPAG in downtown Ann Arbor. I was the first one in the building, fired up the transmitter and dialed up our Farm Director, a legend named Howard Heath.

Howard broadcast his morning farm reports from the basement of his home at “Radio Acres, Southwest of Milan”. He did the lion’s share of the work. My job was to twist the dials back at the station, keep him on time and read the cryptic commodity prices that came across our Associated Press news wire. Being a city boy, I had no idea what Omaha barrows and gilts were and it took some time before I discovered that the bacon I ate with breakfast had, at one time been a pork belly.

Howard and I ended up becoming friends and he introduced me to agribusiness, the word my instructors at Michigan State University used to describe the culture of farming.

Agriculture, I came to understand, was a metaphor for life. “A farm is a manipulative creature,” wrote Kristin Kimball in her wonderful book, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love. “There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die.”

As a Type A person with a career I’m passionate about, I can totally relate.

Kimball concludes that farming is magnificent blackmail.

By the time I graduated from Pioneer high school and pointed my 1968 Olds F85 in the direction of East Lansing, I had come to know dozens of farmers. They were the kindest, hardest working optimists I ever met. Dedication, faith and deliberation defined their character: Stoic in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, always focused on  the never ending procession of work that comes with the territory, and forever optimistic that the alchemy of sun, rain and effort would yield an abundant harvest.

Wendell Berry saw agriculture as the essence of life itself. “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life.”

I came to MSU with the firm belief that those who dedicated their lives to the land personified the best qualities of the American Dream. As Masanobu Fukuoka put it in his book, The One-Straw Revolution, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

So what are the key lessons we can learn from the American Farmer?

  • Early to bed. Early to rise. – By the time I arrived at the radio station, I knew that my farmer friends had already been in the fields for an hour.
  • Make hay while the sunshines. Work in the barn when it rains. – Whatever your environment, there is always something productive to do.
  • The job has to get done. – The animals must be fed, the crops cared for. There is no alternative.
  • The success formula is simple, the challenge is how to apply it. – Knowing what to do is often the easiest part. Excellent executution can be the hardest.
  • There are no shortcuts. – Productive harvests are built step by step. You can’t skip a step and you can’t hurry it.
  • Persistence is paramount – The race does not always go to the swift, but to the person who can keep going after others have given up.
  • Honesty and character are more important than money and power. – Ask any farmer. Trust is paramount. It’s earned on a daily basis, hard to win and easily lost.
  • Things will go wrong. – There are so many variables in play that the unexpected often becomes reality. Always have a Plan B.
  • Be kind to your neighbors. – If you help them stay warm, dry and well fed, they will do the same for you.
  • Family first. – The reason we farm is to provide food and a future for our families. Never prioritize the work over the people.
  • If it is to be, it’s up to you. – Farmers wrote the book on personal accountability. They know that the world owes us nothing. If we’re lucky we get some sunshine and moisture. The rest is on us.

This last maxim is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from my farming friends. A favorite story concerns the itinerant pastor who was walking by a beautiful farm on a Sunday afternoon. The farmer stood on his front porch looking over his acreage.

“God certainly blessed you with a wonderful farm,” the pastor said.

“He sure did,” replied the farmer. “And I’m grateful.” Then he winked at the pastor and said, “But you should have seen the place when he had the land all to himself.”

Whatever your calling, if you approach it with dedication, faith and deliberation, you will reap your own abundant harvest.


You’re Always On Probation

On January 8, 2017, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“Excellence is not a skill. It’s an attitude” ~Ralph Marston

On January 1, I began my 8th year as Head Servant for the MSU Alumni Association. One of my radio buddies quipped that, after all that time, “you must be off of probation.”

Anything but. I’m always on probation.

It’s been a mindset that has driven my work ethic from the time I got my first gig as a dishwasher at Ann Arbor’s Lurie Terrace at age 13. My radio years certainly reinforced the fact that job security is a myth and adding value on the extra mile is the best career insurance policy.

I never worked in a role where I was “protected” by a union and quickly progressed to a level where my employment was “at will”, meaning that my boss could let me go at any time for any reason… or as was often the case in broadcasting, for no reason at all.

That seems, on the face of it, like a pretty scary proposition. After all, policy and procedure manuals often painstakingly outline steps that fall under the heading, “Progressive Discipline”. And it makes sense to make sure that the people on your team know what doing a good job looks like, are coached when they demonstrate otherwise and are made well aware when their work product is approaching the point where they no longer add value commensurate to their compensation.

The best leaders do this, with or without policies, unions or lawyers in toe. But the best team members seek to understand the definition of extraordinary performance and work to go above and beyond it every day.

The world owes us nothing. Every day we must start, right from where we are, and determine how to best add value. The resources we are given are irrelevant. Our resourcefulness is essential.

In the course of my work, I often hear people’s stories. When I ask “How did you get to where you are today?” those who have struggled will weave tales of injustice, bad luck and want. Villains, other people who are held responsible for the person’s bad fortune, almost always take center stage. Sometimes, it’s circumstance. The job market changed. A health crisis happened. A divorce, death, birth, even a promotion become culprits, tieing the innocent protagonist to the railroad tracks before an oncoming train of tragedy.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not discounting the impact that significant life events can have on our ability to cope. But these things eventually confront us all. How we deal with them will determine the extent of joy or suffering we experience.

Each of us are responsible for our own story. And one of the most powerful lessons we can learn is that we can change that story. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “Change your story, change your life.”

And change happens one day, one hour, one minute at a time, once we make the decision to do it.

At winter commencement, I was proud to welcome an amazing young man to the MSU alumni family. He’s a first generation college student from inner city Detroit. He comes from a world where an unfavorable interaction with the American justice system often feels like a foregone conclusion.

From this hellish existence emerged a spirit who decided that he didn’t want that life. He decided that he would one day become an entrepreneur and a philanthropist and began studying the people who lived those lives. “Nobody owes us anything,” he likes to tell me. “My attitude and effort will determine my altitude and accomplishments.”

He’s graduating with a start-up underway and has built a circle of friends and mentors who will help him get exactly where he wants to go. But he’s very aware that he’s always on probation. “Even the most successful people have to re-earn their success every single day,” he told me. “Luke 12:48 implies that ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ Never stop doing what you did to get where you are, or you won’t stay there long.”

And so, being on permanent probation can be a good thing. It forces you to continually seek ways to innovate and improve, to become a sponge for lifelong learning, and to go the extra mile to add value.

We celebrate these people. We invest in them. And we can always be confident that, in the long run, they will reap an abundant harvest.

The best possible gift we can give to a world sorely in need of exceptional people, is to become one of them.

It won’t be easy. You’ll always be on probation in the arena of high performance. But you’ll quickly discover that the real exhilaration comes in the journey and not at the destination.

Feedback always welcome to


The Best Revenge

On December 18, 2016, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.” ~Edwin Hubbel Chapin

In the course of human events, we are all destined to endure times when things don’t go our way. How we react to it will tell the world much about our character.

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Safe Places & Sucking It Up

On November 28, 2016, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“Face your unpleasant current realities head on, but never lose faith that you will prevail” ~Adm. James B. Stockdale

Learn how to be happy right now!The death of a loved one, an unexpected health diagnosis, losing a job, a breakup, moving to a new community, an election outcome; All of these things can kick us way outside of our comfort zones.

You may already know the feelings: fear, anger, uncertainty, betrayal, sadness, even shame. In these spaces, sleep can be elusive. We’re more easily drawn to tension relieving activities, alcohol and drugs, anything to distract us from the now. We can feel helpless, unsure of where to go, who to talk to, what to do.

What do you do when your world is turned upside down?

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On November 7, 2016, in The Spartan Life, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

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You get what you accept

On November 5, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” ~ Denis Waitley

The quickest way to get blown out of my social media stream is to talk about politics or religion. Not because I’m not interested in other points of view. It’s because I know that people are quick to proffer their opinions, but won’t really do anything about them.

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On October 23, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
“True merit is like a river: The deeper it is, the less noise it makes.” – Edward Frederick Halifax

We are on the cusp of another renewal of the Michigan State / Michigan rivalry. I always use this event as a reminder to think about the importance of humility.

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By Scott Westerman
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“You are today where your thoughts brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” ~James Allen

“You’ll get there a lot faster if you recruit some accountability buddies!”~Yours Truly

Oh how hard it is to turn thoughts into actions. Earl Nightingale’s famous maxim, “We become what we think about,” is one of the great philosophical truths of the age. But in some cases, turning thoughts into actions can be a challenge, especially if those actions require us to step outside our comfort zone and expose ourselves to discomfort.

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Building Mental Toughness

On October 2, 2016, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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What is the single greatest factor that can help you face any challenge and take major steps in the direction of any goal? Mental toughness. But what is it? And how can we integrate it into our daily life?

Former Navy Seal, Mark Divine, writes that mental toughness is a skill set that can be learned. In his book Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level, Mark breaks it down into four ideas, micro-goals, breathing, positivity, and visualization.[1] Let’s explore each in turn.

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