Mike Sadler’s Six Maxims

On July 31, 2016, in in Memorium, Spartanology, The Spartan Life, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
MikeSadlerYou learn a lot about a person when they are thrown into the public eye. Notoriety and achievement require a higher standard of behavior built on a firm foundation of character, work ethic and compassion. Such were the elements that defined the all too short life of Mike Sadler.

Mike and I both came to Michigan State University in 2010. I had the opportunity to watch his progression, as an athlete, an academician and as a human being. We often found ourselves in front of the same audiences.

He always spoke of the importance of an education, setting goals that stretched you, doing the hard work to achieve them, cultivating a compassionate heart and taking the road less traveled with fellow travelers who shared your ethical outlook. He also loved to have fun and maintained an insatiable inquisitiveness that turned every challenge in life into a fascinating puzzle to be solved.

A common theme among those who eulogized him was that this young man crammed more living into his four and twenty years than most accomplish in sixty. How did he do it?

Mike Sadler distilled his outlook into a six maxims, ideas that guided everything he undertook and ultimately ensured his success. And here they are

Get a good education. “Nobody can ever take that away from you,” he used to say. “Athletics ,” he once told me, “is a means to a higher calling. It helped me get access to a world class education. The key is to turn your purpose into a profession. And it all begins in the classroom.” Mike took that to heart. He earned enough advanced placement credits in high school to enter Michigan State University as a sophomore. Finishing a master’s degree during his athletic eligibility.

Aim High and push yourself. Mike came to MSU as an engineering student, earning his masters’ in public policy. He planned to enter Stanford Law School in the fall of 2016. “Excellence isn’t something we’re born with,” he once told a gathering of football fans. “It’s learned and earned every day.” His elementary school coach remembered Mike’s innate felicity with a soccer ball. But his sister revealed that it was his drive and determination that turned raw talent into the elite athleticism that earned him a starting role on a  championship team. Mike saw life as an ongoing series of progressive goals. “Achievement,” he told his mother, “is climbing the mountain and getting to the top. Success is conquering the range.”

Live with Integrity. “Mike sat on the bench his first year on the team,” remembered coach Mark Dantonio. “He never complained.” We never heard about him violating team laws, breaking a confidence or cutting corners. Mike liked to say that integrity is doing what’s right rather than doing what’s in it for you. He demonstrated it time and again, never afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even if it wasn’t always what was popular.

Show compassion to every human being. A defining moment in Mike’s football career came after a game when the Spartans were about to board the team bus. A young boy on crutches asked Mike for an autograph, saying he wished he could become a kicker, too. Even though there was pressure to stay on schedule, Mike stopped and spoke, at length with the youngster, encouraging him to never give up on his dreams, finally handing him the shoes he had worn during the game. Many of us have been on the receiving end of a special kindness. For some, these encounters can be life changing. Mike realized that there were amazing people who helped him become the man he was. And he was always willing to pass it on.

Surround yourself with good people and good friends, because they define you. We become what we think about, wrote Earl Nightingale. Mike Sadler’s corollary to this timeless wisdom was, “We become who we hang out with.” He always found the most challenging teachers and sought to spend the majority of his time with people who modeled the behaviors he admired. At the same time, he always sought out new relationships whenever he entered a room, realizing that, for some, surrounding yourself with good people meant discovering them in the first place.

You have to have fun along the way. Few liked a good joke or a good laugh more than did Mike Sadler. Often the laughter was at his own expense. Always it was intended to lighten the mood, lower the stress level and put challenges in their proper perspective. Mike was a social media enthusiast, something that, at least on one occasion, got him called into the Mark Hollis’ office to hear about a tweet that the Athletic Director found a little too controversial. He learned the boundaries of good taste like most of us do, by pressing the edge of the envelope. At the end of the day, he saw human existence as an adventure, something to be fully experienced with all its ups and downs. If we looked hard enough, joy could be discovered among seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

And to Mike, our most important superpower was the power of gratitude. Whenever your paths crossed, he always looked you in the eye and thanked you for the encounter. He was mindful of the giants upon whose shoulders he stood and always tried to raise others onto his own shoulders so that we all might see further, dream bigger and leave the world a better place than we found it. Even though we were more acquaintances than friends, his death was a highly personal loss, a feeling I share with the thousands of spirits who were richly blessed to have crossed his path.

There is a big difference between success and significance. Mike Sadler’s time on earth was brief. But his was a transcendent life of significance, a life to be celebrated, emulated and revisited every time we want to be reminded of the true definition of excellence.


Prioritizing People Who Care

On July 17, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

Listen to an audio version of this message.

“Prioritize people who care, in the end they will be the only ones there.”

Giving hearts can be trapped in un-productive relationships. The flip side of compassion can sometimes be a tendency to hang on to someone when you should be letting them go.

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By Scott Westerman

Where do life’s most exciting moments exist? We’ll tackle that one this week on the Pass it On Podcast.

We got an email at work this week warning us to stay away from the legendary Brody Square dining facility at Michigan State. There are several thousand Methodists on campus for the church’s annual convention and, as I found out when I ventured to Brody last night, the place was jammed.

So I took the email’s advice and went to Snyder Phillips tonight. As I was walking in, a collegue was walking out. “500 kids just came in there for dinner,” he said. “You’re about 5 minutes too late.”

I didn’t mind. MSU hosts youth leadership camps all summer and I love the energy the young people bring to campus. He was right, the lines were long, spirits were high. I heard a few kids start a chorus of happy birthday and before it was over the whole place was singing, even though most of them probably didn’t know who the honoree was.

I was sitting alone at a high table near the window digesting the last of my meal when an attractive young lady approached. “May I clear your tray for you?” she asked.

“Wow,” I answered. “That would be wonderful. What made you offer? Are you guys tasked with doing random acts of kindness this week?”

“No,” she said. “We’re supposed to do something outside of our comfort zone and I’m terrified of making conversation with strangers.”

And so began a 10 minute visit. She told me where she was from, where she thought she might go to college, “Some place small,” and that she thought she wanted to go to law school.

“You’ll get plenty of exposure to strangers on the other side of the courtroom,” I said. “I bet you’ll get over that fear pretty quickly.”

I was proud of her for feeling the fear and doing it anyway. And my tray made its way over to the dishwashing station thanks to her random act of kindness. I was in the middle of reading Don Gonyea’s piece on Gordie Howe and had my head down in my web browser when a second young lady dropped into the chair across from me. “Ok if I ask you a question?”

“Sure. Is this another ‘outside of your comfort zone assignment’?”

“Nope. I’m interested in asking people about their passion and you look like someone who isn’t part of our group.”

I told her that my greatest joy came from creating an environment where people could discover their life’s purpose and chase happiness, confessing that this was what we did every day at the MSU Alumni Association. “And what’s your passion?” I asked.

“I want to be a comedy writer, a psychologist and an actor,” she said.

We worked on that one for awhile. I talked about our plethora of Spartans in Hollywood and how she could study all three of those things at MSU. She admitted that she had her sights on Ann Arbor and I think I stunned her when I encouraged her to follow her heart. “I thought all MSU and UM people didn’t like each other,” she said.

“It’s true that there have been points in our history where the U of M tried to stand in the way of our progress,” I said. “But all of those people are long gone and I think most authentic Spartans and Wolverines would agree that both of our schools have to be great if our state is to be great.” I told her I was Ann Arbor born and had a ton of friends who were Wolverines. “I’m excited for your adventures,” I said finally. About one in eight kids will work in jobs that didn’t exist when they were born. You may well create a gig that links all of your interests. I bet you’ll be a success in whatever you decide to do.”

Outside SnyPniWalking outside into the warm summer evening, I saw about a hundred of their group in the circle chanting, laughing and generally having a great time being young. I pondered the good fortune that brought me home to MSU and was thankful again for the opportunity to live and work in a college town, chasing my passion in a job I never would have ever expected to have when I was a struggling Spartan dreaming of a radio career in the 1970s.

I thought about a lunch I had the day before with a college basketball coach who left his job to follow the love of his life, who coaches here and how we were brainstorming that, wherever you go, there can be opportunity, if you’re willing to work to create it.

And that’s our message for the week. Adventures await on the outside of your comfort zone. That’s the only place where forward progress truly happens. It comes wrapped in setbacks and failures and may not have a very clear roadmap. In fact, every important discovery happened in this place and some of your most important life moments await you, when you feel the fear and do it anyway.

Add the Pass It on Podcast to your smart device via iTunes, Google or through my website, ScottWesterman.com. And send me your questions and feedback to scott@Spartaology.com. Have a terrific week. Be bold, be brave, never stop learning.. and pass it on!


The Pass It On Podcast: The Father Factor

On June 19, 2016, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
The “Real” Scott Westerman will be 91 on July 10th. I’m the third in a line that started with his dad back in 1895. I’ve always felt richly blessed to have been born into a family with a pair of extraordinary parents. And since Sunday is Father’s Day, decided to look back over a conversation I had with dad a couple of years back about what lessons he learned from his father. I present them here, not necessarily as recommendations, but solely for your consideration.

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On Being the Change

On June 14, 2016, in Spartanology, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
Begin every day asking yourself: What can I do today to make the world better than it is right now? What can I do to inspire the disaffected, the fearful, the ignorant and the hungry to manifest a brighter future? What act of kindness can I perform that might convince someone to choose a life of service instead of an act of self destruction? Once you’ve thoughtfully answered these questions, go beyond talking about it. Be the change and act.



The Pass It On Podcast: Do Something

On June 12, 2016, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando this weekend, let’s revisit one of my most requested essays on action. I’ve updated it with some added insights that I hope will be helpful.

More Love and Less HateWhen the news about the senseless shootings in Orlando began to inundate Facebook today, a graphic quickly appeared. It was a beautifully created piece of art with the words “More Love. Less Hate” on a black background above a rainbow of hearts, the red one on the far left was broken. At the bottom was the hashtag #PrayForOrlando.

I remembered something that Pope Francis said about that. “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action.. is a fruitless and incomplete prayer.”

In an era where we can instantly respond to anything with a few key strokes and the “send” button, give me the person who will actually do something.

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The Pass It On Podcast: Sacrifice

On May 26, 2016, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

This week some thoughts on Memorial Day and a look back on a speech I gave to the graduating class at Michigan State University’s Army ROTC graduation in 2013.

As I record this we’re preparing to celebrate Memorial Day in the United States. A time when we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend the American Dream. We live in an age where sacrifice, delayed gratification and honorable service are rare. Helicopter parents, entitlement and a me-first attitude seem to pervade our society. Kindness, respect and compassion for those who suffer are ingredients that are often missing from human character these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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By Scott Westerman
Welcome to the first episode of my new “Pass It On” podcast. A weekly exploration of ideas and inspiration.

I had lunch this week with two of my Spartan alumni who hold the distinction of being the only husband and wife team, to my knowledge, to have been selected to serve on the Michigan State University Homecoming Court. At MSU, the Homecoming Court is anything but a beauty contest. It’s members are representative of the combination of academic excellence, leadership and selfless service that defines the best dimensions of the Spartan Spirit.

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By Scott Westerman

Today, I had the honor of presenting to an Interdisciplinary Forum on Aging Research. My topic was engaging alumni in the late afternoon of their Spartan Lives. Each of us had to keep it short: 5 minutes or less, which was just about perfect for my message. Here’s a video and the full text of my remarks.

As we enter the late afternoon of our lives, our thoughts increasingly turn to the legacy we hope to leave behind. Time seems to compress. Terms that used to apply to people on the periphery of our existence, words like cancer and death, strike closer and closer to home.

We start to take stock of the people, places, experiences and things that have been most important to us.

We focus on enduring friendships and may seek to reconnect with people from our past who may have drifted into our peripheral vision. What is truly important starts to clarify in our minds eye and we prioritize the time that remains accordingly.

It is in the midst of this ongoing process of being that we come to value our university experience, perhaps forging a deeper emotional connection to those things about our Spartan lives that, with the context of time, emerge as defining chapters of our personal narrative.

This is an important dimension of our world at the MSU Alumni Association. We’re always there, at traditional gatherings on football Saturdays, cross generational experiences like Grandparents University, unique overseas study tours targeted to this well seasoned demographic, and the ability to reconnect alumni with missing-in-action friends that even Facebook can’t find; these are a few of the ways we tend our flock, reinforcing the value a lifelong connection to Michigan State and to Spartans everywhere.

From the moment we arrived on campus, we were exposed to a set of values that define a Spartan’s Will: Exposure to new vistas of wisdom, a culture of community service and philanthropy that radiates outward from East Lansing to every corner of the world. And the high standards of personal accountability and performance that inevitably lead Spartans to the upper echelons of whatever enterprise with which they choose to align their personal brand.

With age comes a deeper respect for our past, acceptance of an uncertain future, and a heightened awareness of the importance of making the most of every present moment.

This drives an alumni engagement strategy that opens our doors wide to macro audiences, while continually focusing on micro segments, serving the unique interests and needs of small clusters of Spartans who are celebrating common milestones, struggling with similar challenges, and who are willing and able to share their knowledge with current and future students, doing what Spartans do best: taking stock of our abundance and passing it on.

Spartans naturally share some of the prosperity that Michigan State helped to make possible so that future generations might enjoy a Spartan life like ours. Just as we have encouraged Spartans to turn to their MSU family in time of need, we believe that paying it forward is an act that alumni will undertake willingly and generously when the time is right.

We see it every day, in the callused hands of the thousands of Spartans who participate in the Global Day of Service every Spring, in the words of accomplished graduates who return to the classroom to lecture about their adventures to the current generation of students, in the welcoming arms that are always extended to Spartans who find themselves transplanted to new jobs in new communities, and through the abundant conduit of financial investment that has become essential to offset the diminishing public support of higher education.

If we’ve done our job effectively, the Spartan spirit is one of the first things a young mind can perceive and a Spartan embrace will be part and parcel of every significant event from that moment on.

At the MSU Alumni Association, we believe that living the Spartan Life is a spiritual practice. And with the passage of time, our memories of the Spartan encounters we’ve had, the Spartan friendships we’ve enjoyed and the rich experiences that our MSU connections have made possible, emerge as some of the most meaningful and rewarding moments of our great adventure.

And the most enduring gift we can give to those who follow in our footsteps is to gather everything we’ve learned and everything we’ve earned, and pass it on.


To the Class of 2016

On April 25, 2016, in Spartanology, by Scott Westerman

Pass It On!Graduation is just around the corner! For another MSU class, the next chapter in their life’s adventure awaits. Here’s my annual commencement blessing. It’s the last thing a Spartan hears as a student and the first thing they hear as an alumnus.

On behalf of your fellow Spartans around the world, welcome to the MSU Alumni Family. Starting now, wherever your adventures may take you, there are 500,000 of us out there who stand ready to put you back on your feet when you may stumble, pull you back down to earth when you may fly too close to the sun, and raise you atop our shoulders to celebrate your inevitable success. These are the things that Spartans everywhere will do for you. And all we ask in return is this: When you achieve and succeed as all true Spartans Will, gather everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve earned… and pass it on.