Be Humble

By Scott Westerman

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Listen to an audio version of this message.

During the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament in Chicago, I had the chance to overhear a conversation among a group of Indiana fans. The Hoosiers might have been talking about their amazing basketball team, the lifelong connection that Indiana alumni share, or likely prospects for a strong NCAA tournament seed.

But they were talking about Tom Izzo.

So much besides basketball was going on in town that our two schools ended up staying in the same hotel. So it happened that they shared an elevator with our legendary coach in the vastness of the Marriott Magnificent Mile Hotel. Tom Izzo could have been detached. There was an important game that day and he certainly had a lot on his mind. He could have been aloof. His has been a life of singular achievement and fame, far beyond that of most men. He could have been self centered. People are always telling him how great he is.

Tom Izzo was the opposite of all of these things that day. He was full of praise for an Indiana team that is clearly on the rise. He said how grateful he was to have had the chance to meet so many interesting people. And he expressed what they characterized as, “honest disbelief” that a kid from the upper peninsula of Michigan could grow up to experience so many blessings.

“It’s hard for us to cheer against MSU,” they told me when I introduced myself to them. “We love your coach. He is an example of everything that’s good about the game.”

I was reminded at that moment, of something I wrote down after we beat Michigan in Football for the 4th time in a row.

When you are successful, and you will be, always remember that the same combination of preparation and opportunity that brought you good fortune is how Abraham Lincoln defined “luck”.

When you fail, and you will fail, remember that humility has the power to quickly put you back on your feet.

So be humble.

Reflecting on the churning river of life, Ernest Hemingway wrote, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

“Every person that you meet knows something you don’t,” notes H. Jackson Brown. “Learn from them.”

Humbly honoring the value of others, equally enriches those who do the honoring.

Humility means recognizing and celebrating excellence wherever it may be. And there’s a funny thing about celebrating excellence. when you do, you’ll tend to attract it.

The Spartan Men’s basketball team has amassed a singular tradition of success. In such an environment, it’s easy to fall victim to the the risks that come with achievement: arrogance and complacency.

Former Coca Cola president, Don Keough told Spartan Jana O’Brien, “When you are associated with.. a great brand, the people just automatically endow you with a little bit more wisdom than you are entitled to have, and they give a little more deference than you deserve.”

So be humble.

William Temple writes, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

And here’s the secret power that comes with being humble. It focuses us on the continuous self reflection and improvement that is a key to defining, discovering and achieving happiness.

Always remember the well worn maxim that success is a journey, not a destination. People are fickle. When you succeed, they will expect more from you. When you fail they may abandon you. The strength to strive for excellence lives within each of us. It is a muscle that requires continuous exercise. It’s not about ephemeral moments in the sun.

When I think about humility, I often replay the final moments from film about the life of General George S. Patton. These are his own words.

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

Feedback is always welcome to [email protected]

Scott Westerman is Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Executive Director of the MSU Alumni Association.