In this post, I introduce you to Seth Mattison – trend spotter, workforce strategist, management renegade and sought-after speaker. During a recent presentation, Seth described his life growing up on a 4th generation farm. He asked the audience who was raised on a farm. I, alone, raised my hand. After the presentation, I went up to him and said “I can’t be the only farm kid in the audience.” I reconnected with Seth to ask if he would like to be featured on “From a Small Town to Making it Big”. He gladly accepted and we had a wonderful conversation. Here are the highlights:
Where did you grow up? Seth grew up in Hayfield, Minnesota – population 1,800. Hayfield is a farming community where nearly everyone works in agriculture. Seth’s family farmed corn, soybeans, pigs and dairy cattle. His parents and extended family still live on the land. Seth graduated in a class of 80 people and said even the “town kids” were involved in agriculture. This upbringing gave him a great appreciation of where the food we eat comes from. He remembers Hayfield as a place that was warm, caring, loving and supporting.
How did growing up in this town teach you about diversity? Everyone in Hayfield was the same – white, Christian, farmer. While there were no glaring examples of people mistreating those different from them, there was also no great desire as a whole to know more about the rest of the world.
Seth had two catalysts that taught him about diversity. The first was his involvement with sports. As a travel basketball player, he began playing against teams in urban areas that included African American players. Eventually, he played on more diverse teams and made the realization that to become friends with others not like him opened him up to others who were not like him. This continued as Seth played college football, where the team was racially diverse as well. He remembers one of his teammates telling him a story about being shot on the way to school. Learning this brought a sense of awareness and gratitude that he never had to wonder if he was going to get to school safely.
The other experience that introduced Seth to those not like him happened between his sophomore and junior years in college when he lived with one of his teammates in New York City during a summer internship. It was at that time that he met a close friend who is gay and throughout this experience he was introduced to the LGBT community.
When I asked Seth what made him open to those experiences, he cited his “empathy muscle”. Empathy is a skill that once you start to practice it, you don’t go back. I’d like to say that Seth went to college to play football and ended up developing an “empathy muscle”.
What experience is the most memorable from your time in a small town? Seth remembers working with his friends starting at the age of 10. Their main job was picking rock (I had to ask him to describe this for me, as I wasn’t familiar with the term). It is just as it sounds – a group would head to the fields with a tractor and wagon. One lucky guy would drive the tractor while the others walked the length of the fields throwing softball sized rocks into the wagon. This taught him the value of labor, and he feels lucky that he was able to share this experience with friends. Beyond that, this work taught Seth that you have to earn everything you get. If he wanted a new pair of Jordans, he had to figure out a way to get them.
What has been your journey since Hayfield? From Hayfield, Seth attended college at University of Wisconsin-Stout. After college, he moved to Minneapolis to work in management consulting. It was during his time in consulting that he became very interested in the generational trends he was spotting in the workplace. He went on to work with Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman, the authors of When Generations Collide. He contributed to their book The M-Factor and in the process became an expert on millennials.
In 2013, Seth founded FutureSight Labs. Seth advises many of the world’s leading brands and organizations on the key shifts happening around talent management, change and innovation, leadership, and the future of work.
Today, Seth lives in West Hollywood. He lives there with his wife, Kristen, who is a news anchor and journalist. He enjoys the southern California sunshine, West Hollywood walkability, and access to outdoors.
What is the single most important lesson you took with you from your small town upbringing? Work ethic and hustle. Because everyone grew up in a family business or was surrounded by the farming community, a sense of work ethic was ingrained from an early age. As an athlete in a small town, Seth wasn’t the biggest or fastest guy, but he was able to make up the difference through hard work. Seth learned early in life to control what he could control. He asks himself: How can I lean into what I can control to the best of my advantage?
How have you brought the small town spirit with you in life? True to his small town roots, Seth has gotten to know his neighbors. In larger, urban communities it is hard to get to know your neighbors. Seth said that building a community was the hardest part of his transition from small town to big city. On his street in West Hollywood, he helps his neighbor carry in her groceries. His other neighbor keeps an eye on his house when he travels. This has helped instill a sense of community for Seth as a resident of the second largest city in the United States.
What advice would you give kids who are growing up in your hometown today? First, embrace the present moment. If you look at the shiny world as presented to you on social media and think to yourself “I can’t wait to get out of here”, stop yourself. Life is going to come fast enough. Don’t wish away the days, weeks, months and years saying “I just have to get through this….then”. When the time comes and you want to experience another part of the world, you can and you will.
Second, go out into the world and experience diversity as much as you can. The world is a really big place with incredible diversity – both of thought and culture. Meet other human beings who have a different point of view or lifestyle. We are in desperate need of empathy in our country and world. Take a moment to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You will be a better family member, leader and human being by doing that.
A great big “thank you” to Seth for bringing his small town stories to life. Connect with Seth on Twitter or Instagram @sethmattison. Learn more about him at www.sethmattison.com.
Do you know someone who has a great small town success story? Contact me and let me know!