Is it Time To Get Off The Bus?

by  Erin Schreyer  |  Self Leadership

Ever have one of those “defining moments” in your life?  You know, those times when ‘something’ happened, and you just knew that moment would change you forever…

I remember a defining moment in college.  I lived off-campus, a few miles away, so I often took the university’s metro system to get me to different parts of campus and back home again.

Often, when I walked to the bus stop near my home, I would see an elderly man walking his Chihuahua.  He lived right across the street from the stop, and he walked his dog several times a day, so most of the students were familiar with the site of his slow, unsteady gait alongside his yippy, excitable dog.  It was such a dichotomy; it was hard not to notice.

I don’t know this man’s name. I never did.  But I was always sure to smile and say hi, and sometimes I even stopped to pet the dog, thinking it might need some extra attention.

The man never said much, if anything at all, though I recall his voice being frail, much like his body appeared to be.  He didn’t seem to have much strength or energy, nor did I ever see his cheeks flush with any color.  I don’t have a clue how old he was, but he seemed ancient to me, especially since I was at the opposite end of his spectrum, being a young, energetic, college kid with my whole life ahead of me.

One day, as I walked to the metro stop, I saw the familiar old man and his dog walking uneasily, as always.  I kept my eye on him as I waited for the bus to arrive, and just moments after I stepped onto the bus, I watched what I had feared would happen to my weak and wobbly neighbor.

He fell.  A really hard fall.  And, although he was slightly moving on the ground, I could see he had no chance of getting himself up.  I knew it.  All the students on the bus knew it.  His little, tiny dog, who was barking frantically next to him knew it.  But nobody did anything.  It was as if everything and everyone was frozen…except for the old man, who was now moaning and still just barely moving his body as he tried to rock himself to a different position.

I could feel my adrenaline surging.  I could hear my own voice in my head shouting to the man, “Come on, Mister, you can do it.  Just get up!”  I could hear the other students on the bus gasping as they, too, watched this poor man in horror.  And then, the next sound I heard was the bus beginning to pull away.

Now, mind you, the bus was largely full.  There were people driving cars on the street next to the sidewalk where my elderly neighbor was now laying.  There were other walkers nearby.  But nobody did anything.  Everyone saw it happen, but nobody moved.

My mind raced, thinking of the journalism class I knew I was about to miss.  We had a writing exam that day, and I had no idea how I would explain this story to my professor in a way that he would either give me grace or re-schedule my exam for another day.  At that point, though, it didn’t matter to me.  I had to do something to help this poor man.

“STOP THE BUS!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

The bus driver acknowledged me immediately and opened the door, knowing what I was about to do.  I grabbed my backpack full of books and ran as fast as my legs could carry me to the side of the man, who was familiar enough to me that he even felt a bit like a friend.

I quickly expressed to him that I was there to help; that I wouldn’t leave his side until we found a way to get him up and bring him home safely.  I watched as the bus pulled away, and it wasn’t until I started shouting to others on the road and sidewalks around me that anyone else came to help me with this man, who was more than six feet tall when he was standing.  On the ground, I knew his weight would be more than I could handle alone.

Eventually, I and a few others were able to gingerly bring my neighbor to his feet and carefully deliver him to his front door.  His wife greeted us with an abundance of gratitude and lovingly took him into her care, as she closed the door leaving us to move on with our day.

I raced to my class, now more than 30 minutes late for the hour-long session.  I felt good about the decision I had made, although I knew others thought I was crazy for taking the risk and helping a stranger.  I cried to my professor as I shared the details of what had happened.  He didn’t react with much, if any empathy, although he did allow me to make up the time for my exam.

So, why did I share so many details of this old story from my past?  Because that was a defining moment for me – one where I knew firmly in my gut that I would be okay being different; being the only one who would get off the bus to help.  I knew I would be willing to take a stand for what I believed was right, even if meant risking ridicule or passing up other rewards.  I knew in the deepest part of my heart that I was a leader and following the crowd wasn’t going to be part of my norm.

What’s exciting for me is that almost twenty years later, I have found an incredible community of leaders just like me.  The Lead Change Group includes many friends and colleagues, who like me, aren’t just okay with being different than the “norm” – we want to be different, because we know that most businesses and communities can be better than they are today if just they put more focus on people and values.

Organizations today are concerned with getting the right people on the bus, but it’s often a bus of conformity and status quo without much innovation or drive to be truly valuable.

I want to challenge each of you to get off the bus, as I did.  I don’t mean quit your job and launch a company, but I am suggesting that you clearly understand, embrace and act on your values and strengths.  Lead from who you authentically are, and leverage the very best that you can bring to the people around you.  Get off the bus of complacency and DO something that creates the next defining moment in your life.

Join me and others in this “revolution” of leadership.  Make the difference that only you can make.  The world is waiting for you, and you are needed.  Join our community now.  Contribute your story.  Embrace the leader within you and dedicate yourself to making a positive difference.  This is what Lead Change is all about.  We welcome your contribution!

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Articles By erin-schreyer
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What People Are Saying

Jim Taggart  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

A poignant story with deep lessons on doing the right thing at the right moment. We can’t control the events around us but we can control how we respond to them.

Erin Schreyer  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Jim, thanks for commenting! Yes, we can control how we respond….and sometimes that response can demonstrate leadership!

Tristan Bishop  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Erin, this moved me.

You’ve reminded me why we can never, ever, EVER quit, no matter how many obstacles spring up in our path.

People matter.

Thank you for who you are, who you follow and who you lead as a result!


Erin Schreyer  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Tristan, thanks so much for your comment. I love your energy and persistence!! Awesome!

People DO matter. They are the most important aspect of leadership. We cannot forget this. EVER. :-)

Sonia Di Maulo  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply


As I wipe my tears away, I can’t help but think about how incredibly gifted you are at inspiring positive action. Your welcoming invitation would get anybody off their feet! I am on my feet, Erin! It IS time to get off the bus and make change happen. :)

Thank you for your constant support, encouragement, friendship and inspiration!

I need to post this on Authentic Leadership Montreal NOW!!! :)


Erin Schreyer  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Sonia, thanks for being on your feet!! WOO HOO!!! There is a lot that can happen when one person stands…and a lot MORE that can happen when a community joins together!! Thanks for being a fellow “instigator” and an authentic leader!! I proudly stand next to you!! :-)

Mike Henry  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the great post Erin. I remain fascinated by the number of people that need someone to either direct them to a particular action or give them permission. We need a few more people who work on the principle of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. Most people will not condemn you for helping, even though they wouldn’t accept the help if it was just offered.


Erin Schreyer  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Mike – I wonder if people are just afraid to step outside of comfort zones?

One of my favorite lyrics says “you were made to fill a purpose that only you can do; there can never be a more beautiful you.” I mention this, because it makes the point that we have a PURPOSE….which means we need to DO something!!

We were each equipped to lead in our own way. I believe that we’re supposed to be acting on that, and a big part is contributing the best we have to offer. It requires contribution, though. We need to become more prone to action, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Jane Perdue  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Rock on, Erin! A beautifully told story that’s so you…being the role model, then and now, in taking the right stand and eschewing conformity for what’s right!

Erin Schreyer  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thanks so much, Jane!! It means a lot to be in community with wonderful leadership models like you, who inspire me every day!!!

Dan Black  |  22 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Great personal story. We all need to get off the bus of life at times so we can help others. Thank you for sharing.

Keep serving, growing, and leading

Erin Schreyer  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Dan, thanks for your comment!! I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and I DO hope all of us together can inspire others!!

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply

There is only one word for your defining moment and actions Erin — BRAVO.

Life is not about watching the inevitable; it is about intersecting to change it.

Erin Schreyer  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Kate, thanks for stopping by! I love your phrase “intersecting to change” – it’s so true! If we want positive change, we have to lead the way there!! I know you’re doing this too – thanks for being an inspiration to so many!

Rob Collins  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply


Thank you for sharing this vivid picture of humanity, strength, grace and courage.

It is all of our responsibility to help those in need yet too often in our fast-paced world, we don’t take the time to be inconvenienced to help out our fellow man. It’s been said that ‘all that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing’. It’s also true that the less we put others first and look to the needs of our neighbors, that we become more callous as a society.

I have several ‘defining moments’ of my own and they have been a great source of confidence because I knew I did what was right no matter what the personal cost. They have also been good lessons in character building for my children as often the ‘right choice isn’t the easy choice.’

Thank you for your encouragement to ’embrace and act on your values’. What a different world this would be if we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves.

Erin Schreyer  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Rob, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I appreciate you bringing the Golden Rule into the discussion. Isn’t it foundational for great leadership I believe it is!!!

Susan Mazza  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply

This post is a fabulous example of instigating leadership Erin! One of the things that makes you the authentic leader that you are is that you truly do walk your talk and this story is a case in point.

Reminds me of the story of Kitty Genovese (Malcolm Gladwell tells this story in his book The Tipping Point). A woman was attacked multiple times on a city street. And although countless people saw it no one did anything and it cost her life.

We can so easily get lulled into a sort of slumber that someone else will take care of “it” whatever “it” happens to be. I’d venture to say it happens to all of us. And when we notice we let it happen, and it is too late, it is an opportunity to be more awake the next time (rather than beat ourselves up). Your story is a great reminder to stay awake.

Yet leadership begins with a fundamental belief grounded in personal responsibility. The belief is that – “it” is up to me, because I choose to take responsibility not only for my life but for the world around me. Sometimes that means we are the ones to speak up, step up, or stand up. Other times we instigate others to do so, but leaders more often than not choose NOT to look the other way.

Erin Schreyer  |  23 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Susan, thanks for commenting so eloquently! “It” is up to us…and “it” will only change when we do; when we decide to act on it. I love your call to action….to “stay awake!”‘ It’s a great visual that I will remember easily, and I think it’s spot on!!!

Annele Rudman  |  07 Mar 2011  |  Reply

I was the novice in a group of friends to climbed to the Base Camp of Everest. It was horrible. We were sick, it was far, it was cold and took from me more that I thought I had to give, physically and mentally. Two people died in the group ahead of us, and their bodies lay in the open plan lodge where people had to sleep on the floor that night. What I had to say, held no legitimacy.. I say first hand what happens then there is no leadership. There is a saying on the that I bourght back from the Mountain. “If you make a mistake and not fix,it, then you make two mistakes”.

Annele Rudman  |  07 Mar 2011  |  Reply

I want to do a masters degree and cannot find focus. Ive looked into topic of micros expressions in communication, cognitive ergonomics and performance management comparing models and even economies is South Africa vs China. The more I read, the more lost I become. Please can you put me onto someone who would be kind and patient enough to help me with a focus, perhaps lead me in a direction of Leadership? Any suggestions on topics please.

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