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!