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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Bus: My Life in and out of a Helmet

David A. Zimmer
David A. Zimmer, PMP
Chief Business Strategist
American Eagle Group

The Bus - My Life in and out of a Helmet
Jerome Bettis, Gene Wojciechowski

I was perusing the bargain book section at a local book store when I came across this book. Being an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan (I live in a blended family environment – my wife and oldest son are Philadelphia Eagles fans and my youngest son and I are Steelers fans), I noticed this book. I thought it might be a book my youngest son would like to read. OK, I was curious also.

A departure from my normal type of book to read – leadership, motivation, business focus, etc., I felt the diversion was warranted. Every now and then, I like to read a story about a kid who comes from obscurity to become something because it aligns with my life. Jerome Bettis came from the ghettos of Detroit to become one of the best running backs of the National Football League (NFL). Although I didn’t come from the ghetto, I did come from a dinky town in the woods of western Pennsylvania, about as obscure as you can get, even though the area I grew up in did produce several famous NFL players – Joe Namath, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Joe Montana, just to name a few.

Books about humble beginnings to greatness spur me on. It tells me that great beginnings are not a prerequisite for great endings. Greatness is an attitude, not an altitude in life. While I might not be known as widely as others, my significance in life is dependent on what I do and how it influences others.

I learned several things from this book:
  1. Scrappiness helps us achieve our goals – the tenacity and internal fortitude to believe we can actually reach our goals.
  2. Team membership is important – we don’t reach our levels of success by ourselves, we need others, not stepping on them or using them, but through joining forces to accomplish more.
  3. Friendship qualities gains friendship support – we have a desire to help others who we are drawn to, so developing likable personality qualities engenders camaraderie and forward progress. 
Coming from the ghetto, Bettis had to work just a bit harder to break free from his environment than those of us who don’t come from that culture. The ghetto is not a place, but a way of life. Being from the back woods is not a place, but a culture. Being insignificant is a mindset; significance is influence.  To become something different, we must do more than the status quo, break the homeostasis of our life and decide on a new path. Bettis admits in his book he could have stayed in the ‘hood and lead a life of crime and downward spiral. He wanted to become a professional bowler, but through a concerned coach and dedicated parents, he changed his life and impacted many through his accomplishments on the gridiron.

His book details his steps along that long journey, similar steps I’ve taken in very different forms but just as impactful in my live. I’ve never been one to just let life happen, but to envision my future and determine the path to get there. Along the way, I’ve run into many roadblocks and detours. Although I didn’t end up where I originally wanted (retired by 40, grandfather by 45, speaking tour by 50, etc.), I am satisfied with the results so far, but nowhere near finished with the journey. Books such as “The Bus” continue to remind me I am not abnormal, but have suffered similar setbacks, dealt with comparable politics and disappointments, and have parallel paths as many others, famous or not.

This book is light reading compared to my normal business focused books, but getting outside my profession to see others struggles helps put my situations in perspective and cross-pollenates their learning with mine. As a result, I see problems, challenges and opportunities from different angles than my colleagues, sometimes giving different options than traditionally seen. Rather than being myopic in viewpoint, I see the broader vision, the alternate paths and remain flexible to various solutions. As a result, I am more valuable to my clients because I offer other solutions than the normal “we’ve always done it that way” methods. Then I can help them choose the best method to meet their needs.

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