Career Success Advice From the End of My High School Football Career

Today’s post is a very personal story about me that very few people know.  I hadn’t thought of it for years, but a recent heavy rainstorm made it pop into my mind a couple of days ago.  I decided to share it on this blog because I think it has some career success implications.

It was a hot muggy day in late August.  I had just rained very hard.  All of us on the football practice field were soaked and muddy.  Helmets on for the entire practice was the rule.  You weren’t supposed to take off your helmet for any reason.

Wewere scrimmaging.  We ran a play and one of the guys slipped and fell head first into a huge mud puddle.  He got up covered with mud.  It was inside his face guard — in his eyes, nose and mouth.  He took off his helmet to wipe away the worst of it.  An assistant coach saw him and came over screaming.  “You know you’re not supposed to take off your helmet.  You’re going to run the stadium steps after practice.”

He told the coach that he just wanted to get rid of the mud in his eyes, nose and mouth.  This enraged the coach.  He screamed, “You’re not afraid of a little mud, are you?  You can’t be a football player and be afraid of mud.”

The rest of us were standing there watching this bizarre episode unfold when the coach said, “Bilanich get over here.”  I jogged over to the coach.  He said, “Get a big pile of mud in your hand and spread it all over his face.  Show him that mud won’t hurt him.”

I was shocked.  The other guy was a friend of mine – maybe that’s why the coach picked me.  I stood there for a second, and then in a quiet voice said, “No.”  The coach looked at me and said, “What did you say?”  I said, “No, running the steps is enough punishment for taking off his helmet.  It’s not right for me to spread mud all over his face.”

My friend looked at me and said under his breath, “It’s OK Bud, just do it and get this over with.”  I shook my head and said, “Coach, I can’t do this.  It isn’t right.”

He said, “Get out of here.  Go take a shower you wimp.”  As I was jogging to the shower – we jogged everywhere we went in practice – I heard him say, “We’re making our cuts tomorrow.  I’ll remember this.”

The next day’s practice was my last as a high school football player.  True to his word, the coach remembered my disobedience and I was cut.

This was tough day for me.  From the time I was a little kid, I wanted to play football for my high school.  As it turned out, I played only one year because I refused to humiliate a teammate.  I had a good shot at being a starter that year, but ended up off the team.

This hurt, but in the end I felt good about myself because I stood up to a coach who wanted me to do something that I thought was just plain wrong.  I wasn’t on the team, but I had my self-respect and the respect of all the guys on the team who witnessed the incident.

There is a career success point here.  It’s based on the career advice in Tweet 62 in Success Tweets.  “Your personal brand should be unique to you, but built on integrity.  Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”  A lot of people were looking at me that day.  But my personal sense of right and wrong wouldn’t let me humiliate a teammate – no matter what the coach said, or the consequences.

Polonius’ advice to Hamlet rings as true today as it was when it was written.  “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the day the night, thou canst be false to no man.”  Roy Blackman, my father in law, passed away several years ago.  This quote was his epitaph.  It was on the program handed out at his funeral.  Roy embodied it in how he lived his life.  It was the only piece of advice he gave his grandson, Matt, as he went off to college.

Being true to yourself is an important piece of common sense career advice.  If you want to become known as a person of high integrity – and I believe integrity should be the cornerstone of your personal brand and your career success – act as a person of high integrity all the time; not just when it suits you, or when someone might notice.

Your integrity may cost you in the short run.  But in the long run, others will come to see you for what you are – someone who is true to himself or herself.  Someone who can be trusted to do the right thing, even when it may take some guts to do so.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Creating positive personal impact is one of the competencies of all successful people.  You create positive personal impact by developing and nurturing your unique personal brand, being impeccable in your presentation of self, and knowing and following the basic rules of etiquette.  Your personal brand should be built on integrity.  Follow the career advice in Tweet 62 in Success Tweets.  “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but built on integrity.  Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”  I paid the price for maintaining my integrity on the football practice field almost 50 years ago.  It hurt to get cut from the team because I loved the game, but I walked away with my head held high because I knew that I had done the right thing when I was faced with a tough choice.

That’s the career advice I take from a difficult experience in high school.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading my daily thoughts on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.

Bud

PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of my latest career success book Success Tweets Explained.  It’s a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to http://budurl.com/STExp to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

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Comments

  1. Bud, I really enjoyed this post and the story you shared. This story had an impact on me as I was reading it, and even now, I’m still thinking about it. It’s easy to see how some people could buckle to that kind of pressure (in war time, for example) which over time could lead to atrocities. I feel people who have stepped over the line can also reclaim their personal integrity one step at a time, by listening to that little voice inside themselves. You make some very good points here.

  2. Thank you Lynne:
    It was a ridiculous situation and I’m not sure where I got the courage to do what I did as a 15 year old kid who was taught to respect adult authority.
    I’m glad I did. I would have felt bad about myself had I done what i was told to do.
    You’re right about listening to the little voice inside you who tells you what to do.
    The current issue of Oprah Magazine has an interesting article on intuition that makes some great points about listening to the competing voices inside your head.
    All the best,
    Bud
    PS — The hardest part about the entire incident was having to tell my Dad that I got cut — but I never told him why. He would have been upset that I didn’t do as the coach instructed, so I let him think I wasn’t trying hard enough on the field.

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