In this episode Ian Szabo joins me to tell his story of underdog to hero and what life was like riding the short bus.
At the end of his Kindergarten year Ian’s school decided he was not ready for grade 1 and suggested he repeat Kindergarten. This is where this story begins. Repeating Kindergarten meant going to a different school. New kid. New school. Before he only had to walk from his home. This new school was too far away so he had to take a school bus. His biggest surprise was getting on his new bus.When he got on the bus he noticed that everyone seemed very different from the “normal” kids. Some kids were in wheelchairs, some were missing limbs and others rode with machines to help them breath. He asked himself “why am I on this bus? What did I do to be forced on here?” At his new school Ian was attending a special education program. He was riding the short bus to school everyday.
This was the beginning of a tough journey. The kids that rode the short bus were bullied, spit on, called names. They attended separate classes from the rest of the student body. Back then Ian wanted to be everybody else but that kid. It has taken him 10 years to even have the courage to talk about it. But today he sees things very differently. He has a new appreciation and love for his time in school.
What Ian gained from his experience at school was something that has helped him to become who is today– a compassionate leader, business owner, father and husband that does not give up in the face of adversity.
The most important lessons that Ian learned from his time in special education was compassion. He learned compassion from the fellow student that needed to have someone help change him everyday. He became a class clown to make his friend laugh. This friend came to school neglected and not appreciated at home. Ian says that he hung out with the coolest people ever. It was the best education that he ever received. He also learned to be a chameleon so that he could fit in with the mainstream kids.
Ian also admits that there were key teachers that helped him along the way and gave him hope.
Ian attended a trade school for high school and he says this was one of the best avenues he took. This high school was the start of his first career and gave him the many skill sets that he uses to this day. In High School he learned to cook and later became a Red Seal chef, even representing Canada 3 times in the culinary Olympics. He says that it was the determination of proving some teachers wrong that spurred him on to completing his courses and starting his career. Ian’s businesses and ventures are numerous:
Ian has never done anything conventional. For example, in his real estate business he creates full packages for clients that include finding the house to fix up, the construction company, and mortgage broker. But now his clients don’t just include wealthy investors but people that can’t afford to do it on their own. He provides them the funds, teaches them the skills to renovate and then turnaround and sell their home! He’s using his skills that he learned on the “bus” to give back to people that need help.
The most rewarding thing is the bus. It is the symbol he is most proud of. To this day he gets in and still gets nervous. “Everyone has a short bus. Getting in the bus shows I’m not scared anymore. I’m not embarrassed anymore. Back in the day no one wanted to ride on the short bus. The purpose (of the new short bus) was to have a short bus that is fun. That people want to be on.” Ian’s new bus is decked out. It is fitted with rims, TV’s, and a playstation. He tours in the bus and interviews misfits and underdogs with the purpose of finding out what made them successful.
Ian used to have a really negative approach to the schooling system because it failed him and others. His daughters though do attend their local public school and he is extremely happy with it. He feels very good about the school and the learning that his daughters are doing there. But what he is the most proud of is the compassion that his girls have and show.
Looking back, the one thing that Ian would change would be being more open to the teachers that did get and support him. “Teachers are a gift. There are many remarkable teachers out there.”
Ian’s advice to parents– Ask questions and support your kids. If you think they are different-don’t squash it. Engage them. Investigate, and water it.
Look for his bus on the road.
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