When I was in college, I rowed Men’s 8’s for the Crew team. For the uninitiated, Men’s Eights is a physics experiment that involves stuffing 8 reasonably large men into a long, skinny, fragile rowing shell along with a small, very loud coxswain perched at the end just to see how fast we can get from point A to point B without killing ourselves.
When you row in a boat like this, everyone is in sync. With each stroke, as you pull pivot and push the massive oar in your hands, your tiny seat slides up and you temporarily occupy the space of the person ahead of you. On your return, you straighten your legs and are back to your starting position – which was, seconds before, occupied by the rower behind you.
It’s that tight.
As the boat thunders through the water, the force is tremendous. Scary even, and exhilarating because you are a piston in the engine generating that force. If someone stops for some reason, the results can be devastating. Crabbing – when the rower loses control of their oar and it gets trapped in the water – can lead to anything from broken ribs to broken boats.
Although synchronization is demanded in an environment like this, the Truth is when you’re in the race you must be incredibly focused on yourself first because, ultimately, that’s all that matters. And all that you can hope to control.
In the shell, it’s really not about Team. Fact is, as in Life, it never is. Not really.
It’s always about individual choice.
A Different Perspective: Team, Deconstructed.
If you think about it, any ‘Team’ is actually a group of individuals. In the case of Men’s Eights, the ‘team’s’ success or failure is really an aggregate byproduct of 8 simultaneous and ongoing personal choices. From that perspective, the eventual victory or loss is simply the tallied sum of all of those personal, in-the-moment decisions. Sure, that may give the appearance of synchronicity but, like the most solid object viewed at the atomic level, appearances can be deceiving.
In the shell, the reality is this: when you’re two-and-a-half miles in to a three-mile race, even the most elite athletes are in pain. Your breath burns in your chest, everything aches, you’re gasping and pulling and trying to maintain focus on every little part of every little stroke, dropping the blade, pulling through, snapping the wrist to rotate the oar. The coxswain’s voice becomes little more than a buzzing metronome. Again and again and again, pulling through each stroke. You want to stop, just for a moment. But you can’t. If you don’t focus on only what you can control, in an instant everything shatters. You know this. Yet, still, again and again you’ll want to pause, just for a moment…just this once….
That’s where the battle is won or lost. Individually. Inside of each member of the team. Inside of you.
Yes, there are benefits to working together; an economy of efficiency created by communally deciding to focus the efforts of a group on a common goal. Is Teamwork required? In the shell, absolutely. But is your value determined by your membership in the team? Absolutely not.
Ultimately, even in the most team-centric setting, success of failure is not about the team as entity; it is about a series of constant individual decisions that, when viewed from the outside, appear to be a synchronized group-think achievement.
If you’re looking to make a change in your life and feel stuck, consider this:
There is danger in always identifying as a part of the Team; if we allow our own sense of self to be determined by the success – or failure – of the Team (business, sports, society) with which we surround ourselves, then we may become psychologically attached to the idea of the Team’s success as being a primary indicator of our own personal worth and potential. What’s more, there is a false security in tying your identity The Team; the impact of failure can be diluted if you can share it with others. But the same also applies to achievement.
Ultimately, a dependency on the Team – and that can be everything from our work situation to the comforts of community, family or even geography – can keep us from moving forward by ourselves. Of trying new things, and making the necessary changes to evolve our lives, our careers, and our relationships.
Corporate blasphemy? Maybe but even – or, perhaps especially – in these tumultuous times, we need to remember that everything stems from the choice of the Individual: Your choice. In Every moment. Creates your Reality.
Once you embrace this concept, you realize that you – and only you – are the lynchpin of your own Life. You are completely in charge of yourself, and your destiny regardless of circumstance or surroundings. This requires responsibility. And mindfulness. And also a realization that there is no greater force – no team or group or organization of any sort – that dictates your fate, good or bad.
The thing to remember is this: when YOU need a change and, finally, draw that line in the sand, that line is drawn individually, by YOU, not by consensus. When you recognize this, you are free to move forward into the scary and exciting unknown.
So Congratulations, you are in charge of your own success or failure. You are also in charge of how you feel. That is true empowerment. And something that we all have in equal measure. And always have had, since birth, even if we’ve lost sight of that in the tumult of life, or been told otherwise by even the most well-meaning of people.
If by chance the larger ‘team’ – be that family, society, government, or those other folks in your boat – happens to benefit from your personal choices, terrific. If not, too bad. But then, they too have the opportunity to make their own choices.
So when your legs are exhausted, your mind muddled, and your lungs on fire, choose. To push on. Or change. Or accept.
But don’t just sit there ‘for a moment’ and take stock…because moments become years.
Just know that win or lose, the responsibility – and opportunity – of your life lies solely with you.