Over and over, one of the lessons I resisted my whole life was being a team player. I think I always had a desire to hog the spotlight, and I always wanted people to recognize my own achievements and abilities. I heard over and over from remarkable people who accomplished remarkable things that "this wasn't a solo effort, the team put this together." Even as much as I heard it repeatedly, I brushed past it and found ways to bring myself up above everyone else.
I played the false modesty card a lot, which only added to my greatness because I "didn't want to take full credit, even though I deserved it." It worked a lot too. Humility and modesty get confused often. Modesty is thinking less of yourself, but humility is where you think of yourself less often.
I grew up smart for some reason. I never understood it, and I never knew how to improve it, but I knew how to use it. I was praised a lot for being sharp, keen. My eyes were always scanning the room. I used to be really bad for asserting my smarts and making sure people I knew or just met would recognize how much smarter I was than them, and I consciously stopped doing it only a few years ago. I don't think I'd like it if I met myself in person. How could I share a stage with someone who's trying to steal the stage from me? What an asshole.
Even after marrying Carrie, I sometimes thought how great she must have it to be with me. Then I slowly realized that we've been together since 16, so she helped formed who I am today, meaning I couldn't take full credit. Naturally, I helped form who she is, but the point stands that contrary to my high self-opinion, a team is better than a solo act.
I'm also not blind to the fact that my parents raised me to be great too. I didn't form in a vacuum, and their character rubbed off on me. I owe a lot to them. I also probably absorbed my dad's narcissism.
A bunch of sources lately have kept me coming back to the same point, however, that greatness is achieved by teams.
In John Stewart's final episode on the Daily Show, instead of highlighting how great he was, he made sure to introduce the whole team to the audience.
Carrie's currently on Netflix watching Frozen Planet, a David Attenborough BBC documentary, and the wolves hunt in packs. Killer whales too.
Lorde has that song about Team. Yeah yeah yeah.
My career has shown me this principle. I enrolled in the engineering co-op program at the U of A, so I did a lot of interviews and helped others with theirs. I've helped out with engineering co-op programs before, and I like to chat with and advise the students on career guidelines. That's all to say that I've thought a lot about what it means to join a team. Part of the job hunt is nailing the behavioural interview, but ultimately, you're searching for culture fit. All other things equal, you hope that the culture encourages curiosity and self-motivated learning. At least, that's the one of the distinguishing factors that I find makes teams that produce great work. You're only as innovative as your boss allows you to be, so you hope the one leading the pack builds a team that can solve problems the best. A team that does well is composed of people who care. About anything, almost. They care to do a good job. They care that the end user feels a certain way about using their product. They care that they need to invest long term to do a sustainably good job (virtuous cycle) by learning new things, attending trainings, going home at a regular time every day and not overworking. Steve Jobs said A managers hire A+ people, but B managers hire C people. I was being a B manager who looked for C people so I could outshine them. I'm now able to admit that other people can do things better than me. (What a relief!)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (on Netflix, Hulu, YouTube). Classic Japanese obsession and perfectionism. That dude built the business by himself, but now he's the frontman while his team prepares the ingredients all day each day. Jiro's standards are so high that you have to learn how to make rice for 10 years before becoming a sous-sushi chef. I love the one line where one of them explained that their techniques weren't secrets. Everybody knows how to do what they do, but competitors just choose not to do it. In the same way, I always heard that the secret to success was surrounding yourself with the right team, but I just chose not to do it.
In a funny way, my response to seeing such impressive things being built by such great teams is "well, that's not fair, I don't have a team like that." I would feel just gutted, winded, whenever I heard that somebody had a great and supportive team. Well, maybe I would too if I didn't want to outshine everyone so badly that I would even shoot myself in the foot just to get the attention I need. Weirdo.
North American culture is very individualistic. As lazy humans, we love to search for that one thing you can do to ensure a low risk investment with an immediate payout. But more often than not, high rewards are slow, high risk ventures. Some things bend the rules on this, but alas, the way I resolve the differences between individual and group success is basically what I read in "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," the book that started my pursuit for greatness. First you have to have personal success, then you can move on to public success. Solve your own problems first, then solve other people's problems. That was 12 years ago. Boy, do I have a thick head.
There are a few articles out there that say adult friendships are hard once you leave school, so you need to pursue people almost like wooing a romantic partner. If you work a regular job in a regular office, your coworkers become your friends. Because of my three year resolution, I now redirect my energy and time from hobbies towards relationships. When I don't want to be friends with someone anymore, I slink away and avoid them. Sometimes I muster up the courage to call them out on what they're doing to bother me, and that'll end things quick. Sometimes they fess up, and we become closer.
At one point, I thought I was being too harsh with people. "No, Jon, life's too short to hold a grudge. Forgive and forget. Why do you think you're so great that you get to cut people out? What if they wanted to cut you out? How would that make you feel?" Then I had a meal with someone who honestly spent the whole time with his head bowed, looking at his phone, not saying a word. I'm obviously guilty of checking my phone instead of living in the moment when I'm in mixed company, but I've never put my online social networks before my offline social network for an entire meal. Carrie shared this quote with me:
Many people put little effort into their relationships, and those people can enjoy each other's company without me. Let the dead bury their own dead. I'll hang out with people who are as intentional as I am.
They say you become the average of the five or so people you surround yourself with. I like to hang out with fascinating people. I'm now consciously trying to create a team, a support network of friends who I want to see. Life's too short.