I’m sure you’ve heard of the self-made individual, the never-say-die maverick who stands firm in the face of daunting odds and triumphs over every adversity. America is built on the backs of such people – the penniless immigrant who dies a railroad baron, the intrepid pioneer who tamed the savage West. In fact, we idolize individual accomplishment over team effort so much that you could easily be forgiven if you believe that Julius Caesar conquered Gaul with nothing more than a sword and a well-worn leather jerkin, or that Steve Jobs built every Apple computer himself with parts he mined in his own backyard.
Because of all these examples of self-made genius, you might be reluctant to ask for help for fear that it will make you seem weak or incapable of doing things the American way. Fortunately for you, the idea of the ‘self-made individual’ is a complete myth, probably the most harmful myth in the American psyche. I’ll explain why soon, but first here are three reasons you can’t do everything on your own and shouldn’t try.
Teams Always Beat Individuals
Michael Jordan was almost as good a basketball player as I am, but even he couldn’t beat a 5-person NBA team all by himself. Baseball games would be even more oppressively boring to watch on television if it were 9 guys against 1, and your next project will look better and get done faster if you have some help along the way. That includes ‘individual’ accomplishments, by the way, because I’m pretty sure that lady who swam from Cuba to Florida “all by herself” had a few dozen people helping her not get eaten by sharks and manatees and whatever else might have wanted to eat her.
All of Us Are Building on the Knowledge of Others
Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have been able to create Facebook if a legion of scientists before him hadn’t first discovered the properties of electricity and then built transistors, and the scrumptious cinnamon roll I had for breakfast this morning wouldn’t have existed if some caveperson hadn’t figured out how to make bread. Thank you, cavepeople! And I hope you appreciate that every one of today’s accomplishments is only possible because of those who came before us, most of whom helped us without ever knowing that they’d be helping us.
Through The Course of Human History, Nobody Has Ever Done Anything Alone
And here’s the really important one, and it’s dead accurate. There aren’t too many things I can confidently say are 100% true –I’m pretty sure that in the history of the snowflake, for example, a couple of them have been identical. But here’s something I can say with 100% accuracy: in the history of our species, everyone who has ever accomplished anything has had parents or guardians who cared for them; educators, mentors, and role models who taught them essential skills; friends, supporters, and other interested parties who provided moral or intellectual or financial support; and countless partners who helped them build, tweak, promote, modify, expand, establish, and grow whatever it is that they ended up doing. To think otherwise is not only unhealthy, but it flies completely in the face of all human experience.
So don’t try to go it alone. Nobody else ever has. And it’s because of our collaborative approach to the world that we’ve been able to do all the amazing things we’ve done. If you try to ‘go it alone,’ you’re fighting against the very thing that allowed our species to achieve its unquestioned dominance. Asking for help isn’t a weakness. It’s the only way we’ve ever managed to do anything.
Hey Jeff – I get a kick out of your perspective and often agree with your insights. I wonder if you realize that you are kind of stuck on the number 3? Last 3 posts are all ‘3’ lists. I know people have short attention spans and like lists – but really…another ‘3’ post?? I hope this was just an oversight – can’t see the forest for the trees type thing. Just wanted to bring it to your attention – maybe it was a sly subliminal thing…3rd post about 3 things… actually got me to comment…ingenious in a Dr. Evil sort of way – have a good day with some ill-tempered sea bass.
Hi Jen! You figured out my master plan to finally get you to comment!! But in reality that’s funny you brought that up because I just noticed it too. I now know that I can’t be trusted to provide a variety of numbered posts, but I’m going to move on to 4 next week! Thanks for the heads up.