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Going It Alone

You Might Not Get There


As soon as “I” becomes “we,” the seeds of change have been planted.
- John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath

With the benefit of hindsight 2023 was a year of revelation. In what was predicted to be a year when life returned to some semblance of post-pandemic normal, themes of loneliness, miscommunication and conflict dominated. So why is it that the major issues we face today - climate change, polarization, pandemic residue requiring collaboration and cooperation - are so many choosing to go it alone?

The I did it my way approach to life has its roots in the potent mythology of rugged individualism and its reverence for self-reliance. Historically this involved forceful actions such as pioneering and conquering, to impose our will on others and nature. This takes courage, strength and a powerful sense of invincibility and entitlement. In today’s “me” culture we see this in the competitive drive for material gain, positions of power, celebrity and influence which create a feeling of exclusivity – of separateness and specialness. Many advertising commercials today from perfume to vacations feature glamorous people alone in an exotic setting.

The idea that we’re somehow special is both delusional and damaging because, for all its bravado, it comes from a deep-rooted sense of inadequacy and fear. The belief is that there is only so much to go around, I need to grasp my share before somebody takes it. The belief is that only our needs matter, that we are the epicenter of a universe is isolating. We are out on a limb and loose touch with the many benefits human interconnectedness provides.

Years ago I attended an experiential workshop for start-up businesses. One exercise was to re-create in five minutes our feelings about our organization. At our turn the only props available were an old crate and a jam jar. We put the jar on the crate with a flower and stood uncomfortably in a tight circle around it straining to hold hands. The facilitators asked how we felt. Frustrated, overwhelmed, uncomfortable, claustrophobic, inadequate and small were the words I recall. At that moment, a Native American woman stepped in to expand our circle. “How does it feel now?” she asked.

The effect was dramatic. The weight lifted from our shoulders with the seemingly simple gesture of connection and collaboration. It was so profound that one of my colleagues burst into tears of relief. There’s no fooling the human heart. We are biologically wired to feel good when we connect and when we share our humanity. It’s the reason why we’re moved by an uplifting speech or a beautiful musical performance.

Red carpets do not roll themselves out. Film stars, pop stars and sports stars can only exist with dedicated teamwork and an audience. A surgeon can only perform a lifesaving operation with a dedicated team that includes the janitors who sterilize the floor. No one is an island.

It may sound cliché but teamwork really does make dreams work. I am currently in the middle of producing our latest film, The End for Me,; without every member of the team working towards a shared goal, there would be no film.

It saddens me to see the disillusion, frustration, disappointment and loneliness generated by those who choose to go it alone. A spirit of collaboration improves every aspect of our lives, expanding our world by previously unimagined connections, opportunities and experiences.

People are magnetically attracted to inclusive people who consider the needs and the value of others. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, author John Steinbeck most eloquently describes it this way, “As soon as “I” becomes “we,” the seeds of change have been planted.”

My advice, don’t go it alone. If you do, you might not get to where you want to go.