The MOST important thing you will ever learn

This is good.

Whether or not we admit it to ourselves, we all want to be loved, known, appreciated, and recognised. This desire takes many forms – some healthy, some unhealthy – and looks different for all of us. It could be the love of a parent or significant other we long for, appreciation and recognition from colleagues, or reciprocated love from our children. This deep and most human longing makes us who we are.

So why is working with others so hard for so many?

I have recently been meditating (and writing) on the idea of learning together (a.k.a. constructivism/co-constructivism, or to put it in regular terms – collaboration).

I was speaking with a dear friend last night who had recently been tasked with hosting, planning and arranging a very important meeting for state and local leaders in the United States. He had worked hard on his own to try and arrange this and pull the event together. Unfortunately, at the 11th hour one of his key contacts fell through and the whole meeting looked as if it would have to be cancelled. In the natural course of our conversation he shared his deep concern that he would not have enough time to get everything ready, and was genuinely worried how this could affect him as a lot appeared to hinge on the success of this key event.

I just want to do this thing on my own."

These words made me feel as if I was looking into a mirror. I get it.

I get that he wants to look successful.

I get that he wants to look competent.

I get that he wants to have credit and move forward in his career.

I get that he might even feel ashamed if it’s not deemed a success.

I get it because it’s me. It's you. It's all of us.

He said what I often think but am too afraid or prideful to admit.

The EASY way out: Doing it on your own

Independence is easy. It requires no mess, no teamwork, no sharing, no give and take, no compromise, no coordinating or planning, little to no change or shift in thinking. It can sometimes be done more quickly and if it goes well I get to be the one to bask in the limelight. The lights shine on me; the microphones are in my face; I get to be the one receiving glory.

Conversely, if it all goes pear shape it’s all on me and, like most of us, it’s how I naturally work. Maybe it’s laziness to involve others, or a fear they won’t want to join me. Perhaps it’s embarrassing to let people know I need and, deep down, desire their input and experience. But that is precisely what I want and it is of the utmost importance that I work toward that end.

What I’ve been learning

I have recently learnt some valuable lessons to counteract that natural tendency to work alone. I’ve learnt them because I’ve done them, but also because I sometimes don’t and immediately regret it. Here they are:

1. Arrange meetings straight away to begin working toward the target.

Fight that thing inside you that says any number of the following things:

- They don't/won't want to join me. I don't want to give them more to do; they're too busy already. I can do all of this on my own. I don't need their help. I know enough to do it on my own. I've done this before. I need to prove to people I'm competent... and the list could go on.

2. Get your feet wet. Fight the urge to delay and jump in! Resist the pull to be complacent. Don't just sit in your office/classroom/living room. Get up, get out there, get talking, get buy-in, get input, get new views, get different views, etc.

3. Get buy-in, but don't be surprised if people don't want to join you. But involve them anyway. You know the phrase "Dance like no one is watching..."? Well, it's a clever idea but the reality is that people ARE watching and think you might look a bit silly and are trying to promote yourself. They don't yet buy-in because they might not see the benefit for themselves... and that's OK! Find a way to get them on board so they can see your idea/objective benefitting them. Write down the vision and make it plain for people to see. Without vision, people/groups/organisations/ideas perish. Keep the main thing the main thing and make it known on a regular basis. Find your allies (i.e. people who believe in the vision). This will create the co-constructive momentum you need to move forward.

You might be dancing on your own for awhile but people will eventually join you. Watch this:

4. Your success is tied to your organisations's success.

There's an ancient text that reads "Work for the peace and prosperity of the city... for its welfare will determine your welfare."

Meditate on that for a minute.

Don't denigrate the place you live and work. So long as you are there, do everything in your power to speak highly of it, build it up, and prepare it for future success. Do everything in your power to make it great and work with others to do so, because it's peace and prosperity might be a mirror of your peace and prosperity.

5. Ask for help.

If you're stuck, and even if you're not... ask for help! Get your group together and set a time limit to come up with solutions and new ideas. Everyone has a unique perspective. Their experience, background, and how they think and process information is valuable. Value their input because, to them, it is personal to them. You don't have to take on every thought or idea, but you do have to value the person coming up with it.

The high road

Back to my friend - I spoke with him for some time and shared that I, too, have that tendency and I have to do everything within myself to resist the urge to “go it alone.” I then stated something I’ve been saying to myself a lot lately:

"Collaboration is the highest form of learning, achievement or accomplishment."

Reflecting on this statement a lot lately, I can see how the process of working together is often more important than the outcome. This isn’t to say the goals we achieve are not important or the products we produce don’t matter, but it does mean that how we achieve and produce them matters more because it's a higher road. In education, politics, business, finance, family, faith, or friendships – the process is almost always more important than the end product because we become bigger and better people by staying true in the journey.

While I was mid-sentence in speaking with my friend he hung up on me. I was a bit miffed but knew it was probably for a good reason (he’s a big deal). Later that evening, he told me he had hung up to send an email (see, I knew it was a good reason). He reached out to someone to help him coordinate and host the event (it’s coming up this week!) and it is now back on track and better than he could have imagined! This contact has opened up multiple doors he could have only dreamed of!

I knew he had it in him, just like I know I have it in me; just like I know you have it in you... and vice versa. Only together will we make that great and lasting difference we all truly want to make.

Walking this journey in my own life and sharing it with others is how I have discovered – and sometimes the hard way – that collaboration is the most important thing I will ever learn. It is the highest and most rewarding form of learning. And the next generation deserves it from us.

I’m with you.

Are you with me?