“Johnny plays well with others, but loves to play alone.”
Those words, on my first grade report card, defined my life for decades. It morphed into a badge of honor — a sign that I could stoically do it all myself, that I didn’t need others’ help. Wasn’t that the American Way, after all?
And I became REALLY GOOD at doing it all (or most of it) myself. Even when I was leading big teams and relying on outside vendors for development work, I always kept the juiciest projects for myself. To be fair to the “plays well with others” part, I did have some wonderful collaborations in my corporate days — my colleagues Roberto, Bridget, and Karen come quickly to mind — but when it was crunch time, I usually shouldered the burden myself, particularly if the vision I had was way out of the box.
Was it ego-based? Partly. I won awards for some of this stuff.
Was there an autocratic power-play going on here? Perhaps.
Was it fun creating all these wild ideas? Absolutely.
And when I had my tunnel-vision glasses on, I certainly got things done. Some were wildly successful and some really would’ve been better with the insights and experience of others. My biggest bust, which started successfully, might have turned out differently if I’d had others to help me see beyond my own limitations. I probably would’ve been less stressed and had more fun, as well.
The story I told myself was that I had limited time and limited money, and the fastest, cheapest way to get it done was to do it alone. That was true in every company I worked for and it’s infected me as a solopreneuer. But I kept defaulting to that do-it-yourself mentality for one simple reason:
I was scared to ask for help.
Part of that was because I didn’t want my vision watered down. (See “autocrat” above.) But also, I had it drilled into me from an early age to not ask for help, to not put people out or impose on them. And that’s the one that still haunts me today.
I won’t take you further down the rabbit hole of my neuroses or the dark sides of my childhood; that’s what therapists, coaches, and the Hoffman Process are for.
But the RECOGNITION of this, of my biggest mistake, enables me to chart a different course and to build a new approach for myself going forward.
There wasn’t some bolt of lightning that struck me, leading me to say, “Oh, look what I’ve been missing!” This discovery took place over the course of a year, between the sharp insights of a very wise friend, the battering I took during a leadership program (plus the coaching that followed to help me recover from said battering), and my introduction to the power of team collaboration and co-creating.
Along the way, I learned some surprising things (at least they were eye opening to me). People actually like to help. They feel honored and appreciated when you invite them into your world, and when you trust them to support you and help you grow.
My wife is really good at this stuff. After 28 years together, I’m still in awe of her ability to draw together big groups of people to tackle interesting projects. It’s one of her superpowers.
But there can be a big gulf between knowing the wisdom of asking for help and actually asking for help. It requires vigilance and patience and a commitment to being uncomfortable as you develop new muscles.
I’m getting better at it, bit by bit. My friend Ashley is a wonderful coach and together we’ve created a really compelling workshop on developing one’s Zone of Genius. The pandemic shutdowns have stalled this at the moment, but I’ve had a great time working with Ashley, and what we’ve built together is far better than what I would’ve done on my own.
That said, much of the work I’m doing right now is still solo. But I remind myself almost every day that I need to stop working this way. I need to find opportunities to get people involved in what I’m doing, rather than wait for others to chime in and ask if I need help.
AND THEN I NEED TO FRICKIN’ ASK!
So . . . Do you want to help me build this reinvention revolution?
Meanwhile, as you ponder my little story, ask yourself “What’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life?” You might be surprised at the answer. And if you’d like help sorting this out, let’s chat.