Sheer Force of Will vs. Cooperation

Not infrequently do I read articles extolling the virtues and accomplishments of someone who, against great odds, succeeded “through sheer force of will.”  These articles cite the grit, determination, and laser like focus of the person as key to all they have achieved. This line of thinking also plays into the American celebration of the individual. I get it; these stories inspire me, too.


But, what I have found is that there is so much more about life where the calculus is different than that of An Army of One. In fact, the vast majority of scenarios that I have witnessed require a pooling of talents and energies from a wide range of people in order to succeed. Far from the Lone Ranger riding off towards the horizon on his own where he will rise or fall based solely on his own performance, life most often calls upon us to work with others, to cooperate, to put aside our own agendas and egos so that we might attain a bigger mark.


The reason I am blathering on about this is that my experience has demonstrated to me that an important skill in re-booting one’s life is learning how to work effectively in a group. Way easier said than done!


Recently, I was speaking with a friend who volunteers at her child’s school and has involved herself in various school-related activities. She’s got all sorts of ideas and energy to invest in making these activities better or more meaningful to the participants, except she’s starting to realize that good ideas and energy to follow through are not the only variables in this equation. Rather, there can be other influences which can randomly throw all her efforts off for no logical reason other than certain veto holders choose to exercise their veto.


My point is this: part of gaining maturity and successfully negotiating your way through the modern, adult world requires that you skillfully know when to add some gas to promoting your ideas and when to apply the brakes. As much as you, personally, may be able to accomplish if left unfettered, the reality is that most scenarios in which you find yourself encompass a number of factors that you cannot control. You need to master the ability to gauge when and how much of your efforts can make a difference. A lot of this involves recognizing a situation as it is, not how you wish it would be. Sometimes, you need to let events unfold as they are, even if you can see a far superior way of handling the matter.


One of the things I continue to work on is being at peace with letting things resolve themselves in a group dynamic—despite the less than lustrous results—rather than trying to push my way on the group. In situations such as these, I have had to significantly ratchet down my expectations for personal and group. This is what I shared with my friend who expressed surprise and dismay at how the school group was operating.


Does any of what I’m saying make sense? Have you had to wrestle with such things?


Under what circumstances have you had to hold yourself back because there was simply no viable way for you to implement your ideas? Was the group effort still able to attain some success? What might have been the personal cost you would pay if you had forced your aims and approach onto others?


Sheer force of will can be an amazing thing under the right circumstances, but life is a group activity, and as such, we have to adapt our expectations as well as what we say and do to fit those contexts.


Don’t get me wrong, there is much about each of our lives that hinges on an exercise of sheer force of will, but its an image that gets celebrated simply because its so clear who the hero is. Someone who holds back from presenting all of their ideas, but instead peaceably and successfully works within the boundaries and capabilities of a less than ideal troupe often doesn’t merit notice, let alone praise. And yet, they’ve accomplished something, too. In many respects, what they’ve managed to do requires far more skill, finesse, and endurance than the Lone Ranger out there.


No hard and fast rules on when to apply gas or breaks on your ideas, but knowing when to do so is what smart driving is all about.


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One Response to “Sheer Force of Will vs. Cooperation”

  1. Kaaren Robertson Says:

    Excellent! So true and often unrecognized–for some reason Sweet Home Alabama springs to mind. She had to deal with two parts of herself it seems. XO

    Kaaren Robertson New email:

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