Self-reliance or group participation?

February 25, 2013


Join a teamSelf-reliance has always been hugely important to me. When I was younger, I looked at group participation as a nuisance, thinking that going it alone made me stronger or tougher. Today, I think part of self-reliance means knowing when you need a boost from outside yourself.

Sometimes we’re too easy on ourselves. Inside our own minds, rationalizations take on logic and reason they don’t actually possess. We can convince ourselves that the easy road is best or that it’s okay to procrastinate one more day. Even worse, sometimes we tell ourselves we’re not as strong as we actually are and, left unchecked, we believe it.

Accountability, commitment and challenge

I’m going to tell you about three very different groups I am a part of but first I want to say a few things about why groups are good.

Accountability and commitment may seem like obvious benefits, assuming you truly want to accomplish something. You set your own personal goal and the group provides a safe place to announce it and commit to it. Things get done because you know your peers will ask if you did what you said you would do.

A more unexpected benefit for me is challenge: Members [lovingly] push each other to do more. So, you kinda set your own goal but then your peers say, “We think you can do 20% more. What do you say?”

Challenge comes from participating in a group with people at different levels of success and expertise. There are people to look ahead to, who help you see where you want to go, and people that you can help pull forward to their next level. The dynamic stretches you beyond what you think you’re capable of and makes you push yourself more than you would all by your lonesome.

Three examples

The Hundred Dollar Club

The Hundred Dollar Club is an international group of like-minded individuals starting microbusinesses. We represent about 10 countries so we only connect online. It totally works! On our private site, we make commitments, share successes and problems, and ask for help. Rob, the group’s founder, keeps us on track and gently nudges those who get too quiet or seem to need encouragement. In my work life, I have certainly done more and accomplished it faster than I would have without being part of this team.

Strength Training Class

I’ve been going to the gym for years and I’ve always been too easy on myself. Which leads to: No results > No motivation > No more workouts. I decided to try a class thinking, if I don’t have to think, if I just have to do what I’m told, maybe I’ll do better. I was looking for instruction and what I got was instruction + a positive team atmosphere. When you see someone else hanging in there for 20 more squats, you start to think maybe you can do it, too. When you start to drop the heavier weights and the instructor says, “You can handle that. Give it a try!” you learn that your limit is much farther out than you imagined. Now, after six months, I’ve spent many classes as the encourager as well as the encouragee.

Book Club

I’m a pretty good reader already. When we formed our book club, some had a goal to read more books and needed to commit. I joined mostly for social reasons. But when it was time for me to host a meeting, I found the real benefit of this group for me: learning to be a hostess. I’m scared of hosting parties. I’m especially afraid of making food for groups of people. I’m serious. I cook for myself but when it comes to others I assume I’m doing it wrong, they don’t like it, it’s not good enough, or some other nonsense. Before that first meeting, I spent a whole day preparing not much more than veggies and hummus because I was so afraid of screwing it up. It went just fine. We had fun, everyone ate, no one puked. The book club gave me a safe place to take a baby step.


These are my examples of great benefits that come from being part of a group. But to get the good stuff, you gotta take a risk. The hard part of a group is that it’s risky, and the only way to get value from it is to make yourself vulnerable.

Join a group where you know a lot of the members are better than you. Then participate. Talk about what you’re doing that scares you. Ask real questions that you are afraid will make you look foolish but whose answers you are dying to know. Add five more pounds to the bar during lunges. Try the new recipe out on your guests.

I was afraid to join the workout class. I was afraid I wasn’t strong enough, that I wouldn’t know what to do, that I’d look foolish and weak. And on the first day, I didn’t know what to do. But someone helped me, telling me what equipment I needed and what to expect. It was hard. On that day and many after, I felt like vomiting. Today, I’m stronger in so many ways.

The more you go, the more you join in, the more you share about your struggles and successes, the more the group embraces you.

In a good group, sometimes you’re in a leading role and sometimes you’re in a learning role. You all become better than you would have been on your own.


Image: Lumaxart

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