America is built on the backs of the so-called “self-made” individual – the penniless immigrant who dies a railroad baron, the intrepid pioneer who tamed the savage West. They dominate our history. Davy Crockett defended the Alamo alone, and Steve Jobs built Apple himself with parts he mined in his own backyard. It’s an idea so deeply rooted in our culture that you might be reluctant to ask for help for fear that it will make you seem incapable of doing things the American way.
However, the idea of the self-made individual is a complete myth, probably the most harmful myth in the American psyche. And to prove it, here are four reasons you can’t do everything on your own and shouldn’t try.
1. Teams Always, Always, Always Beat Individuals – LeBron James is almost as good a basketball player as I am, but even he couldn’t beat a 5-person NBA team all by himself. Tug-of-war games don’t last too long when it’s 9 against 1, and your next project will look better and get done faster if you have some help along the way.
2. We Are Constantly Building on the Knowledge of Others – Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have been able to create Facebook if a legion of scientists before him hadn’t first discovered the properties of electricity and then built transistors, and the scrumptious cinnamon roll I had for breakfast this morning wouldn’t have existed if some caveperson hadn’t figured out how to make bread. Thank you, cavepeople! The point is, every one of today’s accomplishments is only possible because of those who came before us, most of whom helped us without ever knowing that they’d be helping us.
3. One-Person Companies Are A Tiny Bit Less Successful Than 10,000-Person Companies – Pretty self-explanatory there, wouldn’t you say?
4. Nobody Has Ever Actually Done Anything Alone – Here’s the really important one, and it’s dead accurate. In the history of our species, everyone who has ever accomplished anything has had parents or guardians who cared for them; educators, mentors, and role models who taught them essential skills; friends, supporters, and other interested parties who provided moral or intellectual or financial support; and countless partners who helped them build, tweak, promote, modify, expand, establish, and grow whatever it is that they ended up doing. To think otherwise is not only unhealthy, but it flies completely in the face of all human experience.
So don’t try to go it alone. Nobody else ever has. It’s because of our collaborative approach to the world that we’ve been able to do all the amazing things we’ve done. Asking for help isn’t a weakness. It’s the only way we’ve ever managed to do anything.
Also appeared in Fast Company
Jeff Havens is a professional development expert who addresses leadership, generational issues, and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment. He has been a regular guest on Fox Business News and featured in CNBC, BusinessWeek, and Bloomberg News. To learn more about Jeff’s keynote presentations and corporate training, visit JeffHavens.com.