I lived in Oklahoma and worked for a telecommunications company during the years leading up to the Year 2000. The entire computer industry had to deal with Y2K, adapting each line of millions of lines of code to allow for a four-digit year (where previously only a two-digit year had been the standard). In my group, we worked together well for the benefit of the team. During a critical week of software installs, one night I was assigned to be at work at 4AM. I woke up with a start at 1AM and felt I should go in early. As I walked in the door, everyone’s jaws dropped, and they couldn’t believe I was there. They had just identified a major concern, I was the only one who knew how to investigate it, and they had just confirmed these two facts when I happened to walk in the door in the middle of the night. They all said that they got goose bumps when they saw me, and for years, a few of my execs teased me about whether or not I could still do that “mind reading” thing. We had studied our code thoroughly, we took responsibility for working together well, we knew what was at stake, and we simply were in synch as a team.
Teamwork to me has always been more satisfying than claiming center stage for oneself. Maybe that’s why I loved reading The Boys in the Boat last month, which was on the LA Times bestseller list for nine months and on the NY Times list for eighteen months. In the words of author Daniel James Brown, “This is a story of who we are when we are at our best. But it approaches it not as a story about individual achievement but a story about what we do when we come together, when we all get in the boat together and pull as one.”
Here are two of my favorite quotes and what they mean to me:
“Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison; their hearts and minds must also be as one.” [George Yeoman Pocock, as quoted in The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown (2013, Viking, New York), Pages 297.]
“Where is the spiritual value of rowing?…The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole.” [George Pocock, ibid., Page 353.]
When I lived in Argentina, while in the city of Godoy Cruz, we just clicked with the local folks and were able to serve others as never before. Six nights a week, my missionary companion and I would would split up, go in pairs with people in the area who happened to be Mormons, and four to eight times each night, we would teach people the gospel of Jesus Christ. These people sacrificed much of their time just to help us in our work, and that certainly helped us to build a more effective team. We grew close to these people and close as missionary companions. It was an absolutely beautiful way to spend our evenings, week after week.
It’s a delight to read stories of people when we are at our best. It’s especially a delight to read stories of not being mastered by our circumstances, stories of subjugating self to team, stories that focus on conquering ourselves.
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1. Video: 1936 Olympic rowing film orchestrated by German media mogul Leni Riefenstahl (with footage of actual race, then Riefenstahl was able to get her rowing close-ups with the teams a day later)
2. Video: Daniel James Brown “The Boys in the Boat” (taped author presentation)
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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:
- Photo, “The 1936 Varsity Crew, University of Washington”—plus.google.com/+XenoM%C3%BCller/posts
- Photo, cover, The Boys In The Boat: Nine Americans And Their Epic Quest For Gold At The 1936 Berlin Olympics—www. startribune.com/entertainment/books/211547891.html
- Photo, need to row—www. telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/10135281/Eton-Dorney-Rowing-World-Cup-2013-Great-Britains-Olympic-champion-mens-eight-finish-third.html
- Photo, “Losing Of Self Entirely To The Crew As A Whole”—www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/rowing/9757012/Rowing-should-get-on-its-bike-says-Greg-Searle.html
- Photo, “An Andes Evening In Godoy Cruz”—www. mendoza.travel/Godoy_Cruz.aspx
- Photo, “The 1936 US Olympic Rowing Team”—www. newsrt.co.uk/news/the-boys-in-the-boat-by-daniel-james-brown-review-1923027.html
- Photo, “Godoy Cruz, A Park At Night”—www. liveargentina.com/mendoza/GodoyCruz.php
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