If you know me in real life, you know that I’m not finding the academic portion of my MBA particularly difficult. It isn’t a breeze, there’s reading and essays and mid terms and homework, but it’s not rub your belly pat your head hard (Or impossible. That’s impossible). It’s all about time management and focus and concentrating effort on the right things and getting good at distilling an argument. I’m pretty competent at those things.

What’s killing me is the team work.

No. Actually what’s killing me is my team. I described them to someone as “not my people”. I’m not some sort of gentle flower that only copes with people exactly like her. I can make it work.

Usually I don’t have to. My clients and colleagues –┬áthe vast majority really, are kind, smart and likeable people.

They believe in collaboration. Not because it’s how you get good marks or because someone in authority said you “should”, but because when we take a single idea and we build on it together, we get something that vastly exceeds the sum of a part. When it’s done most brilliantly I don’t recognize my idea and you don’t see yours, instead we sit back at the end and we are struck by the luminosity and simplicity and elegance of what we did. We know in the marrow of our bones that we could not have achieved this on our own.

I was in a team meeting on Saturday and several members of my team were overjoyed to discover that a number of other teams were taking a patently wrong approach to a problem. This wasn’t a degree of interpretation, the other teams were wrong. This isn’t competitive. We are marked for this assignment on the merits. On the face of it, it neither helps us nor hinders us if another team fails. It’s nothing to do with us.

Save this. These are my classmates. I will be on other teams with them. They are people. Humans. Working on a team. Their assignment is also worth 30% of their final mark. Competition not only doesn’t matter, it’s not only a useless diversion from the merits of our own assignment (“we were better than the other team” isn’t actually going to get us a better mark), it’s not the world I want to live in.


I don’t understand the competition. I can see that it’s happening. I just don’t understand it. Why is that where you went?

I don’t want to understand it.

It’s not illegal, it’s not even immoral.

It’s just not me.

It’s the not the world I want to live in.

You be the person who cheers at another’s failure.

I’ll just be over here. Looking for collaboration. Looking at what we are doing and realizing that it could have been brilliant, it could have been remarkable, we could have raised the water line for all of us and how amazing would that have been. What might it have been like to think back a decade from now and realize how much we achieved building more than the sum of the parts.

I’m sad. Hurt. Weary.


This was hard to write, because I don’t want to sound sanctimonious. I mean it when I say that they can be them. I just can’t join in. That’s hard and lonely and isolating. They took a chunk out of me because I don’t want to succeed badly enough in their eyes. That hurt some.


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4 Responses to click

  1. a says:

    It’s all competition in school, though – or at least, it’s perceived to be due to the phenomenon of grading on a curve. And maybe you have had ideal working conditions or very specific goals, because once you have a broad charter for unspecified change, competition definitely plays a part. In my experience, someone ALWAYS wants to put their name on things or wants to make a mark. And it rarely has much to do with improving anything – it’s more to do with being the star or the standout.

  2. Naomi Miller says:

    No words of wisdom from me, but just wanted to say I hear you and can identify with so many of your recent posts. I did a postgraduate fast track course in speech pathology at the age of 37 after years of being a physics researcher and had some quite awful clashes with fellow students and even some (young) supervisors. And like you described yourself, I generally get on with most people and prefer to avoid confrontation. The team projects were *exactly* as you described. In the end, although I hate to sound prejudiced, I put it down to the change of culture (from nerdy, generally older men to younger, socially confident women – the former were clearly more ‘my people’).
    Good luck with it all,

  3. loribeth says:

    I used to hate group/team projects in school… mostly because I would be one of the few who would actually do any work, and everyone else would just coast on my/our efforts. :p On the bright side, grad school will not last forever and once you get that degree in hand, you won’t have to see any of these people again if you don’t want to. (((hugs)))

  4. Debby Hornburg says:

    I was a failure at group projects as well. Even if you’re not fitting for all the right reasons, it still sucks.

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