Tonight we went to a baseball game — a ‘must’ whenever we visit my hometown. We had a great time. In the eighth inning, we got to see a true phenomenon. My hometown team had a young pitcher who could throw the ball over 100 miles per hour. It was one of those things that you just have to see for yourself. To-date, I believe he has thrown as fast as 106 MPH. Tonight, he was only able to manage 102. It was amazing how the ballpark was transformed when this young man trotted out from the bullpen. People stood up and cheered before his name was announced. When his name was announced, the crowd went wild. Once he began to face the opposing team’s batters, the crowd was hushed. Everyone wanted to witness this young man’s skill without distraction. You could see dozens of flashes at the moment that he released the ball. It was as if we were witnessing history. It was pretty cool.
Unfortunately, that young man could throw pretty fast but had trouble keeping the ball in the strike zone. He walked three runners and caused two to score. It was a tough outing. The story doesn’t end there. After closing out the eighth inning down three runs, my hometown team rallied and managed to pull out a win in extra innings. We missed all of the excitement because the boys were cold and tired, but we managed to catch the last run on television. As we were leaving the ballpark, my mother remarked, “too bad that pitcher had such a bad night” to which my husband replied “but it’s a team sport, right?”
Because of my involvement with student athletes I think a lot in terms of sports analogies. I also think about the importance of teamwork versus individual effort. I struggle quite a bit with figuring out where to place my emphasis. Is it better to be a strong contributor to a team or to make a significant solo effort? In my profession, it feels sometimes as if I can’t win in this argument. Some criticize me because I don’t do enough solo work — that is, I have not yet published a manuscript that I didn’t co-author with one or more other people. Others criticize me because I have not had enough collaborators. That latter camp has died down because I have worked hard to beef up my network in the past few years, but still it seems that someone always has a beef with me.
The question remains: are you better off focusing on the being the best you can be without regard to others or being the best team member you can be? I think that there is no question that you can achieve more as part of a team provided that the team dynamics are such that all the team members feel valued and important to the team’s success. However, I think the best way to add value is to focus on your own contribution first (working hard), making sure that your efforts cause no harm to others second and doing what you can to enhance the lives/contributions of others third. I’ve noticed that when I get those priorities mixed up my own life is a mess. I run around with a laundry list of half-finished projects because I’ve taken on too much and agreed to help too many. In the end, I don’t really help anyone — especially myself.
I want to be part of a winning team. Heck, I want to win a championship at some point — whatever that means. However, before I can ever do that I have to focus on my own game — just like that pitcher tonight. He can’t lead his team to the world series until he stops throwing wild pitches. If he has to slow down to 98 or 99 MPH to strike out a string of batters, I’m guessing that his team would be OK with it. There might be a few less flash bulbs blinking when he hits the mound, but in the end, his ERA will be better and his team will be more successful. Just like they rallied back tonight after he struggled, he can rally back for his team. That’s what happens when team members rally around each other and motivate each other to be their best. I think I too need to do a better job of finding the strike zone. Once I do that, I’ll feel better about me and be able to do more for my team. I have a great team that is very motivating, but I have to work on me too. Only then will that championship ring be within reach.