My great-great grandmother was a pioneer. She actually rode in a Conestoga wagon across the great plains to Oklahoma. Like right out of one of those Civil War era Matthew Brady photographs. As kids, my sisters and I were regaled with stories of her bravery and self-determination. She lived to be 113 years old, and family legend has it that on her 100th birthday she picked 100 bales of cotton to prove how strong and self-reliant she was. Her last name, appropriately, was Steele.
I live in NYC. Unlike my great-great grandmother, my nearest neighbor isn’t 200 miles away. In fact, my nearest neighbors live 200 feet away and I have never met them. This is a well-worn cliché in NYC, but I think it’s true in lots of places. We have grown up as a culture so valuing independence and self-reliance, which was critical to survival for a pioneer, that we resist depending on others, of asking others to be there for us, to support us, to truly be part of our lives.
I see this “pioneer mentality” all the time, even with some of our greatest visionaries. They have a brilliant idea, but they are simply unable to let go of the belief that they have to do it themselves. They may have a few people working with them who will execute their vision, but that’s it. And, of course, that’s precisely what keeps their ideas from truly spreading, from exponential growth.
Just having a great – even visionary – idea isn’t enough. We need partners to grow. We need to ask others to join us and support us, even if it means letting go of some of the illusion of control.
Real, enduring strength lies much more in partnerships, in community and interdependence, than it does in trying to go it alone.