Back in the years when the little things were a big deal, I was a cheerleader. In those days, at our school, cheerleading was the only "team sport" for girls. There was tennis, but tennis isn't a team sport, and nobody goes to the tennis matches in high school. In contrast, everybody goes to the football and basketball games, especially in the Midwest. For all you guys who think this is some girly article, keep reading, because it's about guy stuff, too.
Despite some beliefs, cheerleaders aren't just there to cheer on the other teams; they are competitive themselves. The summer between my junior and senior year, our squad had the honor of being invited to compete at the ICF (International Cheerleading Federation) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A few weeks before the event, I was out in the backyard practicing, and ended up in a big fight with my mom. She yelled at me. I came to the back door. We argued. She slammed the door in my face. Stupidly, as the door was careening shut, I stiff armed it to stop it. The glass shattered, I looked down, and there was a huge gash. Blood was streaming down my arm. My neighbors drove me to the hospital.
Five stitches later, I was back home teary, weary and bandaged from wrist to mid forearm. I could not flex my wrist, which was a problem because my role in the competition was to lift my best friend and partner Debi onto the fourth tier of our mount, onto my shoulders, where she would give the victory sign on top.
We took the long bus trip to Michigan. I was a nervous wreck. We started the competition fine. I was able to climb up two tiers, but when I stood and reached back for Debi's hand, I couldn't hold on. As my hand released, she lost her balance and spilled backward, the fall broken by the rest of the squad collapsing onto the gym floor like a house of cards. (Here's the guy part.) Imagine watching the star high school wide receiver going out for the game-winning pass with five seconds on the clock in the biggest game of the year, running a perfect route, getting open, and then letting a beautiful pass slip through the tips of his fingers.
For a long time, I absolutely could not see the point of this episode in my 17-year-old life. My friends, the other nine on our squad, had killed themselves to get to that competition. Every morning, we'd hauled ourselves out of bed at 6:00 a.m. for summer morning practices. It was meant to be us. Now, as the girl responsible for our competitive demise, I was mad at my mom, embarrassed that I'd allowed it to happen, and in despair that I'd let down my friends
It took me a very, very long time to appreciate the lesson, which is: The squad, my friends, my teammates, never held it against me. Not for a minute. They weren't angry, they didn't blame me, though they were deeply disappointed too. As a matter of fact, I was voted captain that very same year.
The point is, we really were a team. When you are a team, you win or lose as a team. In business, I don't hear that as much as I'd like around the hallways of many companies. What I hear instead is the blame game. This one is in over his head. That one dropped the ball. This one blew it. That one is worried only about himself.
The hard truth is that sometimes you're going to be the weakest link. It's at those moments that you're going to appreciate being on a real team. If the team rallies around you, even when you stumble, you solidify your commitment to them. You can't always win, but you will never win as a team if you don't know how to lose as a team too. And those losses make the wins so much sweeter.