Who Do You Play For?

16 Jan

I had an imaginary conversation several months ago while I was on a plane to Seattle.

I imagined the lady sitting next to me asking, “What’s taking you to Seattle?”

My response would have been, “I’m going to visit my teammates.”

And she would follow with, “Oh! Who do you play for?”

After that I would smile and say that I don’t play sports, but I’m going to visit my co-workers; they’re my teammates.

The lady would then be a bit puzzled, but would smile politely and turn back to her in-flight magazine.

It occurs to me that, outside of athletics, we don’t have much of a sense of “team” in our lives.

We may have working group involvement as part of our occupation, and our children may play Little League, but otherwise, we don’t necessarily have this sense of a special cooperative bond with others. Even within the realm of family, there is often a notion of “I’m stuck with these blood-related individuals” rather than a feeling of working, serving alongside of these people, depending upon them, looking to them as a safe place to share the difficulties, disasters, joys, and journeys of life.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been in the process of making a significant decision about my future role at work. That decision has now been made (as of last month), and one of the ramifications is that I will no longer share the same relationship with the people I currently call teammates. Instead, I will be forming this bond with other people as we work together during the next 36 months.

I have learned over the years just how significant the concept of team is for me. There is a real sense in which my identity comes, in part, as a result of my connections with these other people.

And those connections don’t come without effort. I was in a fraternity in college, and new guys used to complain that they didn’t feel connected to the existing members. From the get-go, they wanted instant intimacy (though of course they never would have used that word!). One of the more senior guys set the expectations for them: “There’s no such thing as microwaveable [expletive] brotherhood!”

I think of how much the military invests in creating this sense of team, this sense of completely depending upon the soldier standing next to you. I’ve never served in the armed forces, but from what I’ve been told, a good deal of the excruciating experience of basic training is to help build a reliance upon others: a sense of team.

I know of very few other employers, organizations, churches, or families which make such an investment to help foster a sense of commitment, trust, and dependence between its members. In contrast, we usually prize and reward independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency.

But none of us are truly independent…even my 91 year-old great aunt who’s lived alone all her life. She’s currently in physical therapy and staunchly insists that she’s independent and doesn’t need help from anyone. Her insistence not withstanding, she regularly relies upon the service of others to bring a modicum of comfort and normalcy to her daily life.

So, perhaps my imaginary conversation with my airplane row-mate wasn’t so far off after all. The question is valid for all of us.

Who do you play for?


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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Life


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