The I in TEAM

I had the incredible opportunity last week to work with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I was able to gather them together in a room and we had the most fabulous time solving some really significant problems. Eventually I’ll post more about that on my Computing Education blog. But that meeting was able to come about because while I was away over the winter break I had a startling realization. A lot of the problems I have been trying to solve have been driving me insane, and I couldn’t see how to fix things.

And then it dawned on me. I was trying to fix them alone.

Fixing things alone is not my superpower. Bringing people together? That I can do. So that’s what I’ve spent the last 6 months doing, and now things are changing for me, and for the problems I am trying to solve, in fairly spectacular ways.

One of the great side effects of that meetings was that we talked fiction over lunch, and I got to collect a list of recommended reads from people I really admire. So I started reading one of them – “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss – this week. It’s well written and a gripping read. An excellent way to start my summer holidays. But there’s an aspect of it that is really getting up my nose. It’s the same reason I struggle to read the Harry Potter books. A lot of the plot hinges on the fact that the protagonist refuses to ask for help.

Now look. I get this. I do. Asking for help is not my thing. Not until I am too close to breaking – possibly a little past. Ok, maybe a lot past. It’s perfectly plausible. But the older I get the more I realise my strength resides in the intensity, and number, of my relationships. In the people who come when I call, and even more in the people who come before I call, knowing that the calling itself is hard for me.

In the people who leap at ideas I have for teamwork. In the people who say “hell yes, I’m far too busy for this, but let’s do it anyway!” In the people who can lift me when I’m down, keep me grounded when I’m up, and wield the frying pan of enlightenment, gently, but firmly, where it’s needed.

This isn’t just my greatest strength. This is where humanity shines, when it’s not tearing itself down. This very needing each other, this ability to create astonishing synergy, and build a remarkable whole out of disparate parts. This is humanity’s crowning achievement. This is how we build great walls, Snowy River Hydro systems, and supportive societies.

I see it in my daughter’s primary school, which has the most extraordinary community, sparked by a quite remarkable Principal. I see it in my own workplace, where people push themselves beyond reasonable limits, but always have something extra to give when a student, or colleague, needs it.

I even see it on Facebook, where a post about a problem brings any number of supportive responses, and even tangible help. Where people offer solutions, hugs, and understanding.

Sometimes we focus on our differences, and on all that’s wrong with the world. Goodness knows there’s plenty of fodder for that. And we wonder what we can do about it.

Alone? Not much, really.

But together? Together we can move mountains.

This is why I get a little frustrated by books where the protagonist has a great support network but refuses to call on it. We have this unthinking adulation of independence that is seriously counterproductive. We admire the hero who goes it alone, when we’d be far better off idolizing the hero who builds a team that saves the world together.

It’s teamwork, ultimately, that can save us. Not the Bruce Willis style hero who grumpily saves the world without help. Not the Rambo rampaging alone through the forest. It will be the teams of scientists who share the credit to solve big problems. The politicians who cross the floor to vote for something they believe in. The people who can rally others to their cause.

It will be our ability to come together and outshine the sun, not our ability to burn out alone, that determines our future. Maybe it’s time we celebrated that.


Failing to succeed

It’s nearly that time of year again, when year 12 results come out (or have already come out, or came out and went back in again, if you got caught up in the glitch!). As usual there’s a lot of talk of of defining moments. Of deciding your fate. Of doors opening or slamming in your face, depending on the outcome.

Earlier this year in a school assembly, I was inspired to out myself. Here I am, passionate (verging on obsessive) Computer Science teacher, researcher, and writer. Absolutely where I want to be, doing what I love, and feeling as though I can make a difference. There is nowhere I would rather be.

But my first preference was medicine.

So was my second.

I didn’t get in.

I failed.

Oh, I didn’t fail my VCE, but I failed to get the score I needed to do medicine.

A better thing could not have happened to me. I drifted into a science degree intending, in a vague and fairly uninspired way, to study Genetics. I took Computer Science as a fill in subject because I had always liked machines that go “Bing!”

By third year I was studying nothing but Computer Science. I was never going to do honours. Certainly never going to do a PhD, and no way would I ever become a lecturer. All of these things inevitably came to pass. Quite quickly, really.

I suck at predicting my future.

I’ve always been faintly astounded by people who have 5 year plans and the like. My planning mostly consists of noticing an open door and flinging myself through it.

Occasionally I have to dynamite the door to make sure it’s open.

The point is that I thought I knew what I wanted, but not getting it turned out to be the best thing that could possibly have happened. It took a while, but now I am right where I want to be, doing something I love with a slightly obsessive passion (I may be lying about the slightly part). I’ve taken a strange and winding path to get here, but every step of that road helped to give me skills and attributes I would not have had any other way. I doubt I would be this happy, or this useful if I hadn’t failed to get into medicine.

Tonight my year 12s graduate at our school’s presentation night. (I know, I don’t teach year 12, but they are still MY YEAR 12s. Hush.) It will be a minor miracle if I don’t cry, because every single one of them has performed amazing feats just to get where they are.

So if you’re waiting on your final school results, remember this: there is nothing defining about these numbers. You are so much more than a number could ever express. Whatever happens, your future is in your hands, and you have extraordinary potential. Go get ’em, Tiger.