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Get Comfortable With Collaboration

Working in group projects is no one’s favorite activity in college. The whole experience is filled with awkward interactions with classmates who we just met and know in the back of our mind will toss us a BC look away when we see them walking through the quad later in the semester. The assignments are a jumbled mix of superior efforts from the group leader—aka the person who is most domineering at the first meeting—and the so-so efforts of the group’s social loafers. The result is a grade you usually look at knowing you could have gotten just as well or better all on your own.

In a place like BC where competition seems to be the mortar holding each building together it’s hard to uncross our arms and accept collaborative projects thrown our way. In this sense—and many, many more—BC is not representative of the real world. In the future, most of us will be working closely with equals towards a common goal—collaboration is unavoidable. Though the two words represent practically polar opposite ideas, the reality is that in order to achieve success after our four years here at BC, we are going to have to find a middle ground between competition and collaboration.

The atmosphere at Boston College breeds competition amongst its many students. Obviously in the academic realm the stakes are cutthroat—only a small number of people in a given class are going to get that coveted A. But this competitive fire sets our whole campus ablaze. We compete for attention of the opposite gender, spots in the lines at Eagles, positions on executive boards, admittance to clubs, and physical prowess in the Plex. This antagonism is the reason why we wrinkle our nose in disgust when assigned a group project. Why would we want to work with those we are competing against?

In a sense this competition delivers; BC is a top tier university for a reason. The students triumph here and move on to do great things outside of the classroom. We also got here by competing in high school to fill our resumes with attractive activities, GPAs, and essays. In the academic world we are constantly viewed as numbers and extracurricular activities instead of people. To play the game and be successful in this environment, being competitive by thwarting opportunities for collaboration seems to be the logical option.

It’s a popular belief that it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves out in the real world. In some senses this statement is spot-on. There is no way that every one of the billions of people who live on this planet can be successful. In order for some to succeed others must fail.

The trouble is that society has taught us that nothing is worse than failure. Like trust, success is something that can take years to build and just a second to knock down. Many schools and work environments don’t view failure as a learning experience, a chance to better oneself for the future. Upon singular failures we lose the foundation of little successes we have been building throughout our careers and lives. When working in a group, we have less control over whether or not we will emerge successful. Someone else could mess up and we will still be held accountable for the end result.

In the world of sports, the manner in which failure is handled can separate the teams that will be most successful in the long run from the rest. Most sporting events have a winner and a loser, meaning that failure is inevitable for one party. Losing a game can be demoralizing, discouraging, and downright maddening but it can also be the starting point from which a team builds its success. Coming back strong after a loss often results in a heartfelt performance in which players are able to display their rawest talent. Failure is handled as a point of improvement in this environment.

Perhaps the happy medium between competition and collaboration lies in the failure-accepting realm of sports. Even in our little corner of the universe, sports are an integral part of BC. Whether it’s intramural or D1, sports require teammates to depend on one another in order to be victorious. One good player means nothing if the rest of their team is below average. This fosters an atmosphere where working together to become one big homogenous presence is the best way to achieve success. Teamwork also builds relationships that endure the failure and prosper long afterwards.

In this sense team sports prepare us for the collaborative environment of the workplace that we will be entering after graduation. Co-workers are members of a team. They are not assigned to us for a two week long project where we can conveniently cease contact with them afterwards. These are people who can add to or subtract from our success. Similarly, we have the power to do the same for them. Teams create a balance where one person’s weaknesses are another person’s strengths. By combining talents, we not only learn to accept our own shortcomings but come to appreciate others’ strong suits. Working as a part of a team can be more individually satisfying and self-fulfilling than competing by oneself.

There is no way to eliminate competition. Not everyone gets the chance to be successful, that’s just a simple fact. There is, however, a way to walk this journey with a team instead of by oneself. While we might all be individuals, we are intricately interwoven with one another. It is important to fill our lives with people who have similar values and who work toward similar goals. The people we keep in our lives the longest are the ones who involve themselves and collaborate with us to achieve happiness. We don’t compete in life by ourselves, rather we work with teams of those who support and care for each other. In work and our personal lives we will be most successful when we are surrounded by people looking out for us.  

Life is a collaborative effort and we need to get comfortable with that.

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Frankie Magner