There is an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
I (try to) work out six days a week. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I do strength training. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I do cardio. Saturdays are something of a wild card: I’ll go golfing, do something with the kids, or take the kids golfing with me.
On Fridays, I work out with a personal trainer. Not only does this make the workout into an external commitment, so I have some increased accountability, but I get a better workout.
I can do the same exercises at the gym by myself, but I have to hold myself back. For example, I have to make sure I still have enough strength left to get the barbell back onto the rack. I need to push myself as far as I can go—it’s how you get stronger—but I can’t do that by myself. As soon as I notice I’m struggling to get the barbell up, the set’s over. I rack it and take a rest before I go too far and get in trouble.
With the trainer there to spot me, I can do more weight and more reps because I know he’s got my back. I can push until I am completely exhausted and the muscles are starting to fail. When I start to struggle, he can take weights off (if I’m doing a drop set) or give me just enough assistance that I can keep going.
We are raised with the ideal of the rugged individualist—the self-made man who made his own luck. We start life as children, dependent on our parents for everything. As we grow, we are taught to be increasingly self-sufficient until we can take care of ourselves. Eventually, we move out to get “our own place”.
A society of independent individuals will function, but it’s not the ideal. Ideally, we come together and create something that is more than the sum of its parts. We strive for interdependence. As Stephen R. Covey put it:
On the maturity continuum, dependence is the paradigm of you—you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn’t come through; I blame you for the results.
Independence is the paradigm of I—I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose.
Interdependence is the paradigm of we—we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.
Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, emphasis in the original
If you look at the 7 Habits, Habits 1–3 are about being independent and 4–6 are about effective interdependence. This progression is natural. First, you get yourself squared away, then you start working with others to do something even greater.
There’s a lot we can do on our own. The problem is, we don’t scale. When we reach our limits—if we can make it that far—we’re done. We can’t achieve anything more than what we can do ourselves.
When we pull together, the limits fade away. We can specialize. We can delegate tasks we don’t like or aren’t good at to someone else—someone who is good at it and enjoys doing it. We learn from each other’s mistakes and experience. We complement each other.
We really are stronger together. We can go farther together.