Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both, And be one traveler…
I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
If you happen to not recognize those words, they are the opening and closing lines of Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
The poem is about life choices and overcoming our natural tendency to choose the more common option. It’s about handling uncertainty and the potential consequences of regret. For me, the poem offers an intriguing glimpse into the art of being a good teammate.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled Walking on Eggshells. The blog was about the necessity for good teammates to be sensitive with their choice in words and “walk on eggshells” around their fellow teammates, yet not position themselves where others feel compelled to do so around them.
I got an email from a subscriber wondering about the “fairness” of my assessment. He didn’t feel is was fair to be expected to walk on eggshells around others and not expect that courtesy to be reciprocated.
He’s right. It’s not fair. But a lot about choosing to be a good teammate is not fair. It’s not fair that you’re expected to share, when others on the team are greedy. It’s not fair that you’re expected to be selfless, when others on the team are selfish. It’s not fair that you’re expected to confront, when others on the team get away with remaining silent.
Using fairness as a compass is a surefire way to find misery. Your actions shouldn’t be dictated by what’s fair; they should be motivated by doing what’s right. Greed, selfishness, and the avoidance of confrontation are instinctive paths. It’s easy to be greedy, selfish, and remain silent.
Similarly when someone hurts you with their words, your instinct may be to retaliate with equally hurtful words. Lowering yourself to their level is the easy choice. The better choice may be to choose the high road.
For good teammates, the road less traveled is usually the high road.
I realize I’m combining clichés and bordering dangerously close to mixing metaphors. But for good teammates, choosing the more ethical option—the high road—is the better choice, even when it’s not the fair or most popular option.
Choosing what’s best for their team over what’s best for them as an individual is the expectation of being a good teammate. Choosing to be selfless, courageous, and walk on eggshells is what defines them as a teammate and what makes the difference on their team. Their actions aren’t governed by how they are treated, but by how they should treat others.
Much like the narrator in Robert Frost’s poem, one day every good teammate will be called to revisit the choices they made in their life—the paths they took—and, much like the narrator, they too will realize the less-traveled paths they chose will have made all the difference.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.