I've read "Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel" by Virginia Lee Burton several hundred times but only recently recognized it as a wonderful tale depicting the most common pitfall that exists for individual consultants who garner most of their acclaim from previous projects on which they excelled as part of a larger team.
If you're looking to start a consulting business (or looking to hire a consultant), remember that experience, integrity and energy are only half of the skills required. The real magic is born from a team ("...and some others") comprised of complementary partners who work together synergistically and with prudence...otherwise the individual often ends up like Mike - in a perfectly dug hole running the whole project by themselves...as the janitor.
The realization of this Children's story as such a metaphor came to me when, on Independence Day, Catherine began swimming "on her own". With the exception of a few dozen photos sent out to my mother and father-in-law, the only person with whom we shared the exciting news was her swimming instructor Kiri.
We were staying at a hotel on Monarch Beach in California and spent half of our time there enjoying the family pool area. Catherine woke up on the morning of July 4th and after watching several other children jumping, swimming and splashing around her (some in water wings and some in puddle jumpers like her). Some clung to their parents and others exhibited an independence that seemed to fascinate and motive her at the same time. After observing them all for several minutes, she asked me to take off her puddle-jumpers and before I knew what was happening she said "Watch this Daddy! Im a torpedo"!!!! She dropped below the surface, bent her knees, pushed off of me and propelled herself under the water to the middle of the pool.
Her recent swimming lessons had been private ones which we avoided at first because we so badly wanted to provide the advantages (not to mention cost savings) that group lessons afforded her: socialization, positive associations, water toys, waiting your turn, etc... but when group lessons for her skill level were only offered 10 mins after school or at our family's dinner hour, we elected to sign her up for private lessons. This thrilled her since the instructor was a former babysitter whom she idolized! Her instructor, Kiri, had a wonderful gentleness about her, an ability to communicate well with children but also a strength in character that would shine through whenever we overheard her during swimming lessons saying things like: "...are you asking me a question or offering me an answer?...then say it like an answer." Without the giggles, smiles and fun... subtle lessons in confidence like those may very well have come across differently...perhaps as intimidating but acceptable as corps de rigueur in any coaching scenario. But this was different. Kiri was having fun with Catherine. Earning her respect and building pride with firmness followed by praise. They were a good team that took Catherine to a new level of comfort in the pool with her new sense of daily accomplishment. I've never seen a child work so hard. I was impressed at the intensity of her focus and how she would push herself to near exhaustion. Kiri helped Catherine reach a milestone in learning to swim the week before we left.
She was able to show Catherine that while her head and body might submerge just under the surface during a tummy float (with her face in the water) her body would not sink any further. I viewed this moment as an almost palpable turning point in her self-confidence and thus willingness to mentally make the leap from trying to swim to swimming.
I heard myself saying "She's doing it"! "She's Swimming all on her own! How incredible that she learned to swim independently on Independence Day!"...then I corrected myself. She didn't really "start" swimming just then. This had been the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work on her part but also of an astonishing amount of patience, gentle encouragement, wisdom and awareness from every coach and every assistant over the last year and a half. This moment of independence was also the result of friendships forged, encouragement, praise and friendly competition with the other children in the eight classes she had taken before private lessons. She didn't start swimming that weekend in California. She started swimming independently that weekend...and upon our next bedtime reading of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, I immediately recognized the fact that independence is meerely a momentary suspension of collaboration like the defying of gravity one experiences due to the elasticity of a trampoline that must be met repeatedly to be buoyed as one might be by the support of a dynamic team.
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel (AKA "skill set") had only gotten where they were because of the teams with which they had worked.
We can excel independently but only momentarily because of the need for support of others along the way.
In short, independence is as much as an illusion...or better yet delusion as the western concept of Individualism. Individualsm is not a state of existence as much it is merely the momentary absence of collective collaboration.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe"