I thought I was doing great during the Monday CrossFit workout.
I had just bench-pressed 125 pounds, which isn’t a lot for many people but was good progress for me.
The two guys I was lifting with felt good about going up in weight, so we put another 20 pounds on the bar.
As I lifted the bar off the rack and watched it lower toward me, I suddenly realized that I was going to need a lot more strength to get it back up.
I dug in my heels, and as I tried to use my whole body to get the bar back up, my right foot slipped.
145 pounds careened downwards toward my head. A hand suddenly flew out from behind me and caught the bar 6 inches above my throat.
My spotter Steve had literally just saved my neck.
That moment was incredibly scary. There was nothing I could do in that instant to save myself. I was totally dependent on my spotter to help me.
In the days since that incident, I’ve thought about the greater lesson in that experience.
So much of our societal messaging in America is rugged individualism. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You are completely responsible for yourself and the problems in your life. Any failure is your fault.
As a motivational speaker and personal development professional, I’m a big believer in personal responsibility and the power we each have to shape the story of our lives.
But I think it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time how essential community and collective responsibility are to our success.
For the first decade of our lives, we are almost entirely dependent on other people for our survival. But there seems to be this myth that when we become adults, we can suddenly function independently of anyone else and make all of our own choices with full knowledge of the consequences.
That’s simply not true. Many people lack the education or life experience to know how certain foods might affect them, or how investing and budgeting can create long-term wealth, or how to network effectively to provide value and become employed.
The “just-world hypothesis” that people are experiencing their current problems solely because of their choices is ludicrous, but we tend to believe it more often than we might admit.
So how do we check our assumptions and judgments? One way is to look at our own lives and appreciate all of the people and resources that helped us get to where we are today. We did not create the vast majority of those resources, and acknowledging that fact with gratitude helps us be more empathetic and understanding toward those who grew up without some of the opportunities that we did.
And yes, personal responsibility also has an important role to play. The only thing we truly have control over is ourselves, so we should always start by aligning our own actions and values before attempting to judge other people’s journeys.
Communal and individual responsibility are partners in our quest to create a fulfilling life. We need them both, and hopefully we can feel gratitude more often for all of the people in our lives who have, literally and figuratively, saved our necks.