"Crabs in a Bucket"
by Sarah Robinson
"When I was a little girl, I lived very close (an hour and fifteen minutes) to the Florida panhandle beaches. Which meant we spent a TON of time there. Early evening was one of my favorite times to walk the beach with my mom and my older brothers. We were all clean and fed and slightly sun weary but still desperate to be outside. So, we would grab flashlights, dip nets and a bucket and search the ocean’s edge for crabs. We would catch a bucket full in an evening and drag them back home where my mom or my grandmother would cook them up into something delicious. (Yes, I was traumatized by the crabs being put into boiling water, but that story is for another day.)
The problem was that as we made that long walk home carrying crabs, there were always one or two who figured out how to climb up to the edge of the bucket in an attempt to escape. Every now and then we would have to tap the edge of the bucket to knock them back down. Because I was too little to carry the bucket very far, I got the job of watching for potential escapees. And I noticed something... well… odd. More often than not, as a crab would begin to inch its way higher to the edge of the bucket, the other crabs would latch on to him and pull him back down. I watched this scenario play out again and again, year after year.
Fast forward to this morning. As I was drinking my coffee and perusing my twitter stream, and up pops this gem from @paulocoelho (He wrote "The Alchemist", one of my all time favorite books): “Only mediocrity is safe. Get ready to be attacked, and be the best.” Maybe it was the early hour. Maybe it was my post-event mushy brain. I don’t know. But the minute I read Paulo’s tweet, I thought of those crabs in a bucket. So I sent him this tweet: “I’m thinking of crabs in a bucket. They always try to pull down the one who’s figured out how to escape.”
Paulo liked my analogy so much that he retweeted it and I’ve spent my morning connecting with people all over the world who liked it, too. It resonated deeply for a lot of people. I did a quick Google search and discovered that “Crab Mentality” is actually an official phrase that roughly means “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” And it is talked about. A lot.
There will always be people who will subtly or not so subtly try to keep us from escaping. Why? Because our escape threatens their mediocre existence. Pulling us down, sabotaging our efforts, picking apart our brilliant ideas – all of that keeps them feeling safe. And living undisturbed mediocre lives.
So what if we added a new piece to the crab mentality picture? Imagine a crab, or a group of crabs on the other side of the bucket building a ladder to aid your escape. They managed to crawl out of the bucket in spite of all the energetic attempts to pull them backwards. Because they’ve tasted freedom and they know your struggle, they are putting energy into aiding and abetting your escape.
I believe that for those of us determined to get out of the bucket, such a group exists. It may take some time to find them, but they are there, ready to throw a safety rope over the edge and pull us out. Start listening for them. Start looking for them. They are there. Reach just a little further and they’ll meet you at the edge of the bucket."