The definition of team as a noun is “a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport”. As a verb, “to come together as a team to achieve a common goal”. We’ve all heard and used idioms making reference to this word: she’s a good team player; he’s my teammate; one or our core values is teamwork. We look for inspiration of good teams in sports — whether it’s baseball, basketball or skating — and what is clear is that a team is as strong as the sum of its parts, being that the individuals.
But, where do you draw that line? Where does the individual stand out? I didn’t look for inspiration at sports (I am not a sports person), but in something more, say, ordinary: Bread (not eating it, but baking it).
Working in a team has been my de facto workstyle for years. Once the goals were set, I would align myself to them and would do everything that was necessary to reach those goals, including helping others so we could reach that together. In my head, a team is like a boat: either we sink or sail across the seas together. Always together.
Sounds nice, I know. The problem was that I started to lose perspective. Team goals would always triumph over my individual goals. With that, my anxiety attacks started to get worse. I stopped being effective, helpful or insightful. I stopped noticing my teammates issues and preoccupations. I was getting closer and closer to depression. I took some time off, but that was only a patch. The real solution was to change the way I looked at things.
At some point in the way, I heard about a bread baking workshop. I wasn’t too convinced of taking it, since cooking — yet alone baking! — was not under my skill set. The only recipes I could do were for preparing a morning cereal, scrambled eggs or the good old cheese and ham sandwich. It took convincing and peer pressure from a friend to signup and eventually attend this workshop.
What I learned there was extraordinary:
- First, you have to be gentle with your dough. All that tossing around and hitting it hard against the table is pure performance.
- Second, if you overwork your dough it will get stressed. JUST LIKE ME. An overworked dough will eventually tear apart. You have to let it rest.
- Third, it needs time to ferment properly. You must respect that if you are striving for that aromatic and savory loaf of bread. You have to be patient.
Those three things were the answers to questions I wasn’t really sure I was looking for. I dare to say they found me.
Inspired by my new discovery, I started to bake at home every weekend and with each loaf my understanding of this craft grew at the same time as my amazement towards this powerful and yet humble food.
You see, bread has been around basically since the dawn of civilization. It has helped build powerful empires, like the Egyptian — how do you think the pyramid workers were fed? — and Roman Empires. Bread has brought stability for some — “Two things only the people anxiously desire: bread and circuses” — and has also sparkled revolutions — “If they can’t buy bread let them eat cake”. People could get arrested for stealing bread, like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, or you could show off your status by the type bread you could get. Even better, be the bread keeper and be called in old anglo-saxon hlāford, in modern english Lord.
All of this was truly eye-opening, but what blew my mind was the fact that, across cultures, bread has been used as way of bringing people together. And it still is!
- In slavic and some European countries, bread is a synonym of hospitality. Tradition says that you must welcome your guests with bread and salt, being the latter a luxury item.
- In English speaking countries, it is said that one must work hard to put bread on the table for our families.
- Finally, in my dearest Mexico, bread is one of the elements we use to connect with our loved ones who have passed away. We call it Pan de Muerto, representing the circle of life in its rounded shape, the bones of our dead and the tears we have shred for them.
With all of this in my mind and after around 70 loaves, I had the courage to start sharing my bread: with my family, my friends, my teammates and even other people I’ve met on my path of learning the ways of bread.
Why do I say courage?
Because I am not only sharing a product of the earth, flour and salt, being transformed by water, leavened by air and perfected by fire. No, no… I am sharing a little piece of me, remembering that I must be gentle to myself, to rest so I don’t get overworked, to be patient and stop once in a while. Because that makes me stronger.
There’s a word in latin for “those who share the same bread”. It is formed by:
Con — which means together, to share — and panis — bread. Conpanis, transformed to cunpanis, transformed to modern Spanish compañero. If you put that word in the context of work, compañero de equipo translates to teammate.
I found my inspiration in bread to become a better teammate. There can be other sources of inspiration, of course: photography, nature, math, physics, meditating, dogs… it can be found anywhere. And when you do, please share it. I would love to break bread with you so we can be #moretogether.