'I hate people who don’t do group projects, therefore I hate me'

I realized I was the problem member in my group and an identity crisis ensued

A great deal of my internal thought process revolves around the notion of personal responsibility.

When it comes to group work specifically, I generally take the role of the leader. I’m usually the real nit-picky one who devotes their entire existence to the group project. I'm rarely able to take a back seat, and I can usually be found passionately yelling about some obscure, trivial detail.

In a way, this identification as the leader of group projects became a sort of identity in an academic environment. I noticed myself getting frustrated when others wouldn’t put enough effort into the project. 

It felt like my fellow students were not only hurting the project, but hurting me as someone so devoted to its execution. To put it lightly, I hate people who don’t contribute to group projects. 

A few weeks ago in my engineering lab, I made the unfortunate realization that I was that person. 

We were tasked with building a fully autonomous Lego car and frankly, I wasn't contributing nearly enough.

Initially, I was in a state of utter denial over the possibility of me ruining a group project. I think my exact phrasing went something like, “I hate people who don’t do group projects, therefore I hate me.” I had become the very thing I despised and hadn’t realized until a few weeks into the project. 

My life was a lie. 

An identity crisis naturally ensued. It was suggested to me that the karma balances out from my diligence in other group projects, but I still felt this deep sense of moral guilt. I felt horrible for not being the group member I could be. I needed to be better. 

So I set out on a quest to be the good group member I always had been, but it didn’t go too well. 

For years, I had the unverified impression that individuals who took little interest in group work were lazy, and their reasonings for such behavior were shallow and without importance. In solving my own issue, I applied this same logic and inevitably tore myself down. 

I told myself that my actions, or lack thereof, were a result of some characteristic laziness and that my inability to work hard on this project was due to some predetermined shortcomings with Lego cars. I was never able to see that I, in fact, was a human being who was struggling to meet his fundamental needs. 

November has been a rough month for most, it seems, myself included. I spent the first week in the hospital, resulting in missed work, lost funds and overall an incredibly exhausting and painful month. It had never occurred to me to give myself an ounce of compassion or sympathy. 

In doing so, I found an important moment of clarity and fully realized how often I had wrongly judged others in the past too. It could be possible that others were dealing with family troubles or health problems, and they were unable to express their struggles. 

The complete answer, as per usual, usually lies somewhere in between. 

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every person who puts little effort in a group project is inherently struggling, but I do believe that empathy can go a long way. In building a mutual understanding between ourselves and others, we can come to a better solution capable of meeting the needs of all parties involved.

In a group setting, that may mean understanding that this person probably isn’t going to contribute a whole lot, and that person may sometimes be you. But maybe next time it happens, think about what they may have going on behind the scenes — one bad group member isn’t the end of the world. 

Reach the reporter at cbeal4@asu.edu and follow @beal_camden on Twitter. 

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