Under (no) pressure: learning to collaborate, not compete

Roommates Sarah Effress and Isabel Funk read over an assignment. Photo by Jeffrey Harberg

My instructor approved my trend story idea. I made my way to “Norbucks” for an iced vanilla latte (sugar-free, with coconut milk) to celebrate. Eager to start my research, I planted myself in a tall chair at the communal work table and pulled out my laptop and notebook.  [“Norbucks” — short for the Starbucks coffee shop at Norris University Center.]

Not 10 minutes into my source-searching, my phone buzzed. It was a text from my roommate:

“Hey, what are you doing your trend on? I heard it might be similar to mine.”

I froze. How was it possible that my roommate, of all people, had the same trend story topic as me? 

When I noticed she had at least five sources lined up for interviews by day two, I freaked. Why don’t I have that many yet? Why are sources responding to her and not me? As usual, I began to doubt myself. 

At home, I attend a very competitive school. Students are expected to go to a top university, and the words “community college” are almost taboo. People are not afraid to broadcast the number of AP classes they are taking, how many clubs they are in, or even how little sleep they received the night before because they were studying for all three of their tests the next day. 

Naturally, for the first few days of the assignment, the stress consumed me. But I eventually gathered I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. We soon realized, to quote “High School Musical,” “We’re all in this together.” 

Everyone started asking fellow cherubs for help contacting sources. My roommate and I ended up sharing a few sources, and both of us received stellar quotes. Many of us interviewed each other’s siblings, parents and even significant others. 

Collaboration is woven into the fabric of the program. When our feature stories were near completion, we passed them around and gave each other honest feedback before the deadline. Every time I mentioned I needed help formatting phone numbers or street names for an article, an AP Stylebook would slide across the table in my direction. 

At cherubs, there are no grades, which means there is no concrete way to compare yourself to your peers. I’ve learned that my own success does not depend only on my individual effort. It depends equally on how well I work with the people around me. My takeaway: Always try to earn an unofficial “A” on that front.