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You’ve probably heard the story before. A bunch of crabs are in a bucket, and one of them tries to get out only to have the others pull him back down with them. The story is usually told from the perspective of protecting yourself, your dreams, your ideas. ‘Don’t let anyone else pull you down’ … ‘You need to be responsible for your own dreams’ … ‘Don’t let negative people make choices for you’ … Yes, yes, and yes.

But is this the whole story?

I like to think about the perspective of the other crabs in the bucket. Are they jealous or envious of the one crab getting out? Are they malicious / selfish and intentionally pulling him back down to their level? Or, is there something else here?

I think it’s pretty simple. All the crabs want the same thing. They all want to get out of the bucket, and they see this one guy over there (let’s call him Carl) … Carl over there is having some success at getting out of the bucket, and everyone else wants to get out too, so they grab a claw or a leg or something… anything that they can reach, not to pull poor Carl back down, but to pull themselves up and out of that stupid bucket. It’s not that the other crabs are malicious … they just don’t want to be in the bucket either!

So, the story isn’t really about a bunch of mean old crabs who don’t want to see Carl succeed. It’s actually about a bunch of crabs who really want the same thing for themselves. Crabs who have their own dreams, their own ideas… and their own little crab families that they want to take care of. It’s a story about setting boundaries, about knowing when you are able to help someone and when you aren’t. It’s a story about leadership and working together as a team. Most of all, it’s a story about making sure that you’re ready to get out of the bucket yourself and throwing the others a rope when you do.

I was struck with this during a conversation I had recently with someone dealing with a spouse who doesn’t want to improve themselves or learn anything new in order to change their current situation. The person I was talking with is a dreamer and has frequently felt as though their spouse was like one of the crabs trying to pull them back down into the bucket every time that they talk about their dreams. Truthfully though… they both have similar goals, they just are not on the same page on how to get there. Neither of them are satisfied with where they are, both of them want better but they have not agreed on a plan. Their spouse may be depressed, insecure, or frustrated with circumstances… but none of this means that they are necessarily maliciously trying to pull them down.

If you are feeling as though you are the crab always being pulled back down into the bucket, what boundaries can you set with the crabs in your life? How can you work with them as part of your team in order to achieve mutual goals? Ask yourself if you are actually able to to help them get out of the bucket? Do they actually want to get out of the bucket, or are they wanting to pull you back in?