Crabs in a Bucket

Have you heard of crab mentality?  The analogy comes from the apparent habit of crabs in a bucket to hinder the escape of any one crab.  Alone in a bucket, any one crab can make his or her getaway but in a bucket full of crabs they grab at one another and pull the potential escapee back down.

If you’re like me – and the many folks I’ve mentioned this analogy to – your reaction may be along the lines of “YES! That’s exactly what happens!”.  And you may not be referring to your own personal experience with crabs in a bucket but instead, alas, of your own work and life experience.

Like crabs – or any living thing – we are wired for survival.  I don’t believe crabs – crabby as they have a reputation to be – are necessarily plotting to thwart a colleague’s success. From a crab’s perspective, survival is “out” and back where she belongs. Alone in a bucket she’ll grab on to any crab hold to make it over the lid.  In a bucket full of crabs, she’ll do the same – even if it happens to be the shapely leg of a fellow crab.  Dashed hopes for all involved.

Lessons from the crab bucket:
1. To get out of a bucket, you may have to have the tenacity to shake off more than a few fellow crabs.
2. When a fellow crab is making an escape, resist the urge to grab and pull – it helps no one and can have disastrous consequences.
3. Consider that we tend to measure and value ourselves in relation to our fellow crabs.  There are other buckets out there.  Better yet, there is a big blue free sea.  Consider that the biggest obstacle to your own escape, just might the value you place on you.

Tips for Escaping Buckets

  • Awareness of the bucket is the first step.  Take stock of your work and life.  Good bucket? Or no?
  • Evaluate your current vs ideal relationship to the bucket
  • Establish a goal
    • Option 1: Celebrate and nurture a good bucket
    • Option 2: Plan your escape
    • Option 3: Commit to helping others escape if the bucket is not their bag
  • Commit to your goal with a clear vision of success
  • Execute your plan with milestones, support and expert advice
  • Follow through, don’t peek back into the bucket, head forward
  • Pass it on



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