“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”

Reid Hoffman

In my younger, more naive days (and mind you, we’re talking about an era when “the mushroom” haircut was still considered avant-garde), I truly believed that life was one grand solo performance. A stage gleamed in front of me, just waiting for my one-man wonders. Oh, I had plans! Plans to utterly dazzle everyone from the postman to my fourth-grade teacher, Sr. Agnes (who always said I’d amount to very little with my “lack of self-control”).

But this tale isn’t about my childhood misadventures, mushroom haircuts, or Sr. Agnes’s disapproving glances. It’s about socks. Yes, you heard me right. Socks. The fabric foot-huggers we take for granted. Those trusty companions that keep our toes protected from the horrors of cold floors in winter mornings.

See, socks—much like my ill-conceived notion of solo stardom—come with their own set of misconceptions. Most notably: that a single, dazzling, flamingo-patterned sock can stand alone and be just as impactful. But have you ever tried wearing one sock? It’s neither comfortable nor particularly fashionable (unless you’re attending a one-legged sock convention, which, now that I think of it, could be a niche market).

As an only child I spent a lot of time on my own. In other words, I was that lone sock. I prided myself on my independence, my unique flair, my capability to take on the world without any aid. But then came the inevitable laundry day of life—the kind of day where dreams tumble and spin, where everything gets agitated and colors run.

It was on such a day, post-laundry and pre-major meltdown, that I noticed it: one missing sock. As I held its lonely counterpart, a single US Soccer Centennial Edition soccer sock I had worn for an overly ambitious evening of adult recreational sports, the metaphor hit me. Here was this brilliant sock, full of potential, unique in every stitch—but without its partner, it was…well…a little useless.

It’s not that a solo sock doesn’t have value. On the contrary, I’ve seen them turned into makeshift puppets, used as dust rags, or even worn in desperate times when their mate has vanished into the sock abyss (every laundry machine has one, I’m sure of it). But when a sock pairs with its mate, it’s complete. It’s functional. It’s ready to take on the world, or at least the insides of a well-worn sneaker.

Much like that epiphany-inducing sock, I too had a realization. In the grand performance of life, where acts change and curtains fall, going it alone might earn you a few claps, but bringing a team into the act? That’s a standing ovation right there.

Each of us, in our own right, is a centennial edition sock. We have brilliance. We have flair. We have those unique patterns that make us stand out. But what’s a magician without an assistant? A juggler without balls? Or even a dramatic mime without an invisible box? They’re performers missing their essential counterparts.

I soon found that by welcoming others into my world, sharing the stage, my solo performances were transformed. With others by my side, juggling life’s challenges became a choreographed dance, the kind where everyone knows the steps and you can improvise without tripping over your own feet.

Today, when I look back at my Solo Starlight phase, I chuckle. Not at the dream, but at the execution. For in the world’s unpredictable tumble cycles, where dreams can easily get agitated and colors can run, it’s the combined warmth of a team, much like a pile of freshly laundered linens, that provides true comfort.

So, the next time you find a lone sock, remember, it’s not about its solo journey. It’s about the pair it makes, the warmth it shares, and the walks it undertakes with its mate. In life, just as in the world of socks, teamwork truly makes the dream work.

And as for Sr. Agnes? Last I heard, she was attending interpretative dance classes on weekends… ok, not really. But I believe there’s hope for us all. Even if we start as just a lone sock in the vast laundry of life.

Looking dope while porting my Classic Mid 90s Mushroom Cut™

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand and Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2023 Stephen Boudreau.