Bread, Me, Us

Team: “to come together to achieve a common goal.”

There are a lot of great things about teamwork, but there are cons, too. In particular, where do you as individual fit in without losing your soul, so to speak.

Where do you draw that line? I found mine through bread making.

The definition of team as a noun is “a group of players forming each side in a competitive game or sport.” A group of people who come together as a team to achieve a common goal. We’ve all heard and made reference to this word: “She’s a good team player.” “He’s my teammate.” “Teamwork is our core value.”

We look for inspiration in sports—whether it’s baseball, basketball, or skating. What is clear is that a team is as strong as the sum of its parts. And its “parts” are the individuals member. People like you and me…

Where does the individual stand in a team?

Always Together

I didn’t look for inspiration at sports (I am not a sports person), but I did find it in something more ordinary: Bread (baking it, not eating it).

Working in a team has been my life. Once the goals were set, I would align myself to them and would do everything that was necessary to reach those goals. This included helping my teammates so we could reach the goals together. In my head, being in a team is like being in a boat: either we sink or sail across the seas together.

A Workshop

Sounds nice, I know. The problem was that I started to lose perspective: team goals would always triumph over my individual goals. I even started to get anxious over this. I stopped being effective, helpful, or insightful. I stopped noticing my teammates’ issues and preoccupations.

I was getting closer and closer to depression.

I took some time off, but that was only a patch. The real solution was to change the way I looked at things.

At some point along the way, I heard about a bread baking workshop. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. Cooking, let alone baking, was not part my skill set. The only “recipes” I could do were morning cereal, scrambled eggs, or the good ole’ cheese and ham sandwich. It took convincing and friendly pressure from a friend to signup and eventually attend this workshop.

The Big Lie

What I learned there was extraordinary,

  • First, you have to be gentle with your dough. All that tossing around and hitting it hard against the table is pure performance.
  • Second, if you overwork your dough it will get stressed. JUST LIKE ME. An overworked dough will eventually tear apart. You have to let it rest.
  • Third, it needs time to ferment properly. You must respect that. If you are striving for that aromatic and savory loaf of bread. You have to be patient.

Those three things were the answers to questions I wasn’t really sure I was looking for. But they sure found me.

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Inspired by my new discovery, I started to bake at home every weekend. With each loaf my understanding of this craft grew at the same time as my amazement towards this powerful and yet humble food.

Bread has been around basically since the dawn of civilization. It has helped build powerful empires, like the Egyptian – how do you think the pyramid workers were fed? And the Roman empire.

Bread has brought stability for some (“Two things only the people anxiously desire: bread and circuses”). It has also sparked revolutions (“If they can’t buy bread let them eat cake”).

People could get arrested for stealing bread, like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. You could even show off your status by the type bread you could get. Still better, be the bread keeper and be called in old anglo-saxon hlāford, or Lord in modern English.

All of this was truly eye-opening, but what blew my mind was the fact that, across cultures, bread has been used as way of bringing people together. And it still is!

  • In slavic and some European countries, bread is a synonym of hospitality. Tradition says that you must welcome your guests with bread and salt, the latter being a luxury item (i.e., root of “salary”).
  • In English speaking countries, it is said that one must work hard to put bread on the table for our families.
  • Finally, in my dearest Mexico, bread is one of the elements we use to connect with our loved ones who have passed away. We call it Pan de Muerto, representing the circle of life in its rounded shape. The bones of our dead together with the tears we have shred for them.

I, Teammate

With all of this in my mind and after around 70 loaves, I had the courage to start sharing my bread: with my family, my friends, my teammates and even other people I’ve met while learning to make bread.

Why do I say courage?

Because I am not only sharing a product of the earth, flour and salt, being transformed by water, leavened by air and perfected by fire.

I also am sharing a little piece of me

Remembering that I must be gentle to myself. To rest so as not to get overworked. To be patient and stop once in a while. To keep me strong and make me stronger.

Inspiration

The very word company means “those who share the same bread.” Its components are con and panis,

Con
Means together, to share
Panis
Means bread.

Conpanis, transformed to cunpanis, transformed to modern Spanish compañero. That’s the word for teammate in English. Bread inspired me to become a better teammate.

I’ve found other sources of inspiration, of course: photography, nature, math, physics, meditation, dogs.
Inspiration can be found anywhere.

And then you do find your source of inspiration, please share it. It may think that others will find it silly. But remember that sharing is a courageous and generous act. Do it!

I would love to break bread with you so we can do #moretogether.

_____
An earlier version of this post originally appeared in Point’s Medium account.

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