Down with the Crab Bucket

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Crabs squaring off against each other; crab-bucket syndrome puts us against one another instead of proud of each other's achievements.

Trivia time: why don’t crab fishers need to put a lid on top of their buckets?

It’s because the crabs keep each other inside. If one crab makes for the top, the others in the bucket pull it back down.

As I’m sure you’ve experienced, some people can be a lot like those crabs in the bucket. Just as you start to pull yourself up, you feel that figurative pull on your ankles. Maybe that pull is active: they tell you your idea or dream isn’t possible, or they sabotage your efforts. Or maybe it’s passive: they don’t show up for your event or refuse to follow you on social. It can be extra-hurtful when the “crabs” pulling us down are our friends, family members, or respected peers and colleagues.

The “crab-bucket syndrome” or “crab mentality” occurs when you try to improve an aspect of your personal or professional life and others hinder you through mean-spiritedness or sour grapes. They might belittle your achievements, or refuse to acknowledge them. 

But fear not. There are ways to get out of that bucket, fellow crab! Here are some strategies that have worked for me when I had to get out of the clutches of a claw or two.

1. Be empathetic

I know; it’s hard to try and put yourself in the shoes of someone else, let alone someone who’s being outright nasty to you. But, a big reason why the crab mentality is so pervasive is because people don’t see a way out for themselves, and act out when they see someone else finding the way that was invisible to them. 

If you find yourself up against something like a work friend who’s ignoring you after your promotion, ask yourself – were they turned down for a promotion recently? Do they have financial troubles? Your empathy skills give you the clues that reveal where their negative attitude is coming from.

2. Bragging as help

Our first impulse when we come up against a crab-bucket situation is to shrink: to minimize or avoid discussing our accomplishments. Do. Not. Do. This. Why shouldn’t you share your successes?

In fact, you add value to the world when you share an achievement, especially if you talk about how you did it. Suddenly, those crabs who feel stuck in the bucket see what’s possible. You’re not bragging; you’re magnanimously showing the way.

3. Don’t sweat it

This might be the hardest of all! But really; be proud of your accomplishments and achievements. Think of it this way: did you get promoted, or start your business, or win an award for the “crabs” trying to bring you down? Or, did you do it for yourself? The answer’s the latter, of course. So be proud of yourself in fulfilling what you set out to do, for you.


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