The Unwritten Rules of our Friendship

“I can handle this on my own, thank you Chris –”

I drew a scathing look from my travel partner, and knew it was time to back off.

“Fine” I said, equally annoyed, showing it as I handed back the alan wrench. “But you might want to try depressing the brake levers to align those pads…”

God — it was so simple! Couldn’t he see that? Just depress the brakes…

At the same time, I knew it would drive me up the wall if Morgan stepped in and fixed my brakes for me, rather than teach me how. In doing so, I had just overstepped my bounds. You see — I had broken one of the unwritten rules of our partnership: We don’t fix each other’s bikes.

There is an unofficial rule book to the Postulate One Project. We never talk about it, but Morgan and I both know it’s there. We also know this: you don’t mess with the rules. Ever. While there may not be any penalties for breaking them, per se, the rules of the book are sacred. They include compacts we’ve authored over time and experience to make our journey more efficient. Or more often than not, they help us handle each other’s company without wanting to throttle each other. Travelling with one other person for so long is difficult, and to do so Morgan and I have to operate as a team. That means there are some lines we just don’t cross. Here are some of my favorites:

 

  • We don’t fix each other’s bikes.
  • I am not invited on Morgan’s morning walks. Similarly, he is not to interrupt me if I am listening to music towards the end of the night. (These are times to be alone.)
  • We have set jobs at the campsite: Morgan pitches the tent, Chris sets up the kitchen. We also alternate who cooks meals so we both get turns.

We’re in on the joke; we know some of our rules are petty. The bike fixing one is particularly ridiculous – it’s a pride issue. The campsite jobs formed mainly because of the equipment we happened to be carrying in our bags. I became the kitchen maid because I packed the cooking equipment.

Beyond the multitude of silly rules, however, we do have a few big ones tucked away in the more important chapters of the unwritten rule book. Those pages have a profound influence in how we move forward. By far the most encompassing of them all is the rule that we share everything.

Sharing everything is as much a fact as it is a rule. The reality of this trip is that Morgan and I undergo the same body of experiences, good and bad. We share tough days on the bikes, with rutted roads and mud and relentless hills, just as we share amazing ones with flawless pavement and stunning vistas. We share days when we’re lonely and homesick and tired of each other, as much as we share ones where we’re energized and exuberant. We share all the ups and downs, dips and rolls that go into making this journey such a wild one, including triumphs – like a feature article one of us convinces an editor to pick up – and difficulties – like how a snapped rack on Morgan’s bike causes me to stop also.

Also, it’s no small matter that we share a bank account!

Indeed, the consequences of sharing everything are many. To start, perhaps the most notable is our practice of co-bylining. Aside from blog entries, you’ll notice all of our Forbes articles and feature stories are listed as co-written. Crucially, this does not mean that Morgan and I invested equal time in writing it, or that the piece even features both of our writing to begin with. Nevertheless, the other person’s influence is blatant; the editing of our partner is so heavy, with many of the core ideas, brainstorming, outlining, interview-getting, and source-finding attributed to them, that they really become joint pieces of work. We’ve since come to depend on each other’s editing in such a way that articles don’t feel complete before they’ve passed through the other’s fine-tooted comb. Sometimes that means swallowing some harsh criticism, like “I think you completely missed the point here, Chris.” Ouch! But you know what? My editor is almost always right.

Sharing everything means we end up becoming equally invested in all projects. Morgan’s idea to pursue an entrepreneur for Forbes becomes a joint task, and an idea I’ll have to beef up a feature story means another day we’re both pounding the pavement. In all cases, we cannot leave a place and saddle up until the stories we’re working there are finished, even if one person happens to be spearheading the writing.

Last — and I touch upon this because many people have asked us — having a joint bank account means we can make no major purchases without the other’s consent. There are no impulse buys; having a common balance means knowing exactly what the other is spending, especially since we withdraw our cash in four day disbursements. I want that expensive jar of imported Belgian chocolate? I gotta run it by Morgan first. I don’t even think of pulling off bigger ticket items, like an impulsive jaunt off to a day spa without him knowing. Yes, the joint account holds both of us accountable, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

Accepting the implications of sharing everything has had its learning curve. For me, the greatest challenge has been giving up some independence and personal branding. Before this trip, I used to regard most successes as very personal achievements. I would look at that college paper on Immanuel Kant I aced and my ego would flair — this is my accomplishment and mine alone. I did this. Since leaving Paris, however, there have been few, if any, such claims I can make. Sharing credit is a reality of this project that Morgan and I have both struggled with.

The other is having the independence to go anywhere or buy anything or do anything without consulting, or at least informing the other person. There is no option to take a ‘break’ from the trip; we rely on each other, and being in unfamiliar environments and working the same projects means I can’t simply disappear for a day. This detail was especially wearing at first, over things as simple as the fact I cannot be alone, away from Morgan, for more than a few hours at a time. Our budget does not allow two hotel rooms.

Of course, such frustrations – even important ones like sharing a bank account – have become petty and temporary compared to the utility of sharing everything. Embracing that unwritten rule has moved us forward in ways we never could have if we hadn’t. It has allowed us to produce more, complement our skills, see different sides of issues and places, and fuse our perspectives to create a better whole. We’re also way more effective when we stop worrying about who gets the credit. We produce better work, and frankly, we have more fun. The ability to share everything is largely what has made us an effective team. I know we’ll both carry that lesson on way past Postulate One, to anything that involves working closely with other people to accomplish a goal. After one more year of this, we should be pros.

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2 Responses to The Unwritten Rules of our Friendship

  1. pH says:

    Thanks for sharing that. You got the idea: transparency’s the thing. Easier said than done, clearly, thus the merit here…

  2. tomas says:

    Enjoyed the read. Great choice to speak about the unspoken. It’s all about the less obvious.

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