Crabs in a Bucket

Be prepared for the naysayers and keep climbing
By Scott Mann, Rooftop Leadership Training
January 2, 2019 Updated: January 2, 2019

Have you ever had people drag you down who should have been lifting you up?

“Hey, man, who the hell do you think you are?” I have been asked that question a lot, especially since getting out of the military five years ago. The unfortunate thing is some of the folks asking it, are the very people I served with.

When someone we worked with or have history with, asks a question like that or puts negative energy in our path, it can take us out like walking pneumonia. It can cause us to postpone, put off, or even abandon our goals.

Who the hell do you think you are?

We all fear it. We all fear rejection from our peers, from our family members, from the people closest to us. There’s an expression in the Northeast, ‘crabs in a bucket,’ meaning whenever one crab starts to crawl out of a bucket and is just about to make it out, the other crabs will reach up and pull that crab back down.

Why is that? Well, crabs don’t have the market cornered on this selfish act. We have those moments where we’re about to break out, we’re about to do that big thing—that makes us feel so vulnerable—and then we get pulled back down into the bucket. This almost happened with my book, “Game Changers.”

I almost didn’t write it. Then, I almost didn’t hit send to the publisher. Then, I almost didn’t market it. Why? Because I was so concerned with the crabs in the bucket. I worried about what some of the guys who I served with in the military would say, maybe our opinions differed, or maybe they felt like I was forgetting my roots. I was worried about that to the point that I almost didn’t finish the book.

Had it not been for my dad intervening at a very critical moment of self-doubt, I probably wouldn’t have done it. That would’ve been a shame because it would’ve really been a disservice to the people who have lived this story from the Afghan War. More importantly, it would have been a disservice to my son and other people who will serve in the military and can benefit from the lessons that we learned the hard way.

The ‘crabs in a bucket’ effect can have a very profound impact on us as social beings because, at a semi-conscious level, we’re much more concerned about what folks think—especially our peers—than we realize. But here is what we need to remember … they’re just crabs.

Your voice, your truth, your purpose—these are the most important things you have in this world. It’s what leaves tracks and defines your identity. No one has the right to silence that. When we start shaking as we strive to make a big move, we just have to do it. And if the crabs try to pull us back in, kick them off and get yourself over the lip of that bucket.

Steven Pressfield talks about it in his book “Turning Pro.”

“The tribe doesn’t give a crap,” he writes. This supposed tribe that we’re so worried about, they are so caught up in their own crap that they don’t even have time, not even one second, to worry about the crap going on in your life. And if they do, do you really want those people on your team? Do you really want those people in your tribe? Are these the people you want to work with?

If you think about it at the most fundamental level, anyone who tries to pull you back in the bucket for any reason is not a good teammate. They are not a good customer, they are not a good client. They are not a good friend. It doesn’t matter how much money they have or how much influence they have. If you’re doing what you know to be the right thing, and more importantly, you’re playing a purposeful game, then forget the crabs.

They are operating out of fear-based behavior. They’re allowing fear based behavior to force them to let that reptilian brain do what it does best, tear others down. They’re not thinking bigger than themselves, they are thinking only of themselves. And we don’t have time for that as leaders.

We have to do what we know to be right. But we have to prepare ourselves for the crabs so we don’t give them the power to bring us down.

We go through a change when we play a bigger game and there are people that are going to make comments and try to pull us down. But here’s the thing—those crabs don’t have a lot of power because they’re so caught up in their own lives.

So let’s have the courage, let’s have the focus, let’s have the wherewithal to stay on course. And let’s build a team of people who give us the collective resilience to stand together and push us over the top of that bucket, and then follow us out.

If you let the crabs win, you cheat yourself out of your best contributions, and we all deserve better than that.

Until next time, I’ll see you on the rooftop.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building.  He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit