Someone criticized me for not being a good team player. And yet I’ve always liked the idea of collaborating with others. In school, I liked being on the crew team and hockey teams. I like the camaraderie of playing basketball with the guys. I like brainstorming with others to generate ideas and solve problems. I once co-wrote a screenplay with a creative partner and it was one of the best writing experiences of my life. I even have a few favorite people I work well with, our skills and talents complementing each other.
On the other hand, as a writer, I mostly work alone. It’s generally my preference. I’m good at managing my own time. I never miss deadlines. Working alone gives me time to think things through, use my imagination, and do things my way. I didn’t say the best way, because who can always be the best? But there’s a saying that any individual’s reasonable way of approaching the world and going about things is probably the best way–because it’s their way.
When I worked in the corporate world, I was more effective as an individual contributor than when I managed other people. Working with others gets complicated because you have to account for personalities and navigate relationships. This takes precious energy—a scarce resource. If I’m expending energy on the dynamics of teamwork, I have less energy left for my own thinking and creativity. I didn’t get novels written by attending meetings or doing things someone else’s way.
These days, I prefer playing singles tennis to doubles: I’d rather be fully and individually accountable than let down my partner. I almost always run by myself. Most of my long hikes are solo. I have to face the truth: I often go it alone.
I feel bad for not being a good team player. There’s plenty of evidence that teams come up with better ideas and produce better outcomes than do individuals. The diversity of thought and opinion that comes from teamwork just isn’t possible when working alone. Teamwork teaches you to work through conflict in a respectful manner. To be open to ideas. It reinforces the importance of listening to others (not my greatest skill, but one I’m improving on).
Rudyard Kipling said, “He travels fastest who travels alone.” But there’s a team-oriented version of that quote, origins unknown: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
The thing is, I want to go fast and far. Where does that leave me? Mostly sitting at my desk, alone, writing, trying to come up with the next idea. Going neither fast nor far. Just lurching ahead, a team of one.