[Click here for other posts in the series Cried But Did The Thing Anyway – Life of a Freelance Writer]
Part the Seventh – Teamwork and Vivisection
Last week, I said that I knew what the following blog was going to be about, but never explained why I didn’t write it there and then. Well, now I can say that the reason for waiting was this:
This is a book. A comic book. Co-created by yours truly and Emmi Bat. I wrote about it a few days ago. I’ll be writing it about it again, when it goes on sale in a few weeks’ time.
But meanwhile, now that I hold this book in my hands, I want to talk about teamwork. As for the vivisection part, well, read on, and you’ll see for yourself.
Warning: this post contains strong language, and some brutally honest opinions, mostly about myself.
Ahh, teamwork. There’s no end to motivational posters that spring to mind at the sound of that word. And the quotes, the quotes… “When we all work together, we’ll win together.” “The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” And the famous “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Humans are creatures that depend on communities, and our continued existence (as well as the fact that exile/ostracism used to be a great punishment) is proof of the fact that teamwork is essential. Teamwork is wonderful. Teamwork is magical. Teamwork is what makes the whole more than just the sum of its parts (synergy, bitches!).
I fucking hate teamwork.
Let me repeat that, just in case you missed it among all the pretty pictures.
I. Fucking. Hate. Teamwork.
Let me tell you why. And if you think you can already predict the answer, and most of this post, well, I ask you keep reading. Because the final answer may surprise you. It certainly surprised me, at the time.
To be honest, I’ve hated teamwork all my life. Whenever group work happened – in school, university, you name it – I more often than not ended up carrying most of the project myself, so, over the years, the word ‘teamwork’ has come to mean ‘do all/most of the work, get only part of the credit’. In a lot of such projects, my teammates were very happy to leave me with plenty of slack to pick up, earning exactly zero love from me for that.
So that was my first reason for hating teamwork – a firm belief that other people are slackers, and that they generally suck.
As time passed and I went freelance, my need to cooperate with other people became minimal. The idea of taking on a project myself, being the only one who sets deadlines and standards, being the only one responsible for the result – all of that greatly outweighed the fact that in case of failure, I was the only one to blame. Don’t get me wrong, I’d ask for people’s help or input when I needed it, and most were happy to provide – but however gracious they were, they were always, well, consultants rather than teammates. I’d let them on board, but not on the bridge. Never on the bridge. And I managed just fine.
So that was my second reason for hating teamwork – a firm belief that I was fine without it.
Add to the above an ever-increasing degree of introversion with occasional episodes of sheer misanthropy, and you get my third reason for hating teamwork. I just don’t like many people.
Then, earlier this year, I started working on a comic book with Emmi. We’ve done stuff together before, but it was always some project that was inherently mine or inherently hers, with the other chipping in, helping out, but not quite teaming up. Not quite lone wolves, but rather antisocial ones. Sailing side by side, gladly welcoming each other on board, while keeping the bridge off-limits. Now, for the first time ever, we were really sharing a ship.
And that was when I found out what I think is my real problem with teamwork.
I hate teamwork because I fucking suck at it.
Let’s look at it this way. I thought that my reasons for hating teamwork were:
– other people don’t work as hard as they should be;
– I don’t need those people’s input to finish the project;
– I simply don’t like other people.
Well, this time, three out of three of the above reasons went out the window. I was working on a project that I wanted done but could by no means do myself, working with someone who is literally one of my most favourite people in the world, and working with someone without exaggeration, works harder than anyone I know (present company of myself not even slightly excluded).
None of my anti-teamwork reasons applied. But it was still hard as hell.
I’ve always known I don’t play well with others. But I thought that people I genuinely like and care about would be exempt from that rule. I thought wrong.
So, as promised, here comes the vivisection of the self. The following points are things I found out or confirmed about my person. (If you know me and feel inclined to give a resounding ‘duh’ to any/all of the following points… do so carefully. This is an introspective piece, but not a free-for-all, so hands off that scalpel. Jerk.)
I always think I’ve got it all figured out.
I work hard to optimise my life and work. Which is a fine thing. I like to share my findings with the world. Which is also a fine thing. (Hence the start of regular posts on this blog.)
Where it stops being a fine thing is when I hound other people with my opinions on how they should be doing their work. And then the notion of ‘a fine thing’ disappears over the horizon entirely when I take it personally when people don’t follow the advice I pressed on them.
Compromise makes me uncomfortable.
It seems bizarre, but sometimes, if I can’t have my way, I’d rather let the other party have theirs than meet them halfway. Maybe because letting go of my option entirely leaves me room to sulk, whereas a compromise means that both parties agree to be reasonably satisfied with the outcome. Maybe because it’s a choice along the lines of, ‘fine, do it your way, but I take no responsibility if it goes wrong’.
I’m not entirely hopeless, in that I wouldn’t take this oh-so-mature stance on bigger decisions that can actually endanger the project. If I truly believe that the entire enterprise it at stake, I will fight tooth and nail to make myself heard. But in smaller things, the temptation to make a closing statement of ‘meh, whatever’ is often great.
Blame games are a knee-jerk response for me.
Like I said before, only having myself to blame is (for me) an acceptable price for having sole responsibility for the project. But I had no idea that I’ve got a part of my mind that instinctively tries to assign blame to the other person whenever they’re part of a joint work. There’s a voice in my head that always tries to find fault with others. It gets utterly irrational at times. Which is quite frustrating. I’ve learned to recognise it, most of the time.
But even when recognised, it’s very unpleasant, the wish to lash out and make the problem – whatever the problem – someone else’s fault. Every time, I have to overrule myself with the knowledge that in lashing out, I would make myself feel better for a moment, if that, while inflicting unjust hurt on the other person, and then, as an added bonus, feeling much worse, myself.
I tend to think I’m better than others.
This confession was so hard to get into this blog, it almost didn’t make it at all. Which probably means it’s very true.
Between ages 7 and 24, I’ve excelled at academics and work. In the five years since then, I’ve learned about writing novels, about singing, and about being bad at things. Out of these three, the last one was, by far, the hardest. There’s enough material on this subject for a separate post one day, but for now, let me just say that a short lifetime of being good at certain things imbues you with frequently excessive pride.
Even though I’ve learned how to be bad at things (in order to get better), I still find it very difficult to confess any of my failings without a qualifier. Including personal ones. Especially personal ones. I can’t tell you how hard it was to write this paragraph without excusing myself and blaming at least some of my flaws on the environment, upbringing, you name it. I’m not going to, because I firmly believe that by the time one’s pushing thirty, one must learn to take responsibility for one’s person. Which includes said person sometimes being a prideful bitch.
Listing any of my self-perceived redeeming features would partially defeat the point of the confession, so I’m not going to do that. But, in closing, I’d like to say that I don’t think I’m an entirely terrible person. If nothing else, I have faith in the people around me, who have the integrity to tell me when I fail too badly.
And it’s all about the learning, right? At the end of a team project, I can honestly say that I’ve learned something. My approach to many things far too often can be summarised as ‘my way or the highway’, but this time, I couldn’t drive this car myself, and walking wasn’t an option. So, with some bumps along the way, we made it. And I’m glad of that.
After all, we’ll be going more places, Em and I, and if she thinks she’s about to shake this self-centred judgmental perfectionist, well, she’s got another thing coming.
In summary, this is what I learned this year:
I fucking love teamwork.
Teamwork is fucking great.
Teamwork is fucking hard work. But it gets you places. Let’s hit the road.