What If You’re the Only One?

What If You’re the Only One?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Self-Employment

It always seemed unfair that Skeletor didn’t have more help.

I mean, even when I was a kid, I got that Skeletor was a bad guy, and that it would Not Be Good if he conquered the universe. But it didn’t seem right that He-Man had all those friends to help him thwart evil schemes, while Skeletor just had a couple of idiots on his side.

In case you’ve got no idea what I’m driveling about, I’m referring to a cartoon from the 1980s, in which Skeletor was the main villain. But if you’ve ever seen (almost) any cartoon you’ll know what I mean: a poor lone baddie must face a team of heroes all by themselves.

Even Skeletor Deserves a Little Help..?

Obviously, I’m not writing a whole post about the unfair treatment of 1980s/90s cartoon villains. (Although I’m suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to actually do that…)

(Dear Puttylike editor: don’t worry. I won’t.)

(Yet.)

Anyway, it’s not that I wanted evil to actually triumph. I just had a solidly developed sense of fairness, and surely everybody deserves a little help.

I hoped that the real world would be different, but, unfortunately, it seems that real life is like cartoons… and not even in a cool way. My enemies don’t live in giant skulls and I don’t get to wave around magic swords without causing far more problems than I’d solve.

But, just like poor misunderstood Skeletor*, we don’t always have the support around us that we need.

*again, if we ignore the “trying to conquer the universe” thing

Where Might My Team Be?

The obvious place to find my team might be at work. But in my life, being part of a team has been the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time I’ve been doing my own thing—working freelance, writing books, and doing standup. During these times, having colleagues just hasn’t been an option.

Of course, simply having colleagues isn’t a guarantee of support. We all know that workplaces can foster competition rather than cooperation.

Still, at least I’ll always have friends in my corner, right?

Unfortunately, circumstances and whims have often conspired to make me move cities—or countries—so I’ve often found myself far from family and friends, and having to build a new support network from scratch, at precisely the time I might need the most support.

These kinds of stories seem to be common for multipotentialites, who are often drawn to new places and tiny niches: both situations which lack easy, automatic access to support.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me they’re tired of being the only one in their corner. Whether it’s that their friends, families, colleagues or partners just don’t get it, or that they’re currently lacking those people in their lives, lots of us seem to be feeling that we’re on a team of one.

Your Team Exists, Even if You Don’t Know It

Happily, if many people are struggling with the same loneliness, then none of those people are actually alone.

In fact, if this article has been up for more than a few hours, I’m confident that after you’ve finished reading it, you’ll find a bunch of people have commented something like: “I thought it was just me.”

There is a whole community of the community-less, so this is a problem of knowledge, not a problem of reality. Which means that all we need to do is to get to know some of these people who might naturally be part of your team, and voila: we have a team.

What Do You Need from Your Team?

But before attempting to befriend everybody who has commented on this article, we should start by considering our true needs. (Which makes a good first step in every circumstance, now I think about it…)

What does it mean to be on your team? Do you need a sounding board to occasionally bounce ideas off, or a life partner who will support you through thick and thin? Do you need someone to vent to about difficult clients, someone with expertise who can answer questions when you’re trying to master a new skill, or minions to live in your skull fortress while you scheme to master the universe?

Knowing what you want doesn’t necessarily make it more achievable (finding a perfect life partner might not be so simple, who knew?!)—but knowing your goals might help you find broader directions, and get your needs met— even if reality might not be absolutely ideal.

What Does Your Team Need from You?

Remember everyone else has needs, too. While it might be nice to find people who want to slavishly devote themselves to improving our lives, that—unfortunately—doesn’t make for a great team dynamic.

Entire books can be written on healthy interpersonal dynamics, but in brief we need to make sure we give as much as we get (and get as much as we give). Ideally, we find people with complementary needs and skills, so we can shore up one another’s weak points, and we communicate honestly about what we want and what we’re offering in return. For example:

“I’ve been meaning to find an accountability buddy for ages, want to encourage each other on our projects once a week?”

If you want to build a team, you have to be a team player. Or, to put it another way, only cartoon villains get to have minions—we humans have friends, colleagues and teammates instead!

Practically Building a Team Where You Are

There are two options for developing more support in your life: reconnecting with people you already know, or finding whole new team members.

(It might seem strange to consider people you already know, but sometimes we drift towards them, as well as away. It could be that that annoying person from school who appears occasionally on Facebook has changed, and is in the same boat as you are.)

As ever, the practical actions you can take depend on your individual circumstances. But you might consider some or all of the following ideas:

  • Obviously, online communities for multipods are a great place to meet people who ‘get it’. Puttylike, and the Puttytribe are a good start!
  • As a multipod, you have many, many specialist interests, which means you can find many, many specialist forums. This might not scratch the ‘people who get it’ itch, but it may help with venting about specific issues you’re facing.
  • Try out some online co-working groups. I used these to stay connected while writing my first book, which was often a lonely process—in particular,  I used the already-mentioned Puttytribe and a site called Complice, but I know there are tons of other sites where you can drop in and remotely work alongside strangers on your personal projects. This can be a great way to meet people who are looking for accountability buddies or remote colleagues (or even friends!)
  • Or look for local, physical, co-working groups. I’ve found people to work with through meetup groups for entrepreneurs, writers, students and professionals, and also through adverts I’ve noticed in local libraries. A day a week of working alongside these ‘colleagues’ in a café/library does wonders for my morale!
  • Consider paying people to take on some of your tasks. This is considerably more formal way of creating a team, but if you’re in a position to try it, then this could be a great step forward for you.
  • Look into task trading—can you swap skills with somebody else, so you each benefit from the other’s abilities, as well as their support?

Doing anything alone is always much harder than being part of a team. Some of your work may be inherently solo, but that doesn’t mean you have to struggle through it alone. I hope these ideas help you to take practical actions towards building more of a team in your life… and, ultimately, conquering the universe and putting that nasty He-Man in his place!

Your Turn

Do you have people in your corner? Got any tips for strengthening support networks and creating a real team around you? Share your ideas with the community in the comments!

neil_2017_2Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

17 Comments

  1. Riccardo Bua says:

    Great post, my personal strategy is to take note and reach out, I take note of comments, interventions, wisdom shared and embrace others with similar traits regardless of their location. Over time the network grows. The challenge is for the people on the limits or far from the core, they get to see just an edge and it is their call not mine. Eventually the Borg collective will grow and they will have only one option:comply!;-)

  2. marzie says:

    Very interesting topic on a common problem.However, your practical actions are mainly based on Puttytribe which is impossible for me to join.

  3. Jed Pke says:

    I think almost everybody loves the idea of a “dream team”. And it is often romanticized in tv shows and especially shows about heroes. But rarely do they show how the hero made those connections. Or more importantly, when. I think it is imperative to know who you are first before looking for imcompatible company. And I think the problem is much less that we need a team and more so that we want one. Of course, every case may vary. But nevertheless, good company, good friends, a good team is a privilege; not a right. Trust is earned. And I would dare say making friends is an occupation all it’s own. Skeletor was not willing, but He-man had the patience of a hero. Unless, of course, they scripted some personalities together, gave them powers, told them to fight the bad guy, and left them to learn the traits of friendship on their own. Well then, that’s a different story…

  4. Trina says:

    Skeletor is my hero.

  5. Melissa A Bettcher says:

    Hi, great post again! I was just lamenting the other day that I have great friends but that they mostly represent only one area of my interests and I seem to be doing a lot of things on my own because I don’t have friends who fill those other interest “slots”. I have been trying to cultivate other friends in areas where I feel I am lacking but I have to be honest and say it does get quite tiresome to try and organize my time with all of these new friends. It would be nice to have a small handful that like to do ALL of the same things but I know that is not realistic.

    But it is good to know I am not the only one to feel this way.

  6. Julie Evans says:

    Reading this article sounds just like the voice in my head. I find it very difficult to find people my own age range that have things in common. I work in the software Developement industry. Most non techie people don’t understand the working hours. Plus, I like techno, opera, foreign films, chamber music, dead maus, plus, a huge variety etc. I just don’t typically find someone who is interested in any of them. I feel like I live in a social void.

  7. Suchot says:

    Very much relate! I went out for a friend’s birthday dinner last weekend and met some of her friends. Immediately I clicked with one of them when she stumbled over the question “what do you do?” I thought right away, she’s a multipotentialite! She then proceeded to talk all about many seemingly unrelated cool things she has worked on / is doing. :-). We exchanged contact info. I don’t find that I meet multipotentialites in the wild very often so I was excited to meet her.

  8. Rafa says:

    I’m a bit in this situation too. I naturally attract people, but have usually little interest in maintaining these relationships, so when I meet someone that I actually really get along with, I don’t know how to stay in touch. Results: the thing is all to start over again… And a lot of these people were actually people I cared about, y’know -_-

  9. Claire Nyles Suer says:

    Neil, I really love this post. Totally hits home for where I’ve been so many times in my life (and happen to be now again, to some extent). Thanks for making me laugh (re: Skeletor) and digging up some concrete strategies we can use to find our team.

    Personally I’m most excited about a cool co-op/ community space I found recently, I’m looking forward to going there just to work and to chat with people, a thing I really need as an extrovert who mostly works remotely. Hope all the readers here can find similar places and spaces that they need!

  10. Silvia says:

    Thank you Neil for this article, it really hit a soft spot. Thanks for introducing me to Meetup, I have checked it out and have already found a group I may be interested in!

  11. Kate Rosen says:

    This has definitely been a challenge
    for me, so I really is nice to know I’m not alone. One of the best experiences I’ve had has been with Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. I have done no writing whatsoever since having my daughter (um FIVE years ago!) and this reminds me how great it was to have a team of writers I could relate to and hang out with. It has also recently occurred to me that my ambitious goals might actually be keeping me from participating fully, as they tend to create an “all or nothing” situation, which can be counterproductive. (This, of course, is something I have “learned” a hundred times… maybe 101 will be the charm! But I digress…) For the writers out there, I highly recommend Lighthouse. It’s an extremely supportive, smart, and accomplished group of people, and they genuinely welcome writers at all levels. They have online as well as traditional classes – and great parties, if you live in Denver. (I don’t work for Lighthouse or anything – it is just the best creative community I’ve ever come across)

  12. Charu says:

    I identify with most of the write-ups here, often nodding vigorously while reading. But couldn’t quite relate to this one. Multipotentialite professions/interests need not always be solo quests like the writer had…For instance, most of my work has been in teams. The projects and hence the teams couldn’t be more different from one another…from heavy duty nerds to clinical programmers, assiduous academics to energetic entrepreneurs. Even interests outside work involved interacting with diverse sets like talkative toastmasters & RJs to frugal (with words) adventure sports aficionados. So sometimes it feels like there is this beautiful bouquet I have…it feels enriching to be part of different tribes, wear different hats. The transition times are perhaps the lonely times, when you are moving to the next thing…but usually not otherwise.

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