Loneliness comes with the territory when you’re a sole trader. Or at least, that’s the perceived small business wisdom. And yes, ploughing your own furrow can mean that working life is sometimes solitary and alienating. In fact, unless you are completely comfortable working on your ownio, you can go a bit bonkers without colleagues to shoot the breeze with about Killing Eve, or Boris bloody Johnson.
However if, like me, your socio-psychological make-up veers between wierdo loner and gregarious social animal, self employment is actually a pretty good fit. Being able to retreat into a solo state of single mindedness suits the intense focus parts of my business model (copywriting in public places is a great big no-no when it comes to concentration and the meeting of deadlines), but collaborative projects are also an essential ingredient to sole trading sanity. Personally, I thrive on regular new projects with new people, it’s my business bread and butter. I absolutely adore that altogether now vibe. But boy-oh-boy, when you work alone, it’s easy to forget the many, many challenges of collaborative working.
On the upside, working across a diverse range of projects featuring wildly different personalities certainly keeps boredom at bay. When it goes well, working in partnership is absolutely invigorating, thrilling and innovative. What could be better for business than ideas flying, robust discussion, shared ambitions and collective effort to deliver outstanding work? Getting to contribute to brilliant, worthwhile projects is a real buzz, as is the ongoing learning and self-development. I get an even bigger buzz from those rare projects who are well up for pushing boundaries, for being brave and demonstrating can do chutzpah. Gawd, I love you guys.
In fact, I feel the love for almost everyone I work with, but every silver lining has a cloud. Sometimes, doing things democratically drives me clean off my head. Working by committee looks peachy on paper, but in reality it often descends into petty power plays, personality schisms and a maddening inability to actually get anything done. It pains me to witness the amount of time, effort and money which is sometimes wasted by going round and round the houses. BTW, I was guilty of that myself during an earlier local authority career, but those days are gone, baby, gone.
So yes, sometimes I’m demented by a lack of leadership and decisiveness, but it’s probably unfair to apply my level of “just get on with it” to collaborative project work. I bring a fast-paced deadline culture from many years in the media, and coping with interminable democratic discussion and endless “what ifs” is certainly not my strong suit. Another person’s hand-wringing almost certainly results in hair-ripping for me.
But d’you know what? Teeth gnashing aside, this kind of collaborative working has taught me a lot. It’s taught me to try and be patient. It’s taught me not to ride roughshod over dreams and ambitions. It’s reminded me that reaching agreement can take an angst-ridden age, but equally, might just deliver a truly collective consensus. Most of all, it’s taught me that democracy’s not dead.