I was really kind of lonely at my last job, especially towards the end. The people they kept hiring to work in marketing kept quitting; the department was eventually taken over by a sociopath difficult manager. I felt cut off from the rest of the company, stuck with a bunch of nebulous ever-changing never-communicated expectations with no authority whatsoever.

I wasn’t allowed to work from home to try and minimize the impact of my commute, so I started showing up around 8:30 in order to leave at a reasonable hour. Every morning, I sat in a mostly empty building, typically not interacting with a single person until around 11 when my night-owl coworkers would start showing up. Those were some miserable hours, sitting there in that silent office knowing I’d been forced to rush the kids to daycare and battle the worst traffic of the morning just to fulfill some pointlessly bureaucratic Ass in the Aeron Chair requirement.

Collaboration was rare and communication was poor, and the only time I ever really heard anything about the quality of my work was after I quit.

(Something I’ve learned: if you appreciate or admire what your coworker does, tell them. They may not be hearing it from anyone else.)

In a lot of ways, I suppose I was better prepared for the isolation of freelance work than I would have guessed. The transition has been challenging at times, but I can’t miss what I didn’t have. There are things I do miss—the separation of home and office, the adults-only environment (well…mostly. I did work with a lot of software engineers), the friends I had—but I wasn’t part of a productive team. I didn’t have people helping me refine my work, or giving me direction, or brainstorming ideas with me.

In my current writing job at The Stir I have consistent, concrete deliverables, which is something I never had before. Three articles daily: one in Tech, two in Entertainment. I pick my topics, I communicate with talented editors to get story ideas approved, I write my content, I can see if what I published was successful or not. There are, after all, metrics. Glorious, glorious metrics. Even if they don’t necessarily tell you whether a story was well-written or not, I can see how many people read it. I can see if I hit that elusive sweet spot of trending story and reader interest.

What I do now is immensely more satisfying than what I was doing before. I know what I need to do, I mostly know how to do it, I know if I’ve done a decent job. Clear direction and feedback, my god, it’s a whole new world.

Still, for all my hermit tendencies, for all the comfort of being able to mostly do my own thing and do it in ratty yoga pants from the butt-dent in my couch, I’ve realized how much I want to work with people. Maybe not necessarily through physical proximity (although man, that definitely helps), but I want to add my skills and talent to someone else’s and achieve something awesome, something I couldn’t do on my own.

It’s good, in a douchey Let’s Understand Our Feelings! sort of way, to understand this about myself. It’s not about mourning what I don’t have at the moment, it’s about the value of having a clearer vision of where I want to go in the future.

I feel like in many ways this job has been incredibly healing for me, soothing over some of the insecurities and lack of confidence I built up over the years at Workplace. I was so sick of the guessing games and bullshit management, I just wanted to get shit done. Now I’ve got shit to do, and on a good day, guess what? I’m not half bad at this shit.

I am all by myself now, and I know that’s not how I want to be forever. But it’s okay—better than okay—being here at the moment. I sort of believe it’s exactly what I needed, to help fix where I’d become broken and point me towards the things I love. I almost believe what some people say, that everything happens for a reason.


46 Responses to “Solo vs. Ensemble”

  1. Kelly on February 28th, 2011 12:28 am

    I moved from my workplace. They were so nice to keep me on and let me work remotely. But I found that when I was not on site I was forgotten. Any teamwork or collaboration that I had in the office was gone. I HATED the isolating situation and quit, with no real back up job, in August. Now I work part time at a school and see real people. Its awesome except for the pay.

  2. Lucy on February 28th, 2011 3:05 am

    You are right – things do happen for a reason, even if it’s not immediately apparent. You’ll be fine!

  3. deanna on February 28th, 2011 5:29 am

    im sitting in an airport right now, on my way to a city ive never even visited, for a job interview to start a new portion of my career. this was just what i needed to hear. thank you.

  4. Jenn on February 28th, 2011 6:45 am

    Here – I’m telling you. You are the best writer over at The Stir and the only reason I ever visit that site.

  5. Angela on February 28th, 2011 7:03 am

    This blog really connected to me. I even posted a link on my facebook page so maybe you’ll get more visitors. I too… hated my workplace. I wasn’t lonely because I’m deaf and I work at a deaf company with many employees but I had family obligations that my sociopath boss didn’t really care about. In fact he looked down on me and put me on the ‘mass layoffs’ list because I came in at 8 and left at 5 on the nose to pick up my son from daycare. I was pumping at the time and I lost milk because of workplace.

    Eventually, I got laid off – didn’t work for couple years and by luck, I got a conference planning contract with a nonprofit. WOW. They treats me SO much better. They are a company with disabilities but all can hear. Which is odd because a company with the same disability (deafness) should treat each-other better. But anyways. I’ve worked temp at old workplace for few weeks or few months from time to time and I always leave thinking that I will NEVER work for them but loneliness always beats me. I do crave adult interaction.

    Soooo yeah, I see a lot of similarities and It makes me appreciate my freelance job so much more.

  6. Liz on February 28th, 2011 7:09 am

    Man, yeah. I moved jobs within my company — from a dysfunction yet very collaborative in-office only role to a much more relaxed, self driven (“self-driven”) role that is virtual with my coworkers scattered. The role is more *interesting* to me, but …. wow do I miss working with people. I love not having the daily grind, GOD do I not miss that AT ALL, but… i miss people. I’m better with people. And I needed to know that so I can better design the next thing.

  7. AmyinMotown on February 28th, 2011 7:12 am

    I’m so jealous that you got to stay (I was one of the many many freelancers they cut), for all the reasons you mentioned. I’d worked for another parenting blog and got no feedback whatsoever beyond the numbers; the frequent interaction with smart editors made me a better web writer, no question.

  8. Deanna on February 28th, 2011 8:02 am

    I just wanted to say that the whole no adult interaction thing hits me every now and again, too.
    A friend asked if I could help with her volunteer gig (spay/neuter clinic for trap and released feral cats – I just watch and monitor them post surgery, etc). My wonderful husband takes off once a month so I can go do this and it renews my spirit. We save lives. Yes, I know they are *just* feral cats but it is so . . important and gives me a sense of contributing to the greater good. That feeling is not always there wiping bums and washing dishes as a SAHM.
    Your post reminded me once again that the layoff I went through a few years back was a detour of my path but, looking back, not at all the tragedy everyone makes layoffs to be.

    PS: Your writing rocks. I miss your survivor reviews and wish you would review more shows.

  9. Kathryn on February 28th, 2011 8:38 am

    I felt the same loneliness in grad school when I would spend days in a library alone with my books and never interacting with anyone. So so lonely. I never really thought about that experience preparing me for other things, the way yours did. But you are kind of right. I think I’ve at least gained a little bit more balance with the group work/ independent work type thing. But, man, was it hard.

  10. Redbecca on February 28th, 2011 8:56 am

    This resonates with me today. My Workplace team is kind of in the same place with a new Overlord and it isn’t going well. And we have daycare/special needs kiddo issues on top of it. So a lot to consider. I’ve been debating an attempt to work from home or reduce my hours somehow, but haven’t worked out a magical formula yet. Your post gives me perspective on what it would be like with lack of people. I’m a raging introvert so it might turn me into more of a recluse, but I like to think that maybe it would give me a kick in the butt to be more social with neighbors and friends on evenings and weekends. Here’s hoping.
    And don’t stop writing ever, Linda. You have a true gift.

  11. Courtney on February 28th, 2011 10:26 am

    My husband is an engineer for a local government. He’s a social guy (social AND an engineer; oxymoron?), but his department does not communicate with each other at ALL. No staff meetings. He speaks to his boss once a month, his co-workers less, and he’s miserable. He knows it, but I don’t think he understands the depths of how miserable he is. I might send him your blog post to remind him that usually making a change ends in something more fulfilling…

  12. joaaanna on February 28th, 2011 11:59 am

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoy your writing. Here and at The Stir. I follow your Stir posts on FB and honestly that’s the only reason I go over there. I suppose I should look at what else they have to offer. But your writing is the best.

    As for “things happen for a reason”, that keeps coming up and slapping me in the face too. May be something to it.

  13. Life of a Doctor's Wife on February 28th, 2011 3:25 pm

    I’ve been freelancing for a couple of years and working remotely for nearly six… And I connect so deeply with what you said. The best it gets is being part of a team, which is not always possible. It helps to work with people who are accustomed to working with freelancers, and who consider them team members rather than random “purchases” or “article machines.” And it helps to get out and interact with those people, so they don’t forget that you’re a human and not just a voice inside the computer.

    But oh – even if there are still office politics and personality clashes, it is so much better to handle them (in my opinion, although I wouldn’t know the difference) from behind the shield of your computer screen.

  14. rain city girl on February 28th, 2011 5:12 pm

    Thanks for writing this Linda. It’s as though you stepped inside my mind and sorted out all that I went through with my last job. Working in a group with no strong leadership from above, and the hit or miss atmosphere of how things are done. Really tried to work things out, but in the end I knew I couldn’t go on. Didn’t want my attitude to get like some of my coworkers, then have my work suffer. I loved and respected it so much. Like you I just want to get my work done minus the bs. Well, I hear workplace is sinking now. Incredibly sad, it could have been so much more and helped a lot of people.

  15. Mel on February 28th, 2011 7:58 pm

    Hey, I’m a software engineer and I am basically an adult! :)

  16. Anyabeth on February 28th, 2011 9:44 pm

    You know, I think most of us have to experiment. Sometimes what is not working about a job isn’t the work but the environment or just a small piece. I did a career change last year that didn’t work out as well I had hoped. And I have taken a lot of crap about it but I learned so much about what sorts of things will make me happy going forward that I consider it a year well spent.

  17. KKF on March 1st, 2011 11:26 am

    Concerning your yearning to be with people – I feel the same way. Am considering a very un-me solution of reaching out to a new group of like-minded people.
    Maybe you could do a few volunteer hours per week at your local library? Help with writing questions or computer issues? That’d get you into a library, interacting with people, and you’d have a great source of new material to write about! :)

  18. MichelleH on March 1st, 2011 12:02 pm

    How do you managed to do it???

    Always the right post at the right time.

    I just gave my notice yesterday at my job with absolutely zero lined up to replace it. I have some grandiose ideas about how to pay for things should I not be able to find work but other than that, nothin’. What lead to me deciding to leave was a very nasty, horrible set of circumstances that left me a wimpery puddle of tears on Friday and a supercharged badass by Monday. But you are so right, it really defined for me, what I don’t want and exactly what I DO want. And you are so right, if you appreciate someone TELL THEM. Just like you, now that I am leaving I have supportive co-workers coming out of apparent hiding who’s cameraderie I seriously could’ve used months ago.

    I am really glad you found something you like better and that’s it’s helped you to fine tune your vision of your perfect life. And I am SO right there with you. I’ve always hated it when people say things happen for a reason, but speaking for myself I feel tempted to say it too, so I know how you feel. Congratulations and I can’t wait to hear what is out there for you.

  19. mary ann on March 1st, 2011 9:28 pm

    I Love Love Love your blog. I’m a writer, worked for a huge agency in PR for seven years putting a great face on a deplorable situation (my manager used to call our customers morons) I ended up with a new Director who defeated me at every turn until I finally addressed her as Master Bully. I was laid off one month later. I work from home, dedicate part of my time as a Volunteer Coordinator for a local rescue and raise my kids. Whenever you get lost in the isolation of working from home, call a meeting and remember the assholes who never respected your efforts. Everyone will come, you will get your fix and then go back to what you do best!!!

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    Don’t underestimate yourself: this didn’t just “happen,” you went after it and wrestled it to the ground. That’s pretty fucking awesome.

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