Working alone is a hard concept to master for someone who enjoys building off the energy of others. I think some people like it, citing others as “distractions,” like roadblocks for tasks needed to be completed. However, the day my little sister was born, I used feedback in leadership (leadership meaning being the oldest). I thought “YAY! Finally, I a person assigned to be my permanent, mandatory friend (minion).” When Mary frowned upon one of my ideas, I didn’t do it. This is how nurture taught be to be somewhat of a people pleaser. She was a tiny infant genius mastermind in my eyes, and even though it seems a little crazy, I noticed her reactions to things I suggested/did, or made her do for me. On top of that, I was very patient with her until she used that against me and started biting me like an animal. Then I tried to twist her arm in rebuddle, but to my horrific surprise, nothing. No tears, it didn’t phase her at all. She was smaller, stronger, some kind of human-robot hybrid my parents created to stop me from soaking up all the attention. I have to say, I was impressed. On top of being super smart, Mary used advanced strategy not unlike the war tactics of Sun Tzu. She wins everything. She started with little victories. First, she was quiet. Much more quiet than a normal two year old should be, until something didn’t go according to her plan. Then she would scream the glass out of every window. Not kidding. It was my responsibility to be a care taker and teach her. I am the oldest, meaning I am a role model. I often “let her win” arguments because I saw myself as being the bigger person. I thought I was molding her into a mini-me, instead I was feeding a monster.
Mary didn’t have a ton of friends as a child, because all of our neighborhood friends were either my age or older and even though Mary is only two years younger than me, I often referred to them as ‘my friends’. I also played ring leader, coming up with ideas like making a secret neighborhood clubhouse in the woods, creating and writing a newspaper to leave in everyone’s mailbox, and the best idea, LEMONADE STAND, which I had built into a lucrative business, mostly by making Mary hold the sign by the road (who wouldn’t stop for an adorable 90′s seven year old in a home made dress) also, where were my parents?
The point is, I was a doer. I learned through experiencing success and failure first hand, building on the actions and reactions of others. Extraverted, creative, and socially confident, I lead a band of friends through tree houses, kickball games, and pig latin. I still am a doer. I enjoy “life experience” that no one could possibly learn in an organized setting. There’s no measuring success in life using academic grading systems! This C I got in High School Health is bull crap!
Mary was a listener, and introvert, and a learner. She just sat and watched me rise and fall. She learned through all my mistakes, which she didn’t have to repeat. Mix that with tough skin (literally) and advanced reading skills, and we have a reigning Risk: World Domination champion. While I was riding around on my two-wheeler barbie bike sans helmet like an idiot, Mary was reading my untouched copy of Boxcar Children. That’s when it clicked for Mary. She didn’t need friends in the same way that I did. She could read books and “win” at things by being smart. She was always after my spot as leader. She could do it by mastering passive agressiveness. To sum it up, I think her approach to life might be “She will always be the oldest, but I will out-live her.”
I know what you are thinking, what does this have to do with learning to work alone?
I have an intense weakness that is hindering me from accomplishing my goals. I consider myself independent, but when it comes to feedback, I need a partner. Or at least I feel like I need one. Is this an illusion? Maybe. I’ve only known working with people. In school, I looked forward to working in groups. I knew exactly what to say to build people up, and I could match people with their passions. In High-school, I fit in perfectly on my Cross-Country team, and they even made me their chief my senior year! (Meanwhile, Mary is just brewing, incubating on JV, getting straight A’s, honors classes, scholarships, etc).
However, in the startup world there are two things that are necessary. One is the ability to work alone. The other is inclination to disobedience (a story for another time).
My strengths always lied in social settings, while Mary observed her settings first, and then struck by dropping knowledge everywhere, following all the rules and calling everyone out on their mistakes, like a boss. “Kelley, control your sister!” I CAN’T, SHE READ ATLAS SHRUGGED. She’s a ruthless capitalist. She probably has stocks.
There are plenty of places in this world for creative, outgoing types. Mostly in environmental non-profits, hippie art, saving whales, Al Gore’s partnership with the Planeteers, teaching abroad, graphic design,
The Lexington Herald Leader, Portland, Occupy Sesame Street, Joe Biden translator, unpaid social media intern at the Onion, You get it right?
In order to be successful, I must master working alone. I have to figure out if my ideas are good based on research rather than reaction. I have to read. WWMD? She would probably be incubating in the bowels of Colab, writing extensive expansion plans for the company. I have to do this. I have to help my startup, and use my position to listen and learn from others, who have to learn from first-hand experience. In this passive way, I will win. To quote the Tao Teh King
“The best soldier does not attack.
The superior fighter succeeds without violence.
The greatest conqueror wins without a struggle.
The most successful manager leads without dictating.
This is called intelligent non-aggressiveness.
This is called mastery of men.”
I’m also thinking about buying a fish.