The Magic of Working Alone with (the Right) Somebody Else

“I drink alone,” rocker George Thorogood snarled in his hit song of the same name.

Well, good for you, George. I’m not sure how to respond other than to say that I don’t share your philosophy on the consumption of adult beverages.

But your song on the radio this morning reminded me of something, of a similar declaration of independence that I have made repeatedly, throughout my life:

I work alone.

Like many introverts (insert bluesy, guitar-driven background music here)

I work alone, yeah.

With nobody else.

I work alone, yeah.

With nobody else.

You know when I work alone,

I prefer to be by myself.

I do in fact work alone most of the time. With nobody else. And when I work alone, I do indeed prefer to be by myself. It’s almost a badge of honor.

But just as Mr. Thorogood probably drinks with other people from time to time, by necessity or by choice, I work with other people from time to time. Usually by necessity. Occasionally by choice.

A while back, out of the necessity driven by my role as David lost in a Goliath-like wilderness, I chose to work with Kate McMillan of Outbox Online Design Studio in Portland, Oregon, some 1,500 miles from my home office here in the tundra of Moorhead, Minnesota.

Kate helped me redesign my Introvert Insights website. By “helped” I mean she did it for me. And by “redesign” I mean revamp, refresh, reinvigorate. Make that resuscitate. It was CPR. In fact, my website needed not just new life but life to begin with, especially visually. And, well, I’m a word guy.

So I did something many of us introverts hate doing — particularly those of us blessed with that pesky Y chromosome.

I asked for help.

Kicking and screaming, I asked for help. I chose to be part of a collaborative team effort with Kate McMillan, who I’ve never met in person and likely never will.

I chose wisely.

Robert Frost once famously wrote, in his poem “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Working with Kate made all the difference, but I say that with only a small nod to my updated website. What mattered to me more than anything — and this is a common “introvert thing” — was not so much what Kate and I did together, but how we did it.

Kate, I don’t know if you’re an introvert yourself. I suspect you might be, but it hardly matters. All I can say is this: You sure work like an introvert. Me too. And that made all the difference on this road I so rarely travel by.

Here’s just a small sampling of the introvert-friendly way that Kate and I collaborated together:

We communicated almost exclusively via email. We introverts hate being interrupted, and we hate interrupting others. So when email came along in the early 1990s, it was a godsend — a godsend we have latched on to and will likely never relinquish.

Kate and I “talked” back and forth via email for the most part. We had two phone calls as well — including one marathon session — but we arranged both of them ahead of time. Via email. Thus the calls were expected, and we could both prepare for them in advance (which we did). Minimal chitchat. Maximum productivity. But still plenty of laughs and sharing and getting to know each other.

We implicitly demonstrated along the way that we didn’t want or need the other person to respond to our emails instantaneously. Again, it’s all about disrupting — or, more accurately, not disrupting — someone when they’re in the middle of something. I emailed Kate. She emailed me. I didn’t expect her to be sitting by her email inbox, dying to hear from me. She didn’t expect me to be obsessing by my inbox, either. Our email communications were calm, “chill” as the kids like to say today. Professional always, but almost completely devoid of stress or demand.

We were detailed in the emails we wrote to each other, and we demonstrated that we had done our respective homework assignments beforehand. I researched Kate pretty thoroughly before contacting her, and when I did contact her I was very thorough in responding to her questions about my wants/needs for the new website. She, in turn, was thorough when she wrote back to me. And during our phone calls especially, she was unbelievably thorough in covering the ground we needed to cover — visuals, content, technical aspects, you name it — efficiently but thoughtfully.

We were organized. We worked from a schedule, one that Kate had laid out and we both had committed to. After our lengthy planning meeting on the phone, Kate sent me a detailed summary within hours — a summary that included a handy checklist of all the things I needed to do, both editorially and technically. She gave me an exact batting order of how to proceed. It took none of the work away, but it took virtually all of the stress away.

We listened well to each other. Kate somehow got into my head and my heart through the process, largely because she’s an exceptionally good listener but also because she actually reads the responses to the questions on her forms. I listened carefully to Kate, too. What I know for sure is that she quickly seemed to understand me and where I’m coming from on this passion of mine — this calling to teach the world about introverts and introversion. She also seemed to understand that on my website in particular, I wanted to be genuine. I told her early on:

“I can’t have my website communicate the exact opposite of the message I’m trying to spread about introverts and introversion. I need my website to project calm. To be calm. I need it to be welcoming, and to align with the laid-back person I really am.”

Kate not only listened to me; she heard me.

Is there anything an introvert wants more?

I will always want to work alone, as most introverts do. But there is magic in working alone with the right somebody else — somebody who gets how introverts work and offers the best of both worlds: independence and interdependence.

So thanks, Kate, for reminding me of the value of collaboration. Introvert style.

When You’re an Introvert, You Sometimes Need to Stand (and Move) for Peace

The other night, I graciously and selflessly accepted a last-minute parental appeal to take my niece, Autumn, to her recreational gymnastics class. At 7:45 p.m. On a Wednesday. Clear across town. In bad weather, with little regard for my own personal safety.

Aw, it was nothing. I’m all about noble sacrifice in times of need.

Come to think of it, though — and this is mere conjecture on my part, you understand — there’s the ever so slight possibility that I was also drooling with glee over the idea.

OK, I was drooling with glee over the idea. Why? Because it was the exhausted introvert’s equivalent of finding a $20 bill on the ground. It would give me the unexpected chance to (with apologies to Timothy Leary) turn off, tune out, and drop out. Minus the drugs.

Autumn’s gymnastics class, you see, would be the last of the night, and we were in the beginnings of a pretty substantial storm around here at the time. So by simply saying yes to her parents’ request — three little letters strung together and enunciated properly — I could help out my sister- and brother-in-law and secure an hour’s worth of peace BY MYSELF as richly deserved compensation.

Not that that would give me extra motivation.

I did end up helping my sister- and brother-in-law all right. Alli got to go to the concert she’d been invited to earlier in the day, and Chad didn’t have to miss his bowling league match. Mission accomplished.

But peace? Peace in my time? Well, peace had no chance.

Until I stood up for it — and learned that any of us introverts has the power to do the same.


Face the Music

Things were looking — sounding — good as Autumn’s session got under way. The usually bustling gymnastics facility was practically empty, and I’d grabbed a chair in a quiet corner of the balcony so I could read and stare into space, stare into space and read. You know: introvert ping-pong.

Autumn and the other girls had already started their usual warmup activities. On my lap was a stack of articles on, ironically enough, introverts and introversion. (Hey, it’s what I do.) So I settled in and settled down, cup of tea and trusty highlighter in hand, promising myself I’d glance up once in a while and actually pay attention to what Autumn was doing.

Ahhh. Blissful, heavenly quiet. Now I can …


(Why, yes, that is the grating sound of the 2006 “Hannah Montana” soundtrack album. How did you know?)

For some reason, Autumn’s coaches decided to blast, um, music through the PA system. The girls stretching out on the mats below undoubtedly viewed it as a welcome change from the typical warmup routine. I, on the other hand, viewed it like a normal person would: as a felony, assault with a deadly weapon. So I did what lots of people do during a crime in progress.

I prayed:

Dear God,

Dear God, God!

What did I do?!

What did I not do?!

I’m sorry, God. I don’t mean to yell. I’m just wiped out, and I was expecting something else here tonight. Craving it, actually. Something relaxing and soothing. Remember that $20 bill bit?

Let’s be reasonable about this, God. Everything is on the table.

I’ll do whatever you ask, whenever you ask, for whomever you ask, if you will simply do me the teensy, tiniest favor — right now — of sending a mammoth power surge through that outlet down there and … well, I know this is asking a lot, God, but can you please make the CD player burst into flames?

Safely, of course. There are kids down there, God, as you know. And coaches. Insane coaches, but coaches nonetheless.

Thank you for your time and consideration, God.


P.S. I realize that you receive many prayers each day, most of them far more pressing than this one. But I think you’d have to agree that the fact we’re talking about Miley Cyrus should move my request up on your priority list. Thanks again!


Oh, the Noise, Noise, Noise!

God must not have heard me over all the commotion, because the first song on the album played all the way through and then the second one began.

But then, to my amazement … the CD player burst into flames!

No, it didn’t. Though it did in my mind, introvert that I am.

The music did stop. Eventually. Mercifully. Miley and her accomplices had gotten away with their actions, but at least it was quiet again.

So I settled in and settled down, cup of tea and trusty highlighter in hand, promising myself I’d glance up once in a while and actually pay attention to what Autumn was doing.

Ahhh. Blissful, heavenly quiet. (Am I having déjà vu?) Now I can …


Forty feet of near-empty balcony space where we can watch the kids, and 60 feet more just a few steps in the other direction, yet some woman on her phone strolls up and has to plunk herself down in the chair right next to me.

Um, God … I silently begin.

But it’s no use.

As auditory flashbacks of Charlie Brown’s teacher flood what’s left of my mind, I hear (BLAB BLAB BLAB) all about how the woman’s relatives are coming in from out of town, and how she never (BLAH BLAH BLAH) sees her sister anymore, and how, oh, she’s going to try (BLAB BLAB BLAB) a new recipe while everyone’s here! And she hopes (BLAH BLAH BLAH) everyone likes it. She’s so wiped out, though (BLAB BLAB BLAB), because she’s been working 12-hour days for (BLAH BLAH BLAH) seven days straight and (BLAB BLAB BLAH) she’s getting tired of it. And, oh my gosh, now she’s so nervous, because her daughter on the mat below can’t (BLAB BLAB BLAB) keep her legs together on one of the tumbling tricks, so the coach (BLAH BLAH BLAH) is having her put a little strap around her ankles to keep her legs together. What if (BLAB BLAB BLAB) she falls (the daughter, I presume, not the coach)?


Enough with the prayers; God helps those who help themselves, I think to myself. Only to remember a split-second later that this phrase never actually appears in the Bible.

Still, it sounds like a good strategy. But what can I do, really? I can’t just grab my stuff and walk away from this woman. She’ll know what’s going on, and she’ll see what I’m doing and be offended or hurt or both. Especially since there’s no one else here to provide cover.

Besides: She’s not really doing anything wrong to begin with. It’s annoying to me, but it’s her world too. We can’t always expect the quiet to come sit by us.

No. But as introverts, we can surely go and sit by the quiet. Whenever we want to. And especially whenever we need to.

So that’s what I did. I somehow overruled the incessant voices in my head (desperation is an excellent motivator), gathered my things, walked to the other side of the balcony, and sat down for an extra re-energizing game of introvert ping-pong.

The woman never even saw me; she’s probably still sitting there talking. But I got the peace I so craved.

How? By simply standing up for myself, and out of my chair and walking away. Without explanation. Without justification. And from now on, without reservation or hesitation.