In 2015, it is increasingly easy to live a life devoid of almost any human interaction. This is not suggesting that is a good idea, but when you can shop, bank, interact and even play online, the potential is there. A lack of interaction often brings with it negative associations. Recently studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can contribute negatively to health and ultimately lifespan. However, that’s the extreme end of the spectrum and we can still socialise and achieve whilst going it alone. In fact, other researchers have found that regular use of social networks online can also be a good indicator of social attitudes offline.
Scare stories of secluded hermits staying in and going crazy have been around in different guises for years – it used to be the crazy cat lady, but now it’s the internet forum dweller. Before we get too far into the whole internet ‘good vs. bad’ debate, we have to think about why some people choose to do more things on their own terms. It can make them more productive. It can be more fulfilling. It can give them more recognition. There are hundreds of reasons why flying solo works better for people in different ways, and we’re going to take a look at some of them here!
Individuals sports vs. Team sports
More often than not this choice is made for you when you’re growing up and you’re enrolled in a sport that either has you competing by yourself or on a team. Depending on what your parents are interested in, you might be a tennis player or a rugby player, a golfer or a footballer. Some kids are lucky enough to stumble upon a sport that they’ve got a real knack for, whilst others might go from one to the other without really having any success. It’s not usually dictated by the ego as a child, rather circumstance, but given the choice as adults many people would choose differently. Those who take part to fulfil their egotistical desires might be attracted to something where the limelight is on them, but they also have the sole burden of defeat. The highs and lows can be more intense.
Let’s take two of the sports we already mentioned as an example, tennis and rugby. For all the benefits of team sports, you can point to something in an individual sport that is also rewarding. No sport really has you out there on your own – as any athlete will tell you the coaching team around them play a huge part – but when it comes to the crunch it’s down to you to dictate just what you need to do.
If you’re battling hard for the match point after three hard sets on the court, it is only you that can produce the desired results. You can’t retire into the background or shirk at any point. You are accountable for every point and every result. However, pass this over to a team game of rugby, and there can always be someone to pick up the slack, or someone to pass the buck on to. You could cite dozens of examples of where a key player just didn’t show up on game night and seemed to blend into the game quietly, unlike other nights where they stood out.
In one of rugby’s fiercest rivalries, the State of Origin, New South Wales (generally 11/2 with the bookmakers) have the outside chance of grasping the title after losing the first game. Every player could bury their head in the sand and accept defeat, with nobody really able to point the finger at one player in particular. They would rather suggest it was the fault of the collective. However, if Andy Murray was 1-0 down to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, do you think he could just let the game pass him by whilst he slinks off unnoticed? Not a chance. In reality, when it comes down to it the rugby players will have enough passion to see them dig deep regardless as that’s usually what long-standing rivalries can muster, but that’s not week in, week out. At some point every player will feel content enough in taking their foot off the gas for a little whilst their team-mates have to fill the gaps.
You make your own results in solo sports and there is never any point where you can give agency to anyone else. You have to be self-reliant. This builds many positive traits, but mostly responsibility for your own results and that has a positive carry over into any walk of life. There are always the individuals within teams who are willing to put their heads above the parapet when the going gets tough, but it’s also just as easy to shy away. The boxer can’t decide to have round three off when his opponent is trying to take his head off his shoulders. His focus is paramount to his result all the way through.
Solo gaming vs. Online play
Call it ‘old school’, but being content as a youngster with 2-bit games that could entertain for hours seems a long way away. Even as the consoles progressed, getting lost in your own activities and having that escapism was always part of the appeal that attracted your youthful self to video games. If you had had enough of the outside world or the family, you could retire to your room and tap away on the controller in this virtual world.
Now it seems not even that is sacred. At last count it seems almost three quarters of gamers had played online, and that is more than likely even bigger now. No doubt there are positives about getting involved with a community with shared interests and it opens up a whole new gaming experience against other humans rather than the computer, but then your every decision is there to be sneered at by annoying kids with microphones on, or even more annoying middle-aged men with too much spare time on their hands.
For me it takes away that element of relaxation and pure engrossment in a game – having another real person with you or against you in real time. Shutting yourself away and finding that unique place only an exciting game can take you surely isn’t the same when someone from Kansas is calling you names just for being a bit late on the draw on Call of Duty.
Working alone vs. Working with a team
Much like the team sports examples, there’s the ability for a group of people to equally share the burden or equally try to offload the burden. We’ve all seen this in various jobs, or even classroom groups. Being a part of a shared effort can lead to morale boosts and a goal that is taken on board by multiple individuals and therefore multiplied. It can also lead to everybody doing the bare minimum. In the UK, productivity levels are dropping – 30% less than the US, Germany and France. This is alarming and just goes to show when there are many shoulders for the blame to fall on, most people are willing to bear a small percentage of the force that bears down on them. If they had to absorb the full force on their own, it is doubtful you’d find as many willing to slack.
This brings us to working for yourself. Not every job can be done alone, nor can it be done as your own business, although most can. Think about the role you’re currently hijacking to read this article – could you set up your own business to do it, if you had the enthusiasm? Or could you use the same skillset to make it work for you in your own business venture? Most likely, but many people don’t want that responsibility. They want to clock in, clock out and get a paycheque. They want to coast through the hours and know they’re content. Sure, there are downsides to being self-employed – nobody is giving you sick pay or sorting out your tax, for example. On the flipside, you know you are doing the work for yourself and for your own success. You are building your own future and not somebody else’s. Your impact is the only factor in the business and you won’t be relying on somebody else to do their job whilst you skive.
It brings a sense of freedom yet also a sense of attachment. You’re never not working (picking up your e-mails on your phone or running through the next job in your head), but you’re also never under the beady eye of a superior. What you put in you get out and your work ethic should be correlated to your income to some degree. That’s putting it simplistically, yet most don’t take the plunge because of the need for a safety net and a guarantee. You’ll find most lone workers are more motivated and that’s because they have to be. Being motivated is never a bad thing!
Hitting the gym alone vs. Training with your buddy
This is something most of us have experienced at one time or another. Whether you didn’t dare face it alone, needed a spotter or just some company, heading to work out with your sidekick is a familiar event. There are definitely situations where it’s a positive. If you’re struggling on that last rep or don’t have anybody to spur you on or challenge you then you might be guilty of not pushing yourself. How much of the upshots are then weighed down by the time wasted or spent chatting instead of training though?
It’s said that 95% of those that engaged in a training programme with their peers saw it through until the end so there’s clear benefits in having that supportive network around you, even if it is just to shame you into turning up. Whilst there, though, you could be tempted to drop the intensity if that’s what your partner or group is okay with. Also, reverting back to my video games, a bit of solitude and alone time to escape the hectic pace of modern life can sometimes be important in itself.
“You hear a lot of people say they went out for a run or a swim, and that’s when they came up with answers to their big life questions,” said one expert. Could you have done that whilst someone is trying to tell you what they watched on TV last night? It’s highly unlikely. The stress busting feeling of lifting weights or pushing hard on the treadmill isn’t the same if you’re working out at a pace light enough to hold a conversation.
This is, of course, only a very brief overview of the situation where in real terms there are many more variables and nuances to take into consideration. For example, there’s apparently a gender gap between the perceived chances of success alone against being part of a team. It seems women are more inclined to want to be part of a team, whereas men (sometimes wrongly) judge their ability in isolation to be higher.
We see plenty of examples of great individuals working well in team settings, and great individuals who are horrible in team settings. There is a continuum rather than just two distinct options. You should be asking yourself, what are my skills and could they be better applied going solo, and in what area of my life? Working hard alone and playing hard as a team in your spare time works, just don’t see being on your own as isolation or loneliness as that’s not always the case. In fact, sometimes it is much better!