The Story Economy Blog

How a Lone Wolf Learned to Love a Team


For so long, I prided myself on NOT being a team person. Sure, I collaborated with writers, editors, and clients one-on-one. But I’m talking about a real team. Of many people. The kind that has meetings and group emails, goes out drinking together, takes turns talking and listening to each other, and has each other’s back whenever needed.

I wasn’t wired for that, I told myself

Actually, I told myself all kinds of things. People always let you down. It’s better when you only have to take care of you. The bottom line was simple: You’re not a team player, Judi.

Of course, I was monumentally wrong.

Because now? I love my team with a co-dependent fierceness that perhaps requires therapy.

Case in point: This past weekend, I came off an all-consuming, team-based project, with Iacono Productions and Origami Owl Custom Jewelry. It was a live show, and my job was to write the entire thing (6 sessions, 6 scripts, and 8,000 cups of coffee).

The picture above is a bunch of us after the project wrapped, at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning, on questionably-clean hotel lobby carpet, taking part in a team photo tradition. (I’m wearing the green shirt.) The instructions were simple: Everyone, fall on top of each other and look dead. (It wasn’t difficult since most of us hadn’t slept in days.)

I would do almost anything for this team now. And yet, I am every bit the freelancer I’ve always been—no boss, no company, no single focus is ever going to claim me.

So how did I get here? And how can you be both a lone wolf and a team player?

First, the history—because everything is always about going back to where you first got an idea about something.

I remember a glorious sunny day in the fall, probably 1982 or 1983, because I was eight or nine. I was outside doing gymnastics by myself, and I was pretending that I was a gymnastics star. It was Sunday and stupid church was finally over and I had the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted to do. I was in my own world (my favorite place as a child). I remember thinking that being left alone to do what I wanted was the most wonderful thing ever. I can still feel the sun on my face and grass of the backyard under my toes and remember how the whole world just seemed open, as long as I only had to worry about me.

Everything that happened after that just became evidence that I was right. A year or so later, I started competing in gymnastics. Though I was technically on a team, it was always an individual sport for me. Of course you’re in gymnastics, not soccer—you don’t do real teams, I told myself.

High school sucked and I didn’t fit in and there was no way I was joining any of those stupid clubs or doing rah-rah Catholic crap. It’s because you’re an individual, I told myself.

In college, I started running—another solitary endeavor. I loved—and still love—the miles alone. It is so much better to do solitary pursuits, I told myself.

Then, three years out of graduate school after a couple of jobs that didn’t work out so well, I became a freelance writer. This is what you were always meant to do! Work for yourself! You don’t need any boss or team of people to report to, I told myself.

All of my magazine work and other client work seemed to reinforce that. Every once in a while, I was loosely part of a team, but my role was very well defined. I managed to flit along in my own world, the sun on my face and grass under my toes, secure in my independence and certain that it was the only way to really work.

Then I fell into doing corporate scriptwriting.

Let me set the scene. It was early 2011, and the magazine industry had just collapsed. I suddenly had no work. Also, I had just had another baby. And I was supporting my family. Naturally, I said yes to the first decent opportunity that found me—which happened to be corporate scriptwriting. I faked my way through a meeting with producers at Iacono, and before I knew it, I was contracted to do something I had absolutely no idea how to do: write a live show for Longaberger Baskets.

The first year, I stumbled and felt like an idiot most of the time. It was a jumble of adrenaline and tempers and laughter and last minute changes and midnight rehearsals, but I was part of this crazy production crew, whether I liked it or not. What I did mattered to other people, and what they did mattered to me. It was a different kind of synergy than I had experienced before.

The weird thing was that I liked it.

It still took a few years to really feel like I fit in, to learn the shorthand for the way things worked, and to think more holistically about the team and the goal we were all working toward, versus just my work and my deadlines.

I wrote the Longaberger show for a few years, and then I was brought on to write Origami Owl, which I’ve been doing for five years now. (Five years!) While it is a very stressful experience (as in, I need a new word for stress—more about that here), it is the absolute best team effort you could ever imagine. I have to rely on others, and they have to rely on me. And when the show comes together, you no longer remember where your worked stopped and someone else’s started. Your hours and their hours blend into one big thing.

I’m still that girl in the backyard, twirling around in her own world. I love my own world! I love my independence. I love that I’m in control of what work I do. I love being in my office all day long by myself, working on a piece of writing.

I also love collapsing onto the floor at 3 a.m. with my team, a bunch of crazies piled on top of each other.

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