By far, the search results that most land on my blog involve some iteration of whether it’s okay to be a loner. No doubt they all lead to this post.
I find it quite surprising that many searches about the permissiveness of being a loner lead to here. In fact, my blog is now one of the top search results for that idea. I can surmise only that this must be a topic that strikes a nerve with many people, yet there must not be much concrete content out there if my blog is one of the top results.
This post stems from the above observations. I’m going to sound more decisive and self-assured than usual because it seems to me that some people need definitive answers.
So, let’s get right to it. Is there anything wrong with being a loner?
The short answer is no.
To provide the long answer, first we should define what a “loner” is.
One of the fun things about working for an educational institution is that I get access to the OED. (Yes, I’m a nerd, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either.) According to the OED, a loner is “a person who avoids company and prefers to be alone.” I think that’s a succinct definition. In case you’re interested, OED reports the first use of the word in 1947, when the New Republic stated, “Big John has decided to become a ‘loner’ for keeps.” I’m not sure if I completely know what that means, ha.
Is it a bad thing to want to avoid company and be alone? On the surface, no. Why should that be a problem?
But we loners are often insecure about our preference for solitude. This is because, as Susan Cain mentions in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, American society pushes the extroverted ideal upon us. (Perhaps Western society in general does this, but I don’t want to generalize.)
Our culture emphasizes “people skills.” “Networking.” “Putting yourself out there.” In sum, the ideal person is someone who’s outgoing, who derives energy from being around people. These are qualities of extroverted people.
You’re supposed to be noticed. If you’re not noticed, then your contribution doesn’t seem worthwhile.
But being a loner doesn’t mean you dislike people, it just means that you sometimes need alone time. Being a loner doesn’t mean you don’t produce quality work or that you lack people skills or that you aren’t noticed.
When people refer to people skills, typically they refer to the ability to socialize. But that is not the only people skill out there. Loners, who are often introverts (which means they need alone time to regenerate), have one prized people skill: the ability to listen. I’ve observed that many people have poor listening skills because they’re always so excited about voicing their own thoughts. You can speak, and what they tell you doesn’t completely relate to the concern you’re trying to discuss.
Since it’s so rare, people appreciate it when you listen. They feel understood. That is a valuable people skill.
You can put yourself out there in more ways than one. If all you can do is network, you don’t have any other abilities than to make connections. Those connections are useless if you can’t deliver. Even though they work alone, because they work alone, loners can deliver. Loners can often produce better results when they work alone than when they work with others. They can go with their intuition. They don’t have to worry about someone in the group being a flake. They don’t have to worry about the group choosing to run with an idea that they know is subpar. When you present the finished product, people will appreciate your insight, the insight you were able to have because you had alone time.
With the ability to listen and the ability to deliver, you can make valuable contributions. In some ways, being a loner is an advantage.
What’s most important, however, is being secure with yourself. I don’t practice what I preach here, and I should, but I have seen it when I’ve observed others: as long as you appear confident and open, you’re well-regarded.
If you like to spend time alone, so what? If that’s what you enjoy, you should do it without worrying about what others think. As long as you find your life satisfying, there’s not a problem with wanting a lot of time to yourself. It’s worse to try to force yourself to spend time with people only to get bored and annoyed by them.
I hope these ideas make sense, as I’m finding it a little hard to think straight. Heat does that to me.