Unaccompanied Achievement Is Underrated

For your next big thing—whatever that thing may be—consider going at it alone

Ross McCammon
4 min readJul 9, 2021


Illustration © Ross McCammon

Because I’m writing this story alone, I don’t need to discuss with anyone how to start it off. So it will start with a story (an efficient story, I promise) about how for years I fundamentally misunderstood my mother’s experience raising me. It will end with a call to action, but this is how it’s going to start.

My parents split up when I was only a few months old. As I grew older and began to understand what raising a child actually entails, I built a narrative of struggle around my mother’s life. The image was: My mom was a single working mother who struggled to raise me. She didn’t have a partner to ease the burden. She and my dad had a perfectly civil relationship, but he was in California while we were in Texas. In my mind, her road was tough.

She’d become a grandmother to my own kids by the time I openly acknowledged, offhand, my image of her.

“…And you had it so tough doing it all by yourself.”

“Raising you?”


“I don’t see it that way. In some ways it was easy.”


“Think about it this way. I didn’t have to consult anyone. I didn’t have to compromise. There were no arguments about parenting. If I had a decision to make about raising you, I made it. End of story.”

That conversation profoundly changed me. First of all, it destroyed the too-simple narrative I’d built up about my mother. And it provided an entirely new prism through which to view not only her achievements as a parent, but achievement in general.

The split created a burden for her, but it freed her from one, too. I haven’t looked at solitary effort the same way since.

In our personal lives we are collaboration-obsessed. We maintain networks of friends. Group threads. Even our pastimes have become collaborative. We don’t just go running, we Strava. At work, we prefer Slack over email because it turns our work into one big collaboration. I’m constantly pulling people into “collabs” to “collab,” sure, but sometimes I pull people in for transparency. Or “viz.”

(I’m an admitted over-vizzer. Hey, Kevin, can I have a word? You’ve been vizzed!)

But all this interconnectivity requires a lot of logistical coordination, relationship management, and communication. And side-Slacks. Loads of side-Slacks.

That’s a lot of work. And that work is necessary for many things. But not all things. I wonder if we’re losing the ability to judge which goals are best achieved through collaboration and which are best achieved through solitary effort.

“I’d rather have to beg forgiveness than ask for permission,” people say sometimes (including me, way too much). I’ve always loved that construct. You can do the thing. Or you can ask permission to do the thing. And you’re not just asking permission from whoever’s in charge, if that person isn’t you. When you achieve a goal with others, you are constantly, either explicitly or implicitly, asking for permission.

Are the people you’re collaborating with providing creative energy and ideas or are they providing the safety that numbers afford and making a simple fix a complicated endeavor? Without them, you are free to make decisions. You are free to efficiently and forcefully achieve the end.

You can travel with others, which will require weeks of planning. Or you can get in the car and go. Alone and free.

Some point soon—maybe in five minutes, maybe in a couple weeks—an opportunity will present itself. It will involve a challenge. Not a small challenge. But not a massive challenge, either. A big challenge that you can either do by yourself, or with other people. You can pull people in to help if you want. Your call. Some to collab with. Some for viz.

Consider not pulling them in. Go it alone. Just get it done. Move quickly, cross it off, submit it for review (or forgiveness, as it were) and move on to the next thing.

You won’t have to compromise. You won’t have to consult anyone. There will be no arguments. When you have a decision to make, you’ll make it.

You may be able to incorporate this kind of thinking and working and doing into your life in such a way that after many years, you’ve done many big, important things, almost entirely on your own. When you look back at all you’ve accomplished, in some ways it might even seem… easy.



Ross McCammon
Writer for

Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way