As freelancers, we get to enjoy a state that is often-sought after by cubicle-dwellers and retail workers the world over. A state that seems like a blissful meditation or creative oasis… or a prime opportunity for ultimate productivity. I’m talking about the elusive and mysterious freelancing gift of solitude.
With solitude comes the freedom to watch a quick YouTube video or hop in the shower if you’re feeling flat and burnt out. With it comes the ability call your accountant with a personal tax question or call your mom and wish her a happy birthday… whenever you want. Something important to keep in mind, however, is that, solitude, after a while, comes with a side effect: social isolation.
Being a lone wolf can sound pretty enticing. You do what you want, when you want, and you don’t have to worry about the pace of the other wolves slowing you down. To an extent, this is perfectly fine. Freelancers are freelancers because they crave control, freedom, and the ability to set their own rules. However, there are other things to think about when it comes to being that lone wolf on the entrepreneurial tundra. You’re missing out on the benefits that come from running with a pack… and those benefits aren’t small, disposable things.
Physical and Emotional Benefits
I think it’s fair to start with the obvious, here. Working on your own for extended periods of time can get lonely. Simple as that.
When you’ve been working on a project in your basement office for three days straight, head down, with all distractions removed, you’re going to need to recharge. If you’re working from home, your fridge is stocked, and your Netflix account is up-to-date, a recharge can be as simple as a bowl of ice cream and a few episodes of your favorite show with your feet up before moving on to the next project. It’s entirely possible to go days without talking to anybody… and it’s not long before you’ll probably notice yourself feeling alone.
Feeling alone isn’t a pleasant emotion, but it’s easy to think that feeling broke is a whole boatload worse, and the work often takes precedence over your feelings.
Humans have a natural need for social interaction, and while freelancers might sometimes like to think that they’re exempt from mere mortal needs, even the most social of butterflies can benefit from a quick chat about the weather. In an interview with Scientific American, scientist Matthew Lieberman tells us:
“Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems. We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.”
He goes on to remark that phrases like, “she broke my heart” and “he hurt my feelings” are more than just metaphor, and that social pain is just as real as physical pain. This point is hammered home even further when you realize that the emotional effects of social isolation can actually cause physical problems as well.
The lone wolf might have control of its pace, but that control won’t count for much when the pace comes to a halt due to physical and emotional setbacks.
Living in an isolation bubble is rough on your mind and body, and can take a hard hit on your creativity as well.
When you’re familiar with only your own work and ideas, it’s easy to fall into the belief that either A) you’re doing great and don’t need to make any changes or B) doing horribly and everyone else is better than you. Objectively, we know that neither of these things are true… but it’s harder to see when you’re by yourself.
Let’s think about that lone wolf again. If he were part of the pack, he’d be privy to all of the wolfy-happenings going on around the tundra. Where the best prey is hanging out nowadays, where the hunters have made their campground… things of that nature. All of these bits of information would give that lone wolf some new material to work with and compare to what he already knows.
Having someone in your field, or in a connected field, to bounce ideas off of can be one of the most lucrative tools to have in your freelancer toolbelt.
Getting a fresh pair of eyes on your work is a great way to see which methods you might be overusing, or not using enough, and will help you to grow as a freelancer in your industry.
Another important reason to come up from your freelancing cave every once in awhile is to keep your reputation intact and build up your business a little bit. Word-of-mouth marketing is, arguably, one of the most effective forms of getting yourself out there and snagging new clients, but it’s not something that will guarantee you consistent income alone.
Visibility in your freelancing community, and consistent in-person contact with industry peers is a relatively simple way to remind people that you are working, that you are looking for more work, and that you haven’t turned into a zombie in your basement.
Get out there, kid.
Alright, so it’s not good to go it totally alone. We’ve established that, right? So what’s next? How do you actually get out there and squash that social isolation?
One great way to connect locally is to look for networking groups and meetups in your area. Your local chamber of commerce is a helpful place to contact for information about small business owners within your community and where they gather. Websites like Meetup.com are fantastic resources for finding meetups specific to your needs. Freelancers Union also has a member directory that can help you find freelancers in your area.
Attending a conference is my personal favorite when it comes to blending socializing with professional development. These are events specifically geared toward community, shared experience, and making connections. You can walk away from a conference with exciting new business contacts, potential clients, and lifelong friends.
Coworking is a freelance trend that has picked up a great deal of momentum and popularity. Coworking is simply the act of working in the proximity of someone else who’s working, and is a great way to sneak socializing in among business. Coworking can range in scale from simply asking a friend to join you at a coffee shop with your laptops to paying a membership at an official coworking space. If there isn’t a coworking movement in your community, send out a few emails and get one started!
Phone a friend. Socializing doesn’t have to be work-related. Feeling alone can be turned around by grabbing a cup of coffee with an old college friend or a catching a game at the bar with your buddies. Remember, tackling social isolation is just as important as work, and isn’t merely a frivolous luxury. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your business.
Let’s come up with a better nature metaphor.
So, the lone wolf isn’t the ideal situation… but we’re not telling you to join the pack again, either. You didn’t work hard to establish a freelance business just so you could hop back into the 9-5, right?
Freelancers are a different kind of wolf… let’s call them visiting wolves. They don’t run with the pack, but they’re not hermits, either. They visit the pack from time to time to maintain relationships and keep abreast of the changing landscape.
Be a visiting wolf. Follow up on some of those business cards you’ve got sitting in your desk, invite a friend over to play Uno, or check out that writer’s meetup that happens every Thursday at the coffee shop across town… anything that keeps you visible, socially satisfied, and helps you avoid turning into a basement zombie will do just fine.
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