The (Myth of?) the Lonely Freelancer

loneliness-mythFreelancers are lonely, or so says conventional wisdom.

Here at Freelance Folder, we’ve addressed the issue of loneliness several times.

Freelancing loneliness is a well-established fact–or is it?

Recently, I realized that I’m not very lonely and haven’t been for quite a while. That got me wondering about the issue of loneliness and freelancing.

Is it a myth that most freelancers battle loneliness, or is it a truth?

To find out I decided to pose the question “do you feel lonely” to my Twitter community.

In this post, I share those answers and invite you to share how you would have responded to my question.


What Do Other Freelancers Think About Loneliness

Here are the answers to my admittedly very impromptu and unscientific poll (since participants were limited to my followers on Twitter). I found the responses interesting, and I think you might too.

I’ve divided the followers into two categories: lonely and not-so-lonely.

First, the lonely responses:

  • @2inspired, “Yep sometimes it does get a bit lonely here. I try to mix it up by joining a group & having lunch w/a pal every once in awhile.”
  • @RaeConover, “I was just talking to a friend about that. I try to make at least 1 lunch date per wk & networking via twitter and FB helps too.”
  • @amberweinberg. “Yes, it gets lonely working in my office alone, so I try to work in a cafe and at a friend’s office a couple of times a week”

Now, the not-so-lonely responses:

  • @YoFinanceWriter, “Not often. I have a hubby who is with me so that helps, I also have many friends who work from home and we meet up weekly/monthly.”
  • @leslieajoy, “I like being alone, but with being a freelancer I find that I get tired talking to the same people, most of who don’t get my job.” and “I can go two days and only see my boyfriend. I’m always on the lookout for online communities for this reason. They help!”
  • @seanmlyden, “Not really. To fight isolation, I go to Starbucks to write. The “white noise” (along with the caffeine) helps me focus!”
  • @ocopy, “No. Honestly, I like working alone!”
  • @stephauteri, “I used to feel SO lonely! Now I work in an office three days a week, and it’s the perfect balance!”
  • @theautowriter, “Generally, no. If I need a change of pace, I can get out & connect with someone. The occasional special event helps too.”

As you can see, there are a few more not so lonely responses. However, since this wasn’t a scientific poll that might mean nothing at all.

What I Think

After conducting this poll, I thought a lot about the results. On the surface, it looks a lot like freelancers are less lonely than many bloggers suppose.

While I can’t draw a definitive conclusion based on this one informal study, I did come up with some theories:

  • There’s a huge initial shock when a freelancer starts–particularly if they’ve worked in a traditional environment previously. You’re used to being around other people all day long, and all of the sudden there’s no one else there. That can be a big adjustment for some people.
  • Over time, most freelancers do adjust to the isolation of a freelancing environment. They start to work out their own solutions to finding social contacts (as you can see from the responses above). In short, they just get used to being alone.
  • Loneliness can be an attitude or an outlook on life. For some people, loneliness can be the filter through which they view the world. If this is the case, the actual circumstances that such a person finds themselves in don’t matter that much.
  • Loneliness is not limited to the freelancing community. People get lonely in all types of professions. Some people can be lonely in a crowd if they don’t feel connected to anyone. For that reason, loneliness posts often strike a sympathetic chord.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary to find professional help to deal with loneliness–and there’s nothing wrong with getting help. I can’t bring myself to write a post about an issue like this one and not make that statement. If you’re having a lot of distress and can’t see a way out–get help.

I should also say that no one individual response led me to these theories. Rather, this is something that I have been thinking about, off and on, for some time.

What Do You Think?

It’s your turn to share what you think about loneliness. How would you have answered the question?

Do you think freelancing loneliness is largely a myth–that freelancers are no more lonely than other folks–or, do you think freelancers are generally lonely. Why, or why not?

Leave your answers in the comments.

Image by invisible-lens

Comments

  1. Deb says

    I am a loner by nature. For me freelancing was liberating, in terms of no longer being FORCED to spend time with other people all the time. Not have other people’s decisions affect mine. Not forced to participate in office raffles, potlucks, parties, or other social functions which I hate but everyone else LOVES.

    Also, being alone is not the same as being lonely. I often feel lonely in the company of others and wish they would all go away so I can be alone.

    My need for social interaction is perfectly well covered by social media, forums and emails. I’m an Internet child.

  2. says

    I’m with Deb, actually. I prefer to work alone; I find that being around other people is distracting. I do my best writing when I’m holed up somewhere quiet -sometimes even coffee shops are too much to handle (although perhaps that’s because I’m on a college campus…).

    I do occasionally want company, because I tend to be a hermit, but it’s at that point that I know I need a break from the writing -that’s when I make my way to the coffee shops.

  3. says

    I’ve felt more lonely working in a crowded office than I usually feel working by myself. Having people around you is one thing, but interacting (and liking) with them is something entirely different.

  4. says

    Honestley…it does get lonely sometimes, especially when low on projects.
    But when busy and driven, there isn’t really no need for people around you.
    Social networking, for me Twitter, makes it so much better.

  5. says

    Ive became so lonely , ive started talking to the dog like he was a human. Instead of loosing my sanity, I picked up a gig working on-site for 2 days a week for a couple hours. This way I get to meet new people and get out of the house for a little bit. ive tried working at coffee shops and stuff , but that didnt seem to work either.

  6. says

    Deb and Bailey–I think that many freelancers do fit the profile of liking to work alone. It may be one of the things that drives us to freelance…

    Matt, That’s a very true statement.

    Freelance FactFile. Thanks for the link. Good job on tackling the issue. :-)

    Elena–I do think you’re right. And, it’s important to acknowledge that for some people loneliness can be a huge problem. But, I don’t think it’s necessarily characteristic of freelancers as a whole. Great observation about Twitter. It DOES help.

  7. Annie Stith says

    The esoteric, poetic version of a bedridden hermit:

    Oh, the loneliness I feel through forced isolation! I am regularly bedridden and, not blaming them at all, friends and acquaintances withdraw because they feel helpless to ease my situation and then otherwise don’t really know what to say. To me, THAT is loneliness–being used to the company of others, which slowly, inevitably withdraws.

    It’s at those times I connect more online, so that I can build up and return to a community of people who may or may not present themselves as authentically characterizing themselves as to who they be. Still, I play my OWN part, authentic to the core because of who I am — my Spirit, my passion, my calling, making it real online. How on the one hand is terrifying because

    it’s a reflection of fallacy, human me, but on the other is held together by the glue of Spirit and passion and Mission and Universe in sparkling, wondrous way.)

    So, to make a long story short, there are acquaintances who love my work but not me, my friends wo love both but feel helpless against pain they can’t fix, and the glee team who arrive when I’m back to writing from angst they don’t want to hear about.

    When I’m NOT lonely, is when I am with my Spirit, my creative Angels who help me frame my thoughts, my life, and my Universe that supports my pure joy in a new understanding of how it all works and what that truly means everywhere, Universe-wide, for all of us, if we’d simply enjoy loneliness with our Muses.

  8. says

    Like boredom, loneliness is a state of mind. I’m a copywriter and I couldn’t write if I were surrounded by lots of work colleagues chatting away on the phone and to each other. I’ve been writing all day today (I’m in the UK so it’s afternoon here) but I did a Pilates class at my gym at lunchtime, chatted to some regulars I know there and had a coffee with a couple of them afterwards.

    And, like Jesse, I’ve always got the cat to talk to. She likes a good conversation.

  9. says

    I’m not lonely in the traditional sense. My husband has gone back to school full-time so he’s home a lot, so it’s nice to have the company. But even before then, when I spent the majority of my days alone with my dog, I enjoyed working from home on my own.

    What’s lonely about it is the sense that not many people understand what it’s like to be a freelancer. Not many people in my life can relate to my job’s unique challenges. I’ve had people come over at 6 at night, unexpectedly, and assume I’d been sleeping all day because my eyes were red from staring at my computer screen so long.

    Finding a freelance community online has helped a lot. But from time to time, I do feel a bit isolated when I’m amongst friends and they’re all talking about work. My experience is so different from theirs that my own tidbits don’t always fit the conversation.

    But then again, listening to them I often find I wouldn’t trade my job for the world, so there’s that! The happiness I get from working on my own terms more than makes up for the occasional feeling of being left out ;)

  10. says

    I have a split personality – one side really likes being left alone. The other side is very social. I used to tease my parents that it’s their fault – don’t we always blame our parents? :-) My Dad traveled internationally so he loved being left alone when home! My Mom has never met a stranger–thus, my split personality.

    I lived alone for over 30 years and never (really!) felt lonely. Last year I moved in woth my 87-year-old Mom who was living in her house alone after my Dad died. It has been an adjustment. The hardest thing has been leaving friends in San Diego that I have known for over 30 years. But, thank God, for my workd of virtual friends!

    So–probably way TMI but I can honestly say I do not feel lonely.

  11. says

    Freelance FactFile and Jordan Walker–I have a pet too, but mine is a dog. Pets make great companions. :-)

    Natalia M. Sylvester, I think you have touched on a type of loneliness that I do experience. I have missed having someone (who actually gets it) to talk to face-to-face about what I do. In my book, freelancers who can connect offline with other freelancers are lucky indeed! But, as you point out, the online community helps a great deal. :-)

  12. says

    Hi Cathy Miller,

    First, I want to let you know that my heart goes out to you in your situation with your mother. I had to oversee the care of my own parents when they became too ill to care for themselves. I don’t know if that’s your situation, but if it is, I know firsthand that it can be very stressful.

    It sounds like you are one of those who adjust well to new circumstances and you are already developing a network of online friends. I’m sure that a network of offline friends will follow.

  13. says

    I’m not lonely. I work from home (shared w/husband + 3 almost grown kids + 2 dogs).

    I revel in the quiet of the day. Helps me focused and get things done. In fact, I rarely listen to music while coding–at least not music with lyrics. Turn up music when doing design layouts or some ‘automated’ tasks. Couldn’t possibly work from noisy cafe–though I know I have to get out more! ;-)

    Dogs give me a reason to remove myself from computer every now and then. Taking them for walks is good for all of us, mentally and physically.

    But lonely? Nah. When the house starts filling up with teenagers after school, I often have to grab my headphones to maintain quiet and concentration.

  14. Dionne says

    I enjoy working alone especially when there is much to do. When there isn’t a lot to do I may feel a bit lonely but what’s weird is I’m okay with it. Of course that also means that as soon as my husband returns home from work, I am talking his ear off. Poor thing!

    I also do some major texting to friends.

    Thanks for the article Laura.

  15. says

    I’d love to have some experience working in an agency. I’m a self taught freelancer, and my former office job was not really related to what I do now.

  16. says

    What’s missing in the discussion is a differentiation between people we like and people we don’t like.

    When you work in an office, your “friends” are chosen by others. When you work at home, you choose the people you spend time with.

    Isn’t that great!

    Diana Schneidman
    http://www.StartFreelancingAndConsulting.com : How to take control of your life and make great money quickly as a solopro

  17. says

    Great artivcle and thought provoking.

    I started freelancing only a few months ago, after dreaming of going solo for many years, and I must say it is truly liberating.

    To have the option to go and do whatever you want when you want without a boss breathing down your neck is truly awesome.

    On the flip side though is that most of my time is spent staring at the mac screen all day anyway!

    But at least I know the option is still there and I am still living the dream…

  18. says

    I love working alone. People can be very distracting. I will likely never return to an office environment for that reason. But, I only work 3-4 hours a day MAX (unless I am seriously in a creative flow). The rest of the time I am with friends and family (online or offline). I take every weekend off (no exceptions) and try to plan events and meet every Wednesday with friends for beer and wings. Loving it!

    Ryan

  19. says

    Great discussion!

    Kudos to everyone who has managed to avoid loneliness in their freelancing career… (I hope we’re not scaring the lonely people away from commenting. I want to hear what they think to.)

    Diana Schneidman–That’s a great point! A lot of people I know don’t get along with their coworkers, yet they are forced to spend more than 40 hours a week with them. That can surely be stressful.

  20. says

    I find the only time I am feeling ‘lonely’ is when the business ebbs. Other than that, I tend to be busy enough working on client projects that it never even phases me. As others have mentioned, I do try to get out of the office (home) at least once a week for a lunch date. I also tend to be very active on weekends (going to sporting events, concerts, and the likes,) so it’s almost relaxing being back in the office.

    Cheers!

  21. says

    I’ve been working as a full-time freelancer for 2 months now and I must admit I recognize the “loneliness” from now and then. For the last 4 years I’ve been going to the Hague (Netherlands) every wednesday and tuesday so that kinda splits the week. I have a good friend there and we work on projects together.
    I think the biggest issue I’m dealing with is the fact that I miss having someone to talk to, to talk over work and stuff. I come from a corporate environment so these thing are still in my system.

  22. says

    I think the biggest issue I’m dealing with is the fact that I miss having someone to talk to, to talk over work and stuff. I come from a corporate environment so these thing are still in my system.

  23. says

    When I started my business, I made several rules. One was that I had to leave the house every day, even if only to take my son to school. Exceptions are made for illness, snowstorms, or mega-deadlines. It helps me interact with humans and connect.

    But what I love about working at home is that I can get more done in 3 or 4 hours than I can working 8 hours in an office. So I don’t get paid for working through all the distractions, but I have much more free time. And that is the best freelancing benefit of all!

  24. says

    I go out 3-4 nights during the week and I have my weekends off when I have other activities. I think I socialize too much, but that’s what keeps me productive during the work time and makes a happy freelancer out of me.

  25. says

    Hey Laura,

    I think you make great points / observations in your article. I completely agree that loneliness is an outlook on life, and that someone who feels lonely will feel lonely in every situation, even when they’re surrounded by people. When you’re in that energy, that’s just how it feels, no matter where you are.

    As for myself, I don’t really work alone, since I run my firm with my business and life partner, David, but I still feel the need to interact with other people from time to time, so I’ve been breaking out into new venues and trying to make new encounters with like-minded people. In terms of actual working though – I love working alone, wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Thanks!
    Lou

  26. says

    I am a very moody person.

    Being a Virtual Assistant and working at home allows me to deal with my own mood. I can lock the door when I don’t feel like talking to anyone – where in a work setting I “need” to interact always. I can invite people over or play with my nephews whenever I feel like it – compared to just having Saturdays and Sundays for my family.

    So, no. I am not lonely at all. Being a freelancer has been one of the best things that ever happened to me. =)

  27. says

    Well, I’m backwards. I’ve been doing this for years, and the initial reaction was *WHEW* — but I’ve been getting lonely as of recent.

  28. says

    Working Alone increase concentration for me most of the time, but when there is someone around it helps to freshen up the mood which creativity.

  29. says

    I don’t consider myself a loner nor a social person, I’m in between, but I love freelancing alone. It’s a great way to relax and concentrate on my work when I’m alone with no distractions.

    I can admit, I do feel lonely occasionally, but when I feel that, I get up and I visit friends or I go outside. It’s very rare I feel that way though.

  30. says

    Truthfully, when I first started out as a freelancer, I was a little lonely. I had worked in corporate environments for almost 10 years and got used to the constant interactions (most of them ho-hum and lacking depth). With time, I started to get over that loneliness and a lot changed once I started enjoying the freedoms of working for myself. For example, I can work ANYWHERE – be it the home office, my couch or Starbucks. I can also start/finish work at anytime and do not have to conform to the traditional 9-5. These freedoms make up for any loneliness I felt. Also, I am constantly engaged with my clients, so I am socially connected.

  31. says

    Yup, I’m with Deb & Bailey on this one; I love working on my own & have been baffled when people have raised the ‘but don’t you get lonely?’ question.

    I do sometimes take my laptop to the pub or cafe, but only if I’m catching up on newsletters, personal blogging or researching – never when working for a client.This is just to get me out of the house though not because I’m desperate for company.

    I personally think that some people are more sociable than others, and the less sociable ones often turn to freelancing as it suits their natures. The ‘aren’t you lonely?’ question askers are always sociable people, loners don’t even consider asking it.

    Jo.

    http://www.chaoskiller.com
    @munropaservices

  32. says

    Yes, it could be a bit lonely sometimes, especially when the jobs are done and seems everyone else is busy. So I join some communities and sometimes ask my friends to hang out. And then I realize that I spent lots of my fees for these socialize actions lol. But still, I love being freelancer ;)

  33. says

    While being a freelancer I relish the joys of working remotely, for others the adjustment from bustling corporate office to the quietness of home may be a little rough. To put it simply, freelancing can get a little lonely.

  34. Lauren says

    I actually stopped freelancing as my main source of income and switched back to corporate life. I can work from home sometimes and do so, but I recently had to work from home for an entire week (while my project was alphaed for the higher ups)… I thought I was going to lose my mind — I felt so out-of-the-loop that week, but generally I really like working from home maybe once or twice a month. Especially when a deadline is looming, but I used to get pretty lonely doing it every day…

  35. says

    Yup, I’m with Deb & Bailey on this one; I love working on my own & have been baffled when people have raised the ‘but don’t you get lonely?’ question.

    I do sometimes take my laptop to the pub or cafe, but only if I’m catching up on newsletters, personal blogging or researching – never when working for a client.This is just to get me out of the house though not because I’m desperate for company.

    I personally think that some people are more sociable than others, and the less sociable ones often turn to freelancing as it suits their natures. The ‘aren’t you lonely?’ question askers are always sociable people, loners don’t even consider asking it.

    Jo.

    http://www.chaoskiller.com
    @munropaservices

  36. Kenny says

    To be honest even though I’m a real people’s person I never get lonely while I’m working alone. Mostly because I’m so focussed to my work that it doesn’t matter to me that I’m all alone. After work I socialize with friends or I organize a lunchmeeting. But lonely? No, I never experienced loneliness during my freelancing carreer. Then again I’m only freelancing for 2 years now, actually 4 years but the first 2 I was still at college so I didn’t considder them because at college you’re constantly among other people.

  37. says

    I make a distinction between *personal* loneliness and *professional* — the loneliness I feel has everything to do with my my personal life. Considering the nightmares I had to endure in the corporate workplace – I’ll take freelancing every time.

  38. says

    I’m a little late to comment on this as the post is a little old but I thought I’d add my thoughts to it anyway as it’s something I’ve just been discussing with a friend.

    From my point of view, loneliness is the biggest issue I have working as a freelancer.
    When I first started freelancing, it seemed to be amazing working on your own away from the daily office distractions and pointless meetings. However as the days have passed I’ve started to realised that I actually quite enjoyed some of those distractions, in particular the interaction with other people. I’ve realised that I need that, it’s what drives me, keeps me inspired, keeps me competitive to make sure I’m always producing my best work.

    The other problem I have is that I live away from most of my friends. About an hour out of London where most are means that there’s very few people to drop in and visit, maybe with a laptop in hand to do some work in their company once in a while.

    So I guess my point is that as much as I love freelancing, loneliness is definitely an issue for me. From time to time I work at the local costa coffee which definitely makes a different but I need interaction around my work that’s what really drives me. I started to think about this a lot today and I’m going to hunt for some solutions right now!

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