What comes to mind when you think of entrepreneurship and self employment? Perhaps working from home in pajamas, struggling to find work-life balance, making it big or scraping by from paycheck to paycheck. While all of these are indeed realities of the crazy journey of self employment, there was one aspect that caught me completely by surprise: loneliness and at times, extreme anxiety and borderline depression, feelings I thought I’d gotten out of the way during my teenage years. I’ve realized these pitfalls at various points of my 2.5 year self employment journey, but it was difficult to admit until I read a recent article in Puget Sound Business Journal on the topic, and Jesse Proudman’s powerful post on Medium.
Pitfalls of Self Employment
Self employment and even work from home virtual jobs can be extremely isolating. Sure, you might communicate with clients or teammates by phone, instant message, email, etc throughout the day. But the virtual nature of these working relationships leave little room for random office chit chat, grabbing coffee or lunch with a coworker, or going out for the occasional happy hour with your team. I never realized how much I’d miss bonding and socializing in person with my work teams until recently, when I really began deep diving into my quantified self metrics that track how I really spend my time during the work week, which for me is 7 days long. The results? Over 76 hours solid hours of pure work, and very little if any outside engagement with others. As we can see in the chart below, those 76 hours weren’t very evenly divided throughout the week, due to my dad being in town earlier in the week, but the 10-15 hour days outside of it are pretty typical. Great for my business, but not so much for my health and overall sanity.
Identify the problem(s)
Okay, so the pitfall is working too much and not having enough time to hang out with people or make time for oneself. How does one go about fixing a problem like that?
1. Cut down on work by committing to projects that add value to your end goal.
One way to cut down the work week is to take projects off of your plate. Find others with similar skills and talents whose work you admire, and rather than view them as a competitor, consider them a colleague and make them an extended part of your team. If you get approach to work on a project that you don’t quite have the time for, pass on the referral to a colleague. The client will appreciate your extra effort, and your colleague will too and may even return the favor sometime.
2. Reduce time spent on a project by automating tasks.
If you’re like me, you don’t have a physical team to delegate tasks to. My reason is mainly because I don’t yet want to deal with the tax repercussions of contracting work out, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recruit some help in the form of automation. Depending on what kind of work you do, there are more than likely some automation tools out there that can speed up certain parts of your job. Personally, I use automation in the form of social media scheduling via Sprout Social and Hootsuite (for both my own marketing purposes and that of some clients). I also recently started using the app Mile IQ to automatically track any business driving I do, thus cutting the time I spent doing mileage reconciliation for accounting purposes in half. I’ve even automated simple parts of my day such as getting pertinent news headlines delivered to my email each morning so I don’t need to manually visit and scan news sites every day. All of these little things do add up and save time throughout the day.
After identifying and tackling problems, it’s time to figure out how to spend that extra free time. How exactly do you begin building a support network from scratch?
1. Form a community with the colleagues you already work with.
Earlier, I suggested passing on some of your extra work to other professionals you trust, thus deemed “colleagues.” In addition to building a referral system with these people, why not build a community with them as well? You all likely face the same struggles and challenges, so why not motivate and learn from each other in the process? Get started with online chats, coffee meetups, or even organized coworking sessions at a local cafe or shared workspace. I was at one time part of a small coworking group, and it was a great experience in community building as well as collaboration on some like-minded projects we were all working on.
2. Participate in online forums or local meetup groups.
Sometimes, in-person coworking can be a bit more than you bargained for. Personally, it was difficult for me to keep up with my former coworking group due to varied schedules, difficulty in finding a close location for us all, and at times a lack of focus when socializing took precedence over work. In the end, I’ve settled for relying on online forums and occasional meetups to get my fill of like-minded collaboration and socialization. Online forums can sometimes be tricky to find as many of them are pretty niche depending on what you specialize in. One thing to note about these forums and groups is that participation isn’t always necessary–sometimes it’s okay just to gain inspiration by what other people posting and talking about, although you’ll definitely get the most benefit by adding your own two cents on occasion. Here are a few forums that work for me:
Digital Nomad / Remote Work / Freelance
Location Rebel Forum (requires paid membership)
In terms of physical in-person meetups, I’d recommend checking out Meetup.com, where you can find social groups for just about any topic or interest out there. Whether you need people to enjoy a hobby with, or fellow self employed folks to sympathize with, you can begin your search on Meetup. Some cities and areas are more active than others; Seattle in particular is a HUGE when it comes to meetups, and I’ve in the past made lots of buddies and friends just by going to a meetup for snowboarding, hiking, photography, geocaching, entrepreneurship, etc. At the very least, I would recommend seeking out any startup, entrepreneurship, or business owner meetup groups.
What do you think?
Have you found loneliness and bouts of depression in your self employment journey? What coping mechanisms do you employ?