An American Editor

November 6, 2017

On the Basics: Overcoming a Freelancer’s Isolation

by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

One of the concerns that many people have when they contemplate going freelance and working from home is feeling isolated from colleagues (and even the nonwork world). Depending on where you live and your personality, isolation could be an issue. If you’re in a rural area or suburbia, you could feel cut off. If you’re an extrovert who needs to interact with people in real life, freelancing alone from home could feel almost like punishment. (If you’re an introvert, you might actually feel better freelancing at home because you would have control over when and how much you interact with other people.)

The good news is that today’s electronically connected world makes it easier than ever to combat isolation by providing constant connections with colleagues, friends, and family. In fact, that always-on environment could be overwhelming; many people remove themselves from online communities at least occasionally because it can be too much interaction and activity.

The easiest way to overcome isolation is to join a few online communities or discussion lists — and not just ones focused on the type of editorial work that you do. Participating in such activities expands your horizons in many ways. You meet new people, stay connected with valued friends and colleagues, learn new information, solve problems, provide solutions, and more. You do have to discipline yourself not to get so immersed in that social media world that you neglect your freelance work or real-life relationships, but online engagement is a great way to conquer isolation. How can we feel isolated when we’re in contact with the whole world?

If isolation does worry you, here are a few ways to head it off by engaging with the real world that beckons outside your home office.

  • Don’t subscribe to home delivery or online versions of your newspaper, so you have to get out of the house every day to keep up with the news. This works best in neighborhoods where there’s a newsstand in walking distance, and serves as both an antidote to isolation and an exercise routine. Depending on your current deadlines, you can choose a cybercafé or coffee shop for picking up and reading the paper rather than taking it right back home. That gives you the opportunity to connect with neighbors, or at least the café staff and customers, which also helps reduce feelings of being cut off from the world.
  • Get a pet. Dogs are particularly good because you have to get out of the house every day for “walkies,” giving you opportunities to meet and make friends with neighbors and other dog people. If you have a cat, dog, or other animal companion, veterinary appointments will get you back into the real world, and could provide opportunities to expand your personal and professional networks — people you talk to while waiting for your animal’s appointment could become friends and even new clients (always carry business cards with you!), or the clinic itself could become a client. If you notice errors in the clinic’s website or office flyers and brochures, find a tactful way to present your writing, editing, proofreading, or other relevant skills. If they don’t want to pay, you might be able to barter or swap services.
  • At the beginning of every new year, budget to attend at least one work-related conference and, if possible, one hobby-related conference. Conferences are a wonderful way to enhance your skills and build your network, as well as combat isolation. You get exposure to new places and new people, along with new skills and information. If you put targeted funds aside starting in January, it will be easy to commit to these events and the related expenses as soon as you see an announcement of a conference that might interest you.

If the thought of going to a big conference full of strangers frightens you, keep in mind that there are smaller events you can attend. Most organizations also have special sessions for first-timers or hospitality committees dedicated to making new attendees feel welcome.

  • Develop a hobby that involves going somewhere. Instead of staying home to knit, crochet, quilt, collect stamps, etc., join a group for whatever hobby interests you and work on your art or obsession in company with other people who share that interest. You can take lessons in new hobbies or crafts, and join various clubs based on your nonwork interests. There’s an organization, association, or business for any hobby or craft you can imagine, and they all hold meetings in real life. Sometimes meetings are based on creating charity projects, which means you not only get out of the house, you do something nice for other people.

Keep in mind that those same associations, clubs, organizations, and businesses all have — or should have — activities that probably could use your professional skills. As an example, one of my all-time favorite projects was editing and producing the newsletter of the American Kiteflyers Association — which paid its editor!

  • Get out and walk or run. This may seem obvious, but it’s an invaluable habit to develop, and one that’s good for your health as well as for overcoming a sense of isolation. Even if you don’t plan to interact with other people, you’re out and about with the potential of meeting or joining others.
  • Volunteer with a not-for-profit organization or cause you believe in. Volunteering gets you out of the house for a good cause, so you can make new friends, meet potential new clients among organizational staff and other volunteers, learn new skills or enhance existing ones, and contribute something to society in the process. Most nonprofits also host events, which adds to your ability to network while conquering isolation.
  • Be the one to organize something. Instead of waiting for family, friends, and colleagues to contact you about outings, make an effort to be the one who hosts a get-together, whether an informal brunch at a new restaurant, a museum or leaf-peeping outing, a movie or bowling night … whatever you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to because no one has invited you.
  • Join — or start — the local chapter of a professional association. Most organizations have local or regional units, and many others would if only someone would step up to be the host or coordinator. If one already exists, get to a few meetings. If one doesn’t, be the guiding force. The national level is usually more than glad to provide tips and resources for local chapters. You don’t have to hold monthly meetings, but even bimonthly or quarterly ones have value, and will get you out of the house and enhance your networking efforts.

Do keep in mind that coping with or defeating isolation is an important aspect of freelancing, but that we must be disciplined about finding and maintaining a proper balance between work and play. If your efforts to combat isolation start taking time away from meeting your deadlines, it’s time to restructure your schedule.

How do you combat feeling isolated when working from home? Which works better for you, in-person activities or online engagement?

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader, desktop publisher, and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”® She is also the owner of Communication Central, which hosts an annual conference for colleagues, and a regular contributor to An American Editor.

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