Handling isolation in your worklife

isolation

By Steve Woodruff, {grow} Community Member

I was speaking with a fellow consultant a while back, and the subject wandered over to one of the difficulties of being a solopreneur/small business owner.

ISOLATION.

Ever feel alone out there, hacking your way through the weeds? Yeah – join the club.

Now, neither of us would go back to working for others, and we’ve freely chosen the paths we’ve taken. So this is not a lament. It’s just a fact of life. It can get pretty lonely out there when you’re not part of a localized, physically present team.

As a solopreneur, I love my alone time, and I also get energized by meetings with clients and partners. I enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation of the occasional conference. I remain in active contact with many colleagues and friends via social networks.

But, I think the issue is more than just physical isolation. From what I see, it’s the continuous weight of having everything on your shoulders – alone.

 It’s. All. Up. To. You. 

In a larger company, you can fulfill a certain role while others fulfill theirs. There is concentration and distribution of effort. Shared effort, shared resources, shared direction; and lots of things get done without you driving them or even knowing about them.

isolationFor the solopreneur, that’s another world. Now, it’s all up to you. Apart from some things you can outsource, this plane goes nowhere unless you are the pilot, flight attendant, baggage handler, fueler, ticket agent, and air traffic controller. Every day. All day. That gets wearisome. And sometimes, you feel so overwhelmed that you just want to crawl under the covers and take a nap – right?

“Hmmm … I think the dog needs another walk.” “I wonder what’s new on Facebook?” “Time for another Starbucks run!” It may look like a form of escape, and … well, truth be told, it often is. Because building a business in isolation is a heavy load.

And for the small business owner who has some employees but often has no peers to talk to, there is a similar kind of loneliness – plus all the dynamics of supporting and driving a team (one reason why I plan to remain solo!) As I talk to a growing number of folks in that category, my eyes have opened to the need for coaching and peer support. We each carry a lot of weight that family, friends, employees, and clients often cannot understand.

I really wonder at times how many promising businesses we lose to isolation burnout.

So, what’s the solution?

I’m not sure there’s a single answer, but the starting point is this: just as cash flow is vital to your ongoing success, so is (peer) relational flow.

Whether you find your support network locally, virtually, or by a combination of the two, make it a priority to de-isolate. Independence is a good thing, but cultivating a level of interdependence may be the key to remaining sane. We all need fuel, and we all need to fuel others. Periodic breakfasts and lunches with clients and partners; Skype or Google+ Hangout sessions with far-flung people in my network – these are all ways that help keep me energized. Doing the work I love fulfills me – but in the downtimes, in the unending business development efforts, in the reversals – it can get discouraging.

But maybe there’s something else that we can get better at doing. Let’s look at our social networks, and take note of the many connections that we know who are in solo mode – maybe we need to more purposefully reach out and ask folks how they’re doing. How they’re REALLY doing. We tend to assume that everyone else is doing just great – but if you’re ready to throw in the towel today because of loneliness and isolation, then it’s a safe bet that five other people you know are just trying to keep up a brave front (while crumbling inside), too.

So – how are you doing? Really doing? Let’s keep each other company on the journey!

steve woodruffSteve Woodruff is a long-time reader of {grow}, the world’s only Clarity Therapist, and a builder of business opportunity networks. Interact with Steve on Twitter and get your regular dose of clarity at SteveWoodruff.com

Top illustration courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and loufi.

Second illustration courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and lovingyourwork

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  • rhonda hurwitz

    A post on solopreneur isolation with no comments is so … meta! Gotta throw a monkey wrench into that, and change that big fat comments goose egg into a “1”!

    Steve …you expressed what I feel everyday, and I was so thankful to read this post. The airport analogy is apt — yes, it does feel like a heavy load.

    For me, it isn’t just the burden of having to do every task, no matter how mundane. I find the worst part is not having big-thinking colleagues to bounce ideas off of. My ideas are good, but could they be … better? Am I off base, strategically? Who will challenge my thinking?

    Friendly faces over a cup of coffee are nice ways to punctuate a work week, the virtual watercooler fills a need for connection, too. Like minds? that’s a taller order.

    Not ready to throw in the towel … still working on that.

    PS – I love how you ended your post. Nice to know we’re not alone, and connecting with others in similar circumstances is an obvious and overlooked answer.

  • Jamie Wallace

    Morning, Steve!

    You are NOT alone. 😉

    I’ve been freelance/running my own business for coming up on six years now. I am a single mom who works from home, primarily with virtual clients. I used to get my “social fix” by spending at least one day a week working from my local coffee shop (a wonderful place where the owner would actually call out, “Don’t leave!” when I stood up to head home … even though I’d already been there for six hours and had only bought one chai latte and a bagel). I still do enjoy that on occasion; BUT over the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to fall into a few small and amazing online communities. The relationships I’ve developed and support system that has emerged … these are the things that ensure I never feel lonely or all alone.

    One group in particular has become a staple of my day. There are twenty-nine of us in a “secret” Facebook group. We came together because we all shared a few basic things. We’re all: women, writers, copywriters. Most of us are self-employed. Beyond that, we are a very diverse group. Our ages range from twenty-something to sixty-something. Some of us are married and some are single. Some are moms and some are not (and some are grandmothers). As a group, we cover all kinds of writing specialities, sexual orientations, geographical locations, lifestyle preferences, and personalities. We are extroverts, introverts, and undeclared. We are businesswomen and mystics, comediennes and philosophers, mama bears and rock stars.

    It’s pretty damn amazing.

    Each day, I visit these women via our little corner of Facebook and we share everything from personal stories to professional crises. We trade tips, give advice, and back each other up. We provide reality checks, comic relief, and a space where each of us can be fully herself and know that she will not be judged, but applauded for all the things that make her unique and special. We get down to brass tacks (What should I charge for this? How do I deal with a difficult client? Who has a great developer resource?) and we wax poetic (What’s your favorite line in your favorite novel?) and we commiserate on the insanity of the world we work in (no comment).

    In my few years doing the solopreneur thing, I have engaged with many different kinds of professional and social groups online, but I have found that it is the small, private, specialized groups that make the biggest difference in my life. For anyone out there who is suffering from isolation, I recommend trying to find a small group of people who are willing to join you in some private space (a secret group on Facebook works, but so does email) and just be there for each other. It takes a commitment of time and energy, but the rewards are rich.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Jamie – wonderful story! And I agree with you wholeheartedly – while the big, wide world of social networks is nice, it’s the focused and more intimate groups that really make the difference day-to-day. It’s wonderful to have a group of go-to people who can be a constant support network, and it’s very wise to build or join such a tribe!

  • Jamie Wallace

    Thanks, Steve. I feel very fortunate. My introduction to the group was serendipitous, and I’m so glad it turned out the way it did. 🙂

  • Steve Woodruff

    Rhonda – over the years, I’ve networked very widely, and I find that people kinda get arranged into concentric circles of creativity, engagement, and valuable input. Building your “inner circle” of people both like-minded AND still diverse enough to provide perspective is key. And it can be done, I assure you (takes cultivation, but SO worth it!)

  • krusecontrol

    Steve, you are singing my song. Thank you for calling this isolation thing out! I’ve suffered many of the situations you speak of. Two weeks ago I decided to go to yoga class every day so that I could mend my perspective. It’s helped. I love your idea of peer connections. I will now go ponder that. Awesome post. BTW, I just followed you on Twitter to stay connected. I’m @kathikruse 🙂

  • Steve Woodruff

    Thanks, Kathi. It’s a whole other blog post topic, but we also have to consider our “wiring” as introverts or extroverts. That has a big impact on how well we can operate in relative isolation (I’m an introvert, and can work quite well alone, but still…..there can be TOO MUCH alone!)

  • LisaBuyer

    Hi Kathi! I love all your posts, we should connect IRL or Skype or something to collaborate! When I was writing my book my business coach told me to go to Yoga every morning and make it part of my day, it made a huge difference in my productivity and got me out of the office, I ended up working from the coffee shop next to yoga before or after. Instead of going to my office and then “trying” to go to yoga; I started driving straight to the coffee shop next to my yoga class and working there until it started! 🙂 Huge difference!

  • krusecontrol

    Hi Lisa! Wow, we should connect! Where are you in the world?That is a great story about yoga’s influence on your life. I’ve had the same experience with “trying” to do yoga. Going everyday to class has made everything better.

  • krusecontrol

    Yep Steve it is a whole other blog post. I am also somewhat of an introvert and I agree that too much alone time is not healthy. I reached out this week to 2 people who I haven’t seen in a long time and asked them to lunch. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Hi, Steve. Sometimes the challenge in finding others with whom to interact is locating a group of people who are in the same field of work and truly want to learn from each other. In my experience, in-person networking events can turn into an exercise in the art of deflection, as so many attendees show up simply to sell their services (e.g., insurance, printing, bookkeeping) or find a job. I’ve pretty much given up wasting my time on these sorts of events, especially since my clients are rarely local. Luckily, I’ve found professional support through the Solo PR Pro group (www.soloprpro.com), a virtual organization whose members are independent PR and marketing professionals. I continue to be amazed about how generous its members are with each other. We have an active private Facebook page, for example, where members are comfortable asking for ideas to solve professional challenges, sharing successes and posting client opportunities–despite the fact that we’re competitors in some cases. And although I haven’t met many of the people in person as we’re spread across North America, I feel like I have a true community of peers who I know have my back. Added bonus: Kellye Crane, the group’s founder, organized the first formal conference earlier this year. I got to meet some of the folks face to face and listen to a terrific presentation by keynote speaker Mark Schaefer. Not only did I have fun and learn something new, I was away from my spare bedroom home office and out into the world for two full days!

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  • Steve Woodruff

    I’ve heard nothing but good about the Solo PR group. And, my experience has been that “pre-meeting” people through virtual networking almost always leads to richer and deeper (and higher quality) network building.

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  • kelsmith

    I’m an introvert, yet I’ll admit to missing the office camaraderie I used to enjoy when managing a large team. The best solution I’ve found is to get off my butt and get in front of clients, vendors, prospects and connections as often as possible. The part that goes missing is having someone trustworthy and smart to help me suss out an idea: “Okay, just tell me if I’m completely barmy …”

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