Self-employment can be a lonely road. With all its freedoms and flexibility, being your own boss can also come with a big heaping pile of isolation.
When I started working for myself, there were days when I wouldn't leave my house, and the only other human being I interacted with was my boyfriend. I was happy doing my own thing, but spending the majority of my time alone was impacting more than just my social life.
Studies show that loneliness is as damaging to our physical health as , and social isolation can increase your risk of early death by as much as 26%. As clingy and cringe-y as it may feel to admit, we need other people. And when your job doesn't come with a built-in network of support and peers who get what you're going through, you have to create one yourself.
After about six months of full-time self-employment, I realized how much the lack of water cooler chat, after-work drinks, and bonding over a bad boss was messing with my head. I realized that if I wanted to stay sane and keep my business afloat, I needed to find ways to build community and regularly connect with other people.
Here's how I did just that:
1. I created a daily ritual that got me out of the house.
Rolling out of bed and onto my computer wasn't the healthiest. Since I didn't have a schedule forcing me to leave home, my days became a blur of moving from my bed to my couch and back to my bed again.
To erase this bad habit, I signed up for a nearby gym and committed to going to their 8 a.m. class five days a week. A couple of my friends also attended at this time, so I got to catch up with them before starting my workday. This daily routine gave me the structure I desperately needed while also providing an opportunity to interact with other humans every day.
Whether it's a regular workout class, walking to your neighborhood coffee shop, or taking your dog to the park, a daily activity that gets you out of the house and around other people will make you feel less isolated. It might be awkward at first, but the more you show up and strike up conversations, the more at home it'll start to feel.
2. I joined virtual networking groups in my industry.
Nobody likes the idea of networking. But finding a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who understand your specific struggles and share your dreams can hugely benefit your business—and your mental health.
I joined a couple of virtual freelance writer groups and started attending their weekly meetings. I find them to be a lot less intimidating than traditional in-person events because there's more of a structured flow (like a communal question we all take turns answering). This eliminates the horrifying need to approach a stranger, introduce yourself, and make small talk.
Commit to testing out a few different virtual networking groups in your industry. It might take some trial and error to find your people, but they're out there. And if there aren't many networking opportunities in your field, why not try creating your own? Chances are, you're not the only one looking for it.
Try platforms like Meet Up, Eventbrite, Facebook groups or Zerply, or Bubble Bizz, and keep an open mind.
3. I started voice messaging my friends.
This strategy is a little less business-oriented, but it's made a profound difference in my day-to-day (which, as a work-from-home freelancer, can get a bit boring). I participate in an ongoing conversation with a friend from back home via voice message. It gives me the chance to catch up without having to schedule a time for a call or respond to a lengthy text. As a writer, I do enough writing so getting to speak out loud feels like a refreshing break.
I also love voice messaging because it captures the intonation and emotion that often gets lost in text. If you live far away from your friends and family, try shooting them a voice message and see how it feels.
4. I hired a coach.
When you're self-employed, you miss out on the regular performance reviews, 360-feedback forms, and other opportunities to get insights from people who can help you improve. While it's great to have a sounding board in your partner or a trusted friend, it's also helpful to have someone who can give you an outside perspective and hold you accountable for your goals.
I've worked with several business coaches who advised me on everything from pricing, web design, mindset, and client retention. Having somebody to help me navigate the entrepreneurial landscape has been invaluable.
Coaches are an investment and an expensive one at that. So don't rush into hiring somebody before you're ready. Most coaches offer free community support or low-cost group coaching. So start there until you can afford to make the commitment.
5. I prioritized social connection over my business.
It feels counterintuitive when everything in the self-employment space is all about putting your head down and hustling. But revolving your life around your business is a recipe for burnout.
The more I prioritize spending time with friends and family and building connections, the more clarity and energy I have for my business. So make it a priority to schedule regular social activities into your week. Just because you're self-employed doesn't mean you have to do everything alone. With a little effort, you can build a thriving support system of your own.