Working for yourself is awesome. Working by yourself is awesome, too. You get to set your own hours, you can wear whatever you want—and you get to run your business your way. But no one warns you when you open a solo practice—especially if you choose to work from home—how lonely it’s going to be.
I opened my solo practice at the beginning of 2012. It’s a virtual office, so I have a business center where I book conference rooms as needed to meet with clients, and a mail service for my business address. I can work wherever I want, but confidentiality issues and my need for quiet force me to work at home most of the time. For the most part, I love it. My commute is the 30-second walk from bedroom to office.
The Reality of Working Alone
If you work in an office every day, you always have people with whom you can engage in idle chit-chat. When you’re bored or need a break, you simply walk down the hall to find someone. You may only need a brief chat to help you feel like your needs for social interaction have been met. But if I walk down the hall at my (home) office, I can talk to my rescue basset hound Rosie. She’s adorable, but she’s not a very good conversationalist.
So how do you stop being lonely?
- Find an online friend. Thankfully, I have a friend who also works from home, so I can often chat with him online when I need a few minutes of downtime. It can be weird to call someone for a hi-how-are-you-I-have-no-purpose-for-this-call-except-to-say-hi call. If you need to see other human faces, you can have a quick chat using Google Hangouts.
- Calendar your social life, too. I’ve learned how important it is to maintain a social calendar when you work alone. If I didn’t, I could easily go for days without talking to anyone except for the people I see when I walk my dog. It is so critical to schedule coffees, lunches and events with friends where the focus is not on work. Unless you’re an extrovert, going to networking events will not recharge you in the needed way. You need to see your friends where you can just talk and be yourself.
- Reach into your community to make new friends. I’ve also made friends with other business owners. We go out on occasion to catch up, and none of us are focused on getting business from each other. It’s just about enjoying good food and good company. We met through a local business group and, although we work in different industries, we’re young solo business owners so we can chat about our experiences running and building our businesses.
Whether you work from home or in an office, when you work for yourself it’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking you need to be working on business all the time—and that you don’t have time for a social life. But if you work alone, you’re going to need it. It takes a diligent effort to make sure your busy calendar of work meetings and obligations is speckled with a handful of social engagements. Don’t wait until you’re lonely to schedule something. Your friends are probably as busy as you are, and it may take them two or three weeks to pencil you in.
Ruth Carter’s virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal 2012 Legal Rebel, Ruth recently published the e-book,The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new virtual practice. She also blogs weekly at UndeniableRuth.com.
Editor’s Note: It’s not unusual, of course, for loneliness to lead to deeper problems, like substance abuse or depression. And lawyers are particularly at risk. Take a few minutes to read through these articles on Attorney at Work, as well as practice management advisor Jim Calloway’s excellent article in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, “The Stress Free Practice.” Act on and pass on the advice. It could save a life.
- Is It the Winter Blues or Something More? by Marcia Pennington Shannon
- If You Suspect Substance Abuse by Mary Ellen Sullivan
- Is It Depression? by Mary Ellen Sullivan
- Knock Out Burnout by Sheila Blackford
Illustration © ImageZoo.