Raising an Invoice for Loneliness as a Freelancer
Freelance loneliness is a truth that gets hidden among all the positives of self-employment, like flexible hours and independence. Here's a glimpse of a freelance writer's life:
Days since I left the house: 6
“Hi, so your usual order for today?”
Those words were music to my ears. Not because I was craving an iced oat latte on a sultry Thursday afternoon. I mean, who doesn’t? But there’s more to it.
I hadn’t interacted with anyone in 6 days.
This one sentence felt warmer than the microwaved cookie I was balancing on my notebook and laptop as I walked back to my favorite spot in the coffee shop.
When I dove into the world of freelancing, I thought of all the cons that should steer me back to my stable job.
Unsteady pay, no concept of weekends, long hours, client disputes, late payments…the list went on. But now, if I had to rewrite the list, the #1 item would be loneliness.
You might be thinking, “That’s silly; we all went through the pandemic-induced loneliness. What’s different now?”
You are right. Well, partly. When we were in the throes of the pandemic, everyone was in their rooms, doing their best with their choice of rectangular-shaped conversation device.
It’s 2023 now, and it feels worse because the FOMO is self-induced and not government-mandated.
I scoff at the articles that say people need to return to offices as they are more productive in their cubicle rather than in their home office (in my case, a designated “office couch”).
I love what I do. The independence is unparalleled.
But you know what I miss?
The brief but hilarious catch-up conversations near the printer at work.
Swapping lunches because you miscalculated and made enough pasta to last ten meals again.
Dropping in at the nearby bar on Friday night spontaneously for beer to wash down the past week.
When I traded my work shirts for my unicorn pajamas, I didn’t realize I was also exchanging genuine connections at work for conversations with my neighbor’s dog because he’s the only one around on a weekday afternoon.
As I sit there fidgeting with my paper straw that is fighting to disintegrate, I glance at the table with 3-4 people suited up, joking about that one “meeting that could have been an email.” I shake my head as my inside voice fights not to look up in-office writing jobs in the area just to get some social interaction and potentially lower pay but fewer opportunities for spontaneous mid-day gym sessions.
“Get a hobby.”
I have many. Reading, playing the guitar, crocheting, and building skincare routines for friends. They are as generic and as niche as you can think of. Alone time gives you lots of minutes to fill with weird hobbies.
Sending memes to friends counts as interaction, right? Probably not. After a day of staring at my unedited Google Doc, FaceTime with friends and family just doesn’t cut it.
They hate the commute to their offices in the rain. I welcome the rain because it’s noise from anywhere but my laptop.
I wish there were an option to teleport to your friends for 10 minutes, like you can go to your co-workers’ desks for a bit amongst all this chaos.
Where did the past six days go?
I completed three pieces, wrapped up two client calls, and wrote two pitches.
On Day 3, I went downstairs to get groceries, hoping to spot someone I knew. No dice.
And that’s why here I am at my coffee shop, with the highlight of my day being the approximately 17-second conversation I had with the barista.
Days since I left the house: 0.
According to the Leapers Annual Report on Mental Health of Freelancers, 71% experienced disconnection and isolation in 2022.
Now that the pandemic is over and most people are back in the office, remote freelancers are like a scattered tribe, still trying to forge connections virtually.
When I meet my family or friends over the weekend, I am not taking a break from work deadlines or stress. I am taking a break from…me?
It sounds like a tirade against freelancing. It’s not. Rather, it’s a realization. Freelancer loneliness is real. Scour through Reddit, and you will see posts (all post-pandemic) like:
- “As much as I enjoy working at home in my jammys, the lack of human connection is killing me. Does anybody feel that? It kinda eats you up.”
Only some people can pay for a $10 coffee often to experience human interaction. Co-working spaces are expensive. Libraries do not exist everywhere. Social media interactions don’t cut it anymore, and we don’t want to get addicted, do we? So these are some methods that I have been trying lately:
- Calling friends over to work on their laptops (or just nap, watch TV, eat, or read!) so that the silence in the house doesn’t deafen me, just the latest tea they share does.
- Volunteering at the dog shelter so that I have some purposeful interaction on weekdays, too.
- Befriending at least one person at each of my haphazardly scheduled weekday gym classes because chances are they are going through something similar?
- Planning my trips to places with workcation hostel set-ups where other residents are also freelancers rather than hotels where I might or might not find someone like me.
- Experimenting with body doubling, at least virtually for now.
When you are a freelancer, the independence of choosing your work hours comes with the responsibility of finding connections on weekdays. They say the grass is greener on the other side, but let’s nurture some relationships on our side, too!