It’s no secret that freelancers suffer from social isolation. Well, it isn’t a secret in freelancing circles.
As a lifestyle that’s often touted as the best way to enjoy flexible living, it certainly comes with its perks. Arguably, I could use my job as a freelance copywriter to work anywhere in the world (if I were child-free and single, that is. NB: I love being a parent and a partner. It’s an okay tradeoff).
And, I can also work at a time that suits me. I recently used this to my advantage to devour the Sunderland Till I Die documentary on Netflix. Working in an office would mean sacrificing the ability to take a break every couple of hours to watch just one more episode.
(Another parentheses note: this is a really unhealthy way to approach productivity. I don’t treat every working day like that, but that was a seriously addictive documentary).
After working for Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and the NHS, I came to crave the freedoms that accompany freelancing. My craving for the freedom and flexibility sent me into Grass Is Greener mode. When I enter this mode, I don’t prepare myself for the potential pitfalls of what I am about to do. In hindsight, I should have made a contingency plan for offsetting the social isolation that comes with freelancing. A little like preparing a Brexit cupboard, but with a view to generating more human interaction.
Realising that freelancer social isolation is a problem
As someone who loves her own company in a non-narcissistic way, even I can recognise when I’m getting too much of a good thing. It’s often the case that the only people I interact with on a face-to-face basis are my partner and my daughter.
I initially realised this was a problem when I went to a funeral and enjoyed the social aspect way more than I thought I would. This funeral was celebrating the life of a friend who was the same age as me but died from missed sepsis. I was dreading the occasion for reasons beyond the obvious. I hadn’t seen many of the attendees in 20 years, it would involve an eight-hour round journey, and it would possibly take place on minimal sleep.
Instead, I found that reconnecting with everyone was an amazing experience. To the extent that I gushed about them for days afterwards, much in the same way that I would when I had an amazing night out or a great work shift.
More recently, I became incredibly irritable when a friend cancelled on me. Usually, I am far more laid back about these things, even if it is done at the last minute. To add to this, I was becoming increasingly more short with my partner on the days when he had to spend a lot of time at work.
Overall, not good.
Why addressing freelancer isolation is a priority
I don’t believe that freelancer isolation should be viewed as collateral damage for enjoying a largely flexible lifestyle. In the long-term, isolation can have damaging effects. It’s associated with reduced mental wellbeing and some researchers believe there’s a connection to poor health outcomes overall.
In the short-term, if freelancer isolation makes you irritable with those around you, you’re running the risk of leaving a bunch of strained relationships in your wake. And, feeling glum can hamper your productivity, which renders your flexible lifestyle useless.
Feeling isolated also saps the joy away from what should be a relaxing working experience. Sure, no job is entirely soothing. However, if you approach working as a freelance copywriter in a sensible and organised way it can prove more relaxing than most vocations.
This brings me to: using a part-time job as a side hustle
I’ve toyed with the idea of this for a while: taking on some office work to enjoy the social aspect. This might not be ideal for everyone due to location logistics, childcare costs etc. And, there’s always the fact that part-time work isn’t exactly in large supply, is it?
It’s probably also worth noting that I don’t mean using it as a side-hustle in the strictest sense of the term. What I mean is it wouldn’t act as the mainstay of my work.
Where this could prove advantageous is if (like me) you’re living in a new area where you only know a few people. Having a part-time job alongside freelancing could act as a way to get to know others.
What puts me off this idea is that the days I spend in an office would result in a big earnings drop. It would also mean returning to a commute. On the nights where I haven’t slept particularly well, I could no longer schedule a nap.
On the plus side, it would tackle freelancer social isolation. To an extent. It would also mean maintaining the ‘soft skills’ that come with being in an actual workplace. Spending some days each week in an office could also give me a stronger appreciation for the days where I don’t need to get out of my pyjamas to make money (I do eventually leave my pyjamas. I’m not gross).
Living in a semi-rural community means I’m unlikely to find a group of freelance copywriters who would want to share an office occasionally. Until then, I’ll keep exploring my options.