The Loneliness of the Self-employed

Today a wonderful and lovely friend of mine, Sinead, had an article published in the Irish Times about loneliness. This really took me by surprise. Sinead is one of the most outgoing, extraverted people I know. She makes time for everyone she meets and is fearless when it comes to interviewing her heroes. However she explains that at 3'5" tall, she has sometimes felt lonely in shopping. Everything from finding stylish clothes in her size to inaccessible fitting rooms is a challenge.

So today I thought I'd share a bit about my own loneliness - the loneliness of being self-employed. Running my own business for the past 3 years has been a great challenge and hugely rewarding, but as many of you self-employed folk out there can attest to, working for yourself can be very isolating at times. When you start off, income can be quite tight, and seeing your friends becomes a rarity. 

You have to be incredibly disciplined to make sure you do things like eat food and take breaks, which may sound like a silly thing to forget, but it's absolutely true. It's far too easy to get in the habit of thinking "I'll just respond to a few more emails.." or "Today is the exception. I'll take a lunch break tomorrow." When you do manage to give yourself 30-40 minutes for lunch, it's not structured in the same way as when you are employed. There's no canteen or socialising with colleagues. 

For me, my greatest challenge is setting a time limit to stop and to switch off social media. I'm a one-woman operation who is competing with much larger UK brands with full-time social media staff. Finding a balance between giving a high-standard of customer service and making time for myself can be very difficult indeed, especially when the laptop is always there and my phone keeps sending me notifications. There is definitely a pressure in the business and start-up communities to stay constantly connected and to react to news stories instantly with perfect, succinct opinions on each topic. It's exhausting. 

 Here's a few things that I have found have helped tremendously to keep my mental health healthy whilst being self employed:

  • Cook dinner - cooking is great for a number of reasons. It forces you to spend time away from the computer and to think about what kind of foods you are eating. The Happy Pear cookbook is a good place to start, and I love anything by Nigel Slater. I also get a deep sense of accomplishment when I'm able to throw something together that isn't toast or cereal. I also often invite friends over for dinner as a way to hang out when I can't afford to go out.
  • Set a time to stop work & stick to it - Set a reminder on your phone if you have to. If you're working under a strict deadline, by all means finish the task at hand, but things like emails can always wait till tomorrow morning; and if someone expects you to respond straight away to an email that was sent after 5pm, that person is a prick.
  • Start a What'sApp group with your friends - You've no idea how much this helps. If I'm on Facebook, I find myself falling down the Facebook hole of clicking on things that I don't really care about and not really interacting with anyone. Starting a What'sApp group cuts out all the bullshit. I feel far more connected to friends by messaging them directly and having the craic than having them on the periphery between cat videos and ads for dodgy diet pills.
  • Do something long-form - In the past couple years, I've noticed my memory and attention-span dwindling from all the distractions and bullshit on the internet. A great way to strengthen that is do things that take time. Read a book or a very long essay. Play a board game that requires strategic thinking (Pandemic and Settlers of Catan are my faves). As you may have seen from my social media, I personally love to embroider. 

I hope this is helpful to some of you out there. If you have any more suggestions or tips, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.