“I work for myself,” we say, and on most days it is a badge of honor. We are the new pioneers. Micropreneurs, solopreneurs, consultants and freelancers all share in this “swashbuckling” mystique when viewed from the outside. If you’re doing well, people get an idea that you get up in the morning, make a few calls, then lounge around doing whatever you’d like while staying in contact with the outside world as necessary. But the truth is, if you are your own boss, that’s a lot of responsibility and it sometimes gets lonely.
Even at times when we are working side by side with others, whether it be single project focused, or a short term ongoing consultation, we often do not connect on more than a surface level. We are the outsiders. Whether it’s the transient nature of the work, or the need for “professional distance” that helps in making consulting recommendations, we hold our workmates at arm’s length.
Recent surveys have shown that entrepreneurs, more than most other groups, self-identify as suffering from mental conditions particularly depression. Nearly half of all entrepreneurs in fact. When it comes to one of the deadliest silent killers in the human experience, depression, people who work for themselves -or are the leaders of startups- are several times more likely than the average person to suffer with it. I consider business consultants like ourselves in this category too. Our jobs can be lonely, but they can also be amazing. We need to build a support system to help us to celebrate the good times but also lean on them in the lonely times, the scary times and the chaotic ones.
So the question becomes, how do we do it? How do we manage what can often be a lonely job? We love what we do and we wouldn’t trade it. But, for many of us it can become overwhelming. We don’t want to seem ungrateful for our lot in life, after all, there are those times where family, or a hobby gets to take precedence. So, without seeming like an ingrate, here are a few things we need to do to maintain balance.
- Maintain outside relationships. It is always best when we can interact face to face, but even digital connections can be beneficial. Maintain strong friendships. Have people in your life that give it meaning beyond work, but you can also go to when times are tough.
- Get to know people. Whether it’s clients or coworkers. Take time to dig a little below the surface. Enjoy the companionship that’s offered, however limited. While it may never lead to lifelong comradeship, it is amazing how casual acquaintances and familiar faces enrich our lives.
- Have a ripcord. The “Golden Parachutes” of the nineties were legendary. So, why not have a way out? It’s not just about the money. Why not set a limit on yourself and have a plan for exiting your solitary existence? Determination and the ability to get back up are key ingredients for this life, but knowledge of your limits is also essential. What good is success if you are not there to see it?
Working as a consult can be lonely. It can be stressful, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. When I have those down days, I work to remember the good ones. And yesterday, that day was a good one. I had the work flexibility to drive my daughter to her first day of first grade. We ate french toast. We took pictures and we celebrated together. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.