How to Conquer Loneliness as an Introverted Business Owner
Working from home full-time is great!
…Until you look up from your computer and find you’ve forgotten how to respond naturally to social cues, you haven’t seen your friends in weeks, and you’re becoming obsessive about your relationship with your cat.
When I launched my copywriting business, I was ecstatic to wake up every day feeling excited about the work ahead of me. I quickly fell into a strong work routine, and I marveled at how much I was able to get done outside of the typical office environment.
However, in time, I found myself feeling restless. As an introvert, I don’t need a ton of interaction to feel content. But “not a ton” is very different from “no interaction at all.” Without coworkers to say hello to every day, and with my close friends living on the other side of town, it became startlingly clear that my social sphere was painfully small.
Perhaps you can relate.
Loneliness is a serious problem for work-from-homers
Let’s start with a few facts. Studies have shown over and over again that loneliness is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Not only that, but a 75-year study of 724 men revealed that people experiencing loneliness tend to lose their memory earlier, and on average have shorter lifespans.
On the flip side, the same study found that strong, trusting relationships lead to a better quality of life, longer lifespan, and better physical and mental health.
While certainly not all folks who work from home are lonely, it’s no question that remote workers and online business owners are at risk for some serious isolation. Our work exists within the bounds of a screen; it’s easy to let the days go by when there aren’t coworkers inviting you to lunch.
Even if you live with a friend or family member, you can still feel isolated. In another study, 53 people were given two clickers: one to count the number of close friends or family they interacted with, and one to count acquaintances. Then, each day, they rated their sense of belonging and happiness.
The results were interesting, though perhaps unsurprising — high numbers of interactions with close friends and family led to an increase in happiness and belonging, while high interactions with only acquaintances showed an increase in belonging alone.
A similar study done with freshman college students found that days with higher numbers of interactions seemed to lead to higher happiness and belonging than days with fewer interactions.
The bottom line is, we need varied interactions with multiple people to stay healthy. We’re social creatures — yes, even the introverts. And if you work from home, you have to be intentional about getting that interaction.
In the past few months, I’ve taken several steps to connect with other freelancers and solopreneurs, as well as with my local community. And guys, it’s working. At risk of sounding like a terrible before-and-after ad, I can tell you that these steps have helped me make several new friends and feel happier and more engaged, both with my community and with my work. Boo-yah.
Here’s my master list of tangible ways you can start finding great people and build stronger community in your life.
Finding community through coworking
Find digital coworkers
In an office, you know your place. You know how much work is expected of you and how you should spend your time. This is called “Equity Theory“ — you know the value of your work because you can compare it to the performance of your peers.
As a solopreneur, that gauge is missing, and it can lead to a lot of anxiety, overworking habits, underworking habits, and overthinking.
The quickest fix is to join an online community of folks who are doing the same things you are. And while interacting online certainly isn’t the same as grabbing a coffee with a friend, it can definitely help you feel more connected throughout your workday. You can find Facebook groups, Slack communities, and Twitter chats for virtually every industry and walk of life.
Personally, I’m involved with two Facebook groups — one that’s focused on copywriting, and another for freelancers in my city. It gives me a variety of posts to engage with, and the groups are a great resource when I hit a wall in my business.
Many online courses also feature communities these days. If you’re considering taking a course, look for ones that come with private Facebook groups or Slack communities. Many of these communities continue running long after the course ends, and with some healthy nudges from the group moderators, you can build some real friendships with people who are going through many of the same struggles that you’re facing.
To get the most out of any online community, try to hop on video calls with people you seem to jive with. Ask if they’d be up for a quick chat about a problem you both are trying to solve, or if they’re up for just getting to know one another better. Warning: These calls can be awkward. But you know what? Regardless, you’ll develop a stronger bond with them — and even if you never talk again through video, your online interactions will be much richer.
A warning about social media
Of course, there’s always a dark side to online interactions. Specifically on social media, it’s important that you keep the focus on interacting, not consuming. Getting sucked into your Facebook feed isn’t just distracting — it can actually make you feel more isolated. A famous 2012 study of 425 undergraduate students found that the longer the students used Facebook, the more they felt “that others were happier and had better lives.”
This isn’t a surprise, right? However, I know personally that avoiding the all-consuming Facebook feed is a huge task, and there are many of your who are dealing with the same, dare I say, addiction.
Don’t be a social consumer. Instead, make Facebook work for you and focus on conversation and contributing. See how much better you feel.
Find a real coworker… kinda
Have a friend who’s self-employed, or even one who gets to work part-time remote? Work together! Go to one another’s homes or meet up at a coffee shop for some get-sh*t-done vibes. Or if your friend’s in another city, try this idea from Kaleigh Moore: Get an AirBnB for a few days to enjoy a workcation together.
Of course, working with a friend is a terrible idea if you end up gabbing the whole time instead of getting work done. Opt for a lunch date instead, and practice your maniacal laughs at the fact that you aren’t bound to an office’s one-hour-lunch policy.
Pretend you have coworkers
There’s this cool little thing called social facilitation, or the “Audience Effect,” which describes our tendency to perform better when people are watching. That’s why you might find yourself cranking through tasks in coffee shops (besides, you know, the coffee). Just working in a place that has more people, even if you’re not interacting with them, can boost your productivity.
So find places where you can work around others. Besides coffee shops, your local library, coworking spaces, or even nearby parks can be a good place to hunker down (assuming there’s wi-fi nearby, of course). Of these, I’ve heard the best feedback from entrepreneurs who use coworking spaces. Many of the more established coworking organizations are more than communal office space — they offer networking events, group lunches, and other special occasions to help you meet the other people working in the space.
Not sure if there are any good working spaces near you? Beyond Yelp, Workfrom is an index of spaces you can use, including coworking locations and restaurants. If you’re looking for a coworking space specifically, Coworker.com includes tons of reviews. A quick Google Maps search, of course, can give you lots of ideas as well.
Finding community outside of work
Coworking isn’t the only way to get your regular dose of human interaction. In fact, getting involved with people and communities outside of your daily grind can add a lot of balance to your life.
Join a Meetup
Meetup.com is one of my favorite websites because it’s actively combatting the isolating culture we find ourselves in. It’s a platform where anyone can start or join a local interest group on virtually any topic. There are language-learning meetups, singles meetups, religious meetups, foodie meetups, business meetups — it goes on. If you’re looking to get out of the house this week, I’ll bet you can find a meetup happening in your city.
In college, I seriously wanted to live in Japan. I minored in Japanese and continue studying it today.
Today, I don’t live in Japan. But guess what? There’s this cool Japanese garden in my city, and I can volunteer there.
Volunteering is a fantastic solution for engaging in the work that brings us deep meaning and joy, without putting on the pressure to make a career out of it or somehow monetize it. Love dogs? Check out your local humane society. Have a passion for teaching? There’s likely a program in your town that helps refugees learn English, and many are happy to have members from the community volunteer as English partners.
Get a part-time job
Okay, hear me out on this one.
I know you started your business to STICK IT TO THE MAN and BE YOUR OWN BOSS. But if you miss that bustling work environment, the right side job can bring fulfillment in that area of your life while also bringing a little boost to your bank account.
The hard part is, of course, the “right job” part. You don’t want something with a wild schedule that’s going to totally disrupt your best working hours, and you don’t want to add stress to your life. Personally, I’d avoid retail and instead opt for a job at a quiet coffee shop or even a bar, where the employees would be closer to my own age and the customers tend to be happy and willing to engage in conversation.
Reconnect with people you care about
After getting married, my husband and I descended into an insulated honeymoon phase. We only wanted to spend time with each other, all the time, FOREVER.
Which is fine, and normal, and necessary. But in time, I realized that I was feeling really distant from my family and friends. I’ve since made a concerted effort to spend more time around them. We’re all happier for it.
Whether you have family you haven’t called or old friends that you used to be close to, reach out. Just send that text already. Tell them you were thinking about them. Try to meet up. It’s incredibly easy to get so wrapped up in your day-to-day that you take for granted the relationships that seem to have been there forever.
Building community from the ground up
Building community — at its base level — simply means making friends. It’s arguably one of the most valuable skills you can have.
And yet, so many of us find ourselves as adults, unsure of how to build deep friendships like the ones we had in our school days.
Outside of the structure of school or even the traditional workplace, you must learn to be intentional about putting yourself out there and building connections. Here’s a simple blueprint for finding your people.
1) Attend events
In other words, DO THINGS. As introverts, many of us have the best of intentions when we sign up to attend a networking event or say we’ll go to so-and-so’s party. But when the day of the event rolls around, it’s suddenly so much easier to curl up with a fuzzy blanket and flip on Netflix.
The only way to meet new people is to get out there and actually meet them. So if you find yourself trading potential friendship development for Arrested Development(yikes, that was bad), try this trick from Susan Cain’s interview on Marie Forleo called “Networking for Introverts“:
Set a quota.
Set a number of how many times you need to go out this month. This way, it’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t met your quota yet, you need to go. And if you’ve fulfilled your quota, you can enjoy your Netflix in peace. No more dragging your feet for hours.
Setting a quota also forces you to ask an important question: How many interactions do you really need? While you may want to target a certain number for the sake of business connections, friendship requirements vary widely from person to person — and that’s 100% okay.
My husband is perfectly fine with a small group of friends to game with every now and then. Me, I need to get out at least once or twice a week in order to feel happy and connected.
What’s your number?
2) At events, look for the people on the fringe
Networking is awkward as heck if you treat it like networking. Instead of “working the room,” a much easier approach is simply trying to make friends with the other people who are feeling out of place.
There are ALWAYS other people at events who are feeling they’re on the fringe. Maybe they came with friends who ditched them, or they too are trying to meet people but don’t know how. Find them. Look for the folks sitting alone, visiting the food table just a little too often, and scrolling listlessly through their phone.
Practice approaching them with a simple greeting. “Hey, I don’t think we’ve met yet” works well (shoutout to Marie Forleo again for that one). So does “Man, networking events are awkward, aren’t they?” or even “Hey, someone else who likes bleu cheese! Nice to meet you!” (assuming, of course, you’re both eating bleu cheese. Weirdos.)
3) Invite them to eat with you
I don’t know what it is about eating food together, but I am convinced it’s the single best way to get to know someone. I think all office teams should get lunch together regularly.
When you meet someone new, don’t just take a business card. If there’s any connection at all, ask if they’re up for grabbing a coffee, or heading to a quiet bar, or if they’re hungry for lunch.
For a long time, I was the get-the-business-card-and-dash person. At least, until last week when a gal I met invited me to grab coffee right then and there after an event. My default response of “Uh, it’s late, I should be getting home” almost tumbled out of my mouth, but instead I agreed. And the result? We got along so famously, I missed 5 calls from a concerned husband who thought I’d been in an accident.
But seriously. Just try it. Invite them to consume foodstuffs with you. It works.
4) Connect your new friends with each other
If you’re just out to make some friends, you can stop at #3.
However, communities are built on interconnectedness, and introducing your friends can only improve your life and theirs.
In college, I had my first experience in intentional community building. I had met a few people in my first week at school who were as excited as myself to meet new people. So to multiply our efforts, I invited everyone to dinner with me, while also encouraging them to invite everyone they knew to come join as well. The result was around 20 people crowded around cafeteria tables a lá The Lord’s Supper. We set a rule that you had to sit next to at least one person you didn’t know. By the end of the night, everyone left with at least one new friend.
Am I telling you to go set up some huge dinner? Possibly — this works really well at weekend conferences. But if it sounds crazy, just start small. Building community begins just by introducing two people you think will like one another, or perhaps be able to help one another.
If you find that you enjoy connecting people, you may even consider creating a more formal community such as a meetup, online mastermind group, book club, or a Facebook community. Many people even make businesses out of this very talent.
Bonus idea: Introduce new friends to their idols
I once knew a man who would attend conferences and make a new friend with someone on the fringes. Then, he would make a point to introduce them to someone in their industry, even if he didn’t know that person himself.
What did this look like? He would bring his new friend up to a speaker they admired, chat with the speaker for a minute, and then say, “Oh, I wanted to introduce you to my friend ____.”
The result was his new friend gained a valuable connection with the speaker that was far more natural than if the friend had approached the speaker on their own. The friend saw him as someone with connections. And the speaker, too, gained a new connection. Everyone won. And no one felt that awkward “networky” vibe.
All because one guy decided he was going to be the one to meet and connect people. Cool, right?
Community comes from initiative
If you’re feeling lonely or disconnected as a freelancer or creative business owner, let this be a rallying cry to do something about it. There are always options for changing your life. But it all starts with the decision to do something.
Where have you found strong friendships in your life? What tips would you share with others who are looking to get more involved in their communities? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
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