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For the Work at Home Freelancer the Rewards Are Plenty - But Oh, the Loneliness!
By Sherril Steele-Carlin

You finally made the jump to full time freelancing. Your home office is set up just perfectly, you've trained your family to leave you alone during certain hours so you can work, and the clients just keep coming. You're making good money, and doing what you've always wanted to do. So why do you often feel anxious, unhappy, and sad? Maybe it's because you're working alone.

According to the National Association for the Self-Employed, an organization based in Washington, D.C., the nation has 16.4 million home-based entrepreneurs. Many of these freelancers are constantly faced with the isolation that comes from being a one-person operation.

Perhaps you miss the interaction with co-workers more than you ever thought you would. Working alone every day can create a feeling of emptiness and isolation, and cramp productivity. Long-term isolation can even lead to social dysfunction and depression, which can affect how much work you can produce. A depressed freelancer may find it difficult to concentrate, or complete assignments, adding to the feeling of depression and isolation. Jennifer L. Carpenter wrote in Building Community in the Virtual Workplace, "The touch of a keyboard will never take the place of a strong handshake, a hug, or body language."

Many freelancers try to beat isolation by doing their work at the library, or going out each morning for coffee to their favorite espresso place. Others join professional organizations and groups to interact with other professionals in their fields. Some even get pets to keep them company during the day. One freelancer uses Instant Messaging to stay in touch with her husband and friends while she works on the computer. Even a short jaunt to the garden for a quick cup of coffee can break up the day and help beat the isolation "blues."

Jeanne Gannon says, "Feelings of isolation are a common problem faced by free agents in any occupation and can interfere significantly with your work if they are not recognized, understood, and dealt with," in her article Avoid a Free Agent's Isolation.

Clearly, isolation is a factor for many who decide to freelance. Those short meetings around the coffee machine in the morning may annoy managers, but they do add to employee morale and well-being. Some freelancers find they miss the interaction so much that they give up the work-at-home lifestyle, and go back to working for someone else.

Azriela Jaffe, a psychology expert and home-based worker says, "Rest assured--what you're feeling is completely normal. The grass often looks greener on the other side. Many people who leap into home based self-employment relish the thought of no more committee meetings, constant interruptions or wasted time on chit-chat with a co-worker they don't even like. Then they figure out that gaining peace and freedom can be a lonely endeavor."

Others don't find the isolation so daunting. Author Joyce Lain Kennedy writes, "Some psychologists theorize that people who work at home are people who need autonomy and who have low needs for affiliation and dominance -- they're loners, they're very involved in their work." Many freelancers say they literally have to force themselves to leave the office. They feel that if they aren't glued to their computer, they aren't making "billable hours."

Isolation can feed on itself. Freelancers who spend all their time working at home may find that the longer they work alone, the harder it is to leave at all. One freelancer mused, "My brother and sister have often made the snide remark that, once we get Internet grocery delivery in our area, no one will ever see me again." For many freelancers, the longer they isolate themselves, the harder it is to reach out and seek contact and feedback, and the situation feeds itself.

As more Americans turn to freelancing, we face a growing number of isolated workers. More studies need to be done on freelancing, and it's affect on our health. Most people who work at home report they are happier, more productive, and less stressed than when they commuted to a job every day. For those who find the isolation too great, support groups, friends and family can all help combat the loneliness. Freelancing is a way of life and a state of mind, and it may not be the right career move for every person.

Sherril Steele-Carlin
Author of the E-book "How to Get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park"

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