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Escaping Professional Isolation

Friday, 05 February 2016 00:00  by Yolanda F.

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As a solopreneur or freelance writer or freelance anything, sometimes the stress of working alone at home can feel like imprisonment. You’re your own boss, yet the mile-long to-do list doesn’t often allow for socializing during the day. While it poses no tangible problem for some, it can do a number on the mental health of others. Think about it. In an office setting you can saunter over to the coffee station or sit on someone else’s desk for a life-affirming chat when mania or any kind of stress interrupts your flow. If you’re home alone, you can’t because you’re well, home alone. Alone with your stress.

About 12 years ago, a former colleague and I were both 30-something freelance writers and stay-at-home moms with one infant and one toddler each, and husbands out working all day. On the brink of borderline depression and full-on anxiety, we’d schedule morning telephone calls between New Jersey to Colorado to help each other stay on track and as sane as possible. The calls were a business meeting counseling session hybrid that made it just a little bit easier to get through the day.

When our kids grew to full-day school age, we were still faced with the daily issue of professional isolation. Sure, we’d have errands to run where we’d come in contact with other humans, but it wasn’t enough. Entrepreneur recently posted a tidbit about research by Brigham Young University in Utah, which looked at studies on sociability. The studies showed that a lack of human interaction negatively affected people’s health to the same degree as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Apparently, it’s also as harmful as never exercising and twice as damaging as being obese.

I didn’t know that, but I certainly sensed it. So, I tried working at the library, which solved some problems but created others. For instance, I was faced with the shush factor, which meant no phone calls. The library only worked when I needed almost complete silence to write.

I also tried various coffee shops and came upon other stumbling blocks like noise distractions, uncomfortable seating and insufficient workspace. While public working provided mild comfort of sharing air and space, it was often counter-productive to my mission.

Then my friend in Colorado tried a co-work space called Art Gym in Denver, and experienced a strong sense of renewal and rejuvenation.

“I have been working from home for 14 years,” says Janalee Card Chmel, freelance writer and author of Grant Me Serenity. “While I tend to be a hermit and an introvert, this way of life is very isolating. I was starting to feel like I was losing my marbles and I literally thought I'd have to find a ‘real’ job just to get my joy back. However, I needed to retain my flexibility for my kids' schedules. I felt very stuck and I was getting lower by the week.”

Although she only goes to Art Gym once or twice a week to work among other artists and solopreneurs, she’s regained optimism and gratitude for her work. “I can be in an inspiring environment with artists (versus my basement) and I feel like part of something bigger than just myself. It was a game-changer.”

I had heard about a similar space in NJ called Cowerks in Asbury Park, which offers office and event space with no contracts, low overhead, and a built-in community to help grow your startup business or incubate your ideas. I’ve yet to try it, but it’s nice to know I don’t have to be alone at work anymore. I also don’t have to give up my spirit of autonomy in exchange for some good old-fashioned comradery.

Art Gym and Cowerks are not only nurturing the self-employed, but saving their lives.

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