Freelancing Made Me Lonely. I Went Back to Work…
Adam left a job to go freelance after an opportunity to work in web development independently for a large client presented itself. By the financial measures of success, Adam’s freelance career was a success. But the mental health cost was too high, as he tells us in his own words.
Frustrations at Work
I’d been in the same job for three years and despite continually hitting targets and being told how great my work was and how valuable I was to the agency I worked at, I had made on career progress in that time. There had been no pay rise, no career progression and little by the way of training. So it was frustrating, despite the fact the clients we had and the projects we got to work on being quite fun some of the time.
It was around then that a friend told me his boss was looking for a freelance web developer to put the company’s new website together. He asked if I knew anyone and I just said, “me?” He told me they expected it to take more than just the odd few hours here and there and described a lot of functionality to me that I knew meant this couldn’t be a side hustle for me.
After a conversation in the pub that night, I was put in touch with his boss and a week later met with the company and agreed to develop their website on a freelance basis.
I would need to spend around half of my working week on it for around two months, I estimated. And my estimates working for the agency had been getting increasingly accurate so I was confident with the numbers.
But for half of my week over 2 months, I would come out with the same pay as I would for two months worth of full time work in my day job.
It was therefore an easy decision to make. I handed my notice in.
But what if….?
I’d just moved out of my parents’ house and was living by myself. When I told my Mother about me resigning to take this freelance work, she was panic stricken. She asked all the questions that I probably should have asked myself before making the fairly impulsive decision to hand my notice in.
“What happens when this job has finished?”
“What happens if you are ill? You won’t get sick pay.”
“What happens if this client of yours doesn’t pay?”
All sensible and valid questions.
It did make me panic for a moment. But I responded that for 2 months I had half of my working week to find new clients for on going business. And that I was speaking to a solicitor about getting legals and contracts all in place.
As it happens, that first client was one of the best paying clients I ever had as a freelancer.
The Questions Nobody Asked
Not once when I was telling people about my decision did anyone ask me:
“Won’t you feel lonely working at home all the time?”
“When will you get contact with other humans?“
And they’re the questions I wish someone had put to me. I’m not saying it would have changed my mind. What I’m saying is that it might have made less surprised by the outcome.
Success and Loneliness
I had secured a second client within a week of starting work on the first. I put feelers out to a few people I knew in different businesses letting them know I was now freelance and found a lot of enquiries.
It was better than I expected.
I was working more productively than I ever had in an office environment and getting paid more for my time.
I felt in control. For the first month that is.
My Mother called on a Tuesday morning one week and asked what I’d been doing. I told her I’d be working constantly right over the weekend (I’d encountered a problem on a project and it meant putting some extra time in). She asked whether I needed anything bringing round like food or drink.
“It’s ok,” I told her, “I ordered food shopping online.”
And then she innocently asked, “So when did you actually see another human being?”
I laughed it off but it struck a chord. I realised it had been 9 days since I’d encountered a single other human being save for the supermarket delivery driver dropping a couple of crates at my door. I had been out for a run a couple of times early enough in the morning or late enough at night that I had seen nobody. I hadn’t shopping in a physical shop and hadn’t needed to commute to see a client.
I also realised it had been 4 days prior to my Mother calling that morning since I’d even spoken to another human. My contact with my clients was largely email and Slack.
It bugged me. But I thought nothing more of it.
But as the following weeks went by I found myself feeling withdrawn and distant. I began to feel like the world was rolling by without me a little. I made more effort to get out and see friends at the weekend, but for 6 days of every week, I would generally not encounter another human being.
I began to resent it. But where I live it’s quite a commute into a town. I’d been lucky to find the job I had within a 40 minute drive. My nearest co working space was a 90 minute drive each week. So I didn’t feel as though I had too many options.
Resentment turned into total dismay and unhappiness. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d been benefitting from constant human interaction in the workplace.
Eventually, one weekend, I went to my Mother’s for dinner. She asked me how it was going and I broke down into tears and told her I felt desperately isolated.
She was relieved to hear it from me as she had suspected it for some time, I think and was becoming concerned that I had yet to talk to her about it.
Going Back to Work
I called my clients the following Monday and told them I was going to be stopping freelancing. I explained the reasons why quite openly and committed to finishing their projects.
Then one of them gave me a surprising offer.
“How about the best of both worlds? Work full time for us and you can work a couple of days each week from home.”
The commute is almost an hour each way. I commute into the office three days each week and work from home for two. I’m on a better salary than I was in my former role, though admittedly not earning what I did in the 6 months I freelanced for. And I have more say over the websites – partly because I’m now working in house so dealing with all stakeholders and senior management directly.
But for at least 3 days every single week, I know I’m going to have real human interaction but can still spend a couple of days at home, not commuting, benefitting from the productivity boost that a quiet environment can bring with it.
It really is the best of both worlds.
Freelancing works well for so many people I know. But for me it led to complete isolation and I certainly wouldn’t consider that route again.
If you’re struggling with loneliness and would like someone to talk to, you can phone the Samaritans on 116 123