Like me, most of my friends are sole proprietors working out of home offices or shared offices.
One says that he’s “chained to his computer” and refuses to meet clients at their offices, saying, “If I can’t work with you by email, FedEx, and Skype, I can’t work with you at all.” This policy doesn’t seem to bother his clients, but he’s confessed to me many times that he feels lonely and isolated.
Years ago, another friend of mine suddenly developed agoraphobia and rarely left her condo for months until she finally got over her fears of venturing outside.
On the other hand, many people have no fears about or problems with working alone, but if you’re a business of one, it something that will likely come up sooner or later. To learn how to deal with this issues of being all by yourself from nine to five (or longer), we interviewed psychotherapist Dr. Selma Lewis.
ISBB: What’s the biggest fear that solitary workers have?
Dr. Lewis: People who work alone don’t expect it to be a problem until they’re in it. Then they slowly realize how much support they get from a normal business setting. Even the people you don’t like give you some sort of emotional support or boost. When you’re stripped of all that, a good percentage of people have a lot of trouble being motivated.
What other problems does someone encounter when working alone?
People think it’s really fun to be alone and work in your pajamas, but it’s not. It’s isolating. Many people don’t develop the structure to work alone. Others slip into low-grade depression where they just sleep, do busy work, or watch YouTube videos all day, but they will not be productive.
What do you recommend to these patients?
I recommend going to several networking events a week, like BNI or the Chamber of Commerce. For energy, I recommend seeing people working and relaxing, like at a Starbucks. I also recommend reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. Though it’s over 20 years old, it’s creative, and it shows you how to build a successful structure for yourself.
How important is networking with other sole proprietors?
It’s very important because they’ll talk about all the things that you’re afraid to talk about. Hanging out with a few and getting to know them is really important.
I also recommend developing a “circle of competence” of friends whom you can call when you have a problem with your business because you trust their judgment.
How often should these people get out of their offices?
As often as needed. You literally have to structure time to take a much-needed break from working alone, such taking a walk, riding your bike, going to lunch, or visiting a bookstore. You also have to take the time to read expertise from other entrepreneurs and sole proprietors.
Any final advice?
You have to keep up with technology, such as LinkedIn, Meetup, Facebook, and Skype, so you don’t feel as isolated after working alone in your office all day long. There’s a world of information out there and you should take advantage of it.
For more information on how to overcome phobias other psychological concerns, visit Dr. Selma Lewis’ website.