The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

One is the Loneliest Number?

I haven’t shared this bit of news on the blog yet, but in the past month I’ve made a transition that I’d been told was the next logical step in my career, but that I’d been resisting for almost a year. I’ve become an independent consultant. That is, I’m self-employed. Aside from farming out myself as a freelance writer, I’m primarily working as a “blogging & social media consultant”; a title I invented and started toying with around the same time.

One of the reasons I took the plunge is because Parker is getting closer to school-age, and eventually he’ll have a sibling who will also go to school. As I’ve been paying attention to the kinds of trouble some young people get themselves into, looking back on my own past, and wondering what kept me out of trouble. I think it made a huge difference that I never came home to an empty house. When I opened the door upon coming home from school, there was almost always someone there. In my case, my mom, who didn’t work outside the home. I’d been thinking about how to structure work so that I can be there most of the time when our kids get home from school. Well, I figured out how.

So far, so good. A number of interesting opportunities have already come my way (but not so many that I’m turning some away, yet) , and it helps that my former employer is one of my first clients and has been hugely helpful in sending other opportunities my way. Things look good and likely to get better. And I’ve enjoyed the independence of begin able to work at home or anywhere else that has wi-fi web access. But there’s just one drawback that’s been bugging me lately.

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Yes, I’m an introvert. I may even be something of a loner. But working at home can get very lonely, and even maddeningly boring if you look up and realize that the whole day has gone by and you haven’t gone anywhere, or any further than the end of the driveway. Plus, the rest of the family is due home any minute and you probably going to get out of the house in the evening either.

So then you vow to get up and get out of the house the next morning, but once you shower and get dressed (’cause you gotta do those two things if you’re going to work outside of the house) you realize that you don’t have any place in particular to go. So, you head out to the nearest coffeehouse with wi-fi, which is either fee-based (a’la T-Mobile) or “free” but limited to a couple of hours, which means you’ll have to move-on to no place in particular again. (And preferably somewhere with an available outlet, if you’re battery life is running low.) That works for a while. You’re at least around people.

But eventually, it proves lacking. Because you’re around people, but not around people with whom you have any particular relationship. That’s my experience, at least. So I was intrigued to hear this story via Lifehack.

I didn’t know what co-working was, but it looks like there are other people in D.C. who are interested in trying it. I’m not sure I’m up to joining a space just yet, but I’ll put my name on list. At the very least, maybe there are a few more people who wouldn’t mind finding space to share or sharing space they have.

At the very least, it’s comforting to know I don’t have to work like a refugee. (With apologies to Tom Petty.)


  1. Interesting concept. But I don’t see why I should pay for an office when I have a perfectly good office that I don’t have to pay for and get a tax deduction for the sole purpose of being around people. I don’t miss the “social element” of the office. This point was driven home to me last week when I was on-site at one of my clients stuck listening to a woman describing how she can’t stand seeing her two dogs nip at each other. For. Twenty. Minutes.

    In my world the “loneliness” factor is largely relieved by being connected via IM or e-mail to my boyfriend, family, and friends. At any one time I am usually having a conversation with someone. Balances the introvert side with the side that needs to be social. All without having to leave the house.

  2. I was home on disability for a year & a half, & I understand the empty house loneliness very well. I did it because I was sick, & I can’t *imagine* working at home. In fact, I telecommute one day a week now in my current position, & it’s like pulling teeth to be productive. I know tons of people drool over the option, but IMO it’s a real struggle to make your place of refuge into the workplace.

  3. Wow Terrance,
    I can not begin to count how many hours, days and nights I have spent “working” in coffee shops. I know I could not have finished the dissertation had it not been for Starbucks and now I read and prepare lectures in coffee shops. That said, I enjoy the “peace” of working in a coffee shop and not being forced to deal with people when I dont want to. I think the secret is balance. So, I may spend the better part of my day working alone but after I pick up the kids I make an effort to be a part of a community. That means going on playdates. And, I must say I think I am better able to appreciate my shared time because of my alone time. (Do you know what I mean?) So…the solution may be for you to seek ways to bring people into your life at other points during the day. My children force me to do that and it is a good and healthy thing.
    Best of luck, Wendi

  4. Terrance, I understand your situation very well. I know about pushing that Caribou Coffee time to get stuff done. Frankly, co-working sounds like something I want to explore.

  5. Hey Terrance!

    I completely hear you. While I am a solitary computer worker type of person, since I started freelancing in the fall I found that I could not spend the whole day at home all the time. The biggest reprieves I’ve found are:

    * working from coffee shops
    * going to professional meetings (Drupal, PHP, Cocoa for me)
    * occasionally going to client sites (though I typically work offsite)

    With coffee shops, I find that the white noise is enough. Most of the time, I’m not productive when listening to music, so it gets awful quiet at home with just me and the cat. Just having someone chitchatting next to me in a coffee shop is enough to help me get in the zone.

    But I expect that you will have to find the right balance for you.

  6. Oh, I completely forgot to mention: probably a bit of a trek for you (right around the corner for me), but there is a coworking type of place called Affinity Lab in Adams Morgan.

    I know a couple people there so I could get the ball rolling if you like.

  7. I work from home as well, both writing as well as consulting. I also travel. I agree it can be somewhat isolating, but I’ve found other friends who also work from home and we’ve utilized instantmessaging as a way to have a cyber watercooler. It’s not a perfect system, and it’s not the same as having people you actually get together with for drinks after work, but it does break up the day so it doesn’t feel so lonely on the days when work isn’t as busy or I need to just take a break and hang out.

    I wonder if the loneliness is worse in the US than outside of the country. The reason I wonder is because in other countries, it isn’t uncommon to plop down at a cafe’, share a table with someone you don’t know and then be invited over to their house for dinner the next night. I don’t see as many people in the US becoming chummy with a “stranger” and inviting them over on a whim. Seems that flies better in europe, so I wonder if it is easier to work on one’s own there and not feel as isolated.

    Make sense?