It had been three days. Maybe four. Scrap that. It was five days that I hadn’t left my flat. I’d not seen another human being. I hadn’t even taken or made many phone calls.
I was very much alone. In a working week, my total human contact was the sum of two phone calls to clients and a few emails.
By the time I met her, I couldn’t stop talking. She was always bright and bubbly and not averse to a good chinwag. We conversed. I told her about some things I was working on. She told me about some things happening in her life. It was always a brief conversation but at some points, this conversation became the highlight of my week. I was sad when I paid for my tins of tuna, carrots, chicken and toothpaste and was alone again.
Listen. Don’t do it. Ok? I can’t remember who, but someone once said
“To be, is to be in relationships”
That is so true. We are created to relate to each other. When that doesn’t happen, something breaks. Something is missing. We are not functioning as we should. There are so many reports that loneliness is becoming an increasing problem, and it can also lead to health problems like depression.
The checkout girl at Morrison’s told me I needed to get out more. (Not literally I might add. She would be totally unaware that she was the sum of my human contact in a five day period.) It’s not good to be alone. I learnt that. So not long after I started going to more networking meetings. I was slowly going from meeting zero new people a month to meeting up to 5, then 10 and now probably around 15 new people a month that I converse with at some level. And I feel much the better for it.
Working from home, not working alone
So what does this mean for creatives and for helping us to achieve more and get things done? Freelancing and working from home are great options that we have more and more of these days. However, they are not without their problems. I know for myself when working on certain projects, nothing beats collaboration. I thrive when working with other people around with whom I can bounce ideas off. To encourage me. To challenge me and to help me learn and push me further.
Working totally on my own doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes it’s the right thing. I may need to be away from everyone else and any distractions for a short time. But for most of us even knowing you can pick up the phone or Skype someone when you’re stuck can make all the difference. They don’t even need to provide solutions. Just speaking out the problem to someone else, to vocalise it and talk it through is all it takes for a solution to become apparent. Not having anyone to do that with can lead to frustration, constant creative blocks, lower quality work and increasing dissatisfaction.
We need other people in our lives. You see, having others in our lives can make us better people. There is an old proverb that says:
“As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens the character of his friend”
We are designed to function with our fellow man. We get to know ourselves better through the experience of others. Don’t go more than a couple of days without speaking to another human being. Just don’t.
Making it work
There are many things you can do to avoid the loneliness trap but they all take a little effort which you need to be willing to do. Here are my top tips.
1) Invite someone out for coffee
It’s always good to have a break and meeting up for coffee (insert beverage of choice) is a great way to break up creative stints and get inspired. Or to simply have a break away from a computer screen if you spend most of your time there.
As well as meeting with friends, going out for coffee can be a good opportunity to get to know someone a bit better. Perhaps a person you would like to work with in future, or are thinking of asking to be a mentor. Someone you can learn off, ask questions and who will stretch you. Or who is simply fun to be with. Humour can be inspirational to added creativity.
2) Meet up for lunch
Lunch takes it a bit further. There’s something quite special about sharing a meal with another person -or people. Just the act of sitting down together and choosing what you will eat can create a bond between you.
I recently met someone at a networking meeting. We then went out for lunch in a local café – we happened to live in the same town. Now, several months later we have worked on three websites together with more in the offing. A simple lunch meeting can lead to so much more.
3) Arrange a Skype call
Skype can be a great medium to build relationships. You don’t necessarily have to live on the other side of the world to benefit from Skype calls. Phone calls are good, but being able to see the other person, being able to observe body language and gauge truer feelings that can be expressed over audio-only mediums and most certainly over email is a huge bonus.
I have found Skype invaluable in setting up Creatives Hub. I have regular planning meetings with my colleague to discuss content for our latest podcast; to plan and practice talks, and to inspire each other and talk through any challenges.
You can run brainstorming sessions, show each other work and get critiques; provide or receive coaching sessions and more.
4) Co-work in a café
Being in the same place but getting on with your own things can also be a great motivator. I have often worked I cafés, bars and pubs, inviting a few others to work with me. This provides the positive benefits of an office environment without many of the negatives. You can come and go as you please. You chose the people you want to be there. You don’t have to put up with all that time-wasting office politics and more. You do need to be more disciplined but that’s where working with the right people can spur you on to get stuff done.
5) Join a regular creative meet up
Our own mini-hubs [Editor: not currently running] are groups with a maximum of ten people who meet up regularly to encourage, share, inspire and motivate each other. Having a regular meeting can really help you to be accountable by having others around you who will ask those questions like ‘How are you getting on with that book you were writing?‘ and ‘How far have you got in setting up your new venture?‘.
These are opportunities to collectively brainstorm through challenges you may be having, show your work and get critiques, learn off others, and generally be inspired and motivated by your fellow members.
The important thing with any of these communication opportunities is that you are engaging with another human being. You are making yourself realise that you are not alone. You are not on your own. There are other people out there who share your frustrations and with whom you can share your joys. You can push yourself to go further or you can simply have fun enjoying the company of others whilst developing your character -without even knowing it.
Just don’t make the checkout staff at your local supermarket your only regular human contact –as wonderful as they may be.
Over to you.
So who are you going to have coffee with this week? Let me know how it went in the comments.