What Leaving My Office Job Taught Me About Loneliness

freelancing and lonliness

@oliviamuenter

 

We think Valentine's Day can be isolating, regardless of your relationship status. With that in mind, this February we'd like to focus on feelings of loneliness and everything that comes along with them. We're doing a deep-dive into our own experiences with being alone—whether it's finding peace, feeling alienated, or reckoning with all those emotions at once.

Say what you will about the downsides of going to an office every day for work, but one of the positives is certainly the routine of it all. Even if you hate your job, the fact remains that going to the same place every day can feel somewhat comforting — especially if that place includes familiar (often friendly) faces, your own independent work space, and an endless supply of free coffee. Having an office job evokes the same feeling going to school did for most of us as children. Sure, you may not always want to be there, but there’s still something to be said for a solid routine, not to mention the social side of things. When I quit my full-time office job to go freelance almost a year ago, part of me was terrified I would miss this sense of mindless routine and built-in, daily socializing. 

As someone who craves total control in most situations, the idea of being solely in charge of my day-to-day schedule (and that it would vary quite often) still scared me initially. I was afraid I would miss the feeling of grabbing my morning coffee, settling in at my desk, and chatting with coworkers. And all of these feelings weren’t helped by the horror stories I heard about those who couldn’t handle the lack of social interaction. And today, almost a whole year into freelancing, one of the most common questions I get from other freelancers is how to deal with working alone most days—how to not feel lonely. I never know quite how to answer this question, though, because while leaving my office job certainly challenged my perspective on loneliness, it’s only been for the better.

Sure, the mindless routine of it all is one of the main aspects of an office job that is lost when you work for yourself—but something else that drastically changes is the social dynamic of things. Unless you work in a very corporate, traditional environment, odds are that you, too, have felt social pressure at your workplace. It’s the pressure to be liked by your coworkers and to fit in with the various cliques—to be invited to the endless birthday parties and happy hour drinks. So despite my initial fears, when I started working from home every day, the first thing I felt wasn’t loneliness; it was the absence of the social pressure I had rarely acknowledged before. I no longer ended a work day and felt lonely or sad when I wasn’t invited to go to a happy hour or dinner. I no longer found myself trying to impress people just for the sake of it or worrying about who was talking to me and who wasn’t. I was able to recognize for the first time that I actually liked being alone, and the quality of my work improved when I wasn’t distracted by things like cliques or petty office gossip.

Absorbing the social pressure at an office made me feel lonelier than actually being by myself ever did.

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely made close friends at my office job who are still in my life today—but they are few and far between. There is a certain feeling in millennial office culture that you have to be liked by everyone and be friends with everyone in order to be successful. This is, of course, impossible for almost anyone and it was certainly impossible for me. It’s no wonder I often felt much more isolated in an office setting than I ever have working from home. 

Still, though, it’s true working from home is not for everyone. It’s solitary and sometimes a little too comfortable (I do often miss getting dressed up for work every day), but the narrative that the loneliness will be too much for most is completely false in my experience. Working by myself almost every day, all day isn’t always easy, but it’s taught me this: Absorbing the social pressure at an office made me feel lonelier than actually being by myself ever did. And if I ever do go back to a full-time office job, this is the perspective I’ll bring back with me.

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