WordPress Freelancing Can Be Lonely: Nine Strategies to Cope

People get into WordPress freelancing for lots of reasons. Some that come quickly to mind: for fun, for a career, to learn, to help out, or to make a little extra cash. All of these are great things. One common reality that doesn’t come up as much around WordPress freelancing: loneliness. It’s bound to come up, even though it’s an affliction that many people dare not speak of.

In the second half of this article, we’ll talk about specific strategies that I’ve successfully employed in my life to get past the loneliness of being a remote WordPress worker. But first, I think it’s important that we dive into a little more depth about what the upsides and downsides of being a work-for-yourself WordPress professional.

The Realities of WordPress Freelancing

What we mean by “WordPress freelancing” can go by lots of other job titles: “WordPress business consultant,” “web marketing advisor,” “SEO expert,” “ecommerce optimizer,” and a whole bunch more. I’m rounding all of those things into “WordPress freelancer” for this article as I feel that’s the most common term.

In all cases, I mean working commonly in WordPress, as someone who is self-employed and part of a team of less-than-ten people who work remotely (at a distance) from each other. That is: they do not have a shared office that most of them come to most days of the work-week. So that means a few big things:

  • You make your own schedule
  • You make yourself successful
  • You don’t have a built in “team” for camaraderie and connection

Ok—now we’re ready to tackle WordPress freelancing and loneliness more concertedly.

Why We Start Freelancing

In general, I feel that people strike off on WordPress freelancing for one of the three reasons above. And these are great, being able to scale your earnings, making your own schedule, and making your own team are all powerful and important tools.

After we’ve gotten the first one to twelve months under our belt, and the clients who made us believe it was possible have faded away, freelancing can be scary. Exactly the things that made it compelling can become liabilities. And the realization that we’re wanting work colleagues can set in.

What’s Great about Freelancing?

There are many amazing things about freelancing. I touched on them in some depth above, but let’s briefly go a bit deeper.

  • You’re not asking anyone if you can take a vacation. Policies and partnerships vary, but in general if you’re self-employed as a WordPress freelancer, you’re not having to ask anyone else to take time off. That’s such a relief.
  • You’re not limited by a role description. Another thing that’s amazing with being a real freelancers is that you have control over what you do. Want to learn something new? Or get better at a skill that seems unrelated to your title? That’s great. And often best for the company.
  • You’re able to make your own work hours. When you make your own jobs description and title, you can also make your own hours most of the time. That means that if you work best between 10pm and 4am, you can (mostly) keep that schedule.
  • You’re in control of your earnings. A salary is regular and dependable (more on that in a second), but it’s hard to flex it upwards. If you’re a freelancer accustomed to working 600 billable hours to make your yearly salary, in time of financial need working a few hundred more hours is often easier than asking a boss for a raise.

There are surely other benefits to being self-employed. Those are just the ones that jump to mind for me. Clearly there are a lot of great things about being a WordPress freelancer.

The Downsides of Working Alone

picard double face palm | seoBut an entire article on WordPress freelancing and loneliness might give away the fact that it’s not all sunshine and roses. Here are some of the big downsides. Again, we’ve touched on them, but I want to get a bit deeper.

  • You’re in control of your earnings. I copied the text from the point above verbatim for a reason: being in control is as much bad as it is good. It means that you’re in charge of finding the levers that will make your business profitable when it’s not. It means you’re in charge of working the hours that pay your bills, and you can’t take time off for sick leave.
  • It’s easy to directionlessly drift. Because you define your role(s), set your work hours, and determine what success looks like its common for freelancers to feel confused and conflicted about what they’re doing. To feel that they’ve wasted their time on projects that didn’t pan out. Or that they simply spent the last year focused on the wrong thing.
  • When working from home, lonely feelings might creep in sometimes. Because WordPress freelancing is essentially self-directed, you rarely have a team. On some projects, a client can feel like an ally. On others you might bring in a friend with complementary skills. But on the whole, you’re alone in your work, and likely to feel lonely as a result. Working from home + isolation sometimes go hand in hand.

These are the big downside of freelancing that occur to me. If you’ve got others, or different slants on the same ones, I’d love to hear in the comments. 😊

What is Loneliness & How Does it Relate?

A quick and minor diversion on something I think is important in the context of this article. We must define one term to fully understand how WordPress freelancing is lonely. That is “loneliness” itself.

Loneliness is not being alone. There are people (I’d count myself among them) who only really miss being around other people after being alone for a week or more. In that mode, I’m not lonely, just alone.

Loneliness is importantly different from being alone. Loneliness is, in my estimation, a (strong) wish for more connection with other humans, regardless of how many other people are around. The phrase “lonely in a crowd” is common for a reason: you can and often are lonely when you’re not even alone. It is something other than the proximity to other bodies that matters.

This gets to something much more profound: the need to feel like you belong, and that you’re understood, is the cause of loneliness. This need isn’t filled easily, but it’s a common and useful one for humans. (The strong-willed may read my meaning as “just bypass the emotions of wanting to feel a sense of camaraderie and belonging.” I tried that, it doesn’t work. But going on about that will have to wait for another time and place.)

I’m defining this carefully as someone who felt a profound need for connection for years before I found the solution. I was “lonely” while WordPress freelancing, though I feared and misunderstood both the cause and the solution to the problem. I ultimately learned that a consciousness towards preventing loneliness as a WordPress freelancer is a worthwhile pursuit.

Why it’s Lonely to Work Alone

Concretely, it’s lonely to work alone because being alone is one of the most common precursors to loneliness. But it’s not the only or the strongest one.

A big part of the reason it’s lonely to work alone is that you don’t have what I might call “fellow-travelers.” At work (especially at bigger companies) you’re all victims of the same bad boss. Maybe (hopefully!) you’re all succeeding on the company’s big initiatives. Whatever it is, you often have the sense that a large stream of people are all working in concert with you, and so (if only by necessity) they care about what you’re doing and if you’re succeeding.

When you’re working on your own (or with a small team), no one else understands in the same way what your work-life is like. You didn’t land a client you were really hoping for? Hopefully someone if you life understands. But few of them will. Even if they try to, they simply can’t. They’ve not been self-directed, and they just don’t know what that’s like. This is the real source of the loneliness of the WordPress freelancer.

What, Concretely, Can You Do About Being Lonely as a WordPress Freelancer?

Loneliness comes with the territory of WordPress freelancing. Loneliness isn’t a problem that you can’t solve though. There are hard parts to solving it, but it’s possible to, and you deserve to. (That might sound like blather, but I mean it profoundly. Again, topic for another time. 🤓). Here are some of my go-to strategies to handle loneliness while freelancing as a WordPress developer.

1. Accept That You Feel Lonely

This is the simplest and the hardest one. I’m fond of the phrase “simple but not easy” to describe things like this. Things which I can say in a sentence, but can take weeks if not lifetimes to fully understand. If you’re reading an article about feeling lonely, and it’s resonating with you, you’re already part of the way along the journey. But if you’re, for example, “reading for a friend” this can take a while.

Accepting your emotions is again a topic far too big for this article, but in short it’s the first and most important step to really coming to terms with them. Denial may work in the short term, but all un-understood emotions come out eventually.

2. Work on Understanding Connection

One of the steps I wish I’d taken earlier in the process of combating my loneliness is to understand that it wasn’t being alone, but feeling unable to connect which was the source of my problems. Many of the tips I recommend below get a lot more effective if they’re coupled with a strong awareness and thoughtfulness about the things that actually make one feel less lonely.

Connection is about way more than sharing a physical space or conversation. Conversation without connection is common, and connection without words isn’t unheard of (though it’s most often too-intimate for average people in average situations in the world).

The tricks to true connection are a long list, but a few to get you started:

  • A precursor to being understood is seeking to understand. It’s a rare person who will try to connect with you if they don’t feel like you’re truly trying to connect with them. To connect with a person, it helps to get past superficial topics, and talk about the things you’re most awakened by. Seek to find what those are for other people.
  • Listening close helps you hear the emotions behind words. Often people say something “safer” than that they are “scared.” But often a situation is frightening. Saying “that sounds scary” (or a similar deeper emotions) can help people feel better understood, and thus more interested and interesting.
  • Understanding yourself makes it way easier to understand others. This is another example of “simple but not easy.” I was talking to a friend recently about the idea that you can only go as deep with other people as you have with yourself. If you don’t understand your emotions, you’re unlikely to understand other peoples’. This will often feel to them like an unspoken gap, which few can articulate but most can feel.

If it wasn’t obvious, I could go on about this topic for a while. But I shouldn’t. So I’d urge you to read a few books I love on these topics:

  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlish (It’s relevant for all communication, but written for talking to kids specifically.)

3. Talk to People! On the Phone!

Chances are good that when you’re feeling lonely that you have at least one person in your life with whom you feel an existing connection. (If not, don’t worry. We’ll talk about that momentarily.) If you work remotely, they may not be near you. And if you’re like most modern people, you may exchange text messages (via SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, whatever) with them more than talk with them.

But both Fred and I are big advocates for this low-bandwidth communication channel (in terms of ability to communicate the whole range of human experience) being sub-optimal for many kinds of communication. And combating loneliness is something it’s not great at. So text, “hey, can I call you?” once in awhile. Probably both of your will enjoy that more than a whole bunch of chat messages.

4. Meet Friends for Lunch

Hopefully you’ve also got some people who you know and like locally. If so, meet them out in the world in person. It’s so nice to just sit and talk and eat with people with whom you’re interested and feel safe. Meeting up with these folks is the perfect way to balance WordPress freelancing and loneliness.

So another possibly “obvious” tip is to just do that. Make sure that you see people at lunch or dinner or brunch or whatever. If you care about people, try your best to spend time with them. Both of you will value the opportunity.

5. Check Out Meetups

I’ve attended a lot of Meetups in my life. Generally, I consider anything that’s a gathering that encourages the attendance of strangers to be a “meetup,” but concretely I find most of them on Meetup.com.

WordPress Meetups are, as a WordPress freelancer fighting loneliness, a great space to start. They’re even in your WordPress dashboard. There are also probably others meetups in your area around a specific focus: sand volleyball, real estate, board games, technology, etc. You can go to those too.

The great strength of meetups, in my experience, if that they convene like-minded people in a single space. But getting from being in a space to connecting with the other people who’ve attended is your responsibility, and it can be difficult. Being in the space is a great start. If you combine this with some of the other advice on the list, I think you’ll get there a lot faster.

6. Find Hobbies You Love, and Meet People Who Do It

This advice has a lot to do with the advice in #5: one of the primary reasons I attend meetups is that I meet people who share my hobbies. But it’s also the case that things that are concretely “meetups” aren’t the only way to meet strangers.

Taking a Spanish class, or joining a sports league, or a birding club are great ways to connect with people who are into those things. These sorts of things can be a real time commitment, but getting to know people who want to move to Mexico (to pick a random example) is great thing to do if that’s something you’re very interested in.

7. Don’t Hesitate on the First “Platonic Date”, Even Though It’s Awkward

One of the best ways to encourage connection with people you meet at Chinese class or the pick-up basketball game is to simply say, “Hey, you seem neat. Can we hang out sometime?” Maybe you want that first hang to be coffee, beers, or going for a hike. Whatever you like is fine. There are just a few things to make sure of when you ask for a platonic date:

  • Take no for an answer. Just like when dating romantically, letting the person you ask to hang out say “no thanks” is crucial. Don’t force the issue if they’re not interested. Forcing the issue wastes your energy, and can feel antagonistic to them. Which is the opposite of connection.
  • Concreteness helps immensely in planning. In general, when you’re trying to make plans with anyone, saying “Does next Tuesday at Bindle Coffee at 11am work for you?” is much more effective than diffuse offers like “Hey, let’s play basketball sometime…”. I can see if the first fits my schedule, I have to think through the logistics of the second (where? when? how?) to say yes.
  • Public spaces make people feel safer. Especially for women in the dominant culture, the threat of a man taking her attendance in a private space as invitation for romantic escalation means that it’s best to start most mixed-gender friendships (and even same-gender or no-romantic-possibilities ones) in public spaces. Coming over to your house to play Playstation is great, but it’s not the easiest first hang to pitch.

8. Remember the Golden Rule; Be Supportive

I’m a person prone to negativity. I often see things in terms of “I don’t like that” first. As such, I’ve struggled much more in forming relationships because this orientation is hard for most people. (Again, I could go on at length, but will restrain myself.)

People like to be told that their shoes look great, that their business intrigues you, that you really envy their knowledge of sociology. The golden rule—treat others as you’d like to be treated—is another of those simple-not-easy things. We miss the ways we’re not really applying it. But especially early in a relationship, it can be hugely helpful for people to feel that they want to get to know you better if they feel like you’re a positive person.

9. Join a Topic-Focused Community Online

While the best solution I think we here at WPShout have come up with for the loneliness of being a WordPress freelancer isn’t going to be announced until September (but keep an eye out!), I think that finding online communities is another great way to combat loneliness. Some of my best friendships have started online.

Right now, concretely, you can join our free Facebook group: WPShout Group. While we’re still learning how to best use and give value in the group, we’d love you to come and help. Ask a question, relate a story, or just say hello. All of its welcome, and all of you are welcome!

You Can Freelance, But Relationships are Crucial

It’s easy to say “I’m available for hire,” it’s hard to make a career doing it. But you CAN beat loneliness and build a better freelance life! As we’ve covered, there are huge upsides in becoming a WordPress freelancer, consultant, etc, and I recommend it to a lot of people. But you must understand that it’s a complicated and not-perfect-for-everyone situation.

There are great things about WordPress freelancing. Loneliness is one of the less-great aspects, but it can also be a great part of the journey. You often emerge from a lonely period stronger and more aware of yourself and the world than you were going in. And that’s great.

If you’re feeling lonely as a WordPress freelancer (or SEO consultant, etc.), try meetups and phone calls. Join online communities, try to bolster existing personal connections, and really understand and work on connecting with and valuing the people who you meet. That connection is what most of us want. And when you offer people connection, it is a great gift to the world. And you’re likely to feel less alone simply for having made the offering. Best of luck!

Special Bonus: A Conversation about Making Friends

I love the vlogbrothers (Hank and John Green) a lot. And this conversation they had while I wrote this article was too good and too relevant not to put somewhere in this article. But while writing, it didn’t fit in naturally. So here it is, at the end. Hank started:

And then John responded:

And that’s possibly a more eloquent end than the one I used above. <3


3 Responses

Comments

  • Dan Maby says:

    David, thank you for the honest and open post! Isolation, loneliness and other associated issues related to working as a solo-business owner, freelancer or remote employee have been a driving force behind the development of WP&UP (https://wpandup.org). We’re working to promote and support positive mental health within the WordPress community.

    We recently released our first #PressForward video to help raise awareness and encourage open conversations at meetups and WordCamps on the subject: https://www.facebook.com/WPandUP/videos/2017644174969118/

    Thank you for sharing practical tips and advise on ways to tackle loneliness 🙂

  • Hi David,

    Thanks for a great article. Working as a freelancer myself for the past 12 years I know what it means to miss the social side of the workplace.

    One thing solo workers might also consider is ‘coworking’, or working in a shared space. There are plenty of organised coworking spaces available in most towns and cities these days. I wrote more about it in my blog at https://goo.gl/BBNLSJ

    I hope you and your readers find it useful 🙂

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