One of the scariest things about self employment is falling down the hermit hole. It’s a gradual decent into the land of solitary thought, where for days on end your only company is the humming of your backup hard drives, your dog’s snoring and the harmonic chime of your Facebook notifications. Enchanting as they might be, this orchestra of loneliness really serves as a lament to days when you had coworkers. Working without collaboration or socialization can seem freeing at first, but eventually it warps you into an entirely different creature, if left unchecked.
With nobody to chat with about last night’s The Walking Dead or Top Chef at the coffee machine, it eventually become to care if your even wearing pants whilst making the aforementioned coffee. Next goes, your hair, ability to make eye contact, and eventually your desire to speak out loud. The exception being if you cat or dog seem to be enjoying your long soliloquies about Facebook marketing, and Photoshop layers?
In short, the allure of a boss-free life of independent, creative employment can be alluring. Charming even. However, dive in too deep and you’ll become something like Golem (see Lord of the Rings), twisted and ranting while devouring your raw fish lunch.
There is a simple way to avoid this. Make some friends.
The thing is, they can’t just be any friends. No, lunch with your former college roommate who teaches Zumba at Fitness USA or coffee with you Mom isn’t going to inspire you go look serious about you self-employment at all. Your former bestie is just going to try to sell you on a gym membership, and you mom really doesn’t care if you show up to Starbucks in your batman jamma pants. (She loves you no matter what, after all?)
You need to buddy up with competition. If you haven’t already, developing a group of well-connected self employed peers to socialize with is paramount to your sanity, as well as your growth as a business of one. And to be very clear: Facebook groups do not count. Sorry.
In my industry, photographers rush by the dozens, the hundreds, and the thousands to online forums where they can holler and hoot about new lenses, crappy preset packs, and the next venue to crack down on their weekend sessions. It’s easy to become friends or enemies from your keyboard (most likely steeping in spilled Fruit Loops in those batman pajamas). Sitting face-to-face at a local pub or pizzeria, however, offers a more human level of interest in how people run their businesses. You’ll dress for them the same way you’ll dress up for your clients (or close enough), and you’ll genuinely want to have your “A” game ready so that you seem like a competent person worthy of sharing advice, referrals, and even projects with.
I’ve been having regular social/networking lunches for a little over a year now, and it’s been an amazing breath of fresh air. My colleagues, above all, provide me with a sense of understanding and community. They understand the challenges of my day-to-day as professional photographer, and have their own ideas on how to deal with these things. Their insight and support is a close second to their friendship, if I’m measuring the benefit of these relationships therapeutically. Nonsensical chit chat can be just as liberating for your creativity as a serious debates about off-camera flash.