It’s Monday morning. I drank too much on Saturday night and spent the latter part of the evening (or the early party of Sunday morning) doubled over the toilet bowl, observing the contents of my brunch exiting my body in a dal-like texture whilst focussing intently on NOT pissing myself at the same time. It was… a lot.
To remedy the expected hangover, Sunday then had to be dedicated to inhaling carbs and napping sporadically, dreading the advent of the new week whilst simultaneously trying to prepare for a start on the back foot.
And now I’m here, sitting at my desk with a stomach full of caffeine and sugar, trying fervently to self-motivate in a silent room in a still house on a muted street. The most I hear when I stop typing is the slam of a car door or someone’s very heavy footsteps on the pavement outside. A delivery person might come knocking and we’ll exchange a few familiar pleasantries, but when they don’t, it’s…
Impulsively, I think: quiet is good. I like quiet. I like my own company and being free of distractions. I like to light a candle and make lists and work my way through Monday with a steady diligence. There’s a freedom in feeling less than 100% and not having to interact with a hoard of other people - not having to force a pleasant facade. I know the day will be manageable, albeit long and a potentially foggy.
But boy do I sometimes miss working in a team.
There are so many benefits to being self-employed and I think I’d struggle now to transition back into the routine of working in an office. But on those groggy days where the clouds aren’t shifting and my bones feel tired, I miss the company and comradery of being part of something bigger than myself.
I miss the commiseratory tea delivered with a paracetamol as garnish. I miss the shite radio selections and questionable personal playlists. I miss the office dogs, the pub lunch breaks and the side-eyeing over desktops when someone on the phone is being an absolute prick. I miss that start-of-the-week debrief where sins are purged over the steamy plumes of a freshly stirred coffee. I miss the plans and strategies and conversations about why things will work and why they absolutely won’t. And, dare I say it, I even miss the many, many meetings. The many repeated conversations sat around too-small tables with too little time, scratching pens and zealous typing harmonising a beat of small misery.
I miss being involved in something. Sure, feeling grey and only having to walk downstairs to start work is a pleasure in itself, but self-motivating when you’re alone is tricky. You are the only person holding yourself accountable and there’s no light relief. No laughter shared over stories of weekend debauchery or workday round-ups to set a clearer path ahead. Nobody to ask ‘what do you think of this?’, something which many of my fellow self-employed peers confess to missing from a workplace: the option to simply discuss things with another person. And more importantly, another person who has a vested interest in the particular task or idea that you’re looking to discuss. We can give each other advice but it’s not the same as working alongside someone towards a shared goal, something you can achieve together whilst balancing the load along the way.
When I started going to the gym a little over a month ago, my main motivation for signing up was to have something to leave the house for. I could go two or three days without stepping foot outside - without needing to, either. By day three I’d be slugging my stuff along to any coffee shop I could find a seat in, soaking up the sounds of blanket chatter to feel a part of something alive and moving. I’m sure that’s why so many of us freelancers and work-from-homers are seeking out coffee shop corners - it’s not the coffee that we’re after, but the atmosphere. The company. The sound of other people existing around us, of things happening. Something other than stillness.
Because silence can be very, very loud. And when you’re sat at home, staring at a screen only a stone’s throw away from the bed you woke up in, working alone can feel like a drag. Like a literal drag, as if soft and small hands are reaching up through the carpet (or floorboards if you’re fancy) and pulling back on your ankles as you walk, filling you from the feet up with a lethargy which, without a colleague to laugh or talk with, can be difficult to shake. Even as a self-confessed introvert, I recognise the difference in myself that seeing and speaking to other people can have. If I’m wearing a particular shade of lacklustre and the day feels flat, finding the time to see someone and express myself puts things into perspective. It gives me a window to laugh in, a moment to empathise and listen. A wider story which does not revolve around the laptop on my rickety table.
When you make the transition from working in a team to working alone, you lose your community. Regardless of whether you liked everybody within that community is a different story, but you’ve lost it nonetheless, and as such, a space opens up around you that you that you yourself have to fill. And a lot of the time, you do this with work. More work. Any type of work (hello cleaning the house) - anything to make you feel as if what you’re doing is productive and useful because you don’t have anybody sitting opposite you to validate your efforts. Or anybody to share your inspiration with, which in itself can stifle the very ideas which excite you. ‘Is this shit? Can I do this? Should I rethink?' I trust my own judgement but I’m not always the best person to answer these questions about my own work, especially if I’m planting the seed of doubt to begin with. Having that sounding board - regardless of the feedback - is a really valuable thing.
I accept that the loneliness of being self-employed is inevitable. I expect it, too. What I struggle with outside of that is making sure I’m being social in my free time. I’m inclined to soak for three hours with a book in the bath, or drink a glass of wine whilst making a huge chilli which could feed the five thousand plus cousins. I like to play video games and binge watch crap TV and browse endlessly for products which I know I’ll never buy. Those are my downtime activities, that of comfort and brain space. After working all day or working all week, the thought of getting dressed up and going out is… gross. I don’t want to. I want to stew in the familiar pit of my solo-ness, but now I want to do it on my terms. I want to reclaim the joy of being alone.
The problem with that is then I’m altogether deficient in social interaction. I’ve become hooked on the easiness of being by myself and I believe that ‘quiet time’ and rest is what will rejuvenate me, when in actual fact, getting too drunk, dancing to 80s classics and chundering down the bog is exactly what I need. The energy and electricity of sharing stories and laughing loudly, really loudly, so loudly that the pub landlord is going to march over and tell us all to be quiet. As much as I like to inch back into my shell come 5pm or Friday night, having been alone for the majority of the week, this is precisely the time that I need to fill with friendly and familiar faces. If anything, at least for a break from the continuous monologue running in my own head (or outside my head - talking to yourself becomes a thing and eventually it stops feeling abnormal altogether).
I wonder whether consistently working alone will have any long-term impacts on my life, and likewise on the lives of the countless other people who are the only members of their team. I’m not sure I could go back to the routine of set hours, but truly, I do miss the company of it.
And it’s shit always having to make your own tea.