Work from Home Course: Staying Human

“Individuals aren’t naturally paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian motion of society, which is a mechanism by which human beings constantly remind one another that they are… well….human beings.”

— Terry Pratchett

If you work alone, as you probably will if you’re working for yourself, you’ll need to make sure you get some social interaction.  Thing is, as tempting as it is to limit your human interaction only to those delightfully pleasant people that you choose for social circle, I’m going to caution you against that.

You need to make sure that you guard against cackling.  I hope you’ll forgive another Terry Pratchett quote, but since he’s a writer and presumably works alone a lot of the time, he probably knows what he’s talking about here.

It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without and intelligent conversation, you’d talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling.

‘Cackling’, to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact that you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you ‘going to the dark’, as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of that road were poisoned spinning-wheels and gingerbread cottages.

Even for the most reclusive introvert[1] with the strongest hermit tendencies, this is something to think about in terms of being by yourself and working from home.

Now, I went from being an administrative assistant to being self employed.  Those early days at home when I didn’t have to answer to anyone but the occasional call from a client were sheer, unadulterated bliss.    No having to smile and be cheerful to people whose ideas I completely disagreed with.  No watching what I said when I read something I didn’t like on the news in the morning.  No inane chatter around the coffee pot or water cooler.  Ahh, it was such sweet bliss.

I didn’t realize I was going down a path that was unlikely to serve me well.  I was in Introvert Heaven.

I was not saved from cackling by conscious choice.    Or, rather a conscious choice had a serendipitous good effect for me.  Remember how I said it was important to get in your workout?  Well, my cardio of choice is swimming, which necessitates a pool to swim in.  This means I needed to be able to afford gym fees.

My membership ran out during a geologically slow period in my business. I happened to teach a woman in a computer class at about this time who worked the early morning shift at my gym several days a week, and was looking to find a replacement for a day or two.  Upon finding out that use of the facilities accompanied the low time-investment job, I applied for the unpopular shift and got the job.

Now, my goal was simply to take the worries of being able to pay my gym fees off my head in a non-intrusive way.  What I found out was that this job stayed important to me even after I no longer needed to worry so badly about the money.  Disinclined as I am to socialize, I could conceivably go weeks at a time without leaving my home or talking to people outside of my family — much less having to deal with their quirks, eccentricities or irritating habits.

That gym job forces me to interact with people regularly and to maintain a level of kindly sympathy for people.  Sure, it can be a “fake it until you make it” type of deal, but after smiling and being cheerful with people long enough, a certain level of benevolence does rub off to a degree.  It really does help keep you human.

If you work for yourself, have something else where you are committed to interact with people on a regular basis.  It can be a part-time job, church, a social group, a charity organization, hosting a freelance group where you all get together and work in someone’s living room on your laptops.  Anything, as long as you’re interacting with people outside of your immediate family.  It’s better if it requires that you’re benevolently cheerful and kindly. Even if you’re a reclusive introvert.  No, especially if you’re a reclusive introvert!

I discourage you from choosing a support group where it becomes the habit to complain about people in this.  Complaining and letting off steam may sound like a way to cope with difficulties, but it reinforces some negative patterns that will interfere with your earning power.

I’m probably making a poor assumption that the extrovert would not want to be self-employed or would not find these hints necessary.  But if you are an extrovert, I’d encourage you to work around people.  Many coffee shops have wi-fi.  Start a self-employment support group and get together to work during the day regularly.  Meet people for lunch as often as you can manage.  The isolation will get to you worse than it will the introvert, and you need to plan for it if you’re going to make a success of this.

[1] And I’m probably on the short list for this.

One Reply to “Work from Home Course: Staying Human”

  1. Hi,

    I just have to say that I really enjoyed reading this series. I mean, really. I found your blog from a comment you left somewhere on some forum that I found through the No S Diet site…

    At any rate, this week I set up an online shop and applied to another while also putting out feelers for being a math tutor. This series is very relevant for me right now.

    Thank you for the time and effort you put into it.

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