The Art of Working Alone - Leaving the workplace to find my place
It was my first project since becoming a freelance writer. The client requested several clever taglines and web copy for the cover of their new product. It was exhilarating (and terrifying).
After a particularly hectic morning (kids have some kind of sixth sense about significant events on the horizon and act accordingly), all was finally peaceful around me and I could let the words flow. Except that when I sat down with my computer, the deafening quiet rang loudly in my ears. I had nothing.
When I first transitioned from full-time (in-office) worker to freelancer, I thought I had hit the proverbial jackpot. I would now have the luxury of setting my own hours and choosing how to manage my time. It was the ideal scenario for a working mom: I could be more present for my kids and grow my career. I was conscious of the downsides, too. Certainly with all that flexibility comes the need to be...flexible. Still, I was one hundred percent on board. What I didn’t foresee was this minor detail: I’d be working alone.
Psychology Today lists a lack of social connection as a “greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.” We are social beings, after all. We crave human connection—it drives us, keeps us sane, and shapes the way we see the world around us. Without it, our lifespan is cut in half.
Freelancing is an isolating career. It involves little to no social interactions, teamwork, partnerships, or after-work happy hours. You acquire a client, you receive a project, and you take it home—alone. This is not to say that all freelancers are lonely people. There are myriad ways we can create connection in our lives, independent of our careers. But while it can feel isolating for some, the real challenge for me was that I found working alone to be more of a skill than just an act. It requires practice, confidence, and mindfulness.
Having worked in an office for so many years, I had grown accustomed to workplace banter, brainstorming sessions, lunch meetings, and mid-afternoon chats over unimpressive coffee from the breakroom. Admittedly, there was a part of me that used these interactions as a way to fill a void. A day that might have otherwise felt underwhelming was made more worthy through socializing.
But it also fed my creativity.
I would churn out ideas and discuss them with a coworker until we had crafted the perfect one to present to the boss. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was foolproof. If I failed, in my head I could minimize my part in the failure and get back to work.
But something strange happened when I began working on my own. It wasn’t just too quiet or too solitary (I actually enjoyed the solo time)--it was lacking inspiration and motivation. My entire working paradigm had been turned upside down.
What was I thinking?
I needed a creative catalyst, a guaranteed system for producing client-approved writing. I couldn’t tap outside sources (like my husband when he got home from work) because didn't I want the ideas to be mine?
That first project was a tough one. It felt so foreign to me to write without this system of checks and balances to validate and encourage my efforts. It became evident that if I were going to be successful in this endeavor, I couldn’t rely on any collaborators—I had to do it by myself.
I would have to shift my focus and look inward in order to trust my own voice. It means being fully exposed—my successes all mine and my failures pointed at me like a bullseye on a target (and those failures really do sting).
While the stakes felt higher, the rewards were much more rewarding. I found that if I could lean into the uncomfortable silence for some time, acknowledging the initial absence of any meaningful writing, eventually my creativity would ignite. I also learned how to walk away from my computer when it was more detrimental to sit there with nothing than to lose the precious work hours. Sometimes the best ideas come to me when I’m not working at all (a word or phrase on a department store window can spark all kinds of ideas).
Months after I completed that initial project, I strolled through Target with my younger son. I reached up to grab something when I saw my writing on the cover of a product sitting on the shelves! Many times a client will thank you for your work without any indication of the direction they’ve taken. I was shocked to see my words in print. I shamelessly purchased at least five packages of said product.
It wasn’t the first time that I had written copy for retail, but it was the first time I had done it alone from start to finish, and that felt more fulfilling than ever before.
About the author
Jamie is a seasoned professional with over a decade of experience in copywriting, editing, and marketing. She has a diverse portfolio of clients, ranging from large multi-million dollar corporations like Disney and Marvel to non-profits and globally-conscious branding houses.
An English major, Jamie began her writing career in college, when she was hired as a ghostwriter for a children’s novel. She went on to work for an ad agency, literary agency, PR firm, and some major toy corporations. Her passion for writing, coupled with her experience in these varied industries, gives her a unique client-focused perspective.
A native Angelino, Jamie is a major coffee and Pilates enthusiast and enjoys spending time with her husband and two young children at their home in Los Angeles, California.