Scrolling through Timehop this morning I discovered that six years ago today was my last day of work at a job I loved. I loved the company, I loved the people and I loved what I did. But, I was pregnant with my daughter and I wanted the freedom that came from owning my own small business. So with nine weeks left in my pregnancy I set out to build a business as a freelance web and graphic designer (photography came about six months later).
Those first nine weeks I worked non-stop (well, I worked as non-stop as a pregnant woman who can't stay in the same position for more than 30 minutes can work). I built multiple websites on the WordPress platform (I hadn't yet discovered Showit) and I designed countless logos for other friends and acquaintances who were embarking on their own path towards entrepreneurial freedom.
Just two (very short) weeks after Lily was born I was back at my desk pounding away on my keyboard and working to create a sustainable income that would allow me to stay home to watch my baby grow while my husband was finishing his teaching degree at Arizona State.
Back then I didn't notice the loneliness because I was consumed with the exhaustion, emotion and joy that come from birthing a baby… and a business. All small business owners have felt it (maybe not the baby birthing part), but certainly we've all experienced the highs and lows that come with starting your own business. The high that comes from writing that first check with your business name on it. The even higher high that comes from depositing that first payment (no matter how big or small) your business brings in. The low that comes when you begin to question if you've made the right decision. What feels exciting, exhilarating and brave can quickly morph into terrifying, daunting and dumb. And just as those insecurities begin to take hold of you, another powerful and perhaps surprising emotion shows up; loneliness.
In a world where we are constantly scrolling Facebook, Instagram and Twitter it's perhaps counterintuitive to feel disconnected… but it's not uncommon. We've all seen and probably been guilty of participating in the culture that is more focused on showing off where we are and what we're doing than actually being present in the moment and enjoying it for what it is. It might look glamorous to jet off to New York to photograph a wedding this weekend; but the opposite of shooting a wedding on a Saturday surrounded by brides and grooms, bridal parties and guests is the quiet Wednesday morning after the wedding when you find yourself yet again in your pajamas at 11am and wishing you had lunch plans with a friend.
The funny thing about lunch plans is that while it seems like you'll make countless ones due to your entrepreneurial freedom, in reality you end up eating last night's leftovers while culling last week's wedding and listening to last week's episode of Grey's Anatomy while you work. Sure you could make plans with a friend for lunch, but along with the freedom of owning your own business comes the responsibility that rests solely on you to complete the work you've committed to and generate more work so you can keep paying your bills. It becomes a never-ending cycle that is punctuated by the occasional long lunch with a friend or a mid-afternoon movie break here or there… but they don't come as often as you think they will and the result can be a feeling of loneliness that creeps up on your over time and catches you off-guard.This is what you wanted right? Freedom. Control over your own schedule. The power to mold your own future. Those things are all great, but the reality is they can come with a price you don't even know you're paying; disconnection.
When I finally realized that I was feeling disconnected and just downright lonely I honestly wasn't sure where to turn. It wasn't until I intentionally connected with other photographers that I finally felt like I had a place to belong. I made good friends with a handful of other women and we began encouraging one another, meeting for meals, and checking in every so often. We became each others cheerleaders, sounding boards and shoulders to lean on. We built friendships that far exceed the common passion we share for photography. We found strength and comfort in knowing that we aren't alone on the days that we're overwhelmed by the volume of photos we have to edit, the blog posts we have yet to write and the marketing materials we haven't yet managed to get off our desks and out into the world.
Whoever it was that coined the term “strength in numbers”, sure knew what they were talking about. Walking into a networking event with a friend always feels better than walking in alone. Like most people I enjoy solitude for the focus and relaxation it can bring, but I also I crave companionship and the confidence that comes from being part of a group. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same emotions I am is both comforting and compelling. It moves me to make greater efforts to connect and reminds me that when I fail to do so, I'm not any worse than than anyone else.
Unfortunately, identifying that you're disconnected and lonely isn't enough to change the situation… you actually have to do something about it. You have to make an effort to connect. You have to be intentional. And that can be hard. For as outgoing a person as I am, it might be surprising to know that I too experience the sheer terror of not knowing anyone in the room. I've had to learn over the years to push through the desire to be a wallflower and just watch from the comfort of the bleachers and instead embrace the extrovert that lives boxed inside, hiding behind the desire to protect myself from the judgement of others. Sometimes a networking event doesn't feel much different than an 8th grade dance. Will they like me? Will they talk to me? Will they talk about me when I walk away? Choosing not to care what the answer is to those questions and abandoning loneliness on the chance that someone else might be craving connection as much as you are, is the first step.
The price of freedom can sometimes be loneliness, but if you're willing to make the effort, brave enough to take the chance, you might just find that on the other side of the gym someone else is hoping to make a friend too.
If you've struggled with making connections and dealing with the loneliness that comes with entrepreneurship, I hope you'll carve out some time next Tuesday at 10am PST to join us for our next episode of Showit Live. We'll be welcoming our fellow Showiteer and Wedding Photographer Danielle Blocker in studio and we'll be chatting about how Danielle makes a conscious effort daily to overcome loneliness in her own photography business.
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