It's Time To Get Out Of The House; Combating Isolation For Workaholics

I'm an extrovert. But I work alone.

Jun 7, 2013 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

Here's my life: I get up at 6:30am to work on freelance stuff. I go to my day job and work my ass off there. I come home and grab the laptop to work on more writing, a lot of which winds up here. I eat. I sleep. I wash, rinse, repeat.

That's a little simplistic, of course. There's no mention of all the time I spend thinking about painting my nails but not actually painting my nails because I feel guilty because I SHOULD be writing. And so on, replacing "painting my nails" with "knitting" and "sewing" and "petting the dog" and a ton of other things that I have considered hobbies.

The thing is I'm an extrovert, a pretty textbook one, in fact. That means I need people. I don't always need to be interacting with them but I like having them around. My happiest moments almost all involve being in the middle of a crowd of people having a really excellent time. There's something about the energy of a group of people, be they in a coffee shop or at a yarn convention.

But my schedule? Heavily weighted as it is with an occupation that involves a lot of time spent with a keyboard and monitor? My schedule mocks my need for people, my desire to sit and hang out and have intense discussions about the "Wrath of Khan" and how justified Khan's rage kind of was. But I'm also not likely to change my schedule -- because I'm a writer and this is my writing life right now. Communicating with folks online has literally saved my life, but physically sitting in the same spot is making me miserable.

Sometimes you see that point coming, that point where something has to give. Instead of burning myself out, I am taking some steps to get out of the damn house this summer. Hopefully those steps will help me continue to get my work done. And if you're feeling the walls close in around you this summer, these tips might work for you, too.

Step 1: The Community Pool

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I'm going to be spending a lot of time here.

First things first -- it's freaking summertime. It's actually been summerISH in Orlando since April, but now we're getting into the full-time heat and sun that is the whole reason I love living in Florida in the first place. Seriously, if you don't love hot, wet environments, Orlando is probably not the town for you. But if you are a tropical plant, a lizard or otherwise inclined to living in a sauna, it is the best. 

And the best thing to do in weather like this is swimming. A lot of people in Orlando have their own swimming pools. Those people spend bank every year on pool maintenance and chemicals. I don't know those people, so last weekend I spent an hour researching local city pools. 

Now, community pools have a bad rep, which I did not know until I started telling people I was researching community pools. But eff that. This fat woman wants to swim. I drove around to each location -- and then I found one that was 100 percent completely empty. That's like the swimming pool Holy Grail, right? It might seem counterintuitive that my anti-isolation plan involves a pool with no one in it, but really, I just need to get out of the house.

Also, there are lifeguards and they totally are people. That counts as social interaction.

As the summer progresses, I'm sure other people will come to this pool. And that's cool. But if, like me, you are looking for a pool that is maybe a little less crowded with kids there for swimming lessons, I will give you this advice: look for a neighborhood where folks have their own pools. The community pool won't be nearly as appealing as the pool in their own backyard.

Plus, the pool I found is free for city residents! You can't beat free when you're trying to get out of the house.

Step 2: The Social Creative Space

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Hacker spaces tend to be pretty diverse in terms of interests.

On Tuesday, Ed and I ventured up into the suburbs of Orlando. I don't know if Altamonte Springs actually counts as a suburb but, man, it's a hike. It FEELS like a suburb. We headed to an open house for a local hackerspace called FamiLAB.

If you are at all inclined toward Maker Culture, a local hackerspace might be the place for you. FamiLAB has an awesome shared workspace with a lot of tools that we are probably never going to have in our own personal shed, including a laser cutter! Laser cutters are basically completely awesome.

There were also a lot of women at the open house, which was exciting for me. As much as I embrace my total nerdery, sometimes Geek Town is not all that welcoming to women. Going to the open house let me get a feel for the place, let me be confident that I wouldn't be faced with a bunch of dudebros if I did want to go work on a project or take a class. Because they have classes!

I really love classes.

I love classes because they soothe my weird social anxiety about meeting new people. It's so funny to me -- I actually love small talk and meeting new people and shaking hands and repeating names to make sure I remember them. But leading up that part? Let's just say that, for me, getting to any given event is three quarters of the battle.

In fact, that's one thing that has contributed to me working at home so much this past year. Most of my emotional energy has gone to supporting Ed through the latest bout with depression, and there wasn't much left over for convincing myself to go to that art opening or hang out at that coffee shop. And I'm not sure you could have paid me to go to an open mike night.

Dues vary, but a lot of hacker spaces have passports that will let you visit other hacker spaces for free if you are out of town.

Step 3: The Coworking Lounge

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The desks can be moved around into whatever configuration but there's also a beanbag chair and some couches for the more casual coworker at CoLab Orlando.

The first two prongs of my three-pronged approach are about doing things that are not work. They're like a shrimp fork, those prongs. Even though a shrimp fork technically has three prongs. It's a simile. (Because it uses "like" or "as".) Those two prongs are like a shrimp fork and doing things that are not work is like shrimp. (Even though I'm allergic to shellfish.)

The third prong is different. The third prong that makes this a fork -- no, that makes this a triton with which to spear a sense of isolation right through the body (this got grim) -- is how I'm going to manage to still get all of my work done without being stuck to my couch or in my office, feeling the overwhelming pressure of all the things I NEED to be doing at any given moment.

I'm talking about coworking. If you're not familiar with the concept, coworking is essentially a big room in which a lot of different people all get things done in a shared environment. The kicker is that those people probably don't work for the same company and most likely aren't even working on similar projects. Coworking is amazing for the self-employed, because it means you don't have to run your business out of your kitchen. Or from your couch. It means you get the benefits of an office environment, plus some golden networking opportunities.

I went to view the coworking space here in Orlando at CoLab. It's in a historic building (well, for Orlando -- the Angebilt is 90 years old) and it's located downtown, which means it's both close to me and way cooler than I have ever been in my whole life. There was a little mixer event, so I got to meet a bunch of the other people who work in the space, though most of them are renting private offices.

Then I got to sit at a desk parked in front of a giant window, through which I could see a bunch of Orlando and a huge expanse of summer-rain-filled sky. The view from my couch includes a cat tree and, usually, a dog who is trying to stand on my lap so she can see what the cats are doing on the cat tree.

This is the expensive option for getting out of the house, but $100 a month feels worth it to me since it means I get all the benefits of having a third space plus people around.

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Original elevators make working after getting off work even fancier.

Maybe one day I'll say that the solution to my isolated workaholic tendencies is to just stop working so much. But I don't think that's in the cards any time soon -- and I don't honestly want it to be. I LIKE what I do. I like being busy with what I do. I just don't want to have to do it all alone. 

What are your solutions for combating isolation when you just can't stop working? How's your summer going? Mine just keeps getting better.