How Independent Workers Can Fight Loneliness and Find Greater Meaning at Work

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    More than one-third of all U.S. workers are part of the gig economy — working part-time or full-time as freelance or contract employees. More than 27 million Americans have started or are running their own businesses. And while there are widespread debates about the tangible pluses and minuses for independent workers themselves and the economy as a whole, opportunities to work on your own terms have become mainstream, continue to grow and are here to stay. 

    Today’s independent workers have a wide variety of backgrounds and skills. They represent everything from a delivery driver to a freelance attorney to a CEO of a one-person startup. But regardless of background, they come up against two concerns when they choose to go it alone: their work life will be more unstructured, and it will oftentimes be lonely. 

    Here are three tips, derived from lessons learned from Corporate America, to help you fight loneliness and find greater meaning in this new working culture. 

    1. Define your purpose. Most large businesses have a mission, value statement and/or purpose statement. They prominently display them to help their employees understand what the company stands for and how they hope to make an impact. As an independent worker, you may or may not have drafted these things for yourself. And while a clear mission (the what) and values (the how) are important to know, defining your purpose (the why) will have the greatest impact on your daily satisfaction. 

    If you previously worked in a large corporate environment, you probably took for granted how often your employer pointed out the meaning of your work. As an independent worker, you will have to look for meaning and define purpose for yourself. Why does your work matter? 

    Some examples of purpose statements fitting to gig or solo work are: 

    – I help people make smart decisions about (fill in the blank)

    – I transport people to the next step of their life’s journey

    – I make life less stressful for others

    Take the time to draft your own purpose statement and place it visibly in the location you work most often or tape it to a corner of your laptop. It will help you feel more connected to the people you routinely interact with and the role you play in their lives.

    2. Build a real-life community. The rise of co-working organizations, like WeWork, are an example of the increasing needs of the independent worker for connection. But whether you have the ability to work in one of these environments or not, you have to be deliberate about building your own community and seeking out face-to-face relationships. 

    The case for and against virtual work lives has swung back and forth like a pendulum for decades. It’s a critically important, but complicated, business issue for most companies. Virtual work environments increase a worker’s sense of autonomy and flexibility; both are major predictors of job satisfaction. But real-life interactions build deeper connections that foster greater creativity, collaboration and a sense of belonging. The most successful companies have worked to get this balance right because it has a significant effect on their employees’ productivity, and you should, too. 

    If you’re spending too much time physically alone, consider what alternatives you may have to building a real-life work community. Look into co-working locations if that’s an option for you, join local business groups or find meetups in your town for people doing similar work. We are all busy, and this is especially true of the hustle required when working independently. But investing time in building your community will have a major impact on your overall fulfillment.

    3. Celebrate your wins. From company anniversaries to meeting annual sales goals, there are many reasons to throw a party in large corporations. But even the smaller companies tend to have special breakfast or luncheon to celebrate a milestone. 

    As an independent worker, it can be easy to simply forget to celebrate your work, which may lead to days that feel monotonous and accomplishments that go unrecognized. Depending on your type of work, there may be many occasions worth celebrating — clients landed, engagements ending, specific business goals achieved or simply honoring your own tenacity by reaching a certain number of hours worked or services delivered. This doesn’t have to be a costly celebration. It can be a special coffee run, a song you play only to acknowledge achievements or a small treat you spring for. Either way, don’t celebrate alone. Include the people you love in your event and don’t downplay it. 

    Your time and your life matter. Whatever you’ve been working on, it deserves to be celebrated.

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    Article by:

    Kourtney Whitehead has focused her career on helping people reach their work goals, from executive searches to counseling to career transitions, through her positions at top executive recruiting firms and consulting companies. Her site, SimplyService.org, is an online community focused on supporting the creation of spiritually centered work lives. She is a sought-after speaker and podcast guest. Her new book, Working Whole, shares how to unite spiritual and work life. Learn more at SimplyService.org.

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