Mythbusting: “I’ll get lonely working for myself”

Marianne CantwellThis is a guest post from Marianne Cantwell of Free Range Humans who is collaborating with me on some very exciting projects around Screw Work Let’s Play to be revealed soon.

Why working for yourself doesn’t mean working by yourself

You’re a people person. You don’t want to be holed up at home everyday, with only a mewling cat for company. You don’t want to trade in office social life for watching Judge Judy at lunchtime.

You’d quite like to throw in the commute, and get the chance to create a really playful work-life (rather than fruitlessly waiting for it to be handed to you in the form of a job)… but being self employed just sounds too lonely.

You may know other self-employed people who have that lonely solo-lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact…

Working for myself has been the most social time of my life.

Here’s why:

1. Once you’ve branched out on your own doing what you love, you choose who you spend time with

Unlike the employed worker, as a player your ‘people’ are not just those who work in your office building. They are incredible people you meet in more places than you can currently imagine.

You’re no longer saddled with people who you wouldn’t otherwise spend 40+ hours a week with. Think about it, you already choose your friends, in a player’s life you get to choose who you see, and you get to choose that every day.

2. When you enter the world of playful self-employment, you have a huge new community – online & face to face.

More and more creative self-employed people are coming together, and they are easier to find than ever before. It’s just up to you to get things going.

When I started working for myself all my friends were in regular employment. I knew no one who was free to be where they chose during the day (except a few journalist friends with odd schedules). Now, most people I spend time with are office-free. We meet for coffee, we chat, and we meet more people.

I’ve made more amazing contacts and friends than I’d ever have met stuck in an office 9-5.

3. You choose your colleagues (or, how to make competitors into collaborators)

It’s not all about just having coffee while others are stuck in regular jobs – you can also make up informal ‘teams’ to come together for different projects you work on… meaning you have colleagues without the hassle of hiring people, or the hassle of forming official ‘partnerships’ or companies.

For example, John and I (along with Selina, another resident play guru at have formed an informal team. We work on each other’s projects, support each others’ work, and come together to run workshops and courses.

That ‘team’ wasn’t planned in advance, it was played out. Our new little team was born after informally meeting up every week, because we enjoyed each other’s company and views.

Within months we went from being each other’s biggest competitors to being colleagues who spur each other on in the up-times, troubleshoot any down days, and love to play with new projects together. Best of all, we chose each other, so we know we get on and can draw on each other’s strengths. Now we find that some of the tasks that felt like hard work when attempted solo, become fun when done in collaboration with our colleagues.

Where can you find your new colleagues?

Places to start are:

  • Twitter (FULL of people working for themselves who’d love to chat or meet up),
  • Your local Jelly (an informal working group where people meet up to work for a day at someone’s house or a café), or
  • A co-working space: for example John and I are members of the The Hub in King’s Cross, London, where members can pop in with our laptops and work (and chat) alongside others anytime.
  • You can also email another solo player whose business you admire, someone you just think ‘I bet they’d be interesting to chat with’.
    Be as friendly and sincere as you really are, and you’ll find the person behind the brand is not an anonymous competitor, but someone in a similar situation to you who (if they have any sense!) would most likely love to chat to another player who understands their world.

Soon, the old idea of spending your day only with people who happen to work in your office building will seem really restrictive. In your new life, the possibilities are endless for having people around you, supporting you, making your days even brighter than before.

Extra tip for beginners

Don’t get hung up on finding your new colleagues before you start – start first, then when you have something going, you have something to talk about, and you can more easily find like-minded people.

The difference from employment is that your new social work-life doesn’t come to you until you build it – but once you’ve built it, you’ll have more people around than ever before… and the satisfaction of knowing you chose them and they chose you.

What’s stopping you now? We’d love to know…

Do you know that you want to escape the life of the 9-5 worker, and launch something on your terms doing something you love? Are you still hesitating? What’s holding you back from making that dream into a reality ? We’d love to know. Complete the 20 second form below to tell us – your response will be completely anonymous.

We’ll try to address your stumbling block in a future blog post and it will also help us (Marianne & John) with the exciting, as yet secret, Screw Work Let’s Play projects to help you get paid to play.

As a thank you, you will receive a free chapter of Screw Work Let’s Play plus a free toolkit to help you get paid to play. You will also receive weekly updates with articles on similar subjects. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. We will never give your address to anyone else and you will never be spammed. Guaranteed.

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  • Workhubs are great – not only do they get you out of the house and provide company with people you might otherwise never meet, you can also get questions answered, help other people with your own expertise, and pick up ideas and inspiration. You might even get more work or new clients!

  • Great post. “Within months we went from being each other’s biggest competitors to being colleagues” – I love how you can change the rules when you work for yourself.

    In some office environments people are only encouraged to talk to each other when they have to (about work) or when they need or want something. I love how nowadays my conversations can generate a whole wealth of ideas, energy, connections, opportunities, new ventures and fun!

  • Jo

    I’m just starting out so earning 0 money, but working on it.

    “You don’t want to be holed up at home everyday, with only a mewling cat for company.”

    LOL, you’ve summed up my fears. Still the up sides are hopefully better than the down sides. I hate commuting and traffic jams, and dealing with people who have no motivation. I don’t find it difficult to get myself inspired, just other people, especially in this market.

    Bought the book and loved it by the way – awesome.

  • Hi again John,

    I’m afraid its me, that moaning git. Don´t get me wrong, Ive read your book, and and following your posts and tweets precisely because I want what you advocate.
    Sure I want to have a portfolio career, sure I want to be freelance, and I definitely have a project, and Iv´e dived right in.

    But you asked whats stopping me, and you devote a whole chapter to it in your book.

    Well, here I am, writing a comment from my day job.

    Jo, above says shes starting out so earns no money…HOW?

    Heres some mythbusting for you.
    If I left my job, I would lose my house and my wife would leave me!!!

    I’m 47, and I need a minimum amount to support my mortgage, my wife who is sick, and my children.
    I dream of being able to ask for 1 day off per week (no reason why they might say yes however).

    I have plenty of things on the go, I’m an artist, a musician, I was quite successful(15 years ago, you may even have seen me play) a film-maker, and am trying to become a game designer and pretty convinced that my time in an office is coming to an end.

    It has to!!!

    I must say that much of your concept seems to be perfect for doing what YOU are doing, being a bit of a self help guru a writer, a blogger (altho how you make money blogging Ive never understood) and much of your advice rests on having THAT kinda project.

    But when you write things like “if you are at a networking party”.. I think.. a what? do these things exist, where? Oh right… LONDON…! And workhubs? Here (in Oslo) there are communal offices available.. is THAT what you mean, at 100 UK pounds per day? Nope I’m gonna work from home, or a cafe maybe?

    But I will say one thing… As a catalyst for my aim, its great, I read about all these clever, savvy, well dressed freelancers, with iPads and nice haircuts who go to networking parties and hang out at “hubs” and think.. I want that… I need that…

    …that could be me…

    Your book came along at exactly the right time… Now, Im just trying to make it work…

    grump out


  • Anthony Micallef

    Ive started reading your book and have done a few of the exercises. Problem I have is that I’m yet to identify any skill/attribute that I have that someone would want to pay me for!

    I’m a scanner in so much as I try lots of different things but thats only because I get bored easily when I find Im no good at them.

    Im always hopeful though and I will read your book to the end.

  • Hi Mark
    I’ve checked the Jelly Wiki, the link from Jelly in the post and there is nothing for Oslo on there, so why not start your own when you get a day off? It’s not difficult and there’s loads of information in my How to Start Your Own Jelly guide –
    Good luck!

  • Hello again Mark,

    I’m glad we’re continuing to get under your skin and you haven’t given up on your vision of a player’s life just yet.

    We never said it’s easy to transition from full time employment to a Free Range or more playful life but it is possible. There is no answer out there that tells you exactly what to do because your vision is not the same as anyone else’s. After all, it’s not a one-size fits all job you’re after.

    And I do say quite clearly in Screw Work, Let’s Play to earn your first playcheque before you quit your job. I certainly don’t advocate quitting without doing so.

    As for your comments on co-working/networking opportunities, a 2 minute search of my own showed me: There is no Jelly meetup in Oslo but it’s an open system for anyone to start one – including you. There is a Hub in Finland and Sweden but not Norway yet (membership starts from £30/month). There are however all sorts of networking and creative happenings going on in Oslo listed on (something I recommend using elsewhere on this blog) including lots of geek stuff for developers:

    (And just for a little perspective, I have NO iPad and NO hair.)

    What your escape will require is that you throw your creativity, energy and enthusiasm at the task of creating your ideal work-life. BUT you need to make a decision. Are you going to use your spare time and energy to take shots from the sidelines at imaginary privileged cliques you’re not part of or are you going to invest it in changing your life?

    I guarantee you will never escape until you make that decision.

    Hope to hear back on your progress. Good luck, John

  • Tim

    Hi all,

    I have two areas stopping me from making the leap

    First is family, i have several young kids and a wife to support. Although we would be ok financially for a month or so i have the fear of one day not being able to pay the mortgage, sure i’m not alone on that one. I’ve been in the same job for a little over ten years and although the pay is decent, i know if i stay for another few years, i’ll be doing the same thing with maybe a few percent pay rise each year.

    Second reason is i have too many ideas!, not a bad thing of course, i just need to focus them into some sort of all encompassing plan and get going. Ive just set up a blog last night and have 30 or so ideas for posts to get me going

    John, i have your book, i like it – really struck a cord with me as i’m a bit of a creative type who tends to get interested in everything all of the time..



  • Nadine

    What a GREAT post! It really struck a chord with me, I am not the Lone Ranger type. This has inspired me to keep going with my Escape Plans. Thanks!

  • Naeem

    Hi John,

    I am currently working full-time in retail for one month now, after being unemployed for two years. I wish to become a full-time actor, slam poet, and learn other skills. The problem is that I am scared of leaving my job as I wont be able to fund myself, plus I dont want to be unemployed again. I have bought your book but I have not read it yet.

    Wish me luck!

  • Sonia

    Am currently reading the SWLP book – fab stuff and v. inspirational. I started my escape from the corporate gig (complete with extras incl cubicle work spaces and strip lighting and being best mates with excel) about 3 yrs ago – its been a progressive transition and looking back, a lot of the advice in the book really rings true e.g not necessarily setting a definitive goal/5yr plan or not choosing a ‘career as such but different projects.

    I started out working 5 days and doin eve classes, then goin down to 4 days and doin more classes…during this time i did try to save £/pay off debts etc. On advice from a tutor, I applied for a Part Time art foundation, got a place then was forced to look for PT work which is when i started freelancing in finance/book-keeping (which I never thought was feasible!).

    2 yrs on, I still study PT in fine art ( i cant afford to do a degree) but have done a few exhbitions, gone into competitions and still freelance/work PT in the art education area. Im in the process of doin a blog/website and hope to find ways of collaborating and using diferent skills to generate income from the art….a big uphill struggle but fun. Ive realised that i dont necessarily want to be a fine artist full time and love delivering/exchanging information so am considering higher ed teaching for the long term Part Time….its been a journey but an amazing one and i hope it continues to be an adventure.

    I would recommend people to break things down in sizeable pieces/baby steps as its a lot less scary.

  • Wow this is great Sonia! Glad you shared your story – you’re an inspiration! Hope you can keep playing towards better and better things.

  • Nicola

    Hi John

    I’ve just read the tip about getting the word out via posting a video on Youtube amongst other things – this has given me the idea to write a song to promote my new business Dream Social and post it on Youtube – I’m a complete technophobe but let’s see how I do – more next time & I’ll try & send it to you / direct you all to the link or something!

    Love your book, I read it in one go & now I’m dipping into it here & there, just going to look up your opinion on business phones..


  • That’s brilliant Nicola! Do send it to me. If I like it, I’ll even tweet it out!

  • Jen

    Although I ‘work’ alone, I am never ‘alone’. There is nothing stoping me doing whatever I choose to do. The experience for me at this time is feeling my way through changes before making any choices. I know what I’m meant to be doing it’s a case of fitting in with what I like doing. As long as we all feel we are improving, it doesn’t matter what others think.

  • Jen

    For those thinking about making ‘changes’ try for a moment to stop talking about it. Instead, see it in the ‘movie’ in your mind…..have a glass of water handy, this work might make you thirsty….when you see it, start to feel it, then smell your surroundings, what tastes excites you, hear what draws close within the silence………….how is your body reacting now?

    Test your situations, challenge your thought process….how do you feel now?

    I believe it’s called tuning in.

  • Jen

    Thanks for the experience. Work or play, you decide.

    Best a luck to you all


    Great web site. It has inspired me to get the book. I now know that I’m a scanner! My biggest problem is being able to focus on one idea. The other one is the same as every one else and that is the fear of having no money.

  • S

    “You don’t want to be holed up at home everyday, with only a mewling cat for company.”

    I had to laugh at that comment, as that is a description of me and maybe I am just odd but it is my vision of heaven.

    Unlike many of the books readers I have never had a 9-5 job and probably never will. They don’t exist any more. The jobs are all part-time and temporary. Great, you may think, I can do this job for the money and explore everything else in my spare time. Nope, sorry, they want to know your 5 year plan, even when the job is a maternity leave cover for the maximum of 1 YEAR!!! Then they tell you that there is a second interview for a LOW SKILLED ADMIN JOB!!!
    I have no problem with the SCREW WORK, bit of your book, in fact work is saying ‘screw me’. I have no problem with the play either , it is just the problem of making that play productive. I have loads of unfinished projects and ideas that Mystic Meg would be proud of.

    I haven’t finised your book yet, as I got distracted by the info on scanners and had to read Barbara Sher’s book on scanners. I will get round to it soon.