I’ve been working as a freelancer for more than 5 years. It was at the end of the summer of 2007 that I took that leap, and until now there has been no looking back. I enjoy the flexibility, the fact that I am my own boss, and normally I am able to generate my own ideas and determination to get things done.
Only now I can’t, or at least not as well as I once could, and I am bored, and even a bit lonely.
It rather surprises even me that I have come to this conclusion, not least because “aren’t you lonely as a freelancer?” is one of the questions I have most often been posed over the last 5 years. My stock answer, and indeed the completely honest answer, was no, I enjoyed the work I was doing, and anyway working on so many projects with so many people, and going to so many events all over the place, made sure life was always interesting and I was meeting loads of people.
The problem is that three things have changed.
First, the work I do is no longer as fun as it once was. I used to spend my days teaching people about the European Union, and this then increasingly as a freelancer morphed into running training courses about online communications in a European Union context, drawing on both my web skills and training skills. That was all very well when I actually had the belief that social media could be transformative in politics and government. Now I doubt whether that is so. Likewise with implementation of websites for politicians – this has become a case of being able to bring a politician to the web, but to not be able to make many of them see the transformative power of the web. So professionally the kick is not what it was. I’m trying to move more into writing for others, and I have an idea of a book I would like to write, so those things may offer a partial path forwards, but I have no single professional answer to the question about what I would want to do.
Second, I had spent years living with the delusion that there was some sort of political purpose to what I was doing, at least as a volunteer alongside my regular work and somehow within the Labour Party looking towards the 2014 European Parliament elections. When I realised the delusion was indeed precisely that, in May this year, so some hazy future goal to work towards also evaporated. My unease about how party politics, and indeed to an increasing extent the way we have been doing representative democracy, doesn’t work has found even more lively expression on this blog since then, but I should not just live to be a grumpy old man blogging and ranting about the state of the world. Politically the kick has gone. What do I really believe in these days?
Third, at the end of the summer I took a leap to move from London to Copenhagen for personal reasons. Sadly, so far, this move has contributed to the boredom, rather than helping to alleviate it. Yes, this city is super in many ways – it’s how you should organise a city. But I have nothing here. No work. No network. No friends, apart from a few very distant old contacts from EU work almost a decade ago. It’s Friday evening and I’m sat writing this, because I have nothing to do other than be at home. I don’t speak Danish, so I cannot actually go to any events that might look interesting as I can’t understand them, and I cannot do work here in the governmental arena because I do not speak Danish and am not integrated into the relevant circles. So I am forever craving escape – to Berlin, Brussels and London most often – where I am at least of some use to some people, and can either explicitly or by chance bump into people I know. But escape in that way is no good either – because the more time I live out of a suitcase the more I tire myself out, and the less time I am in Copenhagen the less chance I have to actually manage to do something here, or to set about learning Danish. Catch 22.
So, you’re probably thinking, what an arrogant idiot I am. I have a job, and I am living in an interesting city. How dare someone like that possibly have a problem with their predicament? Such an accusation is a very fair one, and in a way I suppose what is happening to me is the process of normalisation of my expectations. I was lucky enough to over-achieve in my twenties, and a combination of a good education and some delusions about the future helped maintain an inflated sense of what was possible. I am just coming down to what is normal, what 99.9% of the world’s population would be very content with. That’s still a bit of a bump though.
Sympathy/empathy on this one — sometimes it just doesn’t help to “know” that you “should” be happy; there’s always someone who will have it worse than you, after all. And a job and an interesting place to live can still leave one very bored and/or lonely. Building up social networks takes a frustrating amount of time; never mind the additional language difficulty!
(… from someone living in London who often feels similarly!)
Hi Jon, write that book or even better get a PhD out of it. If you go down the PhD route you’ll learn that your situation at the moment is not that lonely after all (the PhD process will show you what loneliness is). But it is a very good way to become an expert in another field and get your professional development onto another track. A Master’s from University of London International Academy or Open University could do a similar trick…
I guess I can relate to what you’re feeling, for me I think it’s even worse, as I feel like a misfit in my own city (Bucharest) since I came back from the UK. Even though language is not an issue, communication is.
I’ve written some thoughts in response http://adragonsbestfriend.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/am-i-living-in-a-box-without-a-compass/
With the move away from larger employers with stable workforces to this freelancing/self-employed model of working, it’s not surprising that people report feelings of loneliness and isolation. Yes, it’s great not to be crushed by micro-managing line managers and pointless processes. But at the same time I miss not having a group of people that I see during the day every day, or being able to go out for drinks after work – or even organising work socials
I’ve been an avid reader for a while and I enjoy the blog. Every beginning is hard: I’ve also moved quite a lot over the past decade. My solution has been volunteering (in addition to freelancing) : helps you get to know people and become part the right network. It’s easy to start, especially nowadays because NGOs are looking for qualified people to work for free….I don’t know if it will work for you but I thought I would share my experience.
Thank you for such a honest post! It shows us a little about the person behind the blog. 🙂
This might be a perfect book for your for example (also exists in French) 😉 : http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Decadent-Europe-Raymond-Aron/dp/1560008946
I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself. Sure you can have a job and a nice town, but in the end, it’s perfectly normal to be unhappy if you’re cut off from your friends and usual social circles. It’s always hard to start again.
I concur with what you have said about freelancers. It can be very rewarding and has lots of advantages – personally I love the project-based approach (as opposed to 9/5..) and meeting so many people – but it can also paradoxically be isolating when you’ve little work.
If you don’t know what you believe, I advise you take some time for yourself and read some books. Find some topics you care about but might find a new perspective on. Personally I love Raymond Aron, Glenn Greenwald and the Western liberal tradition, I always find myself fortified in my beliefs, even as they change or become more nuanced!
Being bored and/or lonely is a good starting point to change something in life. Good luck for finding out what it could be that you want to change.
That is an unusual position to be, especially if you are Jon Worth. Four suggestions: 1) start working on an idea for a start-up and a future move to Palo Alto, 2) think of alternatives to politics that could channel your thoughts into the UK debate on EU (if that still interests you), 3) look at what other larger campaign groups are doing in terms of social justice, development…and other issues that might be of interest to you and talk to them about social media strategies (e.g. http://www.publishwhatyoufund.org/; http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/…), 4) start investigating what the social unrest around the EU means for social media and vice-versa. I would love to spend some time on any of these…
BTW, where is Karen? Why not taking her to the movies!
22 25 69 51
Danish is, IMHO, “redundant”, enjoy your stay in Copenhagen