Friday, January 2, 2015

My Life as a "Soloist"

That label, "solo-ist" or "soloist", is not my own.  A lot of people who work primarily on their own call themselves that. 
Is working on your own a nice gig?  Most of us think so.  However, does being a soloist come with some tougher conditions than most other kinds of workers experience?  Oh, ya.  In fact, hardly a business mag gets publish without offering some condolences for those going it on their own...
I'm sure most readers know that I've been on my own for the better part of 40-years.  That doesn't mean that I haven't worked for someone else during that span, but even those jobs were mainly contract jobs -- as a head hockey coach somewhere, as a paid hockey skills coach, etc.  All the while, though, I was doing my own thing (like for the other 60-ish hours per week).
If you didn't know, what I've done on my own was mostly writing, some inventing, and a lot of preparing lesson plans for special hockey skills clinics and summer hockey schools.  I've lost track of the books I've written about the game, and the number of instructional videos and podcasts I've produced.  Of course, you probably do know about my website, which takes a lot of attention.  Then, over about 25-years I penned a regular advice column for a couple of different online and hardcopy hockey magazines.  And, if you don't think those things required a lot of quiet and a lot of focus, well...
That established, I think the first thing a soloist realizes is that there's no crowded watercooler in his or her office.  In fact, there's seldom anyone to talk with, to bounce ideas off, or to commiserate with.  Which means that such a lifestyle can get pretty dawgone lonely, IF he or she doesn't find some sort of answer to the problem.
One of my favorite songs!
I got a lot of crap from some folks close to me when I joined a new thing called Twitter.  Yup, I'd read about that new thing in a business magazine, and thought I'd just give it a try.  At the time, I found exactly one other hockey person there, and he was a part-time coach from Sweden, who was hardly ever online.  I think I was lucky, though, because I started making some friends from other fields who remain my friends today.  
Best of all, my virtual watercooler got surrounded by a young lady from Colorado who knew her stuff when it came to Internet marketing, a guy from Georgia who also knew his way around the business side of the Net, another guy from Southern Cal who was a computer whiz, a young lady from Ohio who seemed to be learning the ropes like me, and a Canadian gal from Ontario Province who knew a lot about physical training, some about hockey training, and even more about business.
How did we become friends?  Well, before Twitter became so crowded, it seemed easy to just wave for help, and some great and caring person would appear to offer a solution.  
As I said, I got a lot of crap and got called a lot of names by those fairly close to me...  Hey, if you don't understand something, I guess the right thing is to make fun of it.
Anyway, I said earlier that magazines as well as Internet articles are always describing the plight of the soloist.  And, that's the truth...

On the plus side, an article on The Seven Problems with Working at Home first states that, "You have no commute! You spend more time working but are available to your family! You can set your own hours! You can work in your pajamas! You work at home — so what’s the down side?"
Actually, that's all true.  I even joke and say that, "I have about a 20-second commute to my laptop, with about 15-seconds of that time spent pouring my first cup of coffee."  (In more recent years, I'm thankful to Brenda for having my coffee waiting.)

In her article called 10 Tips To  Make ‘Working From Home’ Work, Singyin Lee put as the number one need "An Understanding Family".  Ugh, was she ever right.  She then went on to suggest that, "One of the hardest things about working from home is setting boundaries with the people you share ‘home’ with.
Here's the problem...  There are those who believe that one is only working if he or she reports to someone else's office -- you know, like "a real 9-to-5 job".  If you work at home, then, you obviously don't have a real job, or you're not really working.  (Grrrrrrrrr...)
Ms Lee so much as said the same, suggesting that, "It’s definitely easier to understand that you are not to be disturbed when you are at the office (as in someone else's office, rather) than when you are in the back room."  Then offering a bit of advice to those who live with a soloist, she offers that, "Everything else (meaning personal stuff) should remain outside of your 'no-fly zone'."

Next, Lisa Earle McLeod writes in a Huffington Post column entitled Why Working At Home Isn't the Problem or the Solution, "Working from home does not make a demanding job any less demanding, it just enables you to do it while your kids watch TV in the other room."

Freelancers Working From Home – Cures to Common Problems, by Hilde Torbjornsen, begins with the subtitle, "People Think You're Living Life in the Easy Lane".  Ha.  As Hilde says, "My own experience is that a lot of friends and family think that working from home is almost like having a vacation."  And, echoing my feelings, she continues, "I've been really annoyed by this quite a few times and it has been draining my energy at times. Friends and family thinking they can call all the time, come unexpectedly during work hours and so on."
Oh, do I know that one...  I can't tell you how many friends or family have told me, "Oh, ya, you're working."  And, I can't tell you how many times I've had a relative call while I'm in the middle of something really tricky, asking, "Can you _________ for me?"  Right.  What I'm doing isn't important, and I can just drop it for something hardly as urgent.  Geeeeeeeeze...
Ms Torbjornsen suggests sticking to your schedule, though, and offer to help "after your work hours if it's needed."  Then, she goes on to say, "You do need to get your breaks at times..."  That's when she suggests doing smaller tasks, taking the dog outside or getting the mail.
The thing is, she's suggested that the soloist makes such decisions, and not a friend or family member.  Actually, there are times when I know it's a good time to take a break, while those around me, or those with my telephone number seldom know when the time might be right.  
Next, get a load of this title: Working From Home Is Hard Work...  For, pretty much echoing what I and the other articles have said, it begins, "When the line between home and work gets blurred, things can get a little complicated."  (Oh, can they ever!)  "There are several obstacles that make working from home more difficult than it seems at first, and it actually requires a lot of discipline to make sure you're staying at the top of your game when you're not in an (outside the house) office."
I used to have a friend who constantly gave me a hard time about having an office outside the home.  Ha, I'd tried the other route, and it didn't work, mostly for the reasons stated above.  The comical thing about that old friend was that he did the exact same thing as I -- and moved his work outside the house -- once he got a business going.
Moreover, it can be tough trying to have your business seem polished with kids screaming and dogs barking in the background of a business call, and it can be tricky when customers just stop in unannounced.
Isabel Isidro, in Top 10 Problems of Working at Home, lists as Number Three, "Not being taken seriously."  (Ugh... Been there, felt that.)  This time, though, Ms Isidro is referring to the other side of the coin, stating that, "The common concern of most home based business owners is whether their clients will consider their business a substantial one."  In other words, "...home businesses are often regarded as 'little hobbies' (seemingly by family and friends, as well as some of our customers).  And, like the relative I described above, Isabel suggests that, "Home business owners should therefore project a professional business image"
Tell me you couldn't think creatively here
This aside...  I don't think I've ever experienced the above problem, mainly because my work has usually been judged more on the results.  In other words, if my hockey schools run better than most others, no one cares where I was while putting together the staff, the lesson plans, etc.  Nor did anyone care where I sat when I wrote a book or article or advice column that helped them.
Yet another aside...  I was listening to a podcast by a pretty sharp young business guy the other night, and he was saying how important it is to get outside of the office in order to be creative.  In fact, he put it something like this:  "The office is for work, and outside the office is for being creative."
He's spot-on with that, because I've written several manuals at poolside or while lying on a beach, and I've had great drill or training device ideas fall into my lap as I walked a beach or drove through some mountains.
So again, "The office is for work, and outside the office is for being creative."
Lorie Marrero says that, "We’re all familiar with the advantages (sometimes idealized) of working from home. You can work in your pajamas, you have a 25-foot commute, you have increased flexibility with your personal obligations, and you get some decent tax deductions."  However, in Five Common Working-At-Home Problems- Solved, Lorie suggests there are some special considerations that may need to be addressed or accommodated to make a home office the best it can be."   With that, she defines a biggie as, "Create rules to make sure your family members respect your workspace."  Ya, sure.

In closing, I might insert the fact that a lot of the articles I've quoted here were written by women and for women.  That's not so surprising to me nowadays, as many women work from home, or telecommute from a "real job".  With that, I'd love hearing from both guys and gals who likewise see themselves as soloists, and who also find themselves having to deal with any of the things noted here.  Better yet, maybe you can share with me and others some things that neither the authors or I thought of.