When I first left my career as an engineer to run SportsLizard, my sole focus in life was building a successful business. I viewed anything that got in the way of my work to be an annoyance, and that included anything social. For probably the first six months I spent what seemed like every waking hour of every day working my ass off. I felt like I didn’t deserve a break.
Real quickly I learned that isolating yourself doesn’t make you happy, that relationships are as much a part of happiness as doing work you enjoy.
I think this actualization is quite common amongst new business owners, especially those who are in their twenties. The reason being that up until this point you’ve never had to work for your social life. It was all right there in front of you. High school, college, and work all provided the opportunities you needed to meet new people and do new things.
Think about it: how did you meet most of your friends? I bet it was through school, work, or mutual friends/family. Now, as soon as you leave school and your job you immediately cut those out of the equation, making the third method all the more difficult (if you’re not meeting new people at work, it’s much harder to then meet people through your network of work friends since it’s non-existent).
As much as I detested my job at times, there was a ton of opportunity to commiserate and bond at the water cooler, at lunch, at happy hour, or at the many company functions. There were also thousands of people at my company, just like in high school and in college. You’re always being introduced to new people. Not so much the case when you work in a warehouse with guys you’ve known your entire life.
This realization didn’t come very quickly for me. Not just because this was a new unknown social dynamic, but because I was so damn focused on the business. I was trying to justify my decision to give up my career. Building a profitable business took everything I had. I’d often lose track of the day and the time, completely de-synchronizing myself from the 9-5, Monday – Friday schedule that everyone else has.
Leaving my job also introduced another new life-variable in to the equation: going against the grain. Up until that point I did everything I was “supposed” to do. The stuff that mom’s love to tell their friends about. I did good in school, got in to a great college, graduated at the top of my class, and went to work for a big company. I wasn’t supposed to quit after one year and move back home. When I told people, they didn’t know what to think. For the first time in my life, people were doubting my decisions. I heard whispers at work from people wondering why I really put in my two week notice (“did he get into a fight with his manager?”). I had a friend ask me “where are you going to work when you get home?” right after I just gave him the five minute pitch about my plans for SportsLizard. It was very frustrating, and I’m sure there were much worse things said that I don’t know about. All of a sudden, I had doubters. Being the competitive guy I am, I adopted a “me against the world” mentality. To some extent I still have that. All it takes is one snide comment from someone who doesn’t take us seriously to get it back. And while that may be good for my work productivity, it also drove me to isolate myself even more.
On top of everything else, I’m more of an introvert than I am an extrovert, so I had that working against me too. (I once read that the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that introverts like to relax by spending time alone, whereas extroverts like to relax by spending time with others. By that definition, I’m introverted. I love spending time with others, and I tend to be pretty social when I’m doing so, but after a stressful day I’d much prefer reading a book by myself to going out to a bar with a group of people).
The good news in all of this is that now, nearly five years later, I can confidently say that I have a great social life. I meet new people, I have many many great friends, I have a wonderful girlfriend, and I spend time with all of my family (cousins and grandparents too, not just my parents and sister). Part of it has to do with the fact that our business has become more successful, leaving me less stressed that I need to be working 24 x 7 x 365, although I think the most important factor is that I’ve realized that given my work situation I’ll have to put more effort into my social life than I did in the past, probably more effort than most people have to
More specifically, here are some of the things that I have found helpful:
Don’t resent the time and effort – I try to stay focused on doing whatever I’m doing. If I’m working, I work. If I’m eating dinner with my family, I eat dinner and conversate and do my best not to think about what I could be doing if I was working, or that I should be working instead of spending time with my family. I try really, really hard to not answer my cell phone or texts when I’m out with people. There’s nothing worse than someone constantly buried in their phone – they’re physically “there” but they aren’t “there”.
Choose people over hobbies – this wasn’t obvious to me at first, I sort of accidentally fell in to this one. I find that I’m much happier doing more socially and having less time to do things like play video games, read or customize. Spending more time alone after spending all day working alone doesn’t work very well for me.
Live where you know people – you’re already at a disadvantage socially by working for yourself. While tempting, I don’t think it’s wise to up and move to just anywhere unless you have a few friends there, ideally in different social circles.
Keep in touch – I do my best to keep in touch with all of the people that I’ve encountered in life that I’m really happy to be friends with. It takes some effort, and sometimes we’re only able to get together once every two years, but keeping those relationships instead of letting them die has really helped me.
Go where they are – my friends are busy. We’re all almost 30, which means wives and kids and houses for many of them. If we’re meeting for lunch, I try to suggest some place close to where they work. If I can make it easy on their schedule I know it’s more likely to happen.
Find other ways to meet people – whether it’s a church group or softball league or cooking class or something else. Believe it or not, I’ve met a ton of great people through blogging. In fact, most of the good friends I’ve met since leaving my job have been in one way or another related to running this blog.
Don’t turn down opportunities – I say “yes” more than I ever have before. If I can fit it in my schedule, I try to do it.
Get out to work sometime – you might not meet people at Starbucks, but just getting out and being in a social setting helps decrease the feeling of isolation, especially if you work alone from home all day.
Treat weekends differently than weekdays – I wish I was consulted when someone decided that we should all work 8 hours, 5 days per week. I would have asked that guy “why?” a lot. Regardless, that’s how most people work, so I’ve tried to adjust my schedule accordingly. I do take time off on weekdays and I do work on weekends, but on average I do most of my work during the week and most of my social stuff on the weekends.
I’ve had this post queued up in my brain for a while now. I’m glad I finally got a chance to get it all out. How about you guys? I know many of you are in a similar situation to mine. I’m interested to hear how similar or different your experience has been.