I won’t see the majority of the people I met for at least a year, assuming I attend the 2020 event. That prospect leaves me feeling sad, and, once again, lonely as a professional.
That’s not a new feeling. Far from it. Nor is my quest to forge professional connections and a sense of community which I feel day in, day out.
I see the origins of my conundrum in 1992, when I decided to become self-employed in public relations. I had had enough of working for people I considered difficult and insensitive. I figured I could do the kind of work I had done on my own, and achieve much greater professional satisfaction.
I did, gradually, build my business. My productivity skyrocketed in the short term as I no longer had to engage in small talk with colleagues. I no longer needed to fight to use office equipment. I didn’t have to go out for lunch. I could simply head upstairs to my kitchen to help myself to whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it.
I thrived. Or so I thought. But I worked alone. I was, for most of the time, alone.
Sure, I stayed in touch with colleagues. That’s how I built my business, after all. I got to know the people I had worked with and they hired me over the years. And I met with clients at their offices. Occasionally, I hired subcontractors to help me when I couldn’t complete client work on my own.
But I remained physically alone, for the most part. And I often felt lonely, although I didn’t consciously admit it.
I didn’t feel like I had a professional community. I didn’t have a group of people who understood what I did, or were familiar with the issues I faced. I didn’t have a group of supporters who cheered me on. More importantly, I didn’t have colleagues who would challenge my flawed thinking. I didn’t have anyone to contradict my self-limiting beliefs. In other words, I had no one to show me some tough love when I needed it. And, boy, did I need it then (and still do now).
Eventually I changed careers, getting into teaching and then higher education full-time. And still I felt alone. I was an adjunct instructor, not a full-timer. I considered myself an excellent teacher. Nonetheless, I felt adrift as an outside. My tenured or tenure-track faculty simply didn’t understand (or care about) my career. My feelings of loneliness persisted.
I’ve entered what I consider the golden age of my career. And I still feel lonely on a professional level. Sure, I’m active in professional associations. I have a full-time teaching position at a school. And yes, I’m active on social media. Virtual contacts and “conversation” don’t necessarily translate to meaning connections, however. Thus, I still often feel alone and even isolated.
I’m still looking for that team of supporters. I still crave the kinds of relationships that support me in good times, and challenge me to do better. So I need to keep working to make myself ready to find it, and subsequently allow it to manifest in my life.