On reflection I recognise hitchhiking was a joy because I spent time with people and then on my own. The balance was good. I love good company but privacy is important too. Yet too much of either affects my sense of well-being at a surprisingly fast rate.
The Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) recently published a powerful and compelling article that carries an important message for entrepreneurs and people running micro businesses. The research behind the piece also has much wider implications for society.
Entitled ‘Lonely Planet’ the article appeared in the autumn edition of the RSA’s quarterly Journal. Written by Neuroscience specialists, John T Cacioppo, Louise C Hawkley and William Patrick, their research has examined how people are becoming increasingly isolated in society (A full link to the article is provided here).:
Whilst we may have far greater social media connections, there are several sectors of society that increasingly have less physical contact with people. And since, the article contends, being with people is a key driver for wellbeing and happiness, this social disconnect is real cause for concern.
The issue of isolation affects many people who start up and run businesses from home. Office cost savings make huge sense, especially in this economic climate; email and web technology solve many communication problems too. And since you’re the boss, there is complete freedom to choose how time is spent, which is a wonderful feeling.
However, long periods of time without the company of other people can, just like my standing on the side of the road for too long, adversely affect wellbeing. Ultimately we become lonely which can affect confidence, self-esteem and our behaviour when we do get to be with others. Not good for business.
With budgets being tight for everyone I don’t see a single sustainable solution to this problem. If anything there is going to be even greater levels of isolation amongst self employed people, which will only add to the stress of doing the job. However, I do think there is an opportunity for more business centres and under-used business office properties (that are suffering from poor occupancy levels) to become simple hubs for people to meet and connect with each other.
For this to work, hubs just need to provide inexpensive opportunities and incentives for people to be in the same place at the same time. Whilst Wifi will be vital, it is things like the coffee machine or kettle that will provide the common ground – something that used be called ‘pump party politics’. Peoples’ desire for company will do the rest.
Best things in life
The complex nature of the fast lives we lead often masks what really matters to us as human beings. As such, the simple fundamental things are lost, forgotten or become invisible.
So let’s get back to basics. What are the best things in life? Privacy and working from home allows us the freedom to choose and have control over our own lives. But if we are isolated, the joy is increasingly limited and the quality of life being led must be questioned.
My fondest memories of hitchhiking are not about my time alone at the side of the road. The best times were when I met people and learnt about their lives and told them stories about mine. Likewise, travelling away on business maybe an adventure, but without the company of others, (colleagues, my wife Wendy and/or the children), the experience typically has a hollow sense to it. And the longer the trip, the deeper the need to be with friends and family.
And that’s because, the best things in life are not the things we do ourselves, where we go or what we achieve, either in our personal lives or in business. In my opinion, the best things in life are the things that we share.
Key Learning Points: Understand your own ‘balance’ for time spent with people & time spent alone. If you work solo, ensure you share time with others & avoid long periods of isolation, as this adversely affects personal wellbeing & business performance.