Working alone is lonely.

When I first started teaching, I loved how little hours I had to do in order to get a good enough pay cheque to survive. A good pay cheque for me is probably half the average person my age. Honestly, I have no idea what the average person my age earns. What I’m trying to express is that I don’t earn that much, but considering the amount I work, I have enough to survive. Which for a person in my situation (no children, no pets, no debts, a partner to half everything with) is realistically not an overwhelming amount.

Still – I thought I was living the dream. I had my trusty monthly metro card (20 euro for the month is an absolute steal) effectively no boss (well I do have a boss but I never had to see them unlike in previous jobs) and I was completely in control of what I taught my students (Yes, I would obviously consult the student) You get the idea, I felt like I was finally freelance, something I had always wanted, and I had weekends off, which I had never experienced before. Pottering around Madrid, never working for longer than 2 hours consecutively, nipping into cafes with my laptop on my gaps – I was ecstatic. I moved to Madrid with the expectation of being back in Edinburgh and working in a bar after a failed 2-month effort and completely broke, yet here I was, after 2 weeks with a cute studio apartment in a lovely area, and a ‘killer’ job.

This was short lived. Before, I looked forward to my time reading my book or listening to podcasts on the Metro, now I dread it and it’s usually sticky and stuffy. I spend so much time on there that I end up overthinking how strange it is that there are so many people around me, either sitting opposite or standing within centimeters of me and there is no acknowledgment of this whatsoever – everyone is just doing their own thing, ignoring the rest of the world. Or else making unwanted eye contact. I used to like organizing my notes and my lessons with paper clips, coloured post its and highlighters, now I avoid it and leave most of my preparation to the last possible minute. I loved the idea of spending my days moving around and having different environments, now I long to spend a day in the same place. So much so, that I usually spend most of my free time in the comfort of my flat, instead of exploring the city.

When you write on your CV “I enjoy working as part of a team and by myself” you probably don’t think too much about actually working by yourself. You might think, who doesn’t like their own company? Beats working with people that you don’t enjoy being in the presence of, or else it’s a say-what-you-gotta-say-to-get-the-job situation and figure the rest out later (We’ve all been there, right?). Or maybe you do just like working by yourself – if so, you probably won’t relate to this post.

I was guilty of the “who cares I’ll figure it out later” mindset. And now I realise that although I like to work by myself, I do miss having a colleague in one way or another. There’s nothing quite like the friendship that is born out of being forced to spend time together day in, day out and bonding over a mutual feeling of contempt toward working. I would estimate a large majority of my close friends are people I worked with at one time or another.

Colleagues are the kind of friends that you would probably never bond within the broad light of day – but force you behind a bar with 15 meters squared worth of space to share and you will soon be planning your days off together and minding their dog when they’re out of town. It’s a beautiful, strange thing.

Maybe the problem is that this pattern of making friends through my time working in bars and restaurants, surrounded by people (whether I liked it or not) has left me with zero ability to make friends. Since I was probably 3 years old, friends have been forced on me, beginning in school and continuing onto University and finally in jobs. I’ve come full circle and found out the hard way that making friends is surprisingly difficult. I used to think I was a social butterfly but now I realise I was just always in the right circles, in the right place at the right time.

I have been lucky until now – with friendships – they’ve all happened so easily and freely. Now every time someone interacts with me, I feel like one of those hermit-style tropes that you see in films who have no social skills what so ever. It starts with shock – someone is interacting with me?! – and then awkward hesitation – language barrier – and finally a realisation that they were just asking where the crash mats are kept in the gym and you are left embarrassed and red-faced and smelling of desperation.  And this is just so not who I am – or at least who I thought I was.

Three and a half months later and I have a daily debate – is it the work I don’t like or is it the working conditions? Probably both.

Who would have thought that working alone is actually so lonely?

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