With the unemployment rate floating around 11% in America, most of us are aware of the financial implications. If you lose your job, you lose your income. This is obvious. The consequences of losing your co-workers are much less obvious but just as dangerous.
In a year where our mental health is suffering, most of us can’t afford to have any less social interaction. Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen predicts that by now half the U.S. population has an anxiety disorder.
Isolation is one reason for this. Humans need other humans. Friends and family are nice, but co-workers are (or were) around every day. You didn’t need to have a plan or a reason to be with them. They were there, hopefully moving toward the same common goal as you, constantly.
Losing the community was much worse. During my first eight weeks of unemployment, my mood spiraled further downward every day. I snapped at my wife for no reason. I slouched out of bed and screamed at commercials on Hulu. Nobody had changed but me — I was very, very, very lonely and taking it out on everyone who came into contact with me.
As it turned out, co-workers constantly put me in a better mood. They at least made me feel more human. Here are a few ways in which that happened.
Co-workers help you
I once had a co-worker named Dave.
Dave was my first ever co-worker. He annoyed me. I felt like I did the hard jobs around the golf course, only to return finding Dave swapping jokes with his buddies or flirting with the cart girl.
One evening, disaster struck. (Well, a teenage disaster).
My girlfriend and I were supposed to watch a movie, but the golf tournament that day was delayed. They didn’t finish before dark. That meant at 8:00 P.M., all 75 golf carts pulled up to the clubhouse.
These carts had to be emptied, washed, driven to the garage, and plugged into their chargers before I could leave. It was looking like I’d miss my movie.
Suddenly, Dave emerged from the basement like some kind of redneck angel. He took a quick look around, stuffed his cigarette into the now-empty Monster energy drink, and looked straight at me.
“LET’S F*CKING DO THIS!”
We were finished by 8:30. I made the movie.
With co-workers, the work simply goes faster. That’s a good thing.
Co-workers have different personality types
I once had a co-worker named Cathy.
Cathy came in for an interview to join my learning and development team. She passed the questioning with flying colors. Although I’d been in love with her resume and demeanor, it immediately became clear Cathy had a big problem.
Cathy was slow.
We’d be 30 minutes into a conference call, and I itched with impatience while she calmly asked a million questions. I literally had to pace around the room any time she was involved in a project.
One Tuesday in July something shocking happened: Cathy thought I had a big problem. She thought I went much too fast.
After a lot of conversations (and a few personality tests), we realized that neither of us had a big problem. We just had big personalities that went in opposite directions. Used properly, those personalities made us both better.
They say two heads are better than one. This is only true if those two heads think in different ways. Co-workers fill in gaps you don’t even know about.
Co-workers have problems
I once had a co-worker named Pamela.
Remembering Pamela reminds me that co-workers aren’t always fun and breezy. They can cause headaches. I tend to be romantic and forget about the bad times.
When I was in my office job, I followed a rule that I learned from the entrepreneur James Altucher:
Do all your work before lunch. Do everyone else’s work after lunch.
As an entrepreneur, your job is to solve problems. It’s how you pay the bills. Imagine how much gratitude will come your way when you do it for free.
Solving your own problems is fine. Solving other people’s is extraordinary.
Co-workers give you feedback
I once had a co-worker named Marissa.
Marissa was a genius. When I got fired, she kept her job. This should tell you all you need to know.
Marissa and I worked on videos together. I brought her scripts. She said, “this line of dialog isn’t working for me.” I gave her ideas for shots. She said, “oooh, I love that, and we can follow it up with this.” I showed her my edits. She said, “if you slow down the frames between seconds 12 and 24, the impact of returning to full speed will blow the audience’s mind.”
In other words, she gave me feedback.
Working on the same project for too long turns your brain to mush. Co-workers provide feedback to bring it back to life.
Co-workers boost your self-confidence
I once had a co-worker named Tami.
Tami made me a functional human being.
Tami plucked me out of anonymity and showed me how to succeed.
Tami planted the seeds for my first promotion, my first management job, and my first big raise.
Tami gave me the strength to keep going when the weight of corporate America felt like too much to take.
Tami was the first person I called when I got fired.
Apart from anything else, co-workers can make you feel better about yourself. Without them, your self-confidence can quickly vanish
Co-workers give you information
I once had a co-worker named Jim.
He made me feel like the stupidest person in the room. I loved that.
When you are stupid, people tell you everything they know.
People often ignore massive sources of knowledge all around them in the form of co-workers. Most of the time, you’re better off having a deep conversation with a colleague than reading the latest bestselling book.
Co-workers are a wealth of information. Being the stupidest person in the room is only a good thing if you have others to learn from.
A possible solution: Learn one new thing every day. Write it down in your new knowledge journal. Become a student of everything.
Your situation probably looks different than it did at the beginning of this year. But whether you are freelancing, building a business, or looking for work, I can’t offer you any better advice than this — build your own community of “co-workers.”
This feels dangerous. Your mind will worry that making friends isn’t real work. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that humans need other humans to feel whole
You don’t need coworkers, but you do need the benefits they offer:
- Different personality types
- Problems to solve
Start conversations with strangers if you must. Anything is better than drowning under a pile of work, alone, wondering why you feel so miserable.
Lonely people get nowhere fast. Connected people win.
This article first appeared on Medium.