The economy being what it is (phooey), more and more people are finding themselves with no choice but to become independent contractors. People are being laid off, jobs are scarce, companies are finding they can save money by hiring contractors over employees. According to the NPR program Marketplace, 42 million Americans are opting (willingly or not) for contract work.

This means more and more Americans are setting up home offices.

I've been an independent contractor since 1994. I have a perfect job for an introvert. Freelance writers spend their days alone in a home office, deep inside their own head.

I love my job and have no complaints, but I've come to understand that working in a home office also has drawbacks. Namely, spending days alone, deep inside my own head.

It's wonderful, until I start getting weird.

Even introverts need social interaction. That's human nature.

But introverts are not terribly driven to seek out other people, and if you work in a home office, you are free to indulge--overindulge--your solitary ways.

We might tool along for days, weeks, perfectly happy in our solitude before realizing that we've become isolated.

And weird.

We talk to ourselves. Think about calling friends but then decide it's too much trouble. Our conversational skills get rusty. Personal hygiene becomes optional. We hear about fun things to do, but can't get ourselves out to do them

Sometimes we find ourselves working day and night, not because we must, but because we have forgotten how to do anything else. We pretend we're busy when really, we've just become weird.

We wake up one day and wonder if we work in a home office or are locked in a home prison.

A regular office job requires mingling with other people. Social interaction is part of the deal. Sometimes that's a pain in the ass, but it also forces solitary sorts to step out of ourselves. It keeps our social skills fresh.

Social interaction also gives us new stuff to think about when our own thoughts and ideas start getting threadbare from too much time spent alone and thinking about the same things. And if you're creative in any way, new input is necessary to refill the creative well.

If you have the discipline to be productive, working in a home office is wonderful, particularly for introverts. But it's also risky. Introverts must be vigilant, monitor ourselves for signs of weirdness.

When I start getting weird, I set up lunch dates, meet friends for happy hours, make sure to get out and about on the weekends. If I realize I'm spending more time with friends who live in my computer than who live in my city, I take myself offline for a couple of days. I might even call long distance friends for a chat. (I know, I know...the telephone. But it's a good tool when you need it.)

Sometimes I overdo it and socialize to the point of exhaustion. Then I shut it down again, burrow back into my home office and luxuriate in the solitude. Until I start getting weird again.

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My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.

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