Do you ever crave more human contact? Do you sometimes miss the sense of belonging from your old job? Do you wonder if there are others out there going through the same things as you?
These feelings of loneliness are surprisingly ubiquitous despite the hyper-connectedness of our society. As an entrepreneur, loneliness is even more acute, since starting a business thrusts you into a fast-paced and sometimes stressful leadership role. Entrepreneurship is all about striking out on your own, working long hours, and being responsible for the success of your business. But, it is also isolating, and even more so for first-timers who miss collegial work environments (2016 study) and leaders (HBR).
With so much research on the dangers of being lonely (e.g. linked to depression, stress, anxiety and mortality), it is critical that entrepreneurs understand more about these feelings and have the tools to deal with them head-on. Here are four tips to maintain your emotional well-being in the face of loneliness, while continuing to grow your business.
Tip 1: Remember that you’re the boss.
I did not particularly set out to be an entrepreneur or dream of it. However, I always wanted to do something that would drive myself to be independent and do things my own way.
—Rashmi Sinha, Cofounder and CEO of Slideshare
Inherent to starting your own business is the urge to take the road less traveled and rely on yourself to realize your vision. None of this would be possible without a strong desire to be your own boss and as Sinha says, “do things my own way.” Yet, the sense of independence you gain can actually be quite isolating without the coworkers and watercooler you used to rely on.
Being alone doesn’t have to feel lonely. Think of what you have: a flexible schedule, the ability to work where you want, and the opportunity to be your own boss. Reminding yourself that you are the master architect will help you see your autonomy as a positive and empowering part of being an entrepreneur.
Tip 2: Find a partner.
Being an entrepreneur may have you playing the roles of product developer, salesperson, accountant, marketer and so on. But you don’t have to do it all on your own.
Most successful businesses thrive off complimentary styles and skill sets. Cofounders Jennifer Lambert and Jihan Thompson, the pair behind SWIVEL, an innovative marketplace app that connects women of color with independent stylists and salons, started their careers in wildly different industries (one as a corporate lawyer and the other, editor of O Magazine). Despite these differences, they shared a problem common among women of color: haircare. Every out-of-town conference or wedding meant that they were left to do their own hair or suffer at the hands of a neighborhood salon. As they begin to uncover this billion-dollar market opportunity, they partnered to develop the one-of-a-kind SWIVEL app. In an interview with MissBish, they said, “having someone to weather the ups and downs of entrepreneurship with is priceless. Plus, we know each other so well and have such a firm foundation in our friendship that it makes it easier to disagree and not feel like it’s the end of the world.”
Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, your work ethic and your values, so that you have a better chance at forming a successful partnership.
Tip 3: Prioritize networking.
We often associate networking with sales and business partnerships, but it is also an important way of taking care of yourself and your emotional stability during the tumultuous ride of entrepreneurship.
Recent research has pointed to just how important networking is for startups (2016 study from the Economist) and many founders call it out as a key strategy. Back in the early ‘00s, working long hours at his own startup, Tim Ferriss developed a life-changing productivity hack that he eventually captured in his book The Four Hour Work Week. After being rejected 26 times, the book was eventually picked up by Crown but Ferriss was on his own to promote it. He looked for an event where he could connect with people who might find his book interesting and settled on South By Southwest. Later, looking back on the importance of the event to his network, he said “there are hundreds of people who could change your life completely, who could satisfy all of your wildest dreams: financially, reputationally, phantasmagorically. Your job should be to try to have a deep human connection with one of those people before you leave.” Ferriss calls that event his book’s tipping point and he’s right. It went on to spend the next four years on The New York Times Best Seller List, selling millions of copies around the world.
Connecting with your peers and people living a shared experience is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things you can do. Today you have myriad options for comfortable and authentic networking. Try joining a professional association for in-person networking, or an online group focused on your favorite business podcast. By working in communal setting like WeWork, greendesk, the Wing, and Regis, you can connect with other self-starters looking for new opportunities. Make a weekly appointment with yourself or a calendar block so that you dedicate the necessary time to attend events and connect with others.
Tip 4: Be a giver.
While important to every entrepreneur’s career, networking can only bring you so far. Without nurturing, business relationships, like all others, will die.
If you adopt a practice of generosity, however, you can nurture and grow the relationships you form within the network. Start by being sincere with the people that you meet. Be giving of yourself, your time, and your ear. You never know when or how you might be able to help someone, but by being present in your connections, you open yourself up to those opportunities. And, as a result of this practice of generosity, you will form lasting friendships with people who can count on you, take you seriously, and want to give their own generosity and support when you are in need.
Being an entrepreneur requires immense mental and emotional strength. Cultivating a Network Mindset—the understanding that you are part of a network and playing an active role—can help. It has been shown to lead to greater specialization (2016 study), access to funding and resources (2010 study), higher performance and innovation (2017 and 2010 studies).
The Network Mindset forces you to recognize your role in the ecosystem, not as a sole (read: lonely) actor or a single organization. But you cannot play an active role without giving. Be generous and you will form lasting connections for yourself, your business and those around you. You can make a contribution to other people’s work and to sustaining a community that supports you!