Lonely. That’s not what you’d expect to hear a millennial entrepreneur describe her journey as, but it is the truth. While I’m a massive introvert who enjoys the opportunity to say no to going out, this past year in lockdown has highlighted something that I did not even realise I felt – immense loneliness with my work.
Like many of you who work remotely, mainly from home, I loved the ability to multitask and run my schedule on my own terms. I enjoy throwing in a load of laundry while I’m hammering out a blog post, or getting the dinner on earlier in the slow cooker (because good chilli is slow cooked!) so we’re eating healthier foods. But even before the lockdown, I was experiencing loneliness… and I didn’t even know it.
Part of going out to an office to work is the work friendships that you make. On a Monday, everyone sort of catches up and swaps stories about what they got up to that weekend, and shares their personal reviews of restaurants or places to visit. We love that type of easy communication that’s packed with key information (knowing a good burger joint is very vital to living a fulfilled life), and that interaction is mentally and emotionally healthy and stimulating. However, when you jump ship and cast out on your own, everything changes. You no longer have those Monday morning stories to swap. You no longer have the weekend to really look forward to either, because let’s face it, entrepreneurs have a very unhealthy relationship with weekends and when you’re on the clock at someone else’s business, you’re literally counting down the minutes to be free, as though the office was a prison you’re excited to escape from.
So as entrepreneurs, what can we do to combat loneliness, even if you don’t even think you’re lonely?
Keeping in touch with old colleagues
This is a big one and it’s not because you just want to keep tabs on how your old boss is messing up or the latest office gossip. Keeping in touch keeps you connected to something bigger than yourself. As a species, humans are hardwired for a tribe. But when you’re an entrepreneur, finding a tribe is not only hard but complicated. You can’t have a tribal bond level with people you hire and fire. We’d all love that but at the end of the day, there’s a line of respect that we’re conditioned to maintain. Some of us can move past those lines, but many of us need those boundaries to keep the relationships healthy. Keeping in touch with old colleagues who you would have bonded with at the water cooler or in the kitchen can help manage your solopreneurship loneliness.
Meeting other entrepreneurs
This is one of the best things you can do is try to reach out to other entrepreneurs. Creating a little circle of friendship in one of the hardest and bravest things someone can do with their careers is essential to keeping your head above water. You will hear the good, the bad and the ugly in those circles and it will inspire you to keep pushing, because through shared challenges and burdens, we can keep the light in our spirits raging. It will also add a subconscious layer of competitiveness, since humans strive to win and be the best, and this will continue to feed your drive.
Ah, the dreaded networking gigs. I know that we all hate them, but they can offer something else if networking isn’t always the right fit for you. First of all, you get to share what you do and the thing you’re currently obsessing about in a space that’s socially acceptable. Sharing your excitement over a new productivity app that revolutionised the way you work is not socially acceptable conversation at a dinner table, I’ve learned. But it’s absolutely acceptable, in fact welcomed, at networking events. So, going to these will not only expand your local network but you might end up making a few new friends and helping people along the way.
You’re not alone – and you are aware of that but you’re not living as though you are. Loneliness is a real thing, but it can also be transformed with a little mindset switch. You are not the only solo entrepreneur in the world. You are not the only one who is grapple for purpose. You’re not the only one who is feeling alone in this very difficult journey. Entrepreneurship is not for the weak of heart. It takes a certain level of grit and stamina to push through boundaries and make a life worth living.