Research has shown that entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. It is, however, mostly ignored and rarely discussed.
Loneliness can make the world feel a little bit devoid of color and bleak at times. Not solitude, but loneliness. That feeling of being alone, craving human company, conversation and accountability.
Did you know that it is slowly becoming an epidemic? Loneliness leads to depression, stress, anxiety and can cause a range of mental illnesses. People are living alone, away from extended families. We are becoming a society of virtual residents. We are also living longer.
The Gallup Wellbeing Index showed that 45% of entrepreneurs report being stressed compared to 42% of “other workers.” Entrepreneurs also were reported to having “worried a lot” — 34% vs. 30%.
According to a story in Harvard Business Review, half of CEOs from the CEO Snapshot Survey reported experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role. Some of the first-time solo entrepreneurs have reported feeling this more acutely than others. In the Self-Employment Review conducted by Julie Deane, the founder of Cambridge Satchel Company in the UK, isolation was cited as one of the biggest challenges faced by business owners and sole traders, with almost 30 percent of respondents saying that it was either “a big problem” or “something of a problem”.
Combined with the pressures of starting and setting up a business, it is hard to be the leader, the person responsible for all decision-making. It is tough at the top.
Working from home can be isolating, and often self-employed freelancers miss the social interaction and sense of community in the workplace.
When I started on this journey, I found that I lacked the time to create any new social relationships or nurture existing friendships. There is no one to share the load, or the despairs of running a business, or even the joys of small victories and successes. Many entrepreneurs also report “money worries” as a reason for this increasing level of social isolation and anxiety.
Here are four things that can help combat loneliness:
- Grow and nurture an online community of like-minded individuals. Social Media is not just for selling or marketing. Instead, deploy it to connect with other like-minded individuals through Facebook groups and communities, Instagram hashtags, and twitter lists. I have formed some close relationships, found sound advice, and collaborators through these networks. Although social media has been partly blamed for the growing epidemic of loneliness, Grasnet Survey also showed that almost 59 percent of respondents reported to feeling less lonely when online, and almost 82 percent found it easier to talk about being lonely when online. Admitting to loneliness is often the first step to seeking help.
- Go out and network, and make real-world human connections. It is very crucial as solo entrepreneurs to also form real-world connections, even if it is just a quick catch-up over a cup of coffee. Networking events are very useful not just to create business links and connections, but also to get the sense of community and find a support network. It is important to keep a realistic view that it might take time to find the right network or group for you. Not every network is likely to work for everyone. Often entrepreneurs can be introverted in nature, and going out into a room full of strangers can seem daunting and scary. Also, with pressures of work, it is easier to find excuses for not taking time out for live events. But, it is very important to put ourselves out of our comfort zone once in a while. For instance, attending Media Influence Live 2018 recently filled me up with a renewed sense of vigour, sparked many new ideas and connections, but most importantly fostered a strong sense of belonging and community. If no such community or event exists in your local area, why not start one! It can also be helpful to find a co-working space to work from a few hours a week.
- Celebrate achievements as much as focus on the to-do lists. Often there is a tendency, especially in the early stages of growing a business, to focus on the long list of things to do. This also means that you are constantly looking ahead and not focussing on the present. It is crucial to celebrate achievements at the end of each week, or each month to give a renewed sense of purpose and energy. This can remind us why we started the business when things seem tough, and help with a general sense of well-being.
- Find an accountability partner. The one thing that many solo entrepreneurs have reported missing the most is having the accountability of working in an office or corporate team, and the way it can motivate and drive them forward. This is why it can be helpful to find someone who is in a different but related business, someone who is at a similar stage of their entrepreneurial journey, someone who you can related to and find it easy to communicate with. Having such an ‘accountability buddy’ can be help with the isolation and loneliness of working alone.
What are the signs of loneliness? These can range from physical symptoms such as pains and aches to heart palpitations, panic attacks, low energy and lack of motivation.
Loneliness is as bad for health as long-term illness. It is a disease. Social Isolation can be both a cause and symptom of other mental health disorders, and therefore it is so important to recognise the signs and triggers and experiment with different strategies to find out which works best for you.
Pragya is a Creative Strategist, TEDx Speaker and Founder of a creative studio Hedge and Hog Prints and social enterprise The Art Tiffin, campaigning for creativity and mental health. Pragya has extensive experience of working with schools and organisations, running workshop