For the last twelve years, I have largely worked in solitude in front of a computer screen. First as a remote employee and then later as a business owner, most of my workday as been spent at home or in a small office with minimal human contact during the day. Even today, there are at most two other people in the MarketBeat office on any given workday. There are days that go by where I do not speak to anyone in person during the workday, outside of a coffee or lunch meeting here and there. After work, I find myself helping with our two young children most days leaving my wife and I little time to have adult conversation.
Building businesses can be a lonely game. This is a reality of entrepreneurship. It is lonely in the sense that you may not see very many people during the day. It is lonely in the sense that you have work long hours. It is lonely in the sense that the people that love you may not be fully onboard with you pursuing your dream. It is lonely in that other people do not understand the challenges and pressures you face as an entrepreneur. For example, how do you sleep at night knowing that your employees’ grocery bills and mortgage payments are dependent on you making your business work? Building a business is just not easy and only another entrepreneur at a similar level of success can really understand the challenges you face.
Entrepreneurial loneliness is one of the most difficult and least talked about aspects of business ownership. It is a real thing. It affects a lot of people and it has affected me over the years. In 2013, I grew tired of working alone at home during the day as a lone wolf entrepreneur with no one to talk about business with. I decided to get involved in the downtown community and startup community in Sioux Falls, which lead to a lot of great business relationships and hires for MarketBeat. It was a great first step and I have learned several strategies to cope with founder loneliness over the years and wanted to share them in this article:
- Lean on Your First Place and Third Place
Most people have three different groups of people in their life: their family, their coworkers and a third group of people such as their church, a friend group, or another community group. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg describes these groups as the first place (family), the second place (work) and the third place (friends or a community group). If you don’t have a lot of coworkers in your life due to the nature of the business that you run, it becomes natural to spend more time with your family and other community groups you may be a part of to make up for the lack of social interaction at the work place.
- Work in Public
Before COVID-19 disrupted everyone’s lives, I spent the first hour or two of each workday working on my laptop in a coffee shop. This provided the opportunity to have a bit of conversation and community before totally gluing myself to a computer screen during the day. If I am honest with myself, I’m not the most productive working at a coffee shop but I do feel like I have had a more successful day when the workday includes more human contact.
- Join a service group or community group.
I have been involved in 1 Million Cups since in Sioux Falls since it launched in 2014 and have been a member of Downtown Rotary for the last few years. Both of these groups have weekly meetings, which provide a regular point of weekly contact with other leaders and business owners in the community.
There is nothing that will make you feel better physically and feel better about yourself than some rigorous exercise. I try to walk at least twenty miles each week on my treadmill or with my daughter in her stroller to get physical activity in in a job that is otherwise sedentary. I have no special knowledge about exercise, but I always feel better after a good workout and a good sweat.
- Commune with other business owners.
There is something very edifying about having a conversation with another business owner that is in the same or similar industry as you and is at a similar level of success. I had lunch with another successful business owner that has a digital publishing company in Sioux Falls a couple of weeks ago, and we could really understand the problems and opportunities each other’s businesses faced without having to explain a lot to one another. These types of conversations can help you understand that you are not alone in the world and there are other people that face similar challenges that you face.
- Take People Breaks.
Spending an hour with a friend or a business acquaintance over lunch or coffee is time well spent. You can certainly go overboard with this (as I have in the past) but spending one of your eight hours with someone else in the business community is time well spent.
- Build a Team
While not every new business owner can afford employees on day one, building a team of people that you love to work with is the best way to combat founder loneliness over the long term. I’m not one to go so far to say that my coworkers are a work family, but you feel less alone in the world when you are apart of a group of people working together during the day to achieve common goals.
It can be difficult to be successful in business if you have your emotions or social needs are out of balance. None of these ideas will double your business overnight, but they will help you get into a healthy mental place where you are capable of doing your best work.