When I first started out as an entrepreneur, I never considered loneliness. Entrepreneurship was going to be an energizing experience, right? While there are definitely joys of entrepreneurship, there are also significant challenges. It wasn’t until I was working with my first attorney that I understood loneliness was a common feeling for entrepreneurs.
The moment I first experienced entrepreneurial loneliness I was out of town for business, staying up late in my hotel drafting a business plan for my new startup, Tinua. While conversing with my lawyer about my company’s formation, he talked with me about how he could help, sharing he often advised CEOs when they were stuck or unsure of what next step to take.
“Being boss can be a bit lonely at times,” he said.
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A year later, his words have echoed in more ways than one. Entrepreneurship can feel isolating. When the going gets tough and being a founder becomes difficult, here are ways to combat loneliness:
1. Find an entrepreneurial community.
There is often no greater remedy to entrepreneurial loneliness than finding community with fellow entrepreneurs. Whether you cultivate these friendships in person or virtually, building community with other founders will help bring a positive remedy to loneliness. Other entrepreneurs will understand the feeling – and know the importance of investing time and energy into a startup. You’ll find friendships that respect the dedication to your business while understanding of the challenges you’re facing.
2. Prioritize your relationships.
While it may make you uncomfortable at first, you’ll need to prioritize your relationships. As an entrepreneur, you won’t be able to balance entrepreneurial hustle while trying to be friends with everyone. Keep up the relationships you find value in maintaining long-term. There’s nothing wrong with acquaintances or new friends, but you’ll be more relationally satisfied by keeping a core group of friends and investing the time in maintaining those relationships – not building too relationships that you inherently forfeit depth.
3. Start saying no.
When I first realized I was lonely, I didn’t know why. I had numerous social commitments and attended gatherings regularly – I even had an abundance of 1:1 coffee dates on my calendar. But saying yes to everything means you’re constantly operating on the surface – and you’re saying no to something else. The opportunity cost of saying yes to everything means the people more important in your life – your close friends and family – take the back seat. As a busy entrepreneur, you only have so much time to work with. Whether it’s certain relationships or calendar obligations, say no to the good so you have time for the great.
4. Work with your mentor.
When you need help finding balance or combatting loneliness as an entrepreneur, consider talking with your mentor. Mentors can be a great resource for tactical topics of entrepreneurship, but are invaluable resources for learning how to live as an entrepreneur. Most likely, they’ve been lonely – and hopefully, they’ve overcome it. Talk with them about strategies for balancing a healthy life at work and out of work. If you’re close with your mentor, they may feel like your community, too, and may be a good phone call to make when you’re in the thick of loneliness and need advice.
5. Remember who you are.
You might lose friendships because of your dedication to your business. When this happens, you may question your decisions or focus on your startup. Remember, your gifts are different from the gifts of others. The insatiable desire to innovate and create is both the curse and blessing of the entrepreneur. Remember your gifts and remember there are other entrepreneurs that have been there.
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The entrepreneurial journey can be lonely. But always remember there is value in the process. While you must brainstorm ways to find a balance to cultivate healthy relationships, fun hobbies and strong mental health, the Friday nights you spent in the office working may one day become something that helps millions of people. It could solve an industry’s problem. It could save lives.
A fellow entrepreneur once told me, “It’s common to have at least one existential crisis a month.” The sentiment made sense to me – many entrepreneurs have felt this feeling. But as business ebbs and flows, so does the existential crisis – and bout of loneliness. Find community that will remind you of your worth as a person and a founder. Believe in what you’re doing. Find a healthy balance. And always remember: your solo hours are not in vain.