Everybody has something that chews them up and, for me, that thing was always loneliness. The cinema has the power to make you not feel lonely, even when you are. Tom Hanks
Many leaders and business owners, despite spending their days surrounded by people, things to do and lots of activity around them surprisingly (often to them and others) will at some point voice a feeling of loneliness ‘at the top’. A lack of support, a sounding board to debate and discuss, a feeling that everything rests on their shoulders, a sense that there is no-one there for them are often fuelling these feelings of isolation.
But is loneliness perception or a reality?
The numbers of ‘loneliness’ are staggering. In 2012, 63% of CEOs polled by Harris Interactive Service Bureau said they experienced feelings of loneliness in their role. Carolyn Gregoire wrote in a 2016 Huffington Post article “Our time has been called the ‘age of loneliness’. It's estimated that one in five Americans suffers from persistent loneliness, and while we're more connected than ever before, social media may actually be exacerbating the problem.” In the last month, in my own circles, I have been hearing from many leaders, entrepreneurs and executives about how lonely they too are feeling.
From the boardroom to home, there is no doubt there are more opportunities than ever to stay connected. The explosive social media scene has turned our world of making connections upside down, multiple networking groups provide meet-ups to connect in real life, industry specific events enable us to talk to people that get our professional world and days jam-packed with meetings fill diaries - surely this should leave us feeling connected and supported?
Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp commented in a November 2015 Business Insider magazine article - “It’s lonely, but you also have to understand that that’s a little bit in your head.” She adds, “If you feel alone, it’s self-inflicted, because there is a right way to involve the people who love you, who love the vision, and who love the customer…They can handle it, and your sense that they can’t is in your head.”
It is widely assumed that entrepreneurs operate alone, overcoming all challenges and bringing their ideas to market out of sheer individual drive and personality.
This could not be further from the truth!
Entrepreneurs understand that it is essential to have a core network around them to maximise the chances of productive ideas coming to fruition.
Dame Anita Roddick, founder of cosmetics giant The Body Shop, once said: ‘We entrepreneurs are loners, vagabonds, troublemakers. Success is simply a matter of finding and surrounding ourselves with those open-minded and clever souls who can take our insanity and put it to good use.’
Even Steve Jobs, who was widely recognised as a loner, is said to have shared with his biographer Walter Isaacson, ‘Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they are doing, you say WOW and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.’
So whilst the emotion of loneliness may be true perhaps, in reality, it is not.
Are you really on your own or is it more about the choices you are making? Are you perhaps choosing to not reach out, to not connect, to not ask for help, to not trust those that care about you and your success? Maybe it’s up to you to ask those you trust for the gift of time. Time to bounce ideas around about what’s next, to talk through the various ways in which a problem could be solved, to be your sounding board, the shoulder to cry on. To maybe, just for once, talk about you for a change.
And maybe it’s time for all of us, as individuals, to think about how much quality time we are really gifting the key people in our network. Good quality time to chat openly, to explore, to debate, to ideate, to simply hang and enjoy each others company. Maybe it’s time for all of us to become more aware and more present with what is truly going on for those around us, those that we care about, that inspire us, that we respect, that we also trust – to ask how are you today? Is there anything I can help you with? Hey, let’s catch up.
Your key network is there for you and closer than you think – you simply have to be brave enough to reach out and connect because their encouragement and support is exactly what gets you to where you want to go in life. And it simply cannot be done on your own.
In the words of Audrey Hepburn “Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it's at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: The first is to help yourself, the second is to help others."