How I’ve Learned to Temper My Loneliness
Every month, I send an email update to our investors and advisors. It’s a helpful exercise to step back to reflect on what’s working and what’s not, but, candidly, it’s harder to admit the struggles than the victories. I feel like I have to project an invincible image so that employees, investors, and members of the broader community have confidence in what we’re doing. This partial image creates a barrier of illusion that doesn’t always feel great.
What I’ve found is that most startup CEOs and founders, no matter what stage or momentum, are dealing with some intense problems all of the time, and the good investors and advisors know it. In fact, they’d rather hone in on the challenges, because that’s where they can help the most.
For us, we’re in the process of going to market, defining our business model, and building our team. Each area is not without challenge and consternation. While we’ve raised venture capital financing, there’s not a ton of wiggle room, and I feel a constant internal pressure around performance. The struggle is real.
Even with many supportive people around me, it still feels lonely. Running a startup is hard. The pressure of working long days and maintaining a positive attitude in the face of constant challenges is isolating.
Building Reaction Commerce is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my career, and the data on loneliness is scary. It’s unhealthy, especially for mental and physical health. When mental and physical health are in bad shape, productivity plummets and vulnerability rises. There has been some talk about loneliness and depression in tech, but I wanted to add my voice and share what’s worked and not worked for me.
I’ve tried meetups and, truthfully, they make me feel more alone. The same goes for conferences, cocktail parties, dinner parties, and other events. It’s important to be active in the community and these gatherings serve a purpose, but they often don’t help me to feel less isolated. I can be surrounded in a room full of people or have tons of followers in the social spheres, but I can still feel disconnected and lonely. When I do attend these types of events, what works for me is that I try to be of service and connect with at least one person on a meaningful level.
Here are some of the things that help me to feel less alone:
- I have a standing breakfast meeting with a friend who is also a Founder/CEO. Because this is a regular habit, we cut through the noise and quickly get to the real, good stuff. I look forward to this breakfast more than most things on my calendar.
- I write in my journal every day. I started keeping a daily diary this year, and it’s been an enormous influence. It helps me to reduce the friction in my thoughts, and it’s a simple five-minute exercise. I also updated this site and am blogging and sharing more frequently.
- I continue to mentor, advise, and give back to others, even if in small ways. Getting out of my head and focusing on something or someone else helps to give me perspective. After spending time with others, I often feel less alone and that my problems aren’t so unique. Being of service, even when it’s outside of tech and startups, is good for centering and feeling part of a community.
- I have a regular yoga practice with an instructor and class that I love. I also go on regular group bicycle rides, hike, run, and do other forms of group and individual exercise.
- I cherish beginner’s mind and enjoy having hobbies and areas where I’m learning or experiencing something new. I enjoyed learning to play the guitar with an instructor and a community that kept me engaged and challenged. Learning to play the guitar is something I plan to get back to in 2017, as it was a welcome relief from my daily world and tapped into a side of my brain that felt neglected. Another hobby I enjoy is photography. A good photowalk centers my mind and fills my soul.
- I have the sweetest dog in the world. I know that not everyone is an animal person, and some people prefer cats to dogs. For me, having a pet is about having a trusted companion. My dog, Grace, is an incredible teacher. Her loyalty and spirit are infectious, and she reminds me of the goodness and simplicity of life.
- I read. This one may sound odd as something that helps with loneliness, because reading is a solo activity, but reading connects me to bigger ideas and thinking. While I read by myself, what I learn through reading gives me more energy and ideas, that in turn, I often want to share and discuss with others. It expands my horizons and helps me to feel more full.
If you have any tips or suggestions for what helps you with loneliness, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Originally published at saralouhicks.com on November 30, 2016.