Will I have enough money? Is my brand image strong enough? What the heck do I include in a business plan? Am I capable of navigating social media? Will this idea connect with my target audience?
We ask ourselves a lot of questions when we start a business… None of which include the likes of: Am I mentally strong enough to build this? What resources can I surround myself with to prepare for the hard days? How will this effect my life and who I am as a person? How will I maintain my authentic self as I embark on this chaotic journey?
Imagine if these questions were considered just as much as the first set.
I was bit by the entrepreneur bug early. My first business opportunity came to me as a senior in college and it fueled a fire in me unlike anything else had ever before. Screw going to med school, I couldn’t stand thinking about spending anymore years in the class room, I was going to be a business owner.
I dove full force into my first business (that I co-owned). It took over my entire life. Who has time for friends when you’re in the start up phase? They’ll still be there for you when things settle down, right? (Not so much). I didn’t need a personal life, building this amazing thing from the ground up was much more important. On the rare occasion that I did spend time with friends, putting my phone down or not taking my laptop with me had a snowball’s chance in hell of happening.
When I grew apart from that business venture and decided to go off on my own, not much changed. I worked all the hours of all the days convincing myself that I had superhuman powers enough to combat whatever this “burnout” thing was that people talk about. Eventually, I ran out of steam.
I started to realize that I need to take care of myself. That I need to interact with human beings instead of just working from my couch every day. That was a hard thing to realize, but do you know what’s even harder? Realizing that I had no relationships to go back to. Maybe it was my own fault for neglecting my friendships, or maybe we had just grown apart and were at such different places in life that we couldn’t connect anymore. That was the first time I truly started to feel lonely – not at the start of my business, but at the lowest part of my business, which only added to the downward spiral of anxiety and depression I was becoming lured into. It was a sneaking little bug that I wasn’t expecting to deal with. This is just one more peril of owning a business that no one tells you about before you jump into the water.
I want to get out in the world, and I want to create lasting, genuine friendships, but I also want to go nowhere and stay at home in my yoga pants. The other hangup is that, as a startup, when you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. We already know that entrepreneurship can take a huge toll on our mental health, but when you combine that with the isolating aspect of it, it’s no wonder that this is so damn hard.
When we decide to take on the title of “owner”, we neglect to realize that this literally translates to “on my own” and “sole decision maker”. This color or that color for the logo? Invest in Facebook ads or social media manager? What product should be launched next? Who will be hired for this? Where does all the money go (and why is there never any left)? This is all now 100% on your shoulders. And it’s exhilarating, exhausting, and alienating.
Loneliness is a terrible feeling. And it’s something that we need to deal with. Nicole Amesbury, LMHC at Talkspace, a NYC startup that connects people directly with licensed therapists for Unlimited Messaging Therapy that’s as low as $25/week (paid monthly), explains, “When people spend too much time alone they begin to have a decrease in their mental functioning. An extreme example would be what we have learned from people who have been in solitary confinement, but there have been lots of experiments examining the effects of isolation, both physically and mentally. Isolation interferes with sleep patterns, verbal reasoning and attention. People can develop a lack of motivation, mood instability and paranoia. The symptoms are severe enough that productivity tanks and work does not get done.”
Now, that might sound like an extreme, but this is an issue we absolutely need to be looking at in a more intense light. Amesbury adds, “Where I have seen this really take its toll is with lack of sleep. Because business owners often do multiple positions (i.e. the work of more than one person) they stop sleeping and spend more time alone. Enough sleep deprivation and people can and do hallucinate and have increased thoughts of suicide.”
“People who get stuck in loneliness have not done anything wrong. None of us is immune to feelings of isolation, any more than we are immune to feelings of hunger or physical pain.” – John Cacioppo, psychologist and author of Loneliness
It’s wired into our DNA to have a group of people to share life with, and neglecting that need can has some pretty serious consequences, even when it comes to starting a business. Here are a bunch of ways to facilitate genuine connections in your life and with your fellow entrepreneurs. We all deserve to feel less alone on this roller coast ride of start up life!
1.) Build a tribe
When I decided to take Gem Nation from a service based program to a community building effort, it changed my life in ways I could have never imagined. I wanted to bring all the amazing entrepreneurs I had met over the years together in one creative space. What I didn’t expect was for this space to be so cathartic for myself. Whenever I’m struggling with something, I either open up to my group or find a way to facilitate a discussion on the issue. Plus, seeing other people help and inspire one another gives me so much motivation to keep doing what I do! Not sure where to start? Here are the best ways to start building your community.
2.) Join a mastermind
Even if you manage a team or have a physical location for your business outside of your home, you aren’t exempt from isolation. You might be surrounded by other people, but you’re still on your own mentally – all the decisions, the brainstorming, staying motivated, etc. You need to nourish your mind and spirit with other likeminded people, which means other “owners”, bosses, and people who are running their own show. Masterminds are so great because you get to be a part of an exclusive community that is dedicated to helping one other solve problems, give advice, and share connections. It’s peer-to-peer mentoring at the most extraordinary level. According to Forbes.com, once you are in a mastermind, if you’re lucky enough to be invited to one, that feeling of “being alone” while running your business is significantly reduced, and it’s also FUN. Imagine adding FUN back into your business!
3.) Find a business bestie
In the moments of “what the heck am I doing?” your business bestie is there to save the day to put a halt to that breakdown. The great thing is, they don’t even have to be in your industry. The only requirements, according to YSF Magazine, are that you are both committed to having each other’s backs, sharing resources, and listening to and encouraging each other often. Anna Colibri, marketing solutions expert, explains, “A business bestie can offset this solopreneur reality. He or she knows some of the hardships you have faced or will face; most importantly, a business confidant can definitely empathize because of their understanding of business.”
4.) Set boundaries and a routine
I am not good at this one (I work in my yoga pants every day and I can’t set standard business hours for the life of me). Luckily, we have lifestyle and career coach Harper Spero here to give us some direction. In the midst of a cold New York City winter and the start of a business without an office, she spent a significant amount of time in her pajamas without leaving her apartment. She reveals, “It was extremely isolating. I started questioning if I had become an introvert after being an extrovert my whole life… What I learned from this was how important it is to wake up at the same time everyday, put on real clothes and get out of the house. Routines can be challenging yet they’re scientifically proven to be effective.”
5.) Put people smarter than you on your team (or in your corner)
This one comes from my pal, Mark Cuban (okay fine, maybe we’re not business besties yet, but someday). Whether it’s when you hire employees, accept people into your tribe, or generate your network, never be intimidated by someone who has a skill that you don’t. Be honored that you have them in your corner and learn from them and then make a return deposit with knowledge of what you’re an expert on when someone else needs it. Don’t build or join a community that’s so niche specific that no one is adding anything extra into the gene pool. You are the product of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so pick people who challenge you to be even better than you are. If you feel like the only expert leading your inner circle, it’s time you open your mind, swallow your inner need to compete, and appreciate the wisdom others are willing and able to share with you.
6.) Maintain your personal relationships
Also another one I need to work on. However, there’s compiling evidence that people who surround themselves in strong, personal relationships not only live longer, but also cope better with stress, and exhibit better overall health. There’s even one study that found doubling your group of friends (IRL people, not online) has the same effect on your wellbeing as a 50% increase in income!
… Keep reading our recent post on Maintaining Personal Relationships When You Have a Demanding Career.
The most successful ventures often involve teamwork – and you don’t have to have an army of paid employees under you in order to cultivate that kind of team environment. My love, Tara Krach from Diva Gone Domestic, suggests to, “surround yourself with other business owners. By collaborating, networking and having friends that are also business owners you have an immediate support group. The only friends that truly understand what your daily life and stress is like is other girl bosses so keep them close! In addition to having a network of movers & shakers helping counteract the amount of “alone-time” I have, it’s a great way to bounce ideas off of someone who may not be in my industry but that has a different perspective than me.”
8.) Be social on social media
It’s easy to get so caught up in promoting your latest product or press feature that you forget to actually be present and interactive on social media.
Blogging expert and a fellow entrepreneur, Megan Kubasch, shared with me, “Currently I’m in a bit of a down swing that has cut into my productivity, and I know it is because I am isolated from one of my basic needs: human interaction. Something that has helped me tremendously is by networking with other like-minded entrepreneurs on a daily basis. Just chatting with them about daily goal strategies and keeping each other accountable helps to break up the monotony of emails. Creating a Slack group to maintain regular communication helps. Joining Facebook groups (like Gem Nation [wink]) is also a great way to connect with other individuals who might be feeling isolated.”
9.) Be with humans
“But sometimes the digital communication isn’t enough. Sometimes you legitimately need to get out of the house and be around other human beings. Go to a local coffee shop. Check out a library near you. Research networking events in your local area. Find a way to get in touch with people,” says Megan, “Even if it is just to order a cup of coffee or borrow a few books. Human interaction is so much more necessary than we give it credit for.”
10.) Spend quality time with yourself
It’s important to note the distinction between being alone and being lonely. You can be alone, and at peace with yourself, without loneliness setting in. As I mentioned earlier, you can also be surrounded by people without being “alone” in any sense and still feel consumed with loneliness. “What sets the lonely apart is a perceived isolation, the sense that their relationships do not meet their social needs” explains John Cacioppo, psychologist and author of Loneliness. Consciously deciding to spend time alone getting to know your inner thoughts through activities like meditation, journaling, and anything that encourages self-awareness, will help you find more alignment and comfort with your authentic self. I love the way health coach Ali Shapiro explains this concept, “The more you’re with yourself, the less isolated, invisible and small you feel. This is the paradox, and how change occurs: what we embrace, dissolves.”
Ultimately, it’s vital for your success that you surround yourself with other innovation seeking, risk craving, passion exploding business owners that can relate and connect with you and this crazy lifestyle we live. Even though expanding your networking can be difficult at times, strive for a few BFF4L level relationships with your creative pals instead of keeping business and pleasure separate! I promise you won’t regret it. <3