Across multiple surveys, one of the top reasons entrepreneurs cite for starting their own businesses is to work for themselves. The benefits of being your own boss are clear, including freedom, flexibility, and control.
The downside? A pervasive loneliness that nearly every entrepreneur experiences.
When you believe in what you’re doing more than anyone else, when the weight of business decisions falls on your shoulders alone, or when no one else understands the enormous challenges you’re dealing with, the resulting isolation can be overwhelming.
To make matters worse, founders are so busy that they often have trouble finding time to build and maintain relationships.
Psychologists have found that those who lack a healthy dose of regular social interaction are more prone to stress, depression, and poor sleep, among other factors. In the long run, the consequences of loneliness can be deadly serious, including an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and a shorter lifespan.
In the topsy-turvy, high-stakes startup journey, loneliness is not something to ignore. Without a good support network or the encouragement, perspective, and accountability it can offer, your effectiveness as a leader and your overall well-being will likely be hampered.
The antidote to loneliness is simple: meaningful relationships. As much as you need dependable funding or a good business plan, you need other people who will keep you company along the way. But the how of developing such relationships is a bit more challenging, especially for entrepreneurs who don’t have much mental bandwidth or emotional capacity to spare.
Fortunately, supportive friendships can come in many forms, and scientific research has consistently shown that relationships depend more on the quality of time spent together than the quantity of time. And the benefits you’ll receive from having other people in your life will far outweigh any sacrifices in time or energy you may need to make in your work.
If you’re feeling that tug of loneliness, now is as good a time as any to try to build up your support network. Here are four of the best places where entrepreneurs can find meaningful relationships:
Across the limited studies conducted on entrepreneurial support networks, spouses have been consistently rated as one of the most critical sources of support. Even if your partner isn’t working on the business with you, they are involved because of the shared financial and emotional risks. If your spouse is interested in the inner workings of the business, use them as an adviser or sounding board whenever you feel stuck. If they’re not as interested, set up brief check-ins on a daily or weekly basis. Simply being able to share your high and low from the day (or the week) will help get some heavy burdens off your chest.
2. Entrepreneur communities
From Entrepreneurs’ Organization to Young Presidents’ Organization to Unreasonable, many networks exist to give entrepreneurs a safe and supportive environment. These are places where you can learn from peers, network, and connect with valuable resources. Startup incubators and co-working spaces are also great places to meet other founders.
If you are fortunate enough to find such peers, encourage one another to connect beyond your scheduled gatherings. Maybe have a weekly coffee meeting with one or two others to share your respective challenges and how you’re holding up. Or organize an annual or semi-annual weekend retreat to dig into where you most need support in your personal and professional development.
Every founder is going to have areas of the business that are far outside his or her wheelhouse. In this case, an advisory board or a team of informal advisers could be an invaluable resource. The key is to find individuals you trust and who bring a particular expertise that your company needs, and get them excited about your organizational mission. If cultivated well, such relationships can, over time, provide essential know-how as well as meaningful mentorship.
4. Professional help
Even if you have support from all of the above, it’s always a good idea to have a therapist or coach with professional training in your corner. The entrepreneurial journey has the tendency to bring out the best and worst in each of us, and having someone who can help untangle what you’re experiencing and nudge you toward personal growth is a huge asset. Executive coaches can talk you through tough situations and work through interpersonal conflicts, all with the aim of helping you succeed both professionally and personally.
More than almost anything else in life, relationships support the well-being of our bodies, minds, and spirits. As a result, entrepreneurs who have dependable people in their lives tend to be more grounded, clear-headed, and able to weather the hardships that inevitably come.
The startup journey is already extremely challenging. Trying to do it alone can be overwhelming. Let others in on the experience with you, and you’ll find it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done.