Why Entrepreneur Loneliness Is Real & What I Did To Be Happy
Becoming a freelancer in 2014 was a dream come true.
I was working independently and building something for myself.
No longer would I have to attend meetings that could have been an email and the priorities of my work day would not be derailed by a co-worker or boss.
I had escaped the world of group projects and office politics — for good.
Looking back, however, isolation and loneliness appeared not long after I turned my kitchen table into my office.
I dove headfirst into the business of building a business.
By the time my ambition and hard work began to pay off, I was forced to admit it was hurting my health, too.
I’d become the main income earner — but at a steep cost I could not have anticipated.
My mental health declined, my social anxiety climbed to new heights, and I felt disconnected from everyone in my life.
In short, I was a lonely entrepreneur.
I had to find a balance between entrepreneurial ambition and connection with others.
That shift only began once I realized taking care of myself and dealing with my loneliness and its effects would also help my business succeed.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Why Entrepreneurs Are Prone To Loneliness
Feeling lonely as an entrepreneur is much more common than you know.
In one study, half of all CEOs surveyed reported feeling lonely due to their leadership roles.
It doesn’t matter how big or small, established or new your business is.
It’s lonely at the top.
The worst part is that those feelings of loneliness have a severe impact on your ability to be an entrepreneur.
Loneliness can lead to burnout, according to another study that focused exclusively on small-to-medium enterprise entrepreneurs.
So what’s causing all this loneliness?
As it turns out, there are multiple factors involved.
Loneliness among entrepreneurs can arise from:
- Unintentional isolation while working alone all day
- Having no one to talk to or commiserate with
- Working long hours that typically extend beyond a “full-time” 40-hour work week
- Struggling with work/life balance, especially working from home — where you’re always at your place of work
- Being responsible for all of the decision-making and second-guessing yourself along the way
- Not being able to share your struggles with those in your circle who don’t understand your work or its importance
For new entrepreneurs, especially, working alone can be both a blessing and a curse.
If you’re like me and loathed group projects and teamwork, you might revel in finally getting to work alone.
But the problem with working alone means it’s much easier to isolate yourself — even when you don’t mean to.
You don’t have opportunities to take breaks to chat with co-workers. There’s no one to commiserate with about your successes or your challenges.
Not only will you often work alone as an entrepreneur, especially in the beginning, but building a business requires working a lot of hours, at least at the beginning.
It’s difficult to shut off your work life to focus on your personal life, especially when you’re doing it from home.
I worked from home at my kitchen table for the first two years of my freelance writing business.
The only time I stopped was for dinner — because we needed the table.
And most nights, I’d pull my laptop back out afterward to get more work done.
If the blessing of early entrepreneurship is that you can do what you want, when you want, the curse is that building a successful business often requires far more than 40 hours a week.
At the same time, you’re now responsible for all decision-making, too.
Before I learned how difficult it could be to make big decisions, I reveled in it.
Finally, I had the control I’d always wanted — until I discovered there are rarely clear choices.
The pressure to make the “right” choice feels daunting because it’s easy to believe that one mistake can kill your new business.
And when you have no one to talk to or bounce ideas off of, it’s easy to get lost in the spiral of trying to find the “perfect” option.
Once you’re in that spiral, loneliness can compound because another contributing factor is feeling like no one around you understands.
Unless you have friends and family who are also entrepreneurs, it can be difficult to explain why you work so many hours, why this business is so important to you, and why you’re stressed about it all — even when it’s something you’re passionate about.
I was fortunate that my husband had once owned his own business and could commiserate with me.
He gave me good advice about not worrying about the big decisions before I needed to make them.
But when talking to my friends, felt like I had to translate from one language to the next.
I couldn’t complain about a problem without also spending the energy to explain why it was a problem and why it mattered so much.
It was exhausting.
In the end, I didn’t reach out to them as often as I once had, further isolating myself and focusing more on work than my personal life.
How To Deal With The Loneliness Of Entrepreneurship And Reclaim Your Happiness
The good news is that as an entrepreneur and a leader, you’re not doomed to a lonely existence.
You have options to reduce or eliminate feelings and signs of loneliness — and it will help you and your business thrive.
Here are the ways I’ve found help you cope with entrepreneurial loneliness the most:
- Create opportunities for meaningful connection
- Get vulnerable with your friends and family
- Join an entrepreneur’s organization or mastermind
- Make your health and well-being a top priority
Create Opportunities For Meaningful Connection
I have to give a shout-out to my fellow introverts who crave solitude from time to time.
I see you.
But even those of us who want to work alone 90% of the time still need meaningful connection during the other 10%.
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to create these opportunities yourself.
Treat it like it’s part of your business — it is that important.
Set up Zoom calls with friends or fellow entrepreneurs once a week.
Give yourself “break” times to send a text or chat with a friend.
You don’t have to talk about work but you can if you know that person will get it.
You can also utilize co-working spaces if any are available in your area.
You may not meet your new BFF there but you’ll likely see the same people often enough that you can commiserate on the coffee, how good the WiFi is, or other small commonalities that will make you both feel less alone.
Get Vulnerable With Your Friends And Family
The people who care about you the most want you to succeed — and stay healthy while you do it.
Yes, you may have to explain the business side of things more often, but they want to understand so they can be there for you.
So let them.
My husband watched my mental health go downhill just two years after starting my freelance business.
He knew the way I was working wasn’t sustainable without even having to understand the finer points of client retention or marketing.
Once I opened up about my fears and concerns — and just how exhausted I was — he helped me create a plan for implementing a strict start and stop time to my day.
He (playfully and consensually) took my phone so I wouldn’t answer business emails after dinner.
No, he couldn’t help me make all of my business decisions, but he could be a sounding board that enabled me to talk through what was going on.
By opening up and letting him in, I was reminded I had never really been alone as an entrepreneur.
Join An Entrepreneur’s Organization Or Mastermind Group
If spending time with other entrepreneurs is important to you, you’ll have to make it happen.
For entrepreneurs just starting, consider looking for a small business incubator in your area.
Some are run through local colleges and universities.
Chambers of commerce and economic development organizations also organize and fund incubator programs.
You can also join membership or mastermind organizations designed specifically for entrepreneurs.
Groups like Entrepreneurs’ Organization and the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) offer online connections, access to education and information, and events to allow people to meet in person.
If you’re an established online entrepreneur, groups like Rhodium Weekend provide similar resources and connections for those running more sizeable businesses.
Finally, you can look for like-minded business owners on Meetup or other local websites where there are often entrepreneurial clubs, masterminds, or other in-person gatherings where you can network, share ideas and even vent.
Make Your Health And Well-Being A Top Priority
Whether you’re still a solopreneur or you have a team counting on you, if you’re not able to work in your business, you won’t have a business for long.
Taking care of your health is directly connected to taking care of your business.
Loneliness impacts both your physical and mental health.
Schedule a vacation.
Set a schedule so you have time away from your business.
Go to the doctor.
Talk to a therapist.
Get more sleep.
Spend more time with your loved ones.
It’s important to remember why you became an entrepreneur in the first place — and it wasn’t so you could keel over at your desk one day.
Feeling lonely as an entrepreneur might be common but it doesn’t have to be your fate.
Start by figuring out what parts of owning your own business contribute to your feelings of loneliness.
Then take a look at the bad habits you’ve developed — in the name of ambition and achieving your goals — to figure out what needs to shift.
Small changes can make a big difference.
You don’t have to give up your passion or dreams, but you do have to realize that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to follow them.
You’re not alone or broken because you’re lonely.
You’re not a bad entrepreneur or doomed to failure.
Think of ending your loneliness the same way you’d tackle struggles in your business: figure out the problem and work toward the solution.
And remember the people who love you will want to help you.
You’re never as alone as you think you are.