Tony Hsieh, entrepreneur and founder of Zappos, apparently had it all.
He was worth millions. Graduated from Harvard, surrounded by famous artists and entrepreneurs, he wrote a book called Bringing Happiness: A Path to Profit, Passion and Purpose.
When the news that Hsieh died on November 27, 2020 as a result of smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in the apartment of a friend he was staying in was a shock to many.
When news broke in the days after his death, it turned out that he had been struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, depression, and loneliness for some time. Mentally, he was in a downward spiral and the pandemic had exacerbated Hsieh's isolation and loneliness. In a Forbes article about Hsieh, his friends and family appeared to have tried unsuccessfully to intervene.
Although the fire is still being investigated, there is evidence that his drug addiction and destructive behavior caused the fire or contributed to Hsieh's inability to escape.
Entrepreneurs are a lonely bunch
Loneliness has become an epidemic in America. Global health company Cigna recently released results of a national survey that looked at the effects of loneliness in the United States and found that nearly half of Americans say they feel lonely.
The problem of isolation is even worse for entrepreneurs. It turns out that starting and growing a business can be extremely lonely. A recent study found that entrepreneurs who are lonely at work are more likely to burn out. Another study showed that half of CEOs report feelings of loneliness in their roles.
"We were told it was' fake it until you can do it 'and' just keep pushing and you will get it," says Jay Clouse, an entrepreneur who recently became SPI's Community Experience Director. "But it is very, very hard way. And we fear sharing the challenges because people think if it isn't successful then I'm not going to pay attention to it or invest in it.
"We're afraid to let people into the reality of what is happening because we don't want to undermine our own efforts," says Jay.
The need for connectedness is a basic component of psychological growth and well-being. However, there are many forces that contribute to corporate isolation, including:
Others don't understand entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are unique people. It takes a certain type of person to take risks and go their own way, and they may have to constantly grapple with the "doubters" and handshakes of family members. Not everyone understands or tolerates their decisions.
“Being an entrepreneur is not normal. Most people don't, ”says entrepreneur Jeff Gargas, co-founder and COO of the Teach Better team. “Because of this, most people don't understand what it's like to run a business. Most people don't understand how your brain works. And when most people don't understand how you think, what you're doing, and how you feel, it's lonely. "
Entrepreneurs need to make the final decisions
For entrepreneur Heather Newton, founder of Protogame Online, what creates the greatest feelings of loneliness is “the pressure to make the ultimate decision on everything that has to happen in my business. While I can ask input from my trusted circle of friends, I know that the decision is ultimately mine and that it can feel scary and lonely – especially if the decision is big and hairy. "
There is added pressure knowing your decisions affect your co-workers and your family. There can be a ton of people who depend on you to make the right decisions and to be successful. When you are solely responsible for making decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of others, there is no one you can turn to for assistance. It's just you
Entrepreneurs usually work alone
“I used to travel alone as a horse photographer,” says Olie Moss, founder of the Equine Photo School. “I would live alone, far away from friends and family. Life as a traveling entrepreneur is tough. I could at least call home and chat with my parents who are also entrepreneurs who understand the stress and struggle. "
The pandemic has made this problem worse. Studies have found an "alarming" increase in loneliness since the arrival of COVID-19. More and more people are working from home – alone.
“I spend so much time at my computer doing project assignments, organizing, and so on,” says Jeff Gargas. “Even with a team, most of my days are just me. I love it when I have meetings or when someone interrupts my day because so often I have almost no contact. "
Entrepreneurs face long hours and tough realities
It is common knowledge that entrepreneurship can mean long hours. It takes time and commitment to bring your vision to life. Studies have shown that 25 percent of founders work more than 60 hours a week, which affects their physical and mental health.
And it goes without saying that 60 hours a week leaves little time for relationships. Beyond long hours, the financial burden of starting a business and waiting months or even years to become profitable can put a strain on your partner and family, making you even more vulnerable to isolation and loneliness.
Entrepreneurs often have to face tough realities. "A lot of entrepreneurs have teams," says Jay. “They are leaders of organizations and often find that they need to protect some of the difficult realities from their team in order to protect the team’s psychological well-being. Also, your family likely doesn't have a lot of experience with it or understand it. So who are you talking to "
5 ways to combat loneliness as an entrepreneur
What is the solution? Here are some tips to help you stay connected, stay happy and healthy.
# 1: look for connections
According to Jay Clouse, finding people to talk to and making real connections is important.
He is actively looking for people who understand. When he started his business, he attended a number of local meetings in Columbus, where he lives, and built a local community.
“I just think it's really important to talk about it. Difficult as it is, you have to be able to confide in someone – it can be a partner, a friend, a business partner. You have to tell someone if you are feeling this way or it will fester and get worse. And it seems to build up and get harder the more time you let go. "
During a particularly difficult time in his corporate journey, Jay reached out to a friend who was in a similar situation, and the two met for dinner once a week. “We haven't talked so much about our business. We just knew we were both there. There was something to it, this camaraderie and connection, knowing that this person is getting it and that they don't ask how the business is going because they know I don't really want to talk about it because it's a challenge. "
For Heather Newton it is helpful to attend conventions and meetings with others in her industry. "When we're not in a pandemic, I attend several local and extra-state board game conventions and other meetings for entrepreneurs and different types of creatives. Whenever I'm feeling lonely, it's nice to have an appointment on the calendar that I can I can look forward to being with like-minded people. "
But during the pandemic, Heather says, she participates in peer mastermind video calls and keeps up to date with what her favorite communities are doing through online groups. "I try to be picky and only invest my time in online spaces in an encouraging, fun, and hopeful tone."
# 2: create "water cooler" moments
Another way to make connections is to incorporate water-cooled moments throughout the day.
If you're a regular employee in an office, you have several options for connecting with people in the dining room or in the water cooler. But as an entrepreneur, you've probably left those days in the corporate booth behind you for good reason.
Instead, set up a Zoom call so you and your friends and co-workers can check in and chat. This can be a virtual lunch, happy hour or a coffee break
At SPI Media we sometimes have a virtual happy hour on Friday afternoons to chat about various topics (such as our record collections) or to play games together.
# 3: Be vulnerable
There is a level of trust business owners need to have, and showing vulnerability can feel like a kiss of death to anyone who tries “to fake it until you can get it”.
But being vulnerable is key to fighting loneliness. Sharing your struggles and fears with your spouse, mentor, or trusted friend promotes a real connection.
“It's really easy to tie your identity into the business you're building. So when you admit that the company is struggling, it can feel very personal, ”says Jay.
“If you haven't worked yourself to understand that you are not what you do, you are not the business, this is a difficult gap to overcome. And it takes humility, especially from the position of having your identity so embedded in the business, asking for help or sharing the challenges, or admitting that things are not going as well as you would like because it is feels like admitting your own mistakes or exposing your own weaknesses. And that's not the case, but it's really easy to feel that way. "
# 4: Keep mental and physical health first
Of course, getting enough sleep and exercise is common to combat depression, stress, and feelings of loneliness. And drinking enough water and eating healthy can help too.
It is also a good idea to keep a journal of your feelings. This can help you clarify what you are feeling and help you figure out what to do to find a solution. Sometimes feelings of loneliness can be unconscious. You may be angry or sad, but the core of those feelings is your isolation. Writing down your feelings and meeting them face to face can clear everything up.
Seeing a psychologist is always a good idea, especially if you find yourself taking steps to feel connected, but this won't work.
# 5: Join a membership community
Online communities are also a great way to find other like-minded people and fight loneliness. They allow you to hang out online regularly and (before the pandemic) meet with local members too.
When Jay started out, he found communities like Tropical MBA. And then he started his own online community, the Unreal Collective, which recently partnered with SPI Pro. "If you can't find the community you're looking for, you can build your own," he says.
Here at SPI Media we knew our viewers were looking for connections. When surveyed, “contacting other entrepreneurs” was high on the list of reasons for joining an online community. That's why we at SPI Pro are taking steps to help entrepreneurs feel less lonely.
“We really focus on educating the community about connections,” says Jay, “to the extent that we often hold events so we can connect people in real time over video. We want each member to find at least one other person they can trust and connect with as quickly as possible. We don't give you digital space and say "good luck". We welcome you to this room and help you connect with other people, be it through our events or through our mastermind program, so that you can meet other people continuously on a weekly or monthly basis. These are really, really big aspects of SPI Pro membership. "
If you want to connect with other entrepreneurs, check out SPI Pro. If you'd like to start your own community, visit the live training workshop below. Let's fight loneliness together.
Start your own community
Attend two free live webinars with our friends at Circle.so.
In the two training videos titled "How to Create Your Own Community in a Circle: Our Simple 5 Part Framework Based on Real-Life Examples" we help you take the guesswork out of creating your community and bring you back the scenes too community building with dozens of examples from Circle's most successful communities.