I recently had breakfast with my childhood friend, Shelley. We got together in our hometown the day before her 40th birthday. As old friends do, we talked about the ups and downs of the past few years- our kids, our husbands, our parents, our work. Our conversation was reflective and honest as we tried to describe the “big picture” of our respective lives.
One of the themes that was surprisingly pervasive in our conversation was our shared awareness of how often we both experience loneliness. Despite having full, outwardly successful lives- lives with schedules full of time with people- isolation is a constant danger.
Is it being 40-ish? Is it part of being a boss or a leader or an entrepreneur?
The more I talk with people in the “middle” of life, the more I hear about loneliness. And the more I talk to entrepreneurs, the more I hear about loneliness.
Entrepreneurs between the ages of 30 and 50 face the double-whammy of risk for loneliness.
A recent study from Cigna found that 46% of American adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely, while 47% report feeling left-out.
Making friends as an adult is harder than it was when we were kids or young adults, but we still have the deep need for friendship.
Just like everyone else, entrepreneurs are human, with a need for human connections too! Let’s look at beating isolation and having friendships as an adult:
Why we all need friends
There are plenty of things you sacrifice as an entrepreneur; weekends away, leisure activities, sleep… but all of those things are relatively easy to pick back up again when you are less hectic. Friendships – not so much. Like any kind of relationship, friendships need some kind of nurturing, otherwise you might find yourself with casual acquaintances, but no friends.
Perhaps this is one reason why many entrepreneurs find themselves with feelings of loneliness and isolation. If you’re not able to keep up friendships or relationships, where will you go when you need the support of another human?
We all need friends for a number of reasons:
- They help us combat loneliness
- They help shape our thoughts and ideas
- They can give us much-needed reality checks
- They can act as a vital support
- They can help sharpen our minds and improve our overall happiness.
From a scientific perspective, the whole evolutionary basis of friendships isn’t yet well-understood, but the bottom line is that friendships help us to survive. Consider this from Harvard Medical School:
“Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.
Conversely, a relative lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, as well as with increased mortality. One study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”
A University of North Carolina study showed that loneliness can “vastly elevate” a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, making it as dangerous to your health as a lack of physical inactivity in youth or diabetes in old age.
On the other hand, researchers are starting to discover more about what happens to the brain when people have strong friendships. One theory posits that friendships trigger the neurobiological endogenous opioid system – a system in our brains that helps us to feel good. There’s even a study that suggests our pain thresholds can predict the number of friends we have.
The bottom line is that we need friends to help us maintain good mental and physical health.
We need adult friendships to maintain good mental and physical health Click To Tweet
Making friends as an adult
Making (and keeping) friends as an adult is not easy. Most of us experience the ebb and flow – our lives change, as do those of our friends. Often, we naturally drift apart from people we were once close to as everyone’s priorities change.
For entrepreneurs, your busy schedule presents an extra challenge. You’ll find that people often talk or write about how they resigned themselves to not having friends as an entrepreneur, but this is just one side of the coin. There are plenty of others out there who do keep friends, and it is by no means impossible to build and maintain those friendships. Here are a few strategies:
Be a friend
This quote from a recent Forbes article on entrepreneurs and friendship is quite thought-provoking:
“If we can’t be good friends to the people who matter most to us, we’re not the relationship builders we need to be to run successful businesses.
Building relationships is the most important aspect of building a business, and people who lose empathy and perspective in dealing with their closest confidantes are one step away from treating every relationship as a transaction: What can you do for me?”
It might seem obvious, but actually being a good friend first is a great start. Just making the effort to grab a quick coffee or have a chat can make a world of difference. A lot of entrepreneurs abandon friends as they pursue success. Remember that while you might be thinking you’ll “find out who your real friends are,” your friends may think the same thing. It’s possible that you could lose some very dear friendships.
Fit friend time in your schedule (even with other activities)
Time is a huge reason many entrepreneurs find themselves flailing when it comes to friendships. You might not have time for the same activities that you used to fit in with friends, but there may be things that you need to do for which you can “double up” and do them with friends.
For example, you still need to do things like get exercise and eat, right? Perhaps you could meet friends for a meal, for a lunchtime walk, or for a run through the park. Not every friend will necessarily understand the sacrifices you make for your dream, but people do tend to appreciate that you make the effort to spend time with them.
Many businesses start out by working remotely in order to save on overhead. You might even find that you take this option long-term. There are many pluses for remote working, but one distinct minus for entrepreneurs is isolation.
If you struggle to meet and make friends, then working remotely can add to your isolated position. One potential solution to meeting people, perhaps even those who are going through similar experiences to yourself, is to try using co-working spaces. You might be working alone, but you’re among a bunch of people who are doing the same thing.
Make the most of that shared space to meet new people, bounce ideas off one another, and hopefully, make a few friends! As a bonus, other founders whom you might meet will understand what you’re going through quite well.
Look at meetups
There are meetups happening in virtually every town and for almost any range of interests you can think of (plenty for entrepreneurs and business owners too!).
Look to local social media groups, bulletin boards, and of course the website Meetup for activities happening near you, or in places you are traveling to. These are often a great way to meet people who share similar interests to your own and who will potentially be interested in meeting up for a regular activity.
Besides these sorts of meetups, you could simply try getting out there and trying things. The gym, library, volunteer groups or local Young Entrepreneurs groups are all good places to meet and make friends, but you’ve got to get out there to find them! Beware of the entrepreneur self-imposed exile – your instinct might be to go it alone, but this will not be healthy for you long-term.
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely role to take on. A natural byproduct of long hours spent hustling to grow your business can be that you neglect, or don’t have time for friends. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s about the awkwardness of getting out there and meeting new people too – if you’re not particularly outgoing, this can seem intimidating.
The bottom line is that we all need friends, even entrepreneurs! Supportive human relationships are not something that you need to sacrifice in the pursuit of success, nor is it healthy for you to do so.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” Helen Keller
When all is said and done, you might build a very successful business, but this can still feel pretty lonely if there’s no one there to share the success.
Find your tribe of fellow entrepreneurs! ZenTribes was created to bring entrepreneurs together, to tackle unique mindset challenges, get solid self-care strategies, and build friendships. Check out what we have to offer here.