Why We Are Still So Frightfully Alone

Feeling disconnected and isolated is a surprisingly common complaint amongst business owners, despite the advent and accessibility of hyper communities that are designed for membership and camaraderie.⠀

by | Apr 25, 2019 | 0 comments

“I’m so relieved because I no longer have to do this alone.”⠀

She had tears in her eyes as she blinked across the screen at me, half smiling and half wistful. The feeling of isolation had been so powerful, and such a great divide, that her relief at being seen, known and heard was palpable.

Her breathing slowed and her shoulders dropped ever so slightly to say “OK… I’m going to be OK”, and a single tear escaped

Because she knew she was no longer alone

Climbing the hierarchy

Abraham Maslow created his Hierarchy of Needs long before the Internet. Even when we didn’t know how broadly we could connect, we knew we needed to. You might imagine that as we became more secure in our understanding that we had pervasive community around us, our needs would have shifted, or become less critical. Yet even with direct and instant access to millions at our fingertips, nothing his changed since Maslow published his work – we are still humans (so far), and we still need the same things.

Fundamental to those needs is belonging and community. Maslow states that right after our basic physiological needs (food, water, sleep) and our need for safety are met, we need love and belonging.  We organize ourselves into communities, sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, because our need to belong is so strong. In fact, it’s so strong that it can even override physiological and safety needs when emotions are at stake.

It’s not surprising that we’ve spent the last 40 years building methods to reach each other at hyperspeed. That the development of community-building technologies have been our most funded, most loved, and most widely (and rapidly) adopted. That platforms facilitating connections create addictive behaviours and are more prized than money or material possessions.

And yet we are alone…

At the same time, isolation and loneliness are being reported in staggering quantities as the #1 reason for depression and anxiety. In fact, it’s been stated that loneliness is an epidemic, being reported as doubling over the last 50 years, which is tracking with the development of communication and collaboration technologies.

We are more connected than we have ever been, yet curiously more alone.

I work with entrepreneurs who are building businesses in the online world. These business owners are savvy in the ways of communicating and marketing via technology, and remain hyper aware of all the ways we can connect, because connection is their currency, and is the primary way that they become known, loved and trusted.

Yet, when I sit down with a new client, feeling disconnected and isolated is (maybe not) surprisingly the most common complaint they voice, despite the advent and accessibility of  hundreds of thousands of communities that are designed for membership and camaraderie, particularly for their profession.

I get it. Even in the times I have been physically present in a room full of people who do the same thing as me, and were there to support me, I can remember feeling desperately alone.

The myth of connection

What these business owners are describing, and what I had felt, is not a lack of people to connect with, but the inability to share an experience. It is a lack of feeling known.

The hyper personalized business models that we are building in the online world are so useful and necessary for success, but they cause us to have a greater challenge in relating to each other. No one else shares a stake in your specific thing, and so you don’t feel like the stakes mean anything to anyone else.

When you don’t have a team to harmonize around, or a business model that looks, feels and behaves exactly like those of a community of other business owners, you don’t have a common language or experience. Compare this to MLM or franchise models where multiple owners follow a prescriptive formula for building their businesses, and they have a common experience, vocabulary and path to growth.

In a solo entrepreneur’s experience (or that of any small business owner), every business is uniquely different, and it feels like you’ll never be quite understood, and that everyone is already so mired in their own “fight or flight” experience that they don’t have the emotional capacity or time to really get to know you or your business. So, support feels superficial and laden with platitudes, well-intentioned for sure, but missing the mark.

The cost of isolation

The draw of entrepreneurship promises flexibility, autonomy and opportunity, all the things that can be so true and so amazing. So when reality sets in and the experience is one of isolation and loneliness, would-be business owners end up turning in their yoga pants for days back at the office. They lose their hope, their optimism, and the life they had dreamed of.

But beyond crumbled dreams, the clients they would have served had they been able to sustain their businesses will not have access to the same products or services that they may have desperately needed. They may lose their precious time that they could spend with their kids when they set their own schedule, or the satisfaction that came with innovation and impact.

For those that choose to continue muscling through, their businesses risk losing the energy and alignment of their owners as they become depleted of creativity and innovation.

Reconnecting, deeply

So what do we do to end the isolation?

You should never have to do anything alone. Working alone makes everything 128% more difficult (totally proven stat). Not because of workload, but because of all the second guessing, the extra motivation, the single set of eyes trying to see everything.

When my clients finally bite the bullet and hire me, one of the first things they feel is relief that they have someone else sharing their particular journey with them.

That’s what a good coach does. They become as invested in your success as you do. They gauge their worth on your progress (whatever that means to you). They see your business through your eyes – not through some lens that they hold up to everything because it’s the only perspective they’ve got.

I want my clients to see me as a partner, so I have to see their business as mine, too.

Finding your people

But a coach isn’t the only answer, and often is not the answer at all. Here are some other great ways to create the types of connections that help you really feel known and seen:

  • Set up an accountability partner that listens to and gets to know you and your business. You’re aiming for longevity and mutual benefit, so look for someone with a similar personality to yours, and a business in the same stage you’re at.
  • Stay small in your communities, with tight relationships. Seek out groups and platforms that are built for high touch and frequent engagement, and look for alignment with your industry or your interests.
  • Highly focused and well facilitated masterminds can help as well. Go to where you can create relationships and have space to talk about you, and time to get known. Many masterminds are more like a group program which focuses on pushing information out.  A true mastermind focuses on the members of the group and is structured to give each member dedicated time and attention on their business alone.

Whatever you do, don’t accept being alone. There’s a whole world out there feeling the same things you do, and are critically in need of you and your experiences, as much as you need them.

Tell me in the comments…

Do you feel isolated as a business owner? What have you done to help yourself feel connected?

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Stephanie Hayes Business Strategist and Coach for Small Business and Entrepreneurs. What to do when you're feeling stuck in your business? How to scale your business to get sustainable growth? Stephanie is a business success coach for experienced entrepreneurs, creating detailed business models and plans (Vancouver).

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Tired of running a business that feels out of control, and like a constrant struggle?

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