I remember when I first engaged with my business coach and she asked me who I connect with, and what I do to starve off Founder loneliness … and I went to answer, and then [pretty embarrassingly] realised I didn’t have an answer, “I don’t connect with anyone, and don’t do anything that’s considered ‘social’ in order to starve off that Founder loneliness you’re referencing”.
In the next moment, literally the next moment, it hit me like a tonne of bricks: I was incredibly lonely.
I went on to tell her that I knew I wasn’t allowed to be friends with my employees [despite loving them so much I know if we’d have met in any other professional setting where I wasn’t their “boss”, we’d be really good mates].
I told her that I clocked a plethora of hours in my weekly role at TDP, and I said that it was absolute agony to spend so much of your life at work … knowing you’re not allowed to be friends with anyone within your professional orbit, because you’re the “boss”.
I told her that I watched really good TDP souls connect with other really good TDP souls, and they’d often go on to become “work besties” and I’d be all like, “hey Siri, play ‘Outside’ by StainD” [90’s grunge kids will understand].
[In a nutshell? It’s a song about profound levels of loneliness and isolation. #EmoMuch?! Ha!].
I told her that I not only spend a lot of my time working, but that I also dedicate a lot of effort and energy to the work that I do [servant leadership, highly empathic, 300% ADHD’er, blah blah blah]. It’s a lot o’ effort, and energy, and come Friday? I’m fookin’ wiped … so my own friends [and friendship circles] don’t really get much of a look in.
And then finally? I told her that I’m told by a lot of business owning folk that they don’t invite us [TDP] or me specifically to particular events … because they assume we’re “too big” [wut?!], or “we’ll say no” [nooooooo], or we’re drowning in business mates/acquaintances [lol, whyyyyyyyy?!], and so I used to spend time on Instagram watching IG stories of folx coming together wondering, “how can I get a gig to some of this?! I want in”.
“Hey Siri, play ‘outside’ by StainD for the 1,000th time” [lol].
In short? By the time I began working with my business coach, I realised [for the first time], “holy sh*t, I am profoundly lonely”, but moreso? I realised that my loneliness [in many ways] was a choice.
Fast track to 2022, and I’m not gonna lie: I’m still lonely. But less so. And that’s all thanks to some affirmations that speak to Founder loneliness that I went and created for myself, and I’m sharing them below today in the hopes that – perhaps – these same affirmations speak beautifully to other “it’s lonely at the top” Founders/CEOs/organisational leaders et. al.
I’m not alone, I have options.
We can all focus on the agony of having the largest of teams [I don’t btw, mine is small-medium], but literally not be allowed to have “mates” at work [because it’s unprofessional, toxic, breeds ‘favouritism’, builds resentment, the list goes on and on and on] … or we can think about the “options” we instead have.
I’ve realised my option is that I can “look”, but I can’t “touch” [sounds creepy, I know, but hear me out].
“Looking” for me, means ensuring that when I’m in the office with the team? I’m there with gusto. I literally beam walking in. I get so high from seeing my team, and all o’ their faces. I “penguin pebble” them [it’s an Autistic love language of mine, which basically means, I bring them little things that I feel might be significant to them like: migraine reduction headbands, or books I felt they’d love reading, or little gifts for their kids etc.].
On the WFH days? I roll on to Slack [our internal messaging platform] and I give emoji responses to everyone at the beginning of their day. Religiously so. I don’t even care if I don’t get a single emoji response in return. Until the day I’m no longer TDP’s CEO for whatever reason? My team will receive emoji responses to every “good morning” and “good evening” [and any other miscellaneous comms. that feel emoji-response-worthy and foster the connectedness I crave in a WFH environment].
I laugh, and I build little interpersonal relationships that are always profesh. and never anything other than profesh. I enjoy. I love. I’m true to my authentic, awkward, well-intended [but not always well-delivered] self.
That’s enough for me, that’s the “option” I choose … because the other option? It feels a little Michael Scott from ‘The Office’, and no, just … no [lol].
Today is today, not every day.
On the lonelier days? You’ve honestly just gotta repeat the above affirmation-slash-mantra, “today is today, not every day”.
I remember one night, in the absolute thick of the pandemic I got an unexpected call from someone who caught me off the back of too many lockdown’y days, and remote work’y days, and WFH days, and months and months and months of zilch in-person interaction with my team [really important for me] … and it was just this one f*cking day where I’d tried to engage. On Slack. So hard. And I was met with the kind of “Slack silence” that wasn’t a reflection of anything other than all of just working, and busily working, and enduring lockdown after lockdown after lockdown … but the silence for me was deafening, and debilitating, and soul destroying. I “logged off” from work that night, and I burst into tears. And when that unexpected call came through and that person said, “are you ok?”, I just burst into tears.
I wasn’t ok that day.
But that day was just that day, and not every day.
… and the next day was probably better. I can’t remember, admittedly [lol], but I’ve no doubt it was probably better.
The point? One sh*t, soul destroying, debilitating, lonely AF day is just one day and not every day, yea?
Chemical reactions last 90 seconds, everything beyond that is a choice.
I’ve only learnt this recently through a psychologist I lean into to gain incredible support for me as an Autistic parent, raising an Autistic child … and she said, “chemical reactions to distress last 90 seconds” and it made me realise that anything beyond a 90 second response to distress, is a choice.
DO YOU KNOW HOW POWERFUL IT WAS FOR ME TO REALISE THAT LONELINESS [beyond 90 seconds] IS A CHOICE?!
I think for me it’s the realisation that you can feel the feels, and of course you should. So many “feels” are genuine chemical reactions to, well, whatever [but whatever it is? It’s science]. So feel those feels, but empower yourself to realise that after 90 seconds has passed? … you might be choosing to stay in those feels.
And that’s ok, too.
Example? I am angry at my son’s former school Principal for discriminating against him within the school setting for being Autistic, and subsequently creating a genuinely unsafe environment for him to learn in. I’m distressed about that, and I had a 90 second chemical reaction of ‘anger’ [rightly so, and deservedly so]. One year on? And I’ve chosen to stay angry, because that anger [for me] is constructive. It keeps me committed to advocacy, and that advocacy continues to see me ensuring that I make good choices for him that see him avoiding ever coming across another discriminatory organisational leader within the education setting again.
Loneliness? I don’t want to ‘stay’ lonely, and so I honour those 90 seconds and then I ask myself, “what choices can I make to avoid continuing to feel like this?” … and then I get proactive: I invite myself to places, I tee up a 1:1 Zoom with a colleague, I join Mastermind groups with other “lonely Founders”, I create Mastermind groups myself [you get the gist].
Does this help you? Are you a lonely Founder/CEO/Organisational leader? Has this post made you realise, “actually, I’m a little lonely too”.
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