What I learnt from ‘volume down’ time
How to combat loneliness when running a business
It’s a very natural feeling, to feel alone – and, my goodness, I’m sure if you ask anyone about their experience of loneliness in the last few turbulent years of lockdowns and social distancing, most will be able to relay at least one occasion where they’ve felt it. Even now being surrounded once more by the hustle and bustle of life and family, one can still feel lonely. It’s actually one of the saddest feelings I think. Because if others knew how you felt, I’m sure they’d move heaven and earth to spare you the heartache.
That feeling of isolation is certainly a mist which can come through the open window of any founder, at any time. Because when you build your business, there’s an element of having to be alone with our thoughts and dreams. It’s what ignites your ideas, your soul, your thoughts. Then, of course, there are the things you simply have to keep to yourself – the raw, hard stuff that you can’t share with your customers, your community and, often, your colleagues. And with things being tougher than ever for small businesses in the current climate, there’s more of this internalised worry to contend with than usual. So, what happens when it all becomes too much?
I’ve often felt alone. I remember vividly sitting in the offices of notonthehighstreet on one of three floors packed with people and feeling so very alone. I had so many people around me physically, but no one around my heart.
I was in the middle of trying to pull investment into the business and for anyone who hasn’t done this, I’d say it’s right up there with that famous list people reel off about the most stressful things humans can do! It is death, divorce, moving and I’d like to officially add raising money! You see I was just ‘Holly’ on the inside, but on the outside I had to not only be a good, kind leader to the team but also a fierce saleswoman and negotiator. The fear I was experiencing, only I was able to coach down. Internal monologues of my imposter syndrome and self doubt had no place as you try to raise life changing (and saving) money. I felt desperately alone with my thoughts and my being. I do believe whoever said ‘It’s lonely at the top’ was spot on.
I’ve also spoken to so many of this community over the years, to know I was not alone in feeling this alone. It’s very common actually and I suppose one can see why.
‘I’ve often felt alone. I remember vividly sitting in the offices of notonthehighstreet on one of three floors packed with people and feeling so very alone. I had so many people around me physically, but no one around my heart.’
We start our enterprises commonly after being in a corporate job, or a university for instance – two places covered in people. When we take that leap to build our own businesses, as founders we suddenly find ourselves isolated in our back bedroom or working off the kitchen table by ourselves. Where each thought seems to stay and as the days go on, and on, our mind becomes full of questions, doubt and worry. I always remember this statistic that Kate, our resident Holly & Co coach, said during one of our Business Pharmacy sessions. A staggering 80% of our thoughts are negative, because we’re all still hardwired to our caveman/woman instincts, to survive and protect. Back then each thought had to keep you safe thanks to a bear or hairy mammoth planning to have you for supper! So our thoughts mostly aren’t light and positive. Combine this with a lack of exercising these thoughts ‘out’ or having them erased thanks to a sympathetic ear, the brain becomes heavy and overloaded.
Some of us go for days without ‘proper’ interaction with someone more than the newsagent. And if you have your head down in the administration or the complexities of your next business move, you can find yourself actually keeping away from other folks. Loneliness is a very easy place to find yourself.
For those married or with partners you also might find that you physically close down too when you are in this place. Worry can lead to shutting down and the loneliness in your day, leaves you struggling to open up or have a snuggle in bed. When this mist descends, it really can creep into every area of your life. It’s very real, but you should know that there are things we can all do to ‘self help’ ourselves out of the darkness.
One of the things I do when I can feel loneliness tapping away, is to diarise interaction. The fastest way I feel less alone (and I know it sounds obvious!) is to be with people. Those who I can share with and for me, that’s at least making that diary entry twice a week. Making sure I see people who I know, will at some stage, ask me “how I am” and because I now only surround myself with radiators, I know I can talk to their kind hearts. Whether this is our Monday morning kick-off meeting with the whole team at Holly & Co HQ, or my weekly catch-up with my right-hand woman, just knowing when and where I’m going to get that special endorphin hit each week helps to reassure my mind.
Others have told me that the day they joined other communities was when they started to combat the regularity of loneliness. It’s something I’ve written about in my book ‘Do What You Love, Love What You Do’ under a chapter called ‘Finding Your Flock’. Because there’s nothing like feeling as if you’re soaring through the business skies, together. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Being and connecting with like minded folk who too feel lonely, full of self doubt and yet secretly totally excited about what they’re building, helps no end.
‘Loneliness is something we’re prone to as we build our dreams, but it doesn’t have to be your everyday. When we connect to those who love us or who are sharing the same journey you’re on, it’s as if you’ve taken the most perfect small business antidotes anyone could prescribe.’
There’s the loveliest group of people which I can highly recommend who started coming together on the 1st of April 2020 and it’s been a joy to watch the thousands join. A place that’s kind, loving and so helpful – The Holly & Co Facebook Community. If you haven’t joined and feel alone, know there are lots of virtual arms there, ready to give you a Holly hug.
My last piece of advice is to open up to your inner circle – those you trust implicitly to understand all the trickier parts of ‘life’. If you’re like me, you might often keep things bottled up, worried about being a burden if you reach out. But ask yourself this: ‘Would I want to know if my best friend/partner/parent/child (delete as appropriate) was going through a hard time’? Of course the answer is yes, and there’s a bloody good reason why the phrase ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ exists. You are never a burden to those who love you – and they might just benefit from a caring ear too.
Loneliness is something we’re prone to as we build our dreams (and ride the wave of life as a founder), but it doesn’t have to be your everyday. When we connect to those who love us or who are sharing the same journey you’re on, it’s as if you’ve taken the most perfect small business antidotes anyone could prescribe. Please do check in with yourself, pop those energy-building ‘moments’ with your tribe and, most importantly, remember in those low spells that you are never, ever alone.
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