When I told my mentor four years ago that I would quit my corporate job, he said that knowing me, he would not be able stop me anyways. But he wanted to give me one piece of advice: “You will be a lone warrior. Don’t forget that running your own business can be a lonely journey.” At that point in time, of course, I listened to his advice. But I was so excited to jump right into the hustle that I was busy thinking about other things.
Last week a friend of mine who recently started a new business as well asked me if I could write about loneliness as an entrepreneur in one of my postcards. “You know, I really miss the social structures of being at an office and meeting people. I do love working from home, but I still feel very lonely sometimes.”
I told her about my mentor’s advice and that I also agree with it. When I quit my corporate job, I actually did not struggle too much with the perspective of working from home. When I worked on my PhD, I was in a similar situation: I had days where I locked myself into my apartment and did not leave to be able to finish a chapter. Or, I invited myself to my parents’ who live in the countryside to make sure I am not tempted to go out and stay focussed.
When I started my business, I was on my own. Therefore, I applied an approach I used during my PhD: I set up lunch meetings or went to gym classes with my friends to make sure that I do not spend the whole day on my own. A few months into the project, I signed up for a co-working space in Hong Kong and this actually gave me the feeling of having a kind of “office” social atmosphere. And after some time, being on your own becomes a certain lifestyle you get used to – I guess a lot of people can relate to that, not only entrepreneurs but authors, freelancers or anyone who works from home or on their own.
However, I would not call it “loneliness”. I would rather call it “solitude”. This lifestyle choice is an easy thing to get used to if you know why you are doing it. The real struggle is a different type of loneliness: whichever problem you face as an entrepreneur, YOU are the one who needs to solve it, make a decision and be responsible for that decision. I think this is true not only for business owners but for anyone in a management position. Your job is to solve problems, make decisions and stand by them. The difference between an employed management position and being a business owner is that our businesses are inextricably linked to us the owners. It is our risk, our reputation, our money. And in this struggle, we are lone warriors and it can be tough.
You now may ask yourself: “Well, if it’s that lonely and bad, why did she do it?”
I did it because I think it is worth it. It is worth it because I can create; because struggle makes me stronger; and because the loneliness comes with a certain degree of freedom. I have to solve the problems, but therefore, I can decide when to do what. I do not report to anyone but myself. (And maybe the bank. :D)
In the beginning, I was often overwhelmed by what start-up life can throw at you. It is tough and I definitely feel like a lone warrior. But once I overcame the challenges, I knew that I managed to succeed and that I learned – the lone warrior won the battle. As fellow entrepreneur Melissa Lim said in her interview with The Pink Lookbook: The problems do not disappear over time, but your attitude towards them and how you solve them will.
I found three things crucial: Firstly, connecting with like-minded people and sharing experience is key. Secondly, surround yourself with a strong team which gets you. And lastly, spend time with people who are important to you. They will lift you up and also distract your mind from your battle for a few hours. Every lone warrior needs support to win the war. And just because it seems like a lonely journey, we do not have to make it one.