The lonely side of entrepreneurship
The other day someone sent me a message and while I’m going to keep who sent it private, I do want to share what this person asked me:
“Did you lose any friends/family when you became a full-time entrepreneur? If so, how did you handle it? If not, do your friends/family acknowledge what you’ve accomplished and encourage you on your journey? I'm really struggling because I know my good friends see my posts, but they never like or comment on them. Why does this bother me? Do you ever experience this?”
Maintaining and growing relationships while growing a business is difficult and it’s a topic I don’t think is touched on very much. Entrepreneurship is beautiful, but it can be incredibly lonely. If you are feeling alone in your journey, I can assure you, you are not alone. If you feel like you can't have both meaningful relationships and a booming business, take a deep breath. You'll get there. It is possible.
When I started down my own entrepreneurial journey, I had the best of intentions. I wanted to own my own business so I could create my own schedule and have time off to travel and spend with my family and friends.
Sounds great, right? Well the truth is it was so much harder than I ever imagined. Unlike many jobs I had no road map, no plan, no expectations set for me, no specific goals I had to achieve, no one telling me what I should be doing next, no one to run ideas by, etc. I had to learn the hard way by trying and failing over and over again. Practically overnight I went from having this new downtown business to being completely obsessed in figuring out how to make it work. Unlike other jobs, there was no start time, no stop time, no one to take over my position if I got sick or wanted to take a day off. It was all on me. Most new businesses don’t make it past the five year mark and I was determined to not only make it past that mark, but to build something long lasting.
Entrepreneurship, because it’s self-driven, can oftentimes become self-focused, even with the most selfless intentions. For me, I went from a very involved friend to practically a recluse who no longer had time for anything (or anyone) but my business. I would think about my friends, but I rarely reached out to them and let them know I was thinking about them. I can even remember saying to myself, “The sooner I get my business running smoothly, the sooner I’ll have time for everyone again.”
It’s important to remember the exchange of support goes both ways. It’s also important, as an entrepreneur, to slap yourself back into reality and realize just because your business might be your entire world, your friends and family do not revolve around it. They are not sitting and waiting for you to figure it out, they are continuing to live their lives with or without you (and good for them!). It’s up to you to snap out of it, gain a little perspective, and start establishing some boundaries in your life in order to create that room once again for your loved ones.
The majority of my friends and family are not entrepreneurs. They are nurses, marketing directors, accountants, etc. My friends did not become nurses, marketing directors, and accountants to seek and one day earn my stamp of approval. I was excited for them from the very beginning of their career journey as they were for mine. I didn’t go into business for myself in an attempt to gain their approval. I always had it.
So why does there come a point in some of your entrepreneurial paths where you begin to feel your friends and family don’t support you, but they support others around you? Why are you offended when they don’t like a post or comment “good job!” when you share something exciting about your work?
Let me break this down for you:
My friends, - the nurses, the marketing directors, the accountants - they do not have social media accounts for their businesses. The companies they work for have accounts, but those accounts aren’t my friends’ responsibilities. My friends have personal accounts. They share photos of their travels, their families, a fabulous restaurant they tried. Our mutual friends, guess what they have? Personal accounts where they share their travels, their families, a fabulous restaurant they tried. So of course you’re going to see them comment and like each other’s posts. They aren’t sharing the fact that they analyzed tons of data and created an incredible marketing campaign for their client. They don’t need to. They are able to separate work life and personal life, something we as entrepreneurs have to work extra hard to do because it doesn’t come naturally to us.
I own my own business. I don’t have personal accounts. I only have business accounts so I’m only sharing about my work. Sure maybe every now and then I’ll slide in a picture of my kids, but 90% of what I share is about my work. If I look at that from my nursing friend’s perspective, I completely understand why she wouldn’t want to read a post where I’m talking about a floral arch installation. I would be bored to tears reading a post about prepping a patient for surgery. My nurse friend isn’t my friend because she’s a nurse and I’m not her friend because I’m a business owner. We have other things that bring us together. There is no reason for me to be offended or upset for her not saying “good job!” when I share a wedding of mine was recently featured on some blog she’s never heard of. It would be like her sharing she met some amazing medical person I’ve never heard of.
Entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs in a way speak two very different languages. I remember a couple of years ago, I was seeing my brother-in-law for the first time in a year at a Christmas gathering. I hugged his neck, asked him about his family, and then immediately said, “Tell me all about work. How’s the new position going? Are you loving it?”
And he very kindly looked at me and said, “Jess, it’s my Christmas vacation and the last thing I want to talk about is work. Is that ok?”
I often forget that not everyone loves to talk about work as much as I do. For my friend who is a nurse, once she’s off the clock, she doesn’t want to talk about her job. She wants to talk about anything but work and you know what? That makes sense to me. It really does.
If I’m being totally honest, I think it all boils down to this:
As an entrepreneur I want to know that my work matters. If no one tells me I’m doing a good job, I might begin to question it, right? Thankfully, I’m at a place now in my career journey where I know I’m doing good work. I don’t need the approval of others to continue to do the work I’m meant to do. However, if I don’t say it to myself, it doesn’t get said. There is no one in my business that says to me, “Job well done.” There is no one nominating me for “business owner of the year” or “employee of the month” and that’s ok. Just as it’s my responsibility to make decisions for my company and to lead my team, it’s equally my responsibility to say to myself, “you did a good job today.” I get to live my life how I design it. I get to decide my business hours and when I take off for vacation. There is so much I love about this job.
So how do you have friends as an entrepreneur? The most important thing is to find (or remember) what your interests are outside of your business. This is what allows you to have a life (and friends!) outside of your business.
I have my friends I’ve had since high school and when we get together we talk about anything and everything. I have a wonderful group of women I refer to as my mom friends, the women who are moms of my kids’ friends. We talk about the kids, their activities, their school, etc. I could talk about travel and good restaurants all day and I have a couple of friends who love it as much as I do so when we get together we talk about that. I have other business owner friends who I can talk with about business. (And guess where I found them? Through social media. The very platforms we can get so frustrated with can actually be very beneficial. It’s all about our perspective.)
I don’t need to discuss work with my family and friends because I have other common interests I can discuss with them. I don’t take it personally if they aren’t super interested in what I do for a living. To be honest, I don’t always find someone else’s occupation interesting either. I often times feel like my brother-in-law did when friends or family discuss certain topics. For example I have an uncle who could talk about geology for hours. That particular subject doesn’t interest me. In fact, I’m looking for the nearest exit (or the stiffest drink) when he gets started on the subject. It doesn’t mean I don’t find him interesting, I simply have no interest in that particular topic. Does that make me a bad friend? No. Does it make my friends or family bad when they don’t show interest in my work? No. It’s my responsibility to NOT let my work become all-encompassing. It’s my job to have a life outside of my work and have other things I can talk about besides work.
If there is one thing I wish you would take away today it would be this: Just as your friends and family are able to separate work and personal life, you must try to as well. Don’t be offended if they don’t seem interested in your work. Don’t take it personal when they don’t like your post. In most cases, your social media account is probably not targeted towards them. Stop worrying about likes and comments. Quit looking to see what people are commenting elsewhere. Just put your head down, work hard on your business, make time for your loved ones, and create memories outside of your business.
You are 100% responsible for your own happiness. All that energy you are spending building your business - when is the last time you put half that much energy into one of your relationships? Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone and set up a time to hangout with an old friend and talk about anything other than business.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.