If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. This proverb summarizes the conundrum many entrepreneurs face. But working long hours and doing whatever it takes to make your business successful isn’t always conducive to spending time with other people. Human connection, however, brings tangible benefits and shouldn’t be ignored.
According to Simone Heng, author of Secret Pandemic, connecting with others is a key part of ensuring your business succeeds. Heng is a human connection specialist whose clients include Google, Bytedance, Salesforce, SAP, L’Oréal, TEDx and The United Nations and many more. As a former international broadcaster, Heng appeared on Virgin Radio Dubai, HBO Asia and CNBC, and she and her work have been featured on CNN and in publications such as Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar.
“If you want to be more resilient, you need to feel healthy, and you need to have human connection in your life,” Heng explained. That’s why it’s so important for entrepreneurs to intentionally and strategically build up their tribe.
The three types of loneliness
Entrepreneurs without team members may find it more challenging to create and foster connections. This is largely due to the fact that workplace interactions have traditionally been primary sources of connection. Without some sort of intentional daily connection, the risk of loneliness increases.
There are three different types of loneliness, according to Bruce A Austin at the Rochester University of Technology. The first one, intimate loneliness, is a yearning for someone you can be truly vulnerable with. Most commonly, this need can be filled with a romantic partner or best friend.
Then there’s relational loneliness. This may arise when people don’t feel like they are part of a social fabric they can call upon if they need help. Traditionally, people have turned to their coworkers to provide this kind of social protection and cohesion.
The final kind of loneliness is collective loneliness. This crops up when people feel like they don’t have people around them who share their vision. “Of the three major types of loneliness, the workplace has offered a reprieve from two of them,” Heng said. “However, unless entrepreneurs intentionally foster human connection, solo entrepreneurs may struggle with collective and relational loneliness and burnout.”
The relationship between connection and energy
The reciprocal relationship between connection and energy is hardwired into humans. “Studies have shown our bodies have more bioenergetic resources when there are people embarking on a mission or journey with us, versus going on the same mission alone,” Heng said.
Entrepreneurs frequently take on many tasks in their journey to build and scale a company. Traditionally, entrepreneurs were able to stay energized about completing those tasks by connecting with people in the office. However, the global increase in the number of people working from home has made that more challenging.
Working from home can increase productivity, but it may come at a cost. The more that people experience the emotional stress of being lonely, the more depressed and anxious they may get. This, in turn, makes it more likely that they will experience burnout, and the experience of burnout contributes to feelings of loneliness.
The antidote to loneliness is connection
Heng’s research, along with her personal experience, has led her to one inescapable conclusion: the antidote to burnout and loneliness is connection. “Human connection makes us more resilient,” she said. “As an entrepreneur, if you don’t have the workplace team to cushion you, you have to foster connection in a different way.”
For example, you can make it a point to develop an incredible relationship with your partner. By focusing on your significant other, you ensure you are still part of a supportive social fabric.
You can go even further by scheduling at least two catch-ups per week with friends and family. Treat those appointments as though they are unbreakable, the same way you treat work meetings. Consistently making time to connect with other people significantly reduces your chances of burnout.
Talking about work with your social network can also foster incredible innovation. At the same time, discussing work with (relevant) friends is a great way to ensure you don’t feel like you’re climbing the entrepreneurial mountain alone.
Learn from expats
Heng also suggested taking advantage of what’s known as the “village effect,” which is also the title of a book by Susan Pinker, who coined the term. This includes seemingly banal interactions, such as the nod to your barista at Starbucks, the wave you exchange with your neighbor or the high-five you give to the person who walks your dog.
“These small social cues don’t have to be super deep,” Heng said. “But they make you feel like you are part of that all-important social fabric.” The key is to refrain from staying in your office all day, every day. Instead, go on walks, and make friendly eye contact with the people walking past you.
“Once or twice a week, go to a coffee shop to do your work.” Smile and exchange a friendly greeting with the people at the tables next to you. “When you take actions like this consistently, you will be amazed at how much it mitigates and softens any loneliness and burnout you might otherwise feel.”
This is exactly what people who move to a new country do. Expats are dropped into a new environment where they don’t know anybody. Their minds react by telling them that they aren’t safe because they don’t have enough resources and support. And so, they step outside of their comfort zone so they can meet new people. As an entrepreneur, you can find and foster human connection the same way.
Long live the connected entrepreneur
As important as social connections are to avoiding burnout, their importance goes even further. “Studies show that people with strong social connections outlive people who are isolated and lonely,” Heng said. The acknowledgment that we get from others creates feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine.
Implementing each of these steps will help entrepreneurs foster human connection and thereby avoid loneliness. On top of that, these steps are the key to entrepreneurs bolstering their social fabric, which will help them and their businesses thrive.