Lonely at the Top
Sure, owning a successful company has its benefits, but there are draw-backs as well, including feelings of loneliness or isolation as the business takes on a life of its own. Those feelings are familiar to Meg Chang, 26, who has seen her Los Angeles-based company, Vantage Staffing Network, rapidly grow, with revenue skyrocketing to over $20 million in the past year. She admits to feeling lonely right after her company was awarded its first major contract.
"While I was thrilled at Vantage's achievement, my time was primarily spent making it happen and maintaining a tough travel schedule, which left little time for anything else," recalls Chang. To help combat isolation, she stayed involved in networking groups such as the Southern California chapter of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce and the Asian Business Association.
"Loneliness kind of sneaks up from behind and grabs you before you realize it," explains Barbara Babbit Kaufman, entrepreneur and author of Attitude. "Your business life takes over your personal life and, before you know it, there's no separation between the two, which can certainly lead to isolation."
As her company grew, handling the success of $45 million-plus Pure Romance has been challenging for Patty Brisben, president and CEO of the Milford, Ohio-based woman-to-woman direct-sales company specializing in romantic products. "Although I play the part of the fearless leader, at times I honestly felt I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders," says Brisben, 49. "With a 10,000-square-foot warehouse, more employees and a massive increase in stock, I felt I had to do it all for everyone or [my business] would fail."
Regarding the isolation, Brisben admits, "It's difficult to find other women to relate to who are in the exact position I am in my life and career."
"When you get to the top of your field, you also start to guard yourself and often put too much responsibility on your own shoulders," explains Babbit Kauffman. "You rarely have others to turn to when you're in need of quick advice, and when you do get advice, it's mostly from those who tell you what they think you cannot do vs. what you can."
Brisben nurtures personal friendships to combat loneliness. "I continue to honor many of my closest friendships from years prior to [my] financial and entrepreneurial success and haven't let inevitable life changes get in the way of those bonds," she says. "Believing in myself and working closely with my family also helped me get through tough times of transition and growth."
If, like Brisben and Chang, you're fighting feelings of isolation due to your success, Babbit Kaufman suggests you:
1. Create a line of separation. Your business and personal life must have a balance: Shut off that computer at a certain time every night; play with your kids more; or create a buffer zone before you get home.
2. Network. Construct networks that connect you to the right people at the right time. Call on these people for advice and opinions, but don't let their advice change your direction.
3. Don't take yourself too seriously. As you climb the ladder of success, don't get caught up in it. Stay on course, have fun, and don't let what you've created change you.
"Loneliness is an inevitable emotion that's part of our life experience. There's no need to fear it, and there are ways to alleviate it," says Chang. "Regardless of your level of success, it's important to remember why you wanted to be an entrepreneur in the first place. Don't forget your passion."
Aliza Pilar Sherman is an author, freelance writer and speaker specializing in women's issues.