Why Entrepreneurs Experience Context Switching and Loneliness
The idea of being of entrepreneur revolves around the fact that you want to be outstanding; to shine differently — have a unique selling point, differentiated product, and be recognized for that.
If you have set out to start your own brand or business, you have probably come across the feeling of loneliness along the way (whether you are aware of it or not).
When on this path, you quickly realize that you can’t share this journey with most. Yes, you may have loved ones, friends, even a significant other to confide in about your struggles, successes, journey, but do they truly understand it from your perspective? More often than not, the best they can do is to offer a listening ear, and words of encouragement. I started a travel company during a pandemic (I wrote about it here), and despite support from friends, many still thought that I had absolutely lost my mind.
At the end of the day, you’re the one going through the unique grind. Entrepreneurship generally comes from a product or idea that sprouts from your head, and so the company and experience is uniquely yours, and will be an extension of you. So then, how do we tackle the loneliness?
Let us first understand why entrepreneurs have a higher tendency of feeling isolated.
They are passionate, motivated risk-takers — they want to chase their dreams, even if it is the path less traveled
They want a unique narrative — they are trying to fill gaps in the market, service an unmet need in the market, and
They are hungry to learn, open to opportunities, and want to achieve — they are often on the lookout to network, ideate, and dabble in a variety of experiences or opportunities for growth.
A tendency to become a ‘yes man’ — saying yes to everything. This means that you are constantly operating on the surface, and saying no to something else.
While these traits are not exclusive to entrepreneurs, it is more commonplace. It is not uncommon for people with a stronger entrepreneurial streak to lead slightly more intense lifestyles, and be constantly on the go.
They probably have a large amount of weight on their shoulders — spanning product management, development, marketing, sales, and even HR, especially if they are at the start of their entrepreneurship journey.
A combination of the characteristics above simply leads to them engaging in context switching, making them more prone to mental fatigue, and feeling lonely.
What is context switching, and how does this create a feeling of isolation?
Context switching is what happens when you jump back and forth between tasks that require you to be in different headspaces.
Your brain is a muscle, and focusing requires you to exercise this muscle to be productive.
The workload of entrepreneurs aren’t often designed for long periods of sustained attention. It spans across multiple verticals, and constantly getting pulled in different directions and switch between contexts to get work done will breakdown our ability to focus.
While the immediate cost of context switching may feel insignificant, the compound effect of this is staggering, with productivity falling by up to 80%. And the effect of being less productive will easily add on to the amount of pressure to get things done — as if the initial amount of mental exhaustion isn’t enough.
With such a staggering amount of unique commitments and responsibilities, it is only natural for entrepreneurs to feel lonely. As humans, being understood is a basic need — but not everyone will be able to empathize with the experiences that entrepreneurs go through.
Why is this an important conversation to have?
We always want to be on our A-game. We have clients, customers, employees, and families that depend on us — commitments that we have to juggle well lest it puts us in an emotional rut. Being aware of this allows us to leverage this as a strength, rather than a weakness.
At the end of the day, all this boils down to one thing if we want to consistently achieve — the ability to manage our mental health. This is just as important as our physical health, and hence being able to know what makes you tick, what pushes you, and pulls you back, are quintessential in figuring out how you can combat loneliness, and better optimize the use of your time and energy.
The opportunity cost of doing too much would mean having your friends and family take the backseat. We only have 24 hours in a day — be it relationships or calendar obligations, you have to say no to the good, so you have time for the great.
Loneliness is real, but it is not an unsolvable issue.
Manage it by crowdsourcing your health. Eat well with people who matter. Change your scenery every now and then. Prioritize your relationships. Share your experiences, and find mentors who can guide you through your journey.
Figure out what puts you in a positive, fulfilled mindset, and emphasize on those activities. Learn how to say no to less the important people, events, commitments.
Entrepreneurship can be an extremely rewarding and fulfilling journey, but it is also important to remember to stop to smell the roses and savor the entire process.