It's not just lonely at the top.
If separation causes loneliness, then connection cures it.
We've all heard the old adage that it's lonely at the top. Most of us associate this sentiment with the company’s owners and the select few executives with the coveted "C" sets of initials after their names. And rightly so. After all, these are the leaders we all count on to make it rain.
However, just as leadership is not a title, loneliness is not reserved for these select few. In fact, just about everyone committed to success experiences some degree of loneliness because it is inherent in the process of advancement.
There are some things that we can do to manage the loneliness that is sure to come as we move up the ladder. Here are 5 simple suggestions to help you on your way.
Loneliness is a feeling that comes from separation.
Separation can be physical. No doubt, COVID-19 has taught us all something about the pain of loneliness that isolation can bring. But loneliness also comes while practicing the solitary pursuit of building a successful career, even when others surround you.
We all know what it feels like when someone we care about leaves us, but loneliness can be just as real when we are the ones doing the leaving. This can happen in our personal as well as our professional life, like when being promoted, for example.
Moving from sales to management
I'm sure every salesperson who moved up into management knows exactly what I'm talking about. This separation usually begins long before the promotion comes because of the changes we need to make in our mental focus and physical behaviors to earn the promotion.
Maybe you started redirecting your downtime from just hanging out and chatting to learning new sales techniques or studying management. Or perhaps you began to spend all of your time with customers because you knew that becoming a Top Producer was the most straightforward and surest way of moving up the ladder. Chances are as soon as you started making these changes, you already started to feel the sense of separation.
Once promoted, we have a new job with new responsibilities. And while we still have our friends on the sales floor, it's not really the same, and we know it, and so do they.
There are plenty of times when we want to hang out with our old teammates. But it seems we always need to be somewhere else. Over time, this separation grows, and we miss what we once had. But letting go of what we have in order to reach for what we want is the price we pay to move forward.
And as if this loss were not enough, we now have a new group of peers and a new set of responsibilities to contend with. And as much as we thought we knew what we were getting into, there are times when we feel like a fish out of water and moments when it feels like we may not fit in with our new peer group the way we did with our old one. And the feeling of loneliness is compounded.
And guess what; this double-edged sword of loneliness plays itself out every time we take the first step towards the next rung of the corporate ladder.
So, if you're planning to build a successful career, you should include a plan to handle loneliness.
If separation causes loneliness, then connection cures it.
Cultivating our connections is the key to successfully navigating these lonely times. And while there are countless things that we can do to improve our relationships and fend off loneliness, here are just five simple and basic principles to get you started.
1. Get Ahead Of The Curve
Since you know change is coming in your career, it makes good sense to get ahead of the curve and start developing deeper connections with some of your personal support groups.
Spending more quality time with family and friends is one way to get started. Perhaps there are some local community groups that you have been thinking about looking into. Or maybe there is a local charity that you know needs your help. And of course, there are countless opportunities to join professional associations related to your industry or new position.
All of these actions will help bolster your feelings of being connected and give you plenty of support as you move forward in your new role. Of course, as is always the case, the keyword here is action. These may sound like good ideas, but they will be just that, and only that unless you act upon them.
2. Listen To Yourself
Connections are about relationships. And the first relationship you need to sure up is the one you have with yourself. This starts by managing your self-talk. Whenever you feel the pang of loneliness, please take a moment to uncover the thoughts that led up to it.
The chances are that you've been doubting your ability to do your new job, or at least do it well. Or maybe you have been focusing on the fear of not fitting in with your new team. Or you were reminiscing about the "good old days" with your old teammates on the sales floor.
All of these and countless other self-defeating conversations undermine your self-confidence and foster loneliness.
Since our thoughts shape, or at least dramatically influences our feelings, the solution is to change the chatter. Uplifting our internal chatter takes a conscious effort, but it's worth it. As is always the case, putting pen to paper, even to jot down a few keywords, really helps to focus our thoughts and multiplies every word's effectiveness.
And what should you change your chatter to? Since we can only build on what we have, you should focus on what you have. And then build on it.
Remind yourself that you belong in your new position; otherwise, you wouldn't have gotten the promotion in the first place.
Chances are you've already tackled a few new projects successfully; what were they? Focus on what you did right; what new lessons did you learn?
Think about the new and exciting experiences waiting for you just ahead. How can you apply these newly learned lessons to the next project you encounter or challenge you face?
Look for situations when you recently connected with or worked well with your new peer group and think about how you might build on these new relationships.
You are a part of a new team now. What skills do you bring to the table that this team can benefit from?
Being optimistic about the future and speaking confidently to ourselves - about ourselves - are the essential tools for fending off loneliness and ensuring our success.
3. Do Something About It
Loneliness is a feeling. We influence our emotions through our thoughts, but we can also impact them via our physiology.
Sometimes all it takes is getting up from your desk and taking a short walk to get a breath of fresh air. But since that does not always work, it's much better to create a specific set of actions or rituals that you can use in these challenging times to trigger positive emotions and actions.
For example, there were plenty of times when I was on the sales floor that I just could not get going with customers, no matter how hard I tried. If you've built a career in sales, you know exactly what I'm talking about. No matter what you do, it seems no one will work with you let alone make a purchase.
One of the techniques I learned was to make a conscious decision that I was not going to sell anything to anyone. Instead, I would walk through the showroom as if I had somewhere else to be.
I would be as upbeat as I could, smiling and saying hello to customers as I breezed by. But I would just walk right on by. Almost without exception, it was not long until someone would say the magic words, "excuse me..." and I would be on my way.
- Note: for those of you who are in sales, that was a bonus technique. There are many reasons why this "breeze on by" strategy is so effective that I explore in my sales training program. So, try it the next time you need some help getting started.
How do we take this principle of developing a ritual and apply it to those moments when we feel isolated, challenged, and lonely in management?
That's entirely up to you. You get to design any physical actions that use your body to take your mind off falling short and feeling lonely and redirect it to succeeding and feeling connected.
Two suggestions; 1. keep it simple and 2. do something that builds upon your success.
4. Purpose Pulls Us Forward
Career success has benefits, meaning, and purpose. That's what makes all the work worth it; it's why we do what we do.
It's said that real success lies in the balance between results and relationships. Every promotion challenges us to create this balance. Simply stated the way to achieve this is to include the success of others in your career plans.
When we're feeling lonely or disconnected, focusing on why we're doing what we're doing might be all it takes to tip the scales of momentum in our favor.
As a corporate sales trainer, I would always ask the group to share a photograph – this was long before cell phones were invented - of something that really mattered to them.
Not surprisingly, many brought in photos of their family. But many would bring in pictures of a new home or car they wanted. Maybe they needed to save up for college tuition, or sometimes, they really needed to focus on an unpaid electric bill.
I would always recommend that they keep these photographs with them. When times were tough, or when they needed a reminder of why they were doing what they were doing, they would look at these photos for inspiration.
And by the way, I believed then - and now - that every time I help a salesperson grow into a Top Producer
- I’m helping every customer they work with because they’re working with a true professional. That means they make better decisions about the furniture that they choose, and they have a much better experience.
- I’m helping the company I work with. Not only do they make a profit, but they employ others.
- And not only am I helping the salesperson make more money and become more successful, but I’m helping their families. If I hope that salesperson earn enough money that they can send their child to college, I’ve helped. And I’ve helped someone that I may never even meet.
The power of purpose, reminding ourselves of the reasons we do the things we do, has a powerful effect on our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, regardless of what rung of the ladder you are on. And just in case I’m not being clear, I believe that helping others is one of the most powerful motivations any of us can have.
Some things change as you move up the ladder, but others don't. The power of purpose is one of the latter.
5. This Too Will Pass…
Last thought… Everything passes, both the good and the bad.
When we’re caught up in the moment, it’s easy to lose perspective. This is especially true with negative feelings, such as loneliness, because it can easily feel like the pain will last forever.
This initial feeling is compounded by the fact that the more we focus on something the longer it actually does last.
In these moments, it will always be helpful to take a deep breath, step back, and remember that everything passes. Then change your focus, look to the future, and the feelings of loneliness will pass, too.