When my kids were infants, I remember rocking them back to sleep in the middle of the night, looking out of our living room windows across a canyon. Seeing the lights in the other hillside houses helped me realize there must be dozens of parents nearby who were awake just like me: nursing babies, consoling kids after nightmares, taking temperatures, giving hugs. I wasn’t the only person not getting a good night’s sleep, and it was strangely reassuring.
I was similarly comforted as a startup CEO. How many other entrepreneurs were out there choosing just the right words for a pitch deck, searching for talent to join their small team, balancing new product ideas with the need to focus, or second guessing their business model when a new competitor comes on the scene? The uncertainty of it all was overwhelming at times, but I knew I wasn’t alone. Others were on the same journey.
“It’s lonely at the top” is a well-known adage in leadership circles, and there are plenty of strategies for dealing with the isolation. You can reach out to other leaders to get advice and support. You can work with an executive coach. You can have a trusted mentor. You can read leadership books and blogs. I’ve used all of these strategies over my career, and they’ve definitely helped.
During my maternity leaves, I used similar approaches to deal with the same feeling of isolation. I joined mothers groups and took exercise classes with other new moms. I read parenting books. All were helpful.
Yet, there were still times, as a leader and as a parent, that I was alone. Alone with my thoughts, the decisions I faced, the positive smile I would have to put on when I opened the door to that next meeting or that next family meal. Knowing that others were going through similar challenges and surviving, possibly thriving, made all the difference in the world.
How about you? How do you deal with the sense of loneliness as a leader or as a parent? I’d like to hear from you!
© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.
Karen Catlin develops powerful women leaders in the tech industry with leadership coaching, speaking, and advising companies on how to attract and retain female engineers. She has an extensive background in Silicon Valley software companies. Formerly, Karen was a vice president at Adobe Systems, and most recently, the CEO of Athentica, an early-stage startup.
In partnership with Femgineer, Karen delivers workshops and talks that help women in tech level up in their careers. She regularly speaks at women’s leadership conferences and writes for Women 2.0, Femgineer, and other leadership web sites. She also publishes “Use Your Inside Voice,” a blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. You can find her online at karencatlin.com and on Twitter @kecatlin
(Photo credit: BigStock.com)
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