Is Professional Loneliness A Thing?

In 2010 I was invited to be part of an experiment. An experiment that brought a small group of brilliant women tech executives together to explore and act on the idea that we needed a unique professional platform to make it to the next level. The experiment was life-changing and has gone on to manifest into an annual program full of insights and surprises. 

One of the biggest surprises was the realization that while people surrounded me, I was incredibly lonely. Like many women in executive roles, while I had friends, I didn’t have friends who also understood the kind of pressure I was under or the strategic decisions I needed to make daily. Did I have people I could talk to about these things? Yes, but they were mostly men. And while these guys (I still talk to them) were terrific thought partners, I also wanted the female perspective. We are different, amazingly so, and it was thought partnership through a woman’s eyes, eyes like mine, that I yearned. 

I don’t think I’m alone.

Roll forward a decade and #leanin #metoo, and a myriad of organizations have manifested trying to close the gap for women. They all seek to empower and help their members to step up to the next level, whatever that level might be.

What’s challenging for these organizations and their members is that it’s usually for personal reasons when you choose to join them.

  • “I want a promotion.”
  • “I want to get into the C-Suite.”
  • “I want X for my future.”

And yet, as I realized back in 2010, the benefit is both personal and collaborative. It was finding a community of people who looked like me and sounded like me that mitigated my loneliness. I’ll also say it bolstered my ambitions and acted as the very antidote to the IBSC (itty bitty shitty committee – that voice in my head – you know the one) I didn’t know existed.

I’m guessing by now, you’re either thinking, “OMG Yes!” or “Joanna clearly has some issues.” If you’re the latter, I’m going to save you some time. This article is not for you.

Ok. You’re in the “Yes!” camp, and I’m sure you think the next step is to join a group. My guess is you have already. The hard part is finding the right group. And that’s hard to find because of the following:

  1. Just saying that a group has a community element doesn’t mean there’s actually a community.
  2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an organization like this talk about “Professional Loneliness programming.” Am I wrong?

Why? Because community building that creates trust and collaboration is hard. Just read or watch anything by Erica Kuhl, and you’ll start to understand why. You’ll also begin to understand why the alchemy of community can be a game-changer for you and your organization.

The experiments of 10 years ago aren’t over. Recently I announced a collaboration with the UPWARD Women, where their membership will be invited along on an Executive Future You Adventure with me. Of course, our goal is to help each of their members learn how to teach others why they’re uniquely awesome. Our secondary goal, which excites me the most, is to help them learn how each other is awesome and, in doing so, create deep and powerful relationships across the community. 

Deep and powerful relationships = No more loneliness

If you’re an UPWARD member and want to learn more about what we’re doing, join us at the Kick-Off Event on September 23rd at Noon PST.

I challenge you all to find your community—people who professionally challenge you and champion you. I know I wouldn’t be here without mine.

PS. Replace “women” with any other group with gaps to close. I think this is all-inclusive thinking.


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