Lonely at the Top

Atlas founder, Kari Sulenes (middle) and Me (right) with our Father. You may know me as BOH Wizard:)

Atlas founder, Kari Sulenes (middle) and Me (right) with our Father. You may know me as BOH Wizard:)

By Lisa Sulenes

When we think about our health, how many of us consider the relationships we have in our lives? Humans are intrinsically social creatures. The bonds we form with other people guaranteed our success as a species throughout much of human history. While there are more people on this planet than ever before, studies are finding that massive proportions of us are lonely. In a national survey, health insurance provider, Cigna, found that loneliness is particularly bad in the U.S. and especially among younger generations. Now, why would one of the largest health insurers with 11.4 million covered in the US alone, be polling people about loneliness?

It turns out loneliness doesn’t just suck, it’s also physically harmful to us. Besides the more obvious increase in anxiety and depression, It has been shown to interfere with sleep, lowers immunity and make us less resistant to stress. A study done in 2010, even found that the influence of social integration on risk of death was as strong as smoking and alcohol and had greater influence even than obesity and physical activity. This means that people who are lonely actually die sooner. This connection was particularly strong when they looked at complex measures of social integration rather than one dimensional factors such as relationship status.

There are many different types of loneliness (you can read about 7 of them here), and many types occur in the presence of a lot of other people. You can have friends or a partner and still feel lonely. Three dog Night knew this very well when they said,

“..one is the loneliest number, two can be as bad as one it’s the loneliest number since number one.”


It’s not just about having one best friend or a great partner, the best protection against the harmful effects of loneliness is a strong social network.

This can be challenging when you are a founder. When our clients go through the Atlas Assessment, they often report not being satisfied with the amount of time that they spend with friends and family. Additionally, they report feeling like others don’t understand their experience or they try to only talk about the positive aspects of their work. All of these factors can lead to isolation and a sense of loneliness.

As a company grows, and founders move into higher leadership positions, this sense of isolation can increase even more. SO, what do you do about it?

Here are a few things we recommend to our clients:

  1. Make time to socialize and build relationships with other founders. Although you are often in competition for funding and market share, having friends who understand the unique stressors of starting a business can make all the difference. Meet-ups and networking events are good places to start; challenge yourself to ask someone you find interesting to dinner or coffee to get to know them more personally.

  2. Join a peer group. Peer groups are safe, confidential spaces facilitated by a coach that allow peers to share and learn from each other’s experiences.

  3. Find a coach or mentor who’s been there. These people have the understanding but may benefit from the perspective of not being in the middle of #startuplife.