Being a charity executive can be very lonely, even in the best organizations. Your job is to lead your team, your board, your beneficiaries – well…everyone. You need to inspire, motivate, delegate, decide stuff and lift everyone around you. It is a tough gig—even in the best circumstances.
One day, when I was an Executive Director, I decided to take the salad I brought for lunch to the lunchroom instead of eating it at my desk. As I approached the lunchroom I heard giggling, banter, and animated conversations about something exciting. I was glad I made the time, and couldn’t wait to join in the fun. When I walked in the door the banter stopped. The energy shifted. It was subtle, and people were polite sure—but less joyous. I was the boss after all. It was a great team and I knew it wasn’t personal. It was just human nature to sit up straighter when your boss walks in the room. I started going for walks at lunch instead. I wanted the staff to relax.
Who do you turn to when you need a lift? Whose got your back? It’s great to be able to talk to your spouse about your job or the worries that keep you up at night, but even they can’t truly understand the complexities of your work situation. There is often no one to talk to who really understands all you are coping with. By nature, being a charity executive is often solitary and can get lonely. Being aware of how lonely you are is essential for your own well-being.
A loneliness epidemic
Did you know that loneliness has a serious impact on your physical and mental health? Studies show that it has been linked to anxiety and depression and can increase risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%. Loneliness is more than a “mood.” The problem of loneliness has reached epidemic proportions and is a serious global health concern. In fact, The World Health Organization just launched a commission to tackle the global epidemic of loneliness head on.
“High rates of social isolation and loneliness around the world have serious consequences for health and well-being. People without enough strong social connections are at higher risk of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, suicide and more,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This WHO Commission will help establish social connection as a global health priority and share the most promising interventions.”
While we wait for the WHO Commission on Loneliness to convene and develop interventions, I’d like to share two things that have worked for me when I’ve felt lonely. Maybe they will work for you.
Initiate meaningful connections
The reality is that if you are feeling lonely, chances are your friends are too. Be intentional about moving beyond the highlight reels on social media and make a real connection with people you care about. Here are a few ideas:
Ambush phone calls are awesome. People close to me know that I do this regularly. I don’t even text first to warn them of the incoming call. Pretend it is 1980 and just phone. If they are around, they will answer. If they are busy, you can leave a nice message and say something like, “I was thinking of you and wanted to connect. Give me a call back when you have a chance. I’d love to catch up.”
Send a handwritten note with a heartfelt message. “I was just thinking of you and remembered that time when…. I really loved the way you …. I appreciate you.” Join a mastermind group or an online networking forum. There are so many of these happening right now. If they are run well, they can leave you feeling really inspired and seen.
Reach out to someone in our professional network and invite them to have a coffee, tea or drink over zoom. No agenda, just talking.
Pretend there is a power outage with no internet. Pull your teenagers out of their room and let them know you want to hear all about their day. Campfires are great for this. Fun food helps.
If it is hard for you to initiate these things, consider hiring a coach. Coaching is an excellent way to carve out time to examine the source of your loneliness, and how to reconnect with the world around you. A good coach will also be able to help you determine if you are really stuck and need the extra help of psychotherapy.
Use biology to hack your brain!
There are neurotransmitters and hormones in your body that regulate your mood and are triggered when you take certain actions. They are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. You can TRIGGER THEM!
Trust me, I know that it sounds cliché to suggest: “get outside,” “start a gratitude practice,” “have a 60 second hug with a romantic partner” “spend time in a forest,” “go for a walk in the sun,” “celebrate a little win,” or “finish a project.” It can be really irritating to hear these things when you are already tired, burnt out and lonely. They seem so obvious but science has proven that these activities literally change the physiology of your body. Build weekly or daily habits around these activities and they can have a significant impact on your mental (and physical) fitness.
Two birds one stone
Just imagine the possibilities if you hacked your brain WHILE making meaningful connections. You could—invite a friend to walk in the forest, sing in a choir instead of the shower, walk your dog with a neighbour and be curious about how they are doing.
In these turbulent, post-pandemic times our need for connection and community has never been greater. Loneliness is a serious health concern, but you do not have to be alone. It’s very likely that your online “friends” or neighbour or even that best friend you haven’t seen for a year feels the same. Take that first step. Reach out to someone you miss. You won’t regret it.
This article was originally published on Hilborn Charity eNews.
Kimberley Mackenzie, CPCC, ACC renewed purpose is to be the kind of coach she wishes she had had. She is a burnt-out charity executive and consultant, former CFRE, former editor for Hilborn Charity eNews, AFP Master Trainer, Podcaster, Step/Mother to eight children, Grandmother to one and works as a Group Facilitator, Certified Co-Active Coach, ICF certified Associate Coach. You can reach Kimberley at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Instagram @kimberleycanada. Or just give her a call at 289-231-1339.