They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.  

—Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost

F or a few weeks, I’ve been pondering the message of a LinkedIn post positing that leaders who surround themselves with the right team and treat them properly will never feel “lonely at the top.” The author made some good points about creating culture, fostering trust, and displaying honesty, as pathways to avoiding a sense of loneliness or isolation when making decisions or leading a team. As I read the piece, I felt that something was missing in his argument – his conclusion didn’t seem quite right. More importantly for me, I wondered if I was taking the wrong approach because there are times when I feel lonely in my role.

Loneliness is defined as a state of being sad because one is alone or in a state of having no companions, being solitary. The definition is straightforward but doesn’t really capture all of the nuances of the word. To feel lonely is to feel isolated – apart from others in some fashion. One may feel lonely whether or not he/she is physically alone. Sadness may accompany it but being lonely doesn’t necessarily mean one is sad. To feel lonely may reflect various elements of melancholy, pensiveness, thoughtfulness, or even introspective disconnectedness. Loneliness is a feeling and, for the most part, we really don’t want to experience it. We consider it a negative to feel lonely and believe that something is wrong when it appears.

Loneliness is a feeling and, for the most part, we really don’t want to experience it. We consider it a negative to feel lonely and believe that something is wrong when it appears.

The mistake of the previously mentioned post was to suggest that loneliness is avoidable. There are simply times when we have to walk alone and loneliness is a natural by-product. Whether we are running a company, performing surgery, dealing with an illness, facing consequences for a decision, recovering from an injury, facing the end of a relationship, or coping with heartbreaking loss, some moments are only ours to bear. Often they seem unbearable. In that place we find loneliness. We need to remember that it is natural, it should be expected, and we need to be intentional in managing it.

Loneliness is one of life’s tension points. A place in which we rise or fall, learn or fail, as we push to become the best version of our self. To feel lonely is to be human and recognize that there are some burdens that only we can carry. And that is O.K. When we take on the mantle of loneliness, we step to that dangerous edge between rising above our challenges or being crushed by them. To run from loneliness is to face a pack of wild dogs and believe that you can turn and physically get away; running only whets their hunting instincts. The tension of loneliness must be walked through, endured, and survived. It has to be acknowledged, recognized as part of the experience, and managed through with intention. You must see it as momentary, for believing in its permanence is overwhelming.

To feel lonely is to be human and recognize that there are some burdens that only we can carry.

Recognizing loneliness for what it is, we realize that it is sometimes lonely at the top as we make decisions and face consequences for them. We realize that there will be lonely places in our cancer treatment. We know that our broken heart isolates us with a festering loneliness. We acknowledge that the long, slow rehabilitation of a broken limb, or joint surgery, makes us feel lonely because it is ours alone to bear. Then, we take the steps necessary to move through and beyond that loneliness. We allow others to help us. We reach out with honesty and sincerity. We open our heart. We minimize our isolation and work to convert the pain to meaningful change in how we relate to others, what we give of ourselves, and the responsibility we take for being the best we can possibly be.

Yes, there are times when we have to walk alone. In those moments we will encounter loneliness. Recognize him as a friend and a nemesis. He will carry us to that edge and give us the opportunity to carry ourselves back. He will also carry us over that edge if we allow him. Walk your path, face your loneliness, then return to us a stronger person. From there, we can finish the journey together.

Comments
pingbacks / trackbacks
  • […] few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled, Times When We Have to Walk Alone. The point of that post was that it can be very lonely when we find ourselves facing a problem and […]