Some of the most enjoyable and creative moments as a business owner have been when I’m quiet and alone. Why? Because aloneness is a state where I can contemplate and reflect. My hectic schedule of client appointments, speaking engagements and a sundry of other business and family commitments, including deadlines for articles and advice provide for a demanding owner’s schedule to produce something of value.
You might think, Well David, aren’t you alone and quiet when you are writing? Yes, in one sense I am alone and by myself. But when I’m in the creative flow of writing, my mind is busy working and doing and that is quite different than being alone in contemplation. Finding the peace of aloneness that I’m talking about is deeper and more quieting to the mind. Let’s explore aloneness by first understanding its toxic opposite isolation.
Isolation is the worst sort of aloneness. It is a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from external circumstances that paradoxically becomes our worst emotional enemy. We may become withdrawn and overwhelmed with events that surround us as family business owners. We may isolate ourselves from healthy routines and interactions with others. Isolation is a variety of aloneness that can be very unhealthy depending upon our perspective. Suffering often goes along with isolation when we remove ourselves from others and daily interactions. Isolation can be potentially debilitating leading to depression, toxic anxiety and avoidance behaviors such as addiction or alcoholism.
Equipping ourselves with tools to fend off isolation are action (concentrating on what we can control) and perspective (how we view our situation over time). I had the honor of hearing US Navy Captain Edward A. Davis (deceased) speak at a Hawk Mountain Chapter Boy Scout Dinner. Based on the USS Oriskany, Davis was 25 years old when the propeller-driven A-1 Skyraider he was flying on his 57th combat mission was shot down over North Vietnam on Aug. 28, 1965. Davis spent the next 7 and ½ years in a series of prisoner-of-war camps, including the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.”
Davis relayed his personal struggles and efforts to remain fit, attempting creative methods to communicate with other confined POW’s and simple tasks under his control, like remembering what day it was. Additionally, he had a remarkable perspective on his capture and isolation. When asked how he viewed his circumstances, he said, “My captors had liberty. I always had freedom.” Davis’ view of freedom and taking actions under his control, were the aloneness tools that kept him surviving until his release on February 12, 1973.
Davis’ timeless lessons of action and perspective are valuable for us as business owners to thwart isolation. We are very hard on ourselves at times as owners, thinking that we must have all the answers. When things do not work out as expected, we can blame ourselves, an unjustified punishment that portrays us as victim. Rather, we can accept and acknowledge our situation, like Captain Davis, and make the best of our circumstances as a personal victory. The fact we are even in business is remarkable. (I often say, it’s easy to start a business. It’s hard to exit a business. But staying in business is the hardest work of all.) By looking at what we control and what we do not control, we can take the business situation in stride a day at a time. In that way, we deny our fears the opportunity to magnify, and point ourselves towards victory rather than victims of misery. Now let’s take a look at aloneness.
There is a certain peace of mind we can reach when we get quiet and relaxed in our aloneness. Additionally, it allows us to draw insight from within. This is where being alone can be your best friend. In Western culture, if you want to be alone, colleagues may view it as if something is wrong. In truth, something is very right.
In the complexities of our daily family business life, moments to be alone are often just that, moments. And as business owners we must savor them as times to reflect and innovate. We all are different in our need for interactions with others for energy. For some people, more interaction is energizing. For others, less interaction with others is energizing. The point is we all need a degree of aloneness to collect our thoughts, reflect and make decisions. It is especially apparent with the abundance of constant “noise” that surrounds us – information and media telling us what we should do and think Orwellian-style.
As business owners we owe it to ourselves to experience aloneness. Regardless of our view of how important we are and that our business needs us 24/7 with our hands on the wheel. We need to slow down, get quiet and take control of what we can control — ourselves. That personal decision is to take time for being alone, regardless of the size and scope of our responsibilities. Building aloneness into our weekly schedule is healthy. As Captain Davis’ personal story of captivity reminds us, what’s most important is our perspective, which we only get by stepping back, detaching and quieting our mind for a moment. Davis’ ability to gain perspective during physical isolation is a lesson for us as family business owners on how to find peace of mind in the craziness that surrounds us.
Today, I am giving you my permission to embrace your aloneness. Take a moment to breathe, relax, get quiet and enjoy the present moment. What may follow are valuable insights you can’t believe were possible!
About the Author
David Wimer is Founder and Managing Principal of David Wimer Advisors, LLC where he works with privately-held, family businesses to navigate business transitions and prevent financial crisis. He is the author of INSIGHT: Business Advice in an Age of Complexity.