Acknowledge your feelings of loneliness and reach out for support. A first step in overcoming your feelings is understanding how and why you feel this way. This realization can help determine the impact it is having on your life. Talk to your family and friends, let them know how you are feeling and what you are struggling with.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’, I had the pleasure to interview Cole Egger.
In his role as Co-Founder and CEO of Listeners On Call, Cole Egger leads the company’s vision to provide on-call empathy, privacy and support for millions of people who need to feel heard. Through his own personal journey serving as a stem cell donor for his father who battled cancer for 5 years, Cole found that he needed to talk with someone who understood his situation more than someone with a specific degree. Listeners On Call’s foundation on shared experiences is the company’s secret formula for valuable human connections.
Cole’s heart for health and well-being is exhibited through his 20-plus years in entrepreneurship with a number of companies including: Meals to Live, a healthy lifestyle company that creates food for consumers with dietary restrictions with distribution in 17,000 locations; QS Holdings, Inc., a consumer product company for Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes, which was later licensed to Walgreens; and a non-profit called the Diabetes Friendly Foundation which donated Diabetes Alert Dogs (D.A.D. Dogs) to families with children living with Type 1 diabetes. Cole’s personal passion is creating products and services that address consumer behavior in a way that benefits the lives of others.
A life-long Texas native, Cole received his B.A. from Texas A&M University and now resides in Dallas with his wife Kelli his wife — Licensed Clinical Social Worker who’s empathetic nature and conviction to help others provided inspiration for founding Listeners On Call. When Cole isn’t working, he likes to spend time outside enjoying bike riding or a round of golf with friends.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
Being an entrepreneur by definition forces you to face many situations in which you feel alone, isolated, and often struggle with your mental health. However, my personal life has actually been the catalyst for Listeners On Call. A few years ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer and was in need of a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, there was not a 100% match on the donor list, so my half match became the best option. During this time, I found myself struggling to process the gravity of this situation and sought out the opportunity to speak to a professional therapist for the first time. Unfortunately, I struggled to find the right fit for me in this area, but instead I was able to find the support I needed from a peer who actually shared many relatable experiences to my own. This connection and support through my father’s entire cancer battle was instrumental in my handling of it in a healthy manner. As my father’s health again began to decline, my family and I were spending large amounts of time in hospitals. I found myself noticing how other families there were looking for support too. As a result, this was a big part of my inspiration for co-founding Listeners On Call. Connecting people who need to speak with someone who can relate to their circumstance. No matter if it is a medical crisis, financial stress, or just simply needing someone to listen, we all need to be heard, and Listeners On Call can provide that connection.
When I started my career journey, I thought I would work in sports management. Turns out, that wasn’t my passion. However, during that time I did discover my desire to connect people with accessible solutions. This began my first entrepreneurial endeavor straight out of college, and I haven’t looked back since. I have worked on many different products, solutions and concepts throughout my career, but Listeners On Call is truly a unique opportunity. Connecting people may seem like such a simple concept, but today it has become more and more challenging for us all to find meaningful connections in our technology-driven society.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Often you will hear inspiring stories from entrepreneurs about how they got their inspiration from a moment of clarity or from this breakthrough moment with an influential person. One of my biggest inspirations came from talking to a complete stranger, waiting in line for a restroom. She was a mother whose child struggled with Type 1 diabetes. As we stood there casually having a conversation, she shared how hard it was to find a healthy option to give her child when his blood sugar dropped. She spoke of how often “the go-to was a soda, juice or candy” simply to get her child’s blood sugar up. So I asked what his favorite candy was, turns out it was pixie sticks. This brief conversation sparked my next business endeavor that would later be licensed to Walgreens — the Glucose Quick Stick. So I would say, always be open to opportunities. They can present themselves in the most unexpected moments.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
As a young entrepreneur, I was an aggressive salesman. My mentor was also an aggressive salesman, and I was always willing to do whatever I could to get the meeting. On one occasion, I was selling frozen food and I thought it would be a great idea to send the buyer frozen samples every week until he was convinced he liked my product so much he would see me. Unfortunately, after about 6 weeks he sent me an email where he said that he would agree to meet with me if I would stop sending samples. You see the samples I was sending were being held up in shipping and by the time they arrived they smelt terrible and were being thrown away. So, while it wasn’t the costly samples I was sending weekly that ultimately got me the meeting, he did meet with me and even ended up putting my product in their stores because of my persistence.
My approach was flawed, but the persistence paid off. Always be willing to learn from your mistakes and improve for your next opportunity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Over the last two years I have been focused on launching Listeners On Call. As the world faces an pandemic of loneliness, Listeners On Call provides a hub for individuals to discover that they are not alone in what they are facing and to easily, and anonymously, connect with others for support when they need it.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
I would describe myself as an advocate for the lonely. With Listeners On Call we have callers every day that are looking for someone to connect with. Seeing this inspires me to continue my work connecting people through an easy-to-use, on-demand platform.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
Loneliness is a prevalent emotion, and it sadly is on the rise. Persistent and common sentiments of isolation can be extremely harmful to our health. It can reduce our productivity, and our ability to have quality sleep. Some studies show that consistent loneliness can lead to inflammation, which makes the body more susceptible to illness. A sad statistic is that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The most notable are the mental health risks associated with loneliness such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation or intent. Social connections are more essential and have more impact than most people realize.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
In my own personal experience. I felt very alone in my situation. What I later came to learn through community, and connecting with others, is that while I might have felt alone in my situation, I had never been alone in my experience.
We are currently living in a time with low social interaction, and technology has significantly reduced the need for human interaction. There are self-service checkouts, food delivery apps, ATMs on every corner, and Amazon can deliver practically anything within hours. For some people these interactions were their only chance to have a conversation throughout the day. Some may argue that these technologies are helping our communities and increasing performance, but it also can be argued that they are stripping away social interaction, which in turn creates loneliness as a byproduct. We have to ask ourselves, are we moving in the wrong direction? Human connections keep us physically and mentally healthy. They also keep our communities safe and empower us.
Despite the promises of technology to connect our society, our communities and countries, we are facing a silent epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Left unaddressed, we could see an existential global threat to what we know as civilization today. As humanity disconnects, we see the rise of mental health conditions and clear impacts on physical health as well. As technology leaders have offered digital substitutes for social connection, they have jettisoned the greatest limiter to growth — humanity. While scaling networks without human involvement can generate billions of “likes” and “follows”, the loss of human connection is a by-product that can’t be solved with a tap.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
Like I mentioned above, technology has significantly reduced the need for interaction. Our society has focused on convenience and efficiency over human connection. Social connection no longer requires a phone call or driving to meet someone, it just requires a click. People are lonely due to the lack of quality interaction, not due to the lack of quantity.
- One main reason why we may be facing a loneliness epidemic is the internet. The social interaction that comes from the internet has been shown to be temporary and fleeting. We as a society are attempting to replace authentic relationships with online relationships. Is this bad? Well, the internet can eventually isolate us and damage our remaining relationships. The more isolated we feel, the more we seek out validation and or withdraw online.
- Secondly, the number of individuals in the US with no close friends has tripled since 1985. Not having friends that you can confide in or spend time with on a regular basis has a direct correlation to feelings of loneliness.
- Lastly, the incidence of adults living alone has steadily increased and is a risk factor for social isolation and loneliness.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
- Acknowledge your feelings of loneliness and reach out for support. A first step in overcoming your feelings is understanding how and why you feel this way. This realization can help determine the impact it is having on your life. Talk to your family and friends, let them know how you are feeling and what you are struggling with.
- Increase opportunities for social interaction. This intervention is simple and focuses on creating opportunities through organized activities. An example of this is meetup.com, which helps you meet new people face to face based on similar interests.
- Volunteering. Participating in volunteer opportunities may help alleviate loneliness. At a basic level it connects you with other people; in addition, it can help cultivate a feeling of purpose and meaning which commonly is a byproduct of loneliness.
- Self-care. Staying engaged in stimulating and serotonin-inducing activities can help to combat loneliness. This can be practiced through exercise, getting outside in nature and in the sun, a healthy diet, routine, and quality sleep.
- Unplug. It is important to know when to engage and disconnect from the online world. Although the internet can offer convenient ways to connect with others, for some people the online world may contribute to even greater feelings of isolation. Recognize how you are feeling. Is what you are reading or looking at making you feel inadequate?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That would be increasing human connection through access to Listeners. My hopes are that this in turn would lead to creating a movement of mindful and empathic listeners. Active listening can help foster great leadership. My hope is that this platform can help create more thoughtful Listeners and inspire others to follow suit. I believe Listeners On Call has the opportunity to help destigmatize the conversation around Mental Health and allow those in need to reach out for help.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
As an entrepreneur I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill & Melinda Gates and their unbelievable charitable accomplishments. Their compassion inspires others to take action, and I admire how they have been able to combine their influence and philanthropy to create change at a global scale.
As an example, one of their many philanthropic endeavors has been to provide sustainable sanitation services around the world, such as drinkable water in low-income areas. Bill & Melinda’s endeavors as a facilitator of change have brought together some of the brightest minds and entrepreneurs around the world to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges. I believe Listeners On Call has the opportunity to be the facilitator of change between Callers and Listeners, and on a global scale has the opportunity to be part of the solution in addressing the epidemic of mental health and loneliness.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!