Community//

Not Busy Enough to Fight Loneliness

As a student at Hunter High School, my motto was, “Sleep is for the weak.” A fellow Dartmouth College alumna who graduated from the rival Stuyvesant High School chuckles in solidarity whenever our lifestyle choice comes up in conversation with new friends. I once had a friend tell me that she was tired simply looking […]

As a student at Hunter High School, my motto was, “Sleep is for the weak.” A fellow Dartmouth College alumna who graduated from the rival Stuyvesant High School chuckles in solidarity whenever our lifestyle choice comes up in conversation with new friends.

I once had a friend tell me that she was tired simply looking at my calendar. Many of my friends tell me that I’m the hardest working person they know. This was before I recently started a new role on Wall Street as Director of Partnerships in healthcare tech, where it’s not uncommon for me to pull 10 to 14 hour days.

That is the context I chose to announce to Facebook friends that I landed a new job. I posted my status as a badge of honor rather than a complaint. I was congratulated enthusiastically:

Facebook ScreenShot

Nonetheless, I try to play hard, too. Yes, I have FOMO.

On Saturday, I attended a belated Valentine’s Day party hosted by published author Olive B. Persimmon and her two roommates: Vern and Mike. We were joined by fellow Personal Development Nerds (PDN) and many, many more — Note the massive group hug photos in the screenshot above.

Sunday afternoon, my friends from Dartmouth College treated me to a belated birthday brunch at the restaurant where we meet monthly.

Sunday evening, I met with a new writing group in Soho. I’ve been invited back to the subsequent four meetings.

Photo courtesy of Theresa Vu, ACN: New York City

On Monday, I went to work with a headache and sore throat that started brewing the day prior. By the time I left the office, I was sneezing and sniffling, too. By the time I went to bed after midnight, I could no longer breathe through my nose. Sleep was impossible. I still forced myself to return to work extra early the next morning with raging head and back pains because I had an important meeting scheduled.

Tuesday evening, I attended an event hosted by Weill Cornell Medicine and Entrepreneurship at Cornell to learn about life science innovations, inventing products and building companies. I was surrounded by “prominent venture capital firms, biopharma representatives, technology and biotech entrepreneurs, clinicians, scientists, doctors, and leading institutions including Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, Hospital for Special Surgery, and New York Presbyterian Hospital.”

Tonight, I will serve on the Hospitality Committee for The GC4W Entrepreneurship Ball hosted at the Harvard Club to recognize and celebrate accomplished female entrepreneurs, VCs, and angel investors. Co-Chaired by Global Connections for Women CEO and
NYU SPS University Faculty Lilian Ajayi-Ore with Summer Y.L., the black tie gala’s honorees and attendees included:

Rebecca Minkoff, Founder of Rebecca Minkoff
Bonita Thompson, New York Times Bestselling Author
Lana Pozhidaeva, Founder, Wetalks  
Sarah LaFleur, Founder & CEO of MM.LaFleur
Alison Wyatt, Angel Investor & Co-Founder of GirlBoss

In my personal and professional life, I gravitate towards intelligent and ambitious individuals. Often, this means it’s the rare occasion when we are actually able to find “free” time and align chaotic schedules. I have a long list of people I see offline once, maybe twice, a year even though we’re less than an hour’s commute from one another. And I travel, even out of state to, to see friends.

Facebook ScreenShot 2

I am mindful and intentional about being a thoughtful and generous friend. Yet, despite having supportive and appreciative friends (Refer to private messages (posted with approval) in the first Facebook screenshot), I feel lonely even with a crammed calendar of social activities.

Few people believe that I often feel lonely, and it was terribly difficult to confess this publicly. As BBC notes, it’s the “last taboo”.

I recognize that I had privileges, luxuries and luck that others do not. Yet, this does not quell my longing for the platonic ideal of friendship explained by William Deresiewicz in the December 2009 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Far from being ordinary and universal, friendship, for the ancients, was rare, precious, and hard-won… Friendship was a high calling, demanding extraordinary qualities of character—rooted in virtue, for Aristotle and Cicero, and dedicated to the pursuit of goodness and truth… 

Inevitably, the classical ideal has faded. The image of the one true friend, a soul mate rare to find but dearly beloved, has completely disappeared from our culture. We have our better or lesser friends, even our best friends, but no one in a very long time has talked about friendship the way Montaigne and Tennyson did. That glib neologism “bff,” which plays at a lifelong avowal, bespeaks an ironic awareness of the mobility of our connections: Best friends forever may not be on speaking terms by this time next month… We’re busy people; we want our friendships fun and friction-free.  

I had been attributing my lack of deep, intimate friendships to the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to schedule even busier acquaintances to meet once a quarter, nevermind more regularly. A recent exchange with a Tuck School of Business graduate —

But I am not alone in my feelings of loneliness and disconnect. These feelings pervade all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Last month, The Daily Princetonian quoted one of many students who feel isolated on campus, desperate for connection “… I just don’t understand why. I. Always. Have. To. Be. The. One. To. Make. All. The. Effort. In reaching out to people and [making] new friends. And [yet] perpetually feel like I’m still an outsider and not really part of some group.”

This epidemic has spawned countless articles in major, international publications covering the problem from multiple angles —

Last May, The Chicago Tribune ran a story titled, “Young Americans are the loneliest generation, and their phones aren’t to blame”. In March, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported that “Japan’s Prisons Are a Haven for Elderly Women, Lonely seniors are shoplifting in search of the community and stability of jail.” In December, The Wall Street Journal published, “Unprepared: The Loneliest Generation: Americans, More Than Ever, Are Aging Alone.”

Loneliness is not an isolated issue, it causes other problems —

Mid-2018, The Guardian found, “Loneliness linked to major life setbacks for millennials, Lonely millennials found to be more likely to have mental health problems and be out of work.” Less than a year later, Buzzfeed’s “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” story went viral.

Psychology Today reports that loneliness in the U.S. has reached epidemic levels. According to a recent Cigna study of 20,000 American adults:
* 18 percent feel like they have no one to talk to
* 20 percent said they never or rarely feel close to people
* 50 percent sometimes or always feel isolated and that their relationships lack meaning

As a society, this is a serious problem we need to address and solve before it gets any worse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that social isolation and loneliness can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In April 20017, Brigham Young University Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad testified before the U.S. Senate that feeling disconnected has structural and psychological effects which can be fatal.

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