Lonely: A Professional Plus?

"All The Lonely People Where Do They Belong?" - The Beatles, Eleanor Rigby

Mar 16, 2011 by

Back in high school, guidance counselors and teachers hammered into us Baby Boomers how difficult it was for the 76 million of us to get into college.  Early on we learned to game the system by presenting ourselves on our college applications as the well-rounded, social young people we were expected to be.

Most of us learned that too well.  Right up to today, so many of us struggle to conceal that we were and are, well, one-dimensional loners.  Of course, pop culture, ranging from Bette Midler to the Beatles, reinforces that stigma about being one of those many lonely people. And it doesn’t matter a bit, does it, how successful we Apart People might be, compared to those who never bowled alone.

Then an unusual book comes along.  It’s Lonely: Learning to Live With Solitude by former lawyer Emily White.  Sure, the book drips with emotional pain as White describes her sense of not belonging dating way back to childhood when her parents divorced.  However, those of us who connect the dots recognize that White could not have accomplished so much professionally had she been a gregarious sort.  Her aloneness gave her the time to pursue tough professional goals.  It also gave her the platform to study how being alone can shape or misshape a life – and career.  The result has been her book.

Had I really been an insider in the circles I was made to travel in, be it my ethnic family in Jersey City, New Jersey or corporate speechwriters, I likely would have lacked the inner discomfort to propel me out of those bad fits.  When I attended my sister’s funeral in 2001, I was the other one there who had left the area.  When speechwriting tanked around the same time I was one of the few who had prepared for a career transition.

Unfortunately, because of the bad rep loneliness has, we will probably remain in the dark about what might be its unique role in professional success.

Graphic Credit: Eleanor Rigby Statue Catholica

About the Author

Jane Genova Has Written 24 Articles For Us!

I’m a coach, book author, and lecturer on careers, specializing in transitions. When I was 58, I restarted my professional life. That was in 2003. Since then I have I have muted into one of those renaissance folks who keeps multiple lines of work going. My latest book Over-50: How We Keep Working has helped thousands of people realize that exciting careers don’t depend on your age. I write four blogs: Jane Genova, Law and More, Career Transitions, Over-50.
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  1. There’s a critical difference between solitude and loneliness. And being alone isn’t the same as being lonely. I get far, far more done on my own than I do in (most) groups. I look back on the days when I went into an office and it exhausts me, simply remembering all the meetings for the sake of meetings, the constant “work” that really didn’t accomplish much, and having to constantly deal with other people.

    I also maintain that if you’re not happy by yourself, with yourself, other people and locations won’t make a difference.

  2. Debra Pearlman

    May of the women and men, accomplishing what most think is amazing do it alone, some by choice and some by default. It was a bad break-up that lead me to one of my life’s greatest choices; to travel around the world, solo, foot loose and fancy free. Backpack on my back, Lonely Planet guide book in my pocket I discovered the “travelers'” world of Asia in the 1970/80’s and cannot thank that old boyfriend enough for dumping me.

    Support from loved ones is always a big support, but that does not mean it has to come from a one-on-one relationship. Look how we at atsGf are supporting each other. I have to say, being alone does not have to mean being lonely.

  3. I have to admit, no strings can help with focus and getting things done. It does not have to be any particular age demographic. A lot of success is also relies on ability to work outside the office in social settings – discussions at a bar, events, etc. Constraints on the ability to participate can impact one’s career, especially when perceived relative to others in an organization.

    On the other hand having the support structure of loved ones around you can be the biggest boost to someones success. It all depends on the definition of success and when you want to be. There’s so much emphasis on success in youth with people like Mark Zuckerburg getting so much attention. But, I’d like to think a lot of people fall into the Leonardo da Vinci category who did their best work or were at their zenith in their later years.

    Baby steps will perhaps add up slower but surer than some folks on the fast track!

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