Nathan Testa knows what success feels like. As a CEO, he's been able to spread his digital agency, Teko, across both Australia and Asia in the two short years since founding the business. But Testa also knows just how isolating entrepreneurship can be, too.
The concept that it's lonely at the top isn't anything new for professionals. But Testa's perspective is unique because, unlike many other entrepreneurs who have been around the block once or twice, Testa is just 19. And if Testa and others in the upcoming generation of business leaders are going to thrive, we all have to dissect what his particular type of loneliness actually entails and stems from.
When you've achieved, but maybe not lived
Testa says that both his parents and grandparents had businesses through their lives, and that being surrounded by them probably contributed quite a bit to him "looking outside the square, rather than solely focusing on any specific pathway." And he also admits that he's been able to surround himself with like-minded individuals. In that sense, he hasn't been truly on his own. But he's still experienced loneliness in the sense of questioning to himself whether the grass is greener on the other side.
"The biggest drawback for me centered around not spending time around people my own age," Testa explains. "I saw myself surrounded by older and more mature persons who had experiences in both business and life that were foreign to me that kept me wondering whether I was missing out or whether I would get the chance to experience what they experienced."
With this question in his mind, Testa's come to the conclusion himself that he really hasn't experienced life. It's the message he gets from those in his own demographic, who often don't yet share his drive or goals. And it's the message he gets from those senior to him, who already have tasted much of what's sweetest or enjoyable. Only other entrepreneurs who similarly have shouldered responsibility early really can understand what Testa's doubts are about with sincere empathy, and those individuals are scarce.
So what then? Say no to young entrepreneurship?
Testa's story doesn't mean you shouldn't go after a business dream early if you're genuinely interested in and passionate about it. But it does signal a definitive need for you to understand what you're signing up for, and for you to gather strategies to be happy and see the world in all its colors. And in this arena, Testa has some tips to pass on if you're facing his situation, or if you might do so in the future.
1. Stay connected to friends your own age. "Don't lose touch with them, as they are part of the formative years. Business tends to draw you away from them--[but] you need to experience life at all levels."
2. Be active. "Don't sit around behind a desk. The world's a big place, and you need to experience it day to day. I generally take time out and go for a walk along the beach and savor the moment and breathe some fresh air."
3. Embrace co-working spaces. This doesn't have to mean an open plan with no privacy. It just means deliberately going to a place where you know you can interact with others as you do your job. "[Coworking spaces] have a vibe about them that is awe-inspiring, and you get to meet a lot of interesting people."
4. Take regular, short breaks (e.g., 2 or 3 days). Testa acknowledges that, simply because you want your business or project to succeed so badly, you can get "stuck in a loop" of work where time becomes irrelevant and real socializing just doesn't happen. "But what's important is that you don't let yourself get sucked into a situation where it's 'all-consuming'. You must try to step back and reach out and ask for help and assistace, whether it's from a business or personal aspect (both, in my opinion, are interconnected)." You can find the mini-vacations that speak to you, of course, but Testa top choices? The beach and even shopping to feed his "passion for fashion".
5. Laugh at yourself. "Don't take things so seriously and make time to catch a flick or two and laugh aloud. They say that laughter is a great medicine, and I agree!"
The common theme that links all Testa's tips is simply that, as much as you need to invest time in your business, you need to relax enough to invest time in yourself and others, too. You won't know for sure if you're missing out unless you actually hop the fence and explore the other pastures around you. You've got all the time in the world to make your mark. So be sure of who you are. Make friends. Show that you embrace fun as much as you embrace intention so that it's clear to others and yourself that you don't--and won't--have regrets. This business of life, after all, doesn't get any reruns.