To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 May 2022), our Lead Executive Officer Andrea Brewster OBE provides some person reflections on the week’s theme of “loneliness”. She looks at its relevance to the IP professions and how that can shape our response.
This article also appeared in World Intellectual Property Review during Mental Health Awareness Week.
I’m not a hugely gregarious person. I don’t mind my own company. But even I’ve suffered it now and then: that incredible need to connect. Loneliness.
There are a hundred and one types of work-related loneliness, and we have our fair share here in IP.
The loneliness of the imposter who, surrounded by top-notch professionals, worries they’re not up to the job. Of the fearful, unable to admit their problems and mistakes. Of the outsider, trying to fit in, searching for familiar faces in a room full of strangers – “networking” can be the loneliest task on earth.
And let’s not forget the loneliness of the unheard, the unseen and the undervalued. We can all feel that way sometimes, even surrounded by other people. Conversely, there’s the loneliness of the leader, who walks ahead forging the path, carrying responsibilities that often can’t be shared.
The lost jigsaw piece
It means different things to different people, but I think at the heart of loneliness is that basic feeling of not having a connection to the world. Loneliness is being unable to contribute. It’s when you’re the lost jigsaw piece, separated from the rest of the puzzle.
No profession is immune but there may be aspects of working in IP that increase our vulnerability. Many of us work alone rather than in teams. We have a lot of sole practitioners and remote workers, and smaller firms with over-stretched leaders. We’re full of high-flyers and perfectionists, and our work can be tough: deadlines, complex issues, high stakes. A lonely person can go unnoticed for months while their colleagues fight the fires on their own desks.
IP is also a niche profession. That’s good news for the in-crowd, but correspondingly tough for outsiders. And let’s face it we’re not yet very diverse, so people in under-represented groups often struggle to find someone to identify with. It can indeed feel lonely being the only woman, or the only non-white person, round the table.
Invite, ask, share
And yet. The IP professions are also well placed to tackle these issues. Combatting loneliness is about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, recognising that they may not feel as confident as we do. It’s about remembering to include everyone: to invite, to ask, to share. IP professionals, for all their faults, are generally pretty good at lateral thinking – we can, then, try harder to understand others and to actively welcome them in.
My top tip? Ask someone a favour. If I’m feeling undervalued, excluded or unsure of myself, the nicest thing anyone can do is seek my opinion or invite me to help. Connections – meaningful connections – are the best antidote to loneliness.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, please reach out to someone and remind them they have value. And then keep on doing it.