The Loneliness Tax: The Hidden Cost of Greatness

December 8, 2016
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It is this time of year – when the trees have dropped their brightness and thrown off the burden of their colorful autumn coats – that I sit alone outside my house and listen to the early winter wind rip through bare branches; straining them to cracking and pulling along the promise of a soon biting cold.

I sit outside and listen to that wind  because it is a clear, secluded and unrelenting thing that helps me collect my thoughts. It allows me the opportunity for reflection. Reflection about the goals I want to accomplish. About those I already have. Reflection about the things and people I need to keep in my life, and those I must let go. Reflection about my place in the world, and the ripples I want to leave behind. It is a place of solitude, self-imposed.

Don’t misunderstand me. It is no lonely thing, even if I use the word loneliness on occasion to describe it. Being alone does not have to be lonely, anyway. I agree with Jean Paul Sartre when he said;

“If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.”

In fact, there is a hidden depth in loneliness that some prefer to call solitude. I appreciate philosopher Paul Tillich’s distinction between the two words, but I want to use the two terms as one for this articles and say that there is so much opportunity and space in the loneliness of solitude for understanding, reinforcing and doing. It is, in fact, a comfortable place for occasional introverts like me. People who need to retreat to places of emptiness so that they can refill.

But more than that, solitude is also the place where many great men and women have labored over their dreams – doing the hard things that others cannot or will not do in order to be more and do more.

What I mean to say is that there are moments in life – when you creep to the edge of your comfort zone and peer out over the yawning abyss of possibility – that upon looking back to see who might join you on the next adventure of mind and body and soul, you can see that you utterly alone in moving forward for what you want.

It is in those moments of occasionally looking back that I have come to understand that we are forced to pay a price for trying to live outside our comfort zones and for trying to grow – ourselves or something bigger. We must pay a price for daring to do things that others insist will fail. A price for thinking the deep, personal thoughts that help us to understand ourselves and the world. And a price for building and creating our places in a world we want to live in and that price is something I call the Loneliness Tax.

What is the Loneliness Tax?

“To live alone one must be either a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

The loneliness tax is the cost of adhering to your ideals and for making the hard choices to live a life that others do not imagine possible. Not a life distracted by the thoughtless and undisciplined meanderings of trivial pursuits, but a principled life governed by introspection, growth and a want to do great things. That life will have you eating, drinking and thinking alone more often than not. Not because you come to enjoy being alone, but because there are so few people willing to sit with you through the messy business of making something great of life.

The loneliness tax is the occasional price you pay for being a unique, unrelenting, constantly thinking and perpetually doing thing in a world that asks of you to sit back, relax and consume instead of create. It is a price that is much too high for some, hence we see so few honest and real thinkers and doers in the world.

How much is the Loneliness Tax?

At first it might seem like you are paying a lot. You will lose friends and you will move on from petty pursuits that once pleased the lesser you. You will spend a lot of time alone; reading, thinking, planning, doing. You will pay a lot into loneliness at first, when you are trying to do something great, because achieving something more is at first an exercise in getting rid of what is holding you back.

And it might seem like it’s too much sometimes – that you are sacrificing too much for your dreams – but the loneliness tax is not merely something given against one’s will. It is a contribution as well. An insurance that a thinker – a dream chaser and doer of hard things – gives in order to hold fast and strong to the deepest possessions we have; our thoughts, our dreams and our actions.

So do not be afraid. The loneliness tax is mitigated by seeking out others that share your vision for greatness in whatever medium it is. Entrepreneurship. Personal Development. Exercise. Health. Love. Spirituality. Whatever you are pursuing alone right now, there are people out there willing to pursue it with you.

We are in an amazing place in history. Technology has given us the ability to connect with others across great distances and time. The modern age has put us in a great spot for finding great company. We have a historical catalog of artists, thinkers, dreamers and doers to draw from – hidden in books and art and music. But we do not only have those great men and women loners that were lost to time. No, we have modern loners as well – lost in the confines of message boards and forums and meetups and more – who are searching for the same things we are.

Seek them out. The past and the present. They need all of you as much as you need them and together you are going to change a lot more than apart. You pay the loneliness tax early, and then, as you build the life, or business or body or world or whatever that you desire, the loneliness tax is forgotten because it is paid by all of you together. It becomes a contribution of gratitude that you pay forward to others just starting the journey of self discovery and betterment.


“The thoughtful soul to solitude retires.” – Omar Khayyam

You will have to pay the loneliness tax if you are going to forge anything great in this life. When you set out to change your situation, or build something bigger than you, you will find yourself creating a distance between the things and people who do not serve your vision and loneliness, as they will attempt to pull you back to those old habits or distract you from the important decisions that you know you must make.

But you must remain unswayed – to pursue what is meaningful to you – despite the early cost of it all. Because, as you move towards what you want, you will find others also moving in that direction. Other’s willing to split the cost with you. The tax will lessen and you will find that you are not always alone and it will not always cost so much to live a life so thoughtful and bold and purposed.

So as you feel the weight of internal conversation, solitary movements and a sudden longing for another to be there with you – to understand and appreciate the moments on the journey with you – realize that you are giving deeply for your unique vision and purpose of the world. Giving deeply for the depth you’re digging. And giving willingly for something that you believe in. It is then that you must accept the loneliness tax. The tithe required of thinkers. The occasional philosophers cost. And the alms for being a doer.

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