Curing Others (And Yourself) From The Loneliness Epidemic

Boaz Gaon,
Founder & CEO of Wisdo Health

Boaz is part of a very well known family in Israel, which significantly influenced the genesis of Israel’s modern economy and business. His father, Benny Gaon, was the CEO of “Koor Industries”, which at some point owned 20% of the Israeli market when it was still partly owned by the government. He helped lead the transformation in Israel to become a free market.

He was very impressive indeed, but like most sons, Boaz wasn’t that interested in what he did in the beginning. To him, he was just his charismatic, warm and invincible dad. 

They are 4 siblings. He has an older sister, a twin brother, and an older brother who is fairly known in the worlds of business, advertising and political strategy. His mother is a feisty Greek woman who came to Israel when she was 6 years old as a Holocaust survivor. 

Boaz was and still is surrounded by high achievers in different fields, but he did the unexpected and went to a totally different arena - a much more vulnerable one, as a journalist and playwright.

They had weekly family dinners, which were more like a board, where the children around the table were expected to share their weekly achievements. They were also expected to measure up to what dad had to report, as a CEO of a multi billion dollar industrial giant. It was important to Boaz’s father that his kids will leave their mark and contribute something to humanity. Boaz shares that it was indeed stressful and created a layer of competition between the siblings, but still - there was a big gift there, because they did have the freedom to excel in every field they were interested in - as long as they were driven by the same values and motivation and push themselves to leave a mark.

Today, in addition to continuing his career as a novelist, playwright and consummate storyteller, Boaz is the CEO and founder of Wisdo Health, a leader in identifying and treating the Loneliness Epidemic affecting 124M Americans, through collaborating with health insurance providers and employers who view Loneliness, and rightly so, as a predictor of mental and physical illness. Wisdo is unique since it leverages the power of a supportive community to build healthier support networks that can detect when someone is in need of a referral to clinical care. Based on research that Wisdo has conducted with healthcare leaders in the past 24 months, sponsoring insured and employed members into Wisdo can save US healthcare $198B a year. 

Know your path

Boaz’s journey towards realizing his true calling as a storyteller was a gradual process. In the beginning, his father wanted him to be a lawyer, but after his first year in law school, Boaz knew one thing - he definitely did not want to be a lawyer. He announced he was going on a break after that year, a break that is still going on today.

“Yes, it was very hard for him, and he had me go on a series of meetings with the titans of Israeli law, but again, credit to him for understanding that doing something that you don’t like in life is going to lead to you doing something that you're not good at, which is going to lead to you being unhappy - there’s nothing to be gained from pursuing something you just don’t care enough about.”

Boaz never felt like he was making a mistake, even before his father understood and learned to accept his path. When I asked him about it, he said simply -

“when there's something you enjoy doing and you're good at it, it’s very difficult to give that up.”

He knew who he wanted to be, and he knew that this was the only path for him.

Boaz says that from his experience, it’s mostly not about the fact that we don’t know what we want - It’s that we’re questioning how we feel. We all know this dilemma - our dreams and passions can sometimes seem like they're in an unmanageable conflict with reality. Other options seem easier, more comfortable, but there's a voice deep inside that wants something different - and we’re torn between the two.

Boaz’s advises to keep reminding ourselves of two things:

1) Understand that what you’re feeling and what you’re attracted to is real. It’s not an illusion. This inner calling means something.

2) Life is short - what other alternative do you have?

Do what you like and give it your all, because you understand that the biggest risk is becoming bitter and feeling that you've missed your chance.”

The power of storytelling

The act of writing has an immense power. Using this force as a therapeutic tool is something that I (Gali) use with founders I work with, and also know for myself from the process of writing a book. It helps us connect and discover what it is that we really want in life, and what we really feel. Something about this process manifests insight and clarity, our stream of thoughts is suddenly exposed to us in a completely different light, and through this we can process our difficult emotions and reconnect to ourselves. This is something I see a lot with experienced and successful entrepreneurs - they feel this need to connect to themselves again, because something was lost along the way. 

Boaz fell in love with writing, and was especially fascinated by the nature and architecture of stories. In fact, his first interaction with the founder’s ‘jungle’ universe was when he worked with founders and CEOs on their storytelling skills.

 A story has the power of connecting people together. By bringing our truth and innovation as founders to the VC world when we want to raise funds or even when we want to bring users - we give them a promise wrapped in a story. It’s not a negative thing, because stories can be very real - it’s a way to bring new ideas into the world and for others to remember them, because it has an emotional core that we’re drawn to and impacted by. 

“Stories are technology. A story needs to have optimal engineering, or else it won’t work. You can learn how to build and engineer a well crafted story.”

When you learn those building blocks of a good story, while being your authentic self as a founder to your company - you get into a whole different way of engaging with investors, with users - you can really touch people.

About loneliness

One of the pains that founders share with me all the time is how lonely they feel. Even if they have good co-founders by their side.

“Loneliness is often misunderstood”

Boaz says, and shares about the vision behind Wisdo.

After his father passed, he was struggling with meeting people online with whom he could be honest and who wanted to connect in a meaningful and supportive way - and also knew how to. 

Loneliness has become such an epidemic these days, it’s now considered in healthcare as a condition that leads to mental and physical illness.

Loneliness is simply a gap between the human relationships that you have in your life, and the human relationships you would like to have in your life. The larger the gap, the more lonely you feel. It’s not a matter of - if you're married or have co-founders or a lot of friends. If you are living a life where you're surrounded with people you don’t feel you can be close to and vulnerable with in an open and authentic way - that gap is not going to be closed by itself.” 

At Wisdo, they’re working with Prof. Dan Russell who co-developed the UCLA scale - a measurement of loneliness levels, and also found 4 specific provisions that can help you lower it as quickly and effectively as possible:

1) Emotional support

2) A sense of worth

3) A sense of belonging (a community)

4) Reliable alliance - the understanding that there are people that you can support. 

We need to constantly ask ourselves as co-founders, CEOs, seniors, managers - Do I allow and provide emotional support to my employees and co-workers? Do I feel a sense of self worth? Do I provide and gain from my relationships? And finally, do I belong? Is this my place and if not, what’s missing?

I told Boaz about a good friend of mine who's a very successful entrepreneur, that shared with me one day how everyone invited him to give talks and speak about his success, but he couldn’t feel lonelier, because he feels someone always wants something from him - and it’s not the real him, that’s the ‘costume’, underneath it he still feels invisible. Everyone can suffer from loneliness. We need to be there for each other. Be kind.

Social networks were not designed for meaningful connections, but now - with technology, we can help bridge the gap of loneliness around the world. Side by side with the challenges, it’s a really exciting time for those invested in creating, and maintaining, meaningful and healthy human connections.

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