Business As Self Discovery

Getting to know yourself better than you ever expected is exactly what happens when you become an entrepreneur.

People don’t start a business because they want to get to know their character better. They don’t start a business so they can delve into the corners of the personality where weakness and ambivalence lurk like ugly cousins. People start a business because they yearn for independence. Because they want adventure. Because they’re convinced they can do a better job as their stupid boss.

When you start a business you do get to know yourself, and believe me, there are things in that skull of yours you don’t really want to know about. It’s your weaknesses and faults that come sneaking around to trip you up just as you thought you were about to bring revenue up to breakeven.

You get to know your strengths, too. But your strengths don’t count. You have the enthusiasm, the sales charm, the endurance, the determination to succeed. Those are all good solid traits. They keep you going. When you succeed, you can thank your multiple strengths. But you take those for granted. They’re a given. It’s your weaknesses and faults that you have to face down.

When you’re building a business, you don’t spend your time working to build up your strengths. You sweat through the nights hoping you can bolster your weak areas before the business falls apart. You’re about to sign a contract with your largest client yet, and the partner you chose to help with the project – a dear old friend – just bailed. There’s no time to find a new partner. You’ll going to lose the project that would have put you over the top.

So who are you going to yell at? Kicking the dog helps. For a couple minutes. Yelling at the flakey partner on the phone feels good. Starting a fight with the spouse feels even better. But you need your spouse on your side the next morning. If you start a fight over a lost contract, pretty soon your spouse will start talking about the good old days when you worked for the stupid boss and came home on time in a fairly decent mood each day. Remember those days when the dog wasn’t afraid of you?

If you want to succeed, you yell at the wall and punch your chair cushion when everyone else has gone home. You take a few deep breathes. You go home and say, “Whoa, some days it doesn’t pay to even try. Let’s go out for dinner tonight.” You can go out to dinner because you’re one of the lucky entrepreneurs whose spouse has a job. Then you pet your dog.

Successful entrepreneurs and successful senior executives come in all types of personalities, all sizes, all races and nationalities. But there is one thing in common among most of them. They tend to be tolerant, humble, inclusive. Certainly there are arrogant business owners and leaders. But they’re usually only arrogant to the outside world. Ted Turner is viewed as arrogant, but his crew at CNN would have proudly followed him off a cliff during the years he was building the news network in the face of a television world that said it couldn’t be done.

I don’t think these people start out tolerant, humble and inclusive. They start out nervy, cocky and confident. Then they begin to realize the business they launched has turned into some nasty kind of meat grinder that has already torn through a foot and half a leg. You pick yourself up and go back to work. You’re more careful about who you choose as a partner in projects. The childhood friend didn’t work out. You remind yourself to seek character and quality over chumminess.

But you don’t harden yourself. You need to stay open and alert, awake. You have learned one of your weaknesses – misplaced loyalty. One by one, you’ll learn all your soft spots. They’ll trip you up. Then you’ll get up, pet the dog, and go back to building your business.

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