You are not your company

I’ve had several conversations recently with other entrepreneurs with a common theme. It is the early days of the company, with just a hand full of employees. They are going through a crisis or big decision of some kind (it seems like you always are in this stage) and completely stressed out. After talking through the issues, the thing I walked away in all 3 cases was that the founder has completely tied themselves in with the company in their own heads. If the company fails, I am a failure. If I don’t work non-stop the company has no chance. If I sell my company I am selling my own soul and will have money, but lose everything.

All of these traps are easy to fall into, but are the wrong way to think about it. You are not your company. If you are, then you are either just starting out and can’t really assess this new creation yet, or you are probably doing it wrong. The idea of an entrepreneur is to ideally build a company that is bigger than the founder. In the early days you are critical, but over time your job is to build systems and hire people (or teams of people) to fill in these critical roles. In many ways the true measure of success is when you’ve managed to make yourself no longer a necessary piece.

In this way, the company’s success or failure is clearly separate from your own personal success or failure. The “I must be essential to my business” mantra starts to sound like more of an ego driven desire for importance than a cry of exhaustion. And the ability to sell a company that can operate and be valuable to someone else (especially in your absence) starts to sound like a success instead of “selling out” and “giving up your baby”.

When you are building your company, it’s going to be your life for a period of time. It’s long hours, constant fires, and completely all-consuming. It’s still important, though, to remember that the end goal is to build something bigger than you. To build something where you are not a critical piece of it’s successful daily operation. Something other people find value in with or without you. The sooner you can untangle the company and your own sense of worth and move to this idea of “bigger than me”, the easier it will be for you to be pragmatic about your company and ultimately be more successful; in particular when viewed over a career instead of just a single company.

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