One expression that I hear frequently now that I am an entrepreneur is: Don't take it personally.
I've heard this from several entrepreneurs, investors, coaches, friends, family, you name it. Usually it comes up in a conversation where I talk about a difficult issue or challenge I am facing, or something that is not going as well as I'd like. "Don't take it personally," they say, and I nod to move the conversation along.
But I feel like I need to go on some kind of a public record here and say that I don't buy that argument, not for a minute.
To me, business is all about being personal. It's both the most exciting and the most excruciatingly difficult part of being an entrepreneur. When I see a member being helped by other members on the site, when I get a note from someone saying they love Work It, Mom!, when I read a great member article, note, or blog post, I feel an unbelievable kind of pride and satisfaction. When we're not growing as quickly as I'd like, when we release a new feature or design element that's not working well, when a competitor does something better than we do, I feel responsible, stressed, and upset. I take it personally and I could not imagine not doing that.
Frankly, I didn't think anyone could not take their business personally, but apparently I am wrong. I've now talked with enough entrepreneurs who have told me that while they are working their butts off to make their companies succeed, they understand that most small businesses fail and they won't take it personally if theirs does. Are they lying about how they feel? Maybe, but during those conversations it genuinely seemed that they believed what they said.
Here's the thing -- and this is as unscientific as surveys go -- all of these people who claim to not take their business success or failure personally are men. Could this be a gender thing?
As I said, a sample of four (three guys I've talked to and me) is hardly adequate to draw any conclusions. But there was a discussion recently in one of the entrepreneur groups at Work It, Mom! where this concept of business being personal -- and causing the female entrepreneur to feel like she is on an emotional roller-coaster -- came up. And it's not the first time I've heard women business owners have this discussion. So could this be a gender thing?
When I worked in venture capital, I saw men lose millions of dollars of other people's money and walk away without feeling any personal responsibility. "It's business," they'd say. It is, in fact, business. Investors know that when they invest in companies -- or venture funds -- there is a good chance they will lose their money. But while I always knew this, I still took my investments personally -- if one was not doing well, I was responsible and I felt responsible. When Work It, Mom! has a great day, I feel responsible, just like I do when things aren't going as well.
I am curious what you think about this: Do you think women take business more personally than men? Is this a good thing -- would we take more risks, for example, or try to achieve grander success if we didn't take everything so personally? Or does the fact that we take our business -- and jobs and careers -- personally make us work that much harder at them?
OK, I am done -- sound off!
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