“It’s not personal; it’s business.” We’ve probably all heard this at some time or another. We are taught that business is a stoic art form, one that requires the kind of cold focus and mental clarity that personal emotions could only serve to compromise. We see movies about sharks on Wall Street and read books about the importance of keeping cool and maintaining a level-headed approach. Nothing is personal, and everything is about the harsh reality of the business world.
This is all easier said than done.
We’re human beings; and whether we like it or not, we have emotional responses to significant events. Or even insignificant events. We get excited and frustrated and angry and overjoyed. For those entrepreneurs in the startup stage, these emotions are even more prevalent. The startup phase of a business is defined by ups and downs and the small victories and smaller downfalls that will be mere blips on your radar in just a few more years. You put your heart and soul into getting your business off the ground — how could you not take things personally? This doesn’t mean it has to be a bad thing.
I certainly haven’t been immune to these highs and lows over the years. Early on in our company’s development, we agreed to a multimillion-dollar project for a major retailer. We staffed accordingly, began preparations, and drafted the plan, only to have the retailer back out at the last minute. We were young and naïve and hadn’t included an escape clause, so the losses were non-negotiable. There is no denying that this was difficult to swallow on a number of levels, but it was an essential education. You won’t see us enter a deal like that without considering all possible outcomes and how we’d be able to react. In this instance, we briefly allowed ourselves to be upset, realized we didn’t enjoy the feeling, and took the necessary steps to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
This same perspective needs to apply to the peaks just as much as the valleys. My co-founder Phil Shawe and I have been in business together for more than 20 years now; that kind of longevity doesn’t happen without a number of victories along the way. Everything from signing our first contract to expanding onto our sixth continent has been cause for celebration, but a key here is that we’ve tried to learn as much from our victories as from our defeats. We learned what to emulate from our successes. Rather than allowing ourselves to relish the glory and admire what we accomplished while hoping our next victory is imminent, we make a concerted effort to replicate and scale the elements of success to keep the machine going. Sure, we stop to enjoy the good days — but we know that the more we learn from the wins and losses both, the more frequently we’ll have those good days to celebrate.
As an entrepreneur and executive, there is no room to allow emotions to take over your business process. But there is absolutely room to allow your emotions to drive you toward your goals. As I noted above, your business is an extension of yourself. You can’t spend days wallowing or celebrating if you expect to continue to grow as a person, and there’s no reason to think you can do that with your business either. Your business is personal. Accept that early on, and use it to your advantage.
Liz Elting is the co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, the world’s largest privately held provider of language and business services with over $400 million in revenues, TransPerfect operates in more than 85 cities on six continents. Elting oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, headquartered in New York City.