Monday Postcard #93 – Please Don’t Take It Personally
I have had this topic in the pipeline for quite some time. Being criticised and taking it personally is part of our lives – at school, at work, in our private lives. Today I want to share an entrepreneur-related phenomenon: taking it personally when somebody criticises your “baby”.
In my corporate job, I used to complain that nobody showed interest in what I did. I cannot even blame them. What would I say if my counterpart answered “I work in finance for a company which sells motors and converters.”? It was too abstract, too complicated and probably sounded really boring. Exactly the opposite happened when I quit and started my first business. Suddenly, people had smiles on their faces. They got really excited and asked questions – and offered unsolicited advice.
At first, I loved it. I made notes after every talk about their advice and their views. And after some time, I got annoyed. I sometimes even thought it had been better when nobody asked questions about my job.
The excitement was and still is the same, so is the unsolicited advice. I still appreciate it because it is very easy to have a tunnel vision if I work on something. Getting outsiders to talk about what I do helps me tweak and improve it. It is a way of market research which is entirely for free.
Nevertheless, it sometimes gets a bit much. And I do struggle not to take it personally. In so many conversations my counterparts were in corporate jobs and claimed “they always wanted to escape and become their own boss”. Most of them never did. Yet, they considered themselves experts in entrepreneurship. It seemed that talking about my business – and criticising it at the same time – was their way of living a dream. In the beginning, I took it very seriously – even personally, unfortunately. Sometimes I even doubted myself, my vision and my business so much that I changed things completely only to later go back to what I had initially planned.
Today it feels as if I am writing this Monday Postcard as a reminder to myself again. Even though I got much better at it, I still take a lot of criticism personally. In the end, the business is my baby, it is about my money, my career and my risk I take. And when somebody takes the liberty to just fire away and take it apart within minutes, I do get defensive. But even when this happens, I try to force myself to refocus. This person may take my business apart without knowing any details but what can I learn from these views? I try to look for constructive things even in what sometimes feels a useless conversation. I learned that dwelling on it just makes me go down a negative spiral. And the most useful advice I got recently was that successful entrepreneurs share one common trait: They stay positive.
I guess most of the advice and views about my professional life are meant in a good way. I do not think anyone deliberately tries to be nasty. What we share or the advice we give is always very subjective and depends on the specific situation and context. Why did person X advise me to do XYZ? Maybe they were currently thinking about doing something similar and thought it could be interesting for me? Maybe they just read about this right before our conversation and thought it was worth sharing? Or maybe this is just a topic they are passionate about?
In the end, I need to remind myself that criticism of my business is not necessarily a direct criticism of myself. It is also important to take a step back. If I feel that I take it personally, I know that I probably went too far. I have become emotional about my business. Talk to successful entrepreneurs: almost all of them will tell you to keep emotions out of your business. It is similar to being in love: emotions make it hard to see clearly. They hinder you to focus on your vision and strategy and to properly execute your plans. Furthermore, I try to assess who gives me the advice – a friend, a successful entrepreneur who has been in the same situation, or somebody who is just excited about my story – and then put it into perspective.
Therefore, the next time when somebody gives you advice or seems to criticise you, take a step back. Are you feeling personally attacked? Have you become emotional about your “baby”? And even if somebody seems to give you unsolicited sh**, try to filter out the useful points, assess and even implement them and move on.
Have a nice and productive week ahead!