“I Am Not My Business”: A Mantra For Founders In Distress￼
I am not the mind. I am not the body. I am not my business.
The first two sentences I got from Sadhguru, an Indian yogi and author. Their purpose is to separate your identity from the thoughts in your head and the condition of your body—which is especially useful when one or the other is suffering. The third part—“I am not my business”—I added myself.
For founders, it’s almost inevitable to conflate your own identity with the strength of your business.
And it’s also one of the most harmful things you can do to yourself—and to your business.
As a founder, I’m responsible not just for my business’s P&L, but for the livelihoods of my employees and my own self-image. Thus, when my business goes through the kind of turbulence that all startups go through, I tend to take it personally on three different fronts. But thinking and feeling this way is counterproductive—for my business, my employees, and my self.
Negative impacts of judging myself through the lens of my business:
- Less objectivity. Conflating my business with my self-conception brings more emotion into my decision-making process. Suddenly, I’m not an impartial strategist; I’m trying to protect a distorted view of how I think others see me. For a CEO, getting emotional and losing objectivity is the worst thing you can do for the people who rely on you.
- Working in—not on—the business. As CEO, working “on” the business means taking a macro stance on strategy and operations. Working “in” the business means getting bogged down in every little thing—things that you should trust the team you built to handle for you.
The more you treat your business as your self, the more you feel you need to get involved in every single decision. But this achieves the exact wrong results: It overburdens you, and it slows down decision-making for everyone else.
- Taking things personally. When a client leaves, the business-is-me mindset makes me think they’re leaving me because they think I’m not good enough. When an employee seems dissatisfied, it makes me think the problem is that I’m not a good enough leader.
All kinds of things cause clients to leave or employees to want a change. More often than not, they have more to do with what’s going on in their worlds than any direct issue we’re causing.
- Less present outside of work. The more personally I take things, the more entwined my happiness becomes with my business’s performance, and the less I can stop thinking about it outside of work hours. My partner often points out when she can see my brain churning and me growing less and less present in whatever we’re doing. This has its own negative effect on my overall quality of life.
How to use “I am not my business”
- Mornings and evenings. Adopting a mindset is like any kind of health or habit-formation: It takes conditioning. So, I start and end my days with meditations which include the phrase “I am not my business” as a mantra. Using it at the beginnings and ends of days lets me bookend my days with a message that’s central to my (and my business’s) wellbeing.
- During overwhelming moments. Certain days feel like an onslaught of bad news. The human mind is primed for pattern-recognition, and especially when you start out with a negative frame of mind, noticing a negative pattern can make you go into catastrophic thinking. I use “I am not my business” to stop catastrophic thinking before it begins.
As a founder, your main goal is to help your business succeed. It’s not to worry about what other people think of you, and it’s not to add unnecessary stress to the natural stress of sitting in the captain’s seat. Separating your identity from your business’s identity is necessary to keeping a healthy founder mindset.