Disappointment And The Entrepreneur

Jim Blasingame

Disappointments are tough for everyone. All of us have them, but they're an especially abiding element in the lives of small business owners.

By definition, an entrepreneur is a risk taker. If risk was an object it would be a coin - one side success and the other side failure. Statistically, a coin flipped 100 times will land on either side pretty close to the same number of times. The good news for experienced and well prepared entrepreneurs is that their success/fail odds will typically produce better than 50:50 results.

But entrepreneurs take lots of risks. And the bad news is that even with better than 50:50 odds of success, that's still leaves a lot of disappointments.

Another thing about entrepreneurs that sets us up for disappointment is that we have this crazy tendency to try to do things that we have never done before, sometimes even things no one has ever done before. In those cases, the opportunity for disappointment increases significantly.

And even if we should actually do something no one has ever done before, like produce a perpetual engine, find a cure for the common cold, or make a chocolate bar that doesn't melt in your hand, before there is a limousine to carry you in the ticker-tape parade, there is a truck loaded with disappointments.

Albert Einstein, no stranger to doing things no one had done before, once said this, "I think and think for months and years. Ninety nine times the conclusion is false. But the hundredth time, I am right." Whoever said, "Hope springs eternal," must have been talking about entrepreneurs and physicists.

Experiencing Disappointment
In her book, If Success Is A Game, These Are The Rules, my friend, Cherie Carter-Scott, wrote this about disappointment:

"Disappointment is similar to grief. You must be willing to feel the experience of it and not just gloss over it if you hope to recover from it."

I agree with that statement, but it presents a particularly tough challenge for small business owners, because we often associate disappointments with failure, and failure is our enemy. Entrepreneurs are hard-wired to fight the enemy, not "experience" it. Consequently, we have to deal with disappointment in a way that doesn't make us feel like we are accepting defeat.

The Two Models
There are two basic models of small business owners: Those who work alone, and those who have employees. For those who work alone, disappointments can land especially hard and rattle around inside of us, because:

• Well...you may be alone when you get the news of a cancelled appointment or lost sale. Disappointing news can cause you to question your vision, especially when you're alone.

• If you have family, you probably won't tell them about a set-back, because you try to protect them from what you think they would consider to be bad news.

• Even if there is someone you could talk to, you probably won't because you hate failure, and just don't like to talk about it. Talking about it makes you feel weak.

Those of us who have an organization have our own challenges when it comes to dealing with disappointment, in addition to the three above:

• We will likely be the key player in developing Plan B to help recover from the disappointment, so we don't get much time to "experience" disappointments.

• We're the Alpha member of our team, which makes us responsible for most of the positive energy. When the coin lands on the wrong side, all eyes are on our face. If we let our staff see disappointment get the best of us, negative energy will ripple through the organization like a tsunami.

• Just like all small business owners, we don't like to talk about anything associated with failure. So we don't talk about it.

Each disappointment hits you where it hurts, and with an impact commensurate with the seriousness of the disappointment. When you observe veteran entrepreneurs - those who have been successful in the marketplace for a few years - you can pretty much assume they have acquired a healthy method of managing disappointment. I want to talk about what that might look like.

Processing Disappointments
Cherie says, "You need to give yourself time to process what has happened," and that "we process disappointment in three different realms." Here are Cherie's three realms, with my thoughts:

Literally, what you have to do as a result of a disappointment.

• If you lose or have to terminate a valued employee, you must to begin taking the steps to find a replacement without delay.

• If you lose a sale or a bid, you have to notify the members of your organization or network who may have been standing by to begin fulfillment in the event you were successful.

While these tasks may be distasteful and regretful, they must be done, and they can serve to help you replace negative energy and self-pity with productivity and possibilities - sort of like getting back on the horse.

The interesting thing about this part of the process is that the physical steps you take to recover often lead to a better result than the one you lost.

Remember when I said a disappointment can cause you to question your vision? That's a psychological blow. In the marketplace, when someone says no, it's easy to take it as an assault on your dream, your vision, and your passion. It's neither - just business.

But the pill is no less bitter. And the best antidote to a rejection is an acceptance. That's why it's important to have several options working for any project.

An old mentor of mine used to say "One prospect is no prospect." In sales and in business, you must have lots of prospects working at all times. You're not going to close everyone, but you are going to get your share of acceptances. When you get a "no", remind yourself of the yes you got this morning, and focus on the possible yes you are expecting tomorrow.

Even though you have put the physical steps in place to recover from a disappointment, and you've rationalized that a rejection is just business, that doesn't take care of the emotional investment you may have made in a project, employee, or negotiation.

Receiving a disappointment stings the emotions of even the toughest veteran entrepreneurs. Not only have you invested time and resources, but your personal pride is on the line.

For small business owners, this last step is likely to be the toughest to process. You actually may have practical experience, education, and perhaps an organization that can help you take logical physical and psychological processing steps. But emotions run deep, and this is where talking helps.

As I said, this is tough for small business owners, especially the guys. Find a safe harbor - someone you trust with your deepest feelings - and try to tell them how you feel. I had acquired a lot of gray hair and a train load of disappointments before I could admit out loud that a business deal that didn't work had hurt my feelings.

A Blessing In Disguise?
It's important to remember that disappointments are not necessarily the same as bad news. As others have said before me, failure is successfully identifying what doesn't work. And sometimes, a disappointment can actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

I think small business owners have to do as Cherie says - we have to "experience" our disappointments by recognizing the three realms of the process. But the challenge for us is that, as the leader, we can't just think of ourselves. We have to find out how to manage disappointments in a way that serves all parties: our employees, our company, our customers, and finally, ourselves.

Write this on a rock... The issue isn't whether we will have disappointments - it's what we do with the ones that we know we're destined to have. Acknowledge your disappointments, accept them, process them, talk about them, and turn them into opportunities.


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