Business is tough, but it is a bit rougher for entrepreneurs as we don't have the corporate label to prop us up. Work for, say, a large law firm and your ego will, however subtly, be supported by the big letters on the door. Throw up your own shingle and even the most healthy ego will be inflated and deflated through the course of a day. Why? Your name is on the door. How can you not have an attachment?
The problem is that you should absolutely make strong, clear minded decisions whether you are up against the ropes or sitting at the top of the hill. Over the years, I've found most of my energy goes towards staying level despite the size of my bank account (varies), the optimism for the future (varies) or the current client base (see the previous two).
You should be putting energy into keeping level, too. First, you don't want competitors to know your hand, a classic poker concept. Second, you don't want to make a questionable decision when it's just your ego being over or under confident. Third, you want to be able to justify all your decisions - even if it is just to yourself.
Here are three ways to keep your head together.
Recognize the things you would do in ideal circumstances: As I transitioned away from my acquired startup, I put serious thought into what my next chapter would look like. As other founders can attest, selling your company is both ego stroking, as someone actually valued what you created from scratch, and emotionally confusing, as a part of your identity now belongs to someone else. I recognized I would have a hard time thinking clearly for a bit, but I couldn't exactly see how I could move forward.
I leaned on my brain trust and one of my mentors had an incredible response: "Recognize the things you would do anyway." In my case, what would I do if the acquisition made me completely financially independent? I said the things I would focus on - and realized that I could do them immediately. So I did. We shouldn't always do what we would do in ideal circumstances, but sometimes we are waiting for ideal circumstances to execute the very amazing things we can do now.
Assume an opportunity is not a last resort - because it likely is not: If you're like me, you love the entrepreneurial route because of there are always new potential opportunities on the horizon. The irony is that we can be the most susceptible to FOMO (fear of missing out), so while we know there will be more things in the future, we fear that saying "No" to a current opportunity may close down something forever.
However, saying "Yes" to everything that comes to your doorstep is a recipe for disaster - and we are more likely to say "Yes" to a bad deal when we are desperate for money or a win. My gut check is to ask, "If everything was great with my business, then how would I look at this opportunity?" That question shatters all dissolution for me, and I can make an objective decision. You need to figure out your question that snaps you back into reality.
Remember partners don't flock to power, but consistency: It's easy to believe that being in a position of power automatically gives you respect, but as any lame duck leader can tell you, the role and the execution are two very different things. The same goes for your business: You may be the best game in town, but colleagues, allies and perhaps even customers won't want to deal with you if you aren't providing thoughtful business leadership.
And the most thoughtful business leadership may be the simplest thing: Consistency. How reliable are you in your decision making? Can people connected to you immediately share your ethics? Do you know what you would and would not do? You push away opportunities when your decision making gets circumstantial, as potential partners don't understand what you stand for and you cannot create a consistent vision for the future since you won't know what the future will actually bring - and how you will act as a result of it.