As a business owner, it’s easy to feel like your business is everything and that it’s the most important thing in your life. It may even feel like you and your business are one and the same in some ways. Whether you’ve created and built it up from nothing or took it over and made it your own, running a business can become part of who you are.
While it may be a big priority and take up most of your time, your business isn’t everything. It is incredibly important to separate your personal identity and self-worth from that of your work. If you attach your identity to just one thing, especially something as volatile as a business, your mental health can suffer when things inevitably get rough.
I’ll take you through some tactics that you can use to build boundaries between your identity and the identity of your business. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice to own and run a business, but you shouldn’t sacrifice all of who you are. You are not your business.
Figure out who you are.
By working on building up an identity for yourself that doesn’t involve work, it becomes a lot easier to separate the two parts of your life.
The identity piece was definitely the hardest for me. I really came up against that rock when we sold our ice cream business. It was a complete clean-break sale, and I left the business owner lifestyle to come work for Square. Having to leave that part of me behind was a really tough process. I had to come to terms with who I was if I wasn’t “the ice cream guy” or even just a small business owner. But working through that transition really solidified that I’m more than just my business or my job.
The hardest thing about owning a business is creating boundaries and separating our identity from our business … boundaries are one of the most important things we have learned in our three years of business!”
Part of it is practical: reclaiming time for yourself. If all your time is spent working at or on your business, it’s going to feel like that’s all who you are. Making time for yourself to do the things you love outside of work can really help solidify in your own mind that you’re more than just your business.
The rest is theoretical: figuring out who you are. How you describe yourself to others reflects how you define yourself in your own mind. When you introduce yourself to new people, if it starts and ends with your business, then you’ll reinforce that it’s all you are. When you start to think of yourself as a full person, you’ll realize there’s so much more to you.
Tactic: You probably have an elevator pitch for your business — the way you explain it to folks in a sentence or two. Try writing out an elevator pitch for yourself. Include the things that are the most important to you — your passions, your hobbies, and what makes you excited. Then go and spend more of your time and energy on those things.
Hopefully you don’t do what I did and wait until the end of your business to figure yourself out, when it’s no longer a part of you.
Understand your self-worth.
Your worth as a person is absolutely not tied to the value of your business. If your business isn’t doing well, that doesn't mean that you aren't doing well. It doesn’t even mean that it’s because of you.
You are not a failure if your business fails. You are valuable.
Failures in business usually aren’t even permanent. Learn from your mistakes, the losses, and the failures, and come out on the other side as a stronger person with a stronger business. When you learn how to be better the next time, your worth and value only increase.
Tactic: Think about a time where your business struggled, failed, or had a loss. Remember not just what went wrong, but what went into the decision, and especially what you learned. Focus on what you will continue to do moving forward to prevent it from happening again.
Businesses don’t always do well, and that is absolutely not a reflection of the business owner or manager. Businesses are like living and breathing things. If something goes wrong, you didn’t fail them.
Accept that you cannot control everything.
When it comes to your business, as much as we want to feel like we’re fully in control, some things are completely out of our power. There are so many factors that go into the running and success of a business that have nothing to do with you.
Whether you like it or not, many other people and groups directly control key parts of your business. You may have to rely on vendors, suppliers, landlords, utilities, government agencies, employees, local news companies, social media algorithms, and especially your customers. They’re all key parts of your business and contribute to each step of the process.
Tactic: The COVID-19 pandemic taught all of us that there is a lot that can happen to our business that is out of our control. In those moments, rather than giving up, we have to control what we can and push through to make our businesses still work no matter what comes our way.
While it may sound scary to rely so much on others, nothing happens in a bubble. You may want to have full control, but without those other players, you wouldn’t have a business. Your business is so much more than just you. And if that’s true, then you are more than your business.
A lot of your business is out of your hands, so do what you can to make it thrive, but at the end of the day, it’s not a reflection on you personally.
Separate yourself from failure and success.
If you want to separate yourself from the losses, consider also separating yourself from some of the wins. While it’s important to celebrate the wins, recognize that just as all of the losses aren’t your fault, not all of the successes are directly yours.
An increase in sales can be from a huge marketing campaign that you run, or it could have just been a single influential customer who happened to walk by your business and spread the word to their big audience. Closing a big deal could have been because of your superior negotiation skills, or it could have just been that the customer was short on time and didn’t want to shop around.
You can do everything right, and your business can flounder. You can do a lot wrong, and your business can still grow. I don’t say this to be discouraging, and that’s not to say that what you do doesn’t matter. What you put into your business absolutely does matter, and you should, of course, work hard on it.
You are not responsible for each individual success. You are, however, responsible for working hard, planning carefully, and setting the business up for success.
Tactic: The work you do sets the foundation for your business, and without that care and attention, it won’t succeed. But it isn’t everything, and there will always be things outside of your control. So do your best, lay the groundwork, take a step back, and don’t take it personally when things don’t work out perfectly.
You are not your business.
It takes a lot of work on oneself to really separate your identity from your business and create your own. It takes practice to define yourself and to continue to remind yourself of your full picture.
For me, just realizing that it is important to create my own identity was a big first step that led me to start figuring out what it is to be me. It’s still something that I’m working through, and I have a long way to go to really ingrain it in myself. I’m still working on making time for myself, seeing friends and family regularly, going to the gym, taking time off to travel, and trying new hobbies.
I’d love to hear from you. Participate in our Question of the Week, How do you separate your identity from your business?
Aylon Pesso is the Square Small Business Evangelist, helping sellers run their businesses better. Based in the U.S., he is a former small business owner, consultant, and Square Seller.
This article is only for informational purposes. The information provided in this article solely reflects the authors’ views and are not endorsed by Square. This article is limited in scope and is only intended as a high-level overview of the topics mentioned. Seller Community conversations are for educational purposes and do not constitute legal, financial, or tax advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, you should consult with a qualified legal professional.
You must be a registered user to add a comment. If you've already registered, sign in. Otherwise, you can register with your Square Login.