Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Why 'Don't Take It Personally' Is BS

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you are an entrepreneur who has launched a startup, you know the feeling of pouring your heart and soul into a business. At some point along the way, it’s possible that you’ve also been told that you shouldn’t take your business matters personally -- after all, “it’s just business.” Easier said than done.


Often, founders have a difficult time finding a balance between focusing on the x's and o's of building a business while still letting their passion and emotional investment guide them.

As an entrepreneur and business executive for more than 20 years, I’ve learned a lot of things. One is that the startup phase of a business is defined by highs and lows that may seem like life and death decisions at the time. Many of these will turn out to seem trivial with the benefit of even a few years’ hindsight. When I look back at the start of my career and my company, there are a few key tips that led me to find a business strategy that was motivated -- but not controlled -- by my personal and emotionally-driven will to succeed.

Related: How Young Entrepreneurs Can Rein in Their 'Toxic' Emotions

For entrepreneurs, business IS personal so lean into it. We are all human, and we have emotional responses to things we are passionate about.  When we close a huge deal, we get excited. When we lose to the competition, we get angry or discouraged. Don’t waste time and energy trying to shut off the emotional side of your brain -- it’s just not going to happen. Embrace the emotions and use them to gain ground.

Take into account your feelings, but don’t let them cloud your judgment. Early in our company’s history, my co-founder Phil Shawe and I agreed to a multimillion-dollar project for a major retailer. Excitement for the deal was through the roof, so we ramped up our staffing, laid out our plans and invested heavily to be able to deliver. However, in all of our anticipation of signing the deal, we hadn’t included any language in the agreement to protect ourselves should the scope be reduced or the contract cancelled. When the retailer decided to drop out, we were left with a major financial blow and equally bruised egos.  

Point of the story: Show your feelings but remain aware. As an entrepreneur you need to always be on your toes – especially during the high and low points. You don't want to make costly errors, when you are on your emotional rollercoaster.

Related: Get Angry! Be Passionate! Your Emotions Are Vital to Success.

Learn from your losses. Losing that deal was hard to swallow, both financially and emotionally. We mourned our failures and had a difficult time recognizing that some good could actually come of this – it would prove to be a valuable learning experience. Today, we would never agree to that type of deal or make such a significant investment without considering any and all possible circumstances and taking every possible precaution. Looking back, this early mistake ultimately made us a stronger, more experienced, and more aware company.

For entrepreneurs just starting out, remember not to sweep your losses under the rug without reflecting on what went wrong and how to ensure it won't happen again.

Dissect your victories. Everyone likes to win (and to celebrate) but taking the time to understand the “why” behind the wins helps founders to be best positioned to replicate that success again. As we’ve scaled our business around the world, emulating some of our past strategies for success has helped shape our growth.

Let your emotions drive you toward your goals. Balancing your emotions is critical to succeeding as an entrepreneur. Your emotions should not define your business or you as an executive, but they should not be written off entirely. Without the desire for success -- a powerful emotion in its own right -- you likely wouldn’t have started a company in the first place. Your business is an extension of your goals and aspirations, and it will always be personal. Let your emotions help shape your ambitions and strategies – maybe they motivate you to reach a new benchmark, push you to expand your customer base or inspire you to release a new version of your product. Just remember the importance of finding that balance between a level head and a passionate heart. As long as you set your emotions into action along that middle ground, you will be on the right track. 

Related: Why Reputation Management Is Critical to Your Personal Brand

Liz Elting

Written By

Liz Elting is the co-founder and co-CEO of TransPerfect, a privately-owned business focused on providing language and business services with more than $400 million in revenues. Elting oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, headquartered in New York City.