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The Deadliest Trap an Entrepreneur Can Fall Into

The Deadliest Trap an Entrepreneur Can Fall Into
Image credit: Over The Top | Warner Bros. Pictures

Years ago I had a consulting client who was a dentist. One day he called me into his office to look at a panoramic x-ray. The x-ray showed the usual sequence of molars, white against the opaque blackness of the film, but one of the teeth was about as round as a lollipop. Now I’m no dentist, but I know we don’t chew with teeth shaped like lollipops so, assuming it was a temporary crown that some poorly trained dental assistant had slapped on the tooth, I said, “Wow, who let the patient walk out with that temp on?”

Turns out it was not a temporary crown, it was a ceramic “permanent” crown that had been placed by another dentist and now the patient was in my client’s chair wanting to know why he was having problems with the tooth. My client was, justifiably, outraged.

Being outraged when a competitor is doing something unethical and their clients are bearing the cost of it is not a deadly trap. It’s natural, even admirable, to be an advocate for those who rely on our profession, whatever it may be, and to want to do everything we can to hold ourselves and our fellow professionals to a high standard.

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But when the client had finished with patients for the day and we sat down to debrief there was an element in the conversation that is a deadly trap for entrepreneurs -- jealous indignation. Not only was the competitor doing substandard work, cutting costs by using the cheapest materials and labs, letting his staff perform procedures that only the dentist could legally perform, and so on, he was flaunting his apparent wealth in every way possible. His office was ostentatious, his home was a mini-mansion, the car he drove, the clothes his wife wore, the fundraisers he attended, the ads he ran on local television and radio stations, they all pointed to someone at the pinnacle of success.

And my client was not only outraged, he was full of jealous indignation that, not only was the other dentist cheating his patients, he was also living the high life and getting the social status of being the premier dentist in town.

I’ll bet every one of us has had a parallel moment. We’ve seen a post on Facebook or a media site or private blog and our blood has boiled and our eyes have crossed and we wanted to scream at the world, “I cannot believe you’re buying this. Literally buying it and you’re getting ripped off and laughed at for being the sucker you are while the expert/whizbang manufacturer/bright-eyed con man/sleezy snake oil salesman is living high on the hog off of your money.”

OK, my moments didn’t run to calling other consultants and coaches con men and sleezy snake oil salesmen, but close. I’ve certainly fallen into that trap of seeing the carefully crafted successful façade of another professional, knowing what they’re really delivering and how much of a smokescreen their apparent wealth really is, and thinking, “How many poor fools bought into your hype today?”

There are two reasons that getting caught up in jealous righteous indignation is deadly to entrepreneurs.

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1. Most of the time you’re fighting a phantom.

When my client calmed down and engaged his sense of reason he admitted that he got a lot of the other dentist’s patients, and kept them. Because most patients might not know that their new tooth is shaped like a lollipop, but they soon figure out that chewing is uncomfortable, or that there is new decay growing underneath the crown.

There was a reason that the other dentist spent big bucks on advertising and it wasn’t just for status; he had a revolving door of people who came to him because they saw the bling and left him because they weren’t getting their money’s worth. And for almost any profession the same thing happens, your potential client spends the bucks on the latest, greatest or loudest then they leave and look for someone who provides substance. That perceived threat you’re up in arms about isn’t real.

Related: The 10 Steps to Help You Overcome Jealousy

2. You’re spending all your energy on something you can’t do anything about.

I was finishing out a two-day stint in this client’s practice and I had a list of observations and opportunities I was looking forward to sharing, but he could not give them any energy because all his energy was going to the vision of that lollipop crown and the lifestyle of the competitor who had done it. There was nothing we could do about the choices of the other dentist, or about the natural human response to that kind of hype. There was a lot we could do (and eventually did do very successfully) to allow him to create an even greater level of success on his own terms.

When I get caught in the jaws of the green-eyed monster I think about that lollipop shape on the x-ray. And I ask myself if I want to spend my energy writhing around in indignation or if it wouldn’t be better to take that energy and use it in my own life and business, doing things that are under my control, building my own success and living my own dream. Guess which option (almost) always wins.