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May 12, 2010

LILLA P: When it is hard to feel like a "real" business

This month we have been featuring parts of our conversation with Pauline Nakios of LILLA P. (Catch up on posts here and here and join us for the end-of-the-month event!)

One thing Pauline, Amy & I talked about was the psychological safety net that business owners sometimes give themselves at the beginning of a new venture.

Sometimes people feel that if they act like their new business is not real or at least not a real business then they can’t really fail. Instead, they think if they are just sort-of trying something then they can also just sort-of stop doing it when they want without feeling badly about it.

Pauline shared that she felt this way when she started more than 10 years ago. She said that if she believed that she was “not a real business” then it wasn’t a big deal, but once she proclaimed her legitimacy and that she was really trying her hand at entrepreneurship then she had a lot more to lose.

We have talked about this phenomenon – The Impostor Complex - before.
It is challenging to assume and own a new identity. Once you claim that you are doing something or want something then, of course, it means more when you don’t get it. However, I would also argue that if you don’t claim it you are more likely to not get what you want. After all, our businesses are reflections of what we make them.

Most everyone who knows us knows that we are big fans of ventures of all shapes, sizes, and intents. And it shouldn’t be surprising that we believe that if you don’t take yourself seriously for your efforts – whatever they are – then you’re unlikely to get any serious rewards. Why? Well you’re unlikely to treat your venture or yourself with the same level of respect & you’re unlikely to convince others (customers, vendors, partners, etc.) that you’re doing something worthwhile and interesting.

However, where this whole impostor complex becomes a bit tricky and catch-22-ish is when you look at the cost of feeling like you have go into everything with a certain amount of certainty and seriousness.

It’s also true that prematurely claiming or owning something can unnecessarily tie us to experiments we’d like to abandon. And worst of all, the pressure to prematurely declare something formal may prevent us from experimenting and trying our hand at things in a more organic way.

So for the record we are fans of both experimentation AND legitimacy. And think that we’ve seen this continuum negotiated best when folks are comfortable in both roles, have clear boundaries and points of evaluation, and are articulate about their intentions.

For example, “we thought we try doing this because the climate seems right and are willing to give it a good 6 months before we evaluate whether we’d like to formalize it or move on” or “Doing XYZ has always been a passion of mine and I figure now was a good time to see if I could make a business out of it and if I even like the process of running the show. I’m planning to test it out for a few months before I decide if I really want to invest more.”

These are both clearly examples of experiments, and are quite different from legitimate ventures where people have invested a tremendous amount of time, energy, capital and resources. Where folks really seem to get stuck is moving from the “experiment phase” to the “legitimate phase”.

Some ideas on how to navigate the transition:

1. Be clear about whether something is an experiment or not…if you are seriously relying on the business revenue and viability, then it is no longer an initial experiment

2. Be very clear about what your goals and intentions are (for now). Nothing will make you feel illegitimate faster than comparing what you are doing to someone else’s goals.

3. Be respectful of the time and energy that you are investing in your venture and speak and behave in a way that demonstrates that – chances are others will follow your lead

4. And of course, as always, surround yourself with resourceful peers who are on your same wave-length and can validate your experiences as an entrepreneur!

Thanks, Pauline, for all the brain food!

- posted by Adelaide Lancaster

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