The Secret Entrepreneur: Perfection is a moving target

Dalí said don’t fear perfection – you’ll never reach it. Our mystery boss on coming to terms with always seeing problems

I was meeting a client-come-pal recently. He’s someone I very much look up to in business. He’s built a fast-growing, well known public company with a turnover in the hundreds of millions in a really competitive sector. And his business is making profit – the real kind, rather than that just conjured up by accountants.

He’s driven, and gets shit done. He can be a nightmare to work with, but only because he’s always-on and laser focused. I respect that.

We were having a general chat about life, business and how we both cope with the stresses and strains of running growing companies, when I said to him how amazingly well things were going for him and that he must be really happy.

His reply really struck a chord, and I think it sums up many entrepreneurs: “Yes, but all I really see are the problems. There are so many of them!”

It’s what both drives us forward, and wears us down.

No matter how well things seem to be going from the outside, every, EVERY, entrepreneur is stressing out about problems that they need to fix; challenges they need to overcome so that they can get their business to the next stage. Getting these things sorted is what gets us up in the morning – we need to prove to ourselves, and the world, that we can sort it.

It’s something that people who aren’t entrepreneurs (the real kind – see my previous column Stop calling yourself an entrepreneur) can’t really comprehend. I don’t say that to aggrandise our role in the world – it’s simply a different perspective on life. No matter how great things are, we won’t be satisfied.

Which makes it really important for entrepreneurs to have someone – or several people – who get it, and that they can share their problems with.

That can be hard to find. It needs a lot of trust, which takes time to build. It doesn’t even need to be someone who’s advice you will take – most of the time you already know what you need to do, you just need to vent to someone who can really empathise. It almost certainly shouldn’t be someone you have a commercial relationship with, or who’s even in the same sector as you.

You can survive for a while without this – many years in fact – but I’ve seen a lot of people crack under the pressure if they don’t find an outlet. Some have turned to alcohol, others just had to shut down, or sell up and change their lives completely so that they could regain the perspective they’d lost.

So, if you’re finding yourself seeing the problems all the time, embrace it (you’re unlikely to change it!), but make it a goal to find a person to share your burden with, before it wears you down.

As Chuck Palahniuk’s protagonist related in his novel Fight Club, “One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

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