Your all-or-nothing attitude will bring all stress and no progress

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iStock_000003134076XSmallI can always tell when new entrepreneurs are starting to crack under the pressure of decisions. They say things like:

“I know everyone tells me I have to choose a specific niche, but I really don’t want to limit myself to only working with one type of person!”
“What if I spend all this time and energy getting this business off the ground and I find out (no one will buy from me) (I don’t like it) (I have no time) (fill in the concern).”
“The URL for the business name I wanted is not available! How can I be successful without a catchy business name?”

The root of the stress is usually the belief that making a decision about your business is an all-or-nothing proposition.

  • You either make it in one niche or you fail miserably.
  • You either choose the right business to start or you will have to slink back into your cubicle in a soul-sucking job.
  • You either hit a home run with your business (or product) name or sell nothing.

My advice to stressed out entrepreneurs in this situation is simple:  If it doesn’t work, change it.

You never know what will work until you try it. I have worked at length on programs that I thought were guaranteed to fill up immediately and they sold nothing.

And I have spent very little time planning programs that were wildly successful without much effort at all.

No decision you make as an entrepreneur locks you in a set business direction. The experience is iterative with constant learning and adjustments.

Knowing this, you can ease back a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself.

And you can borrow a few lines I tell myself when I have a failure or flop:

“Well that certainly was a great learning experience!”
“Whoops, looks like I was wrong. Oh well!”
“Good thing I screwed this up now, before I (wasted a lot of money) (got in front of a bigger audience) (was live with Matt Lauer on the Today Show).”

Don’t forget that being an entrepreneur is an adventure.  Taking a wrong turn without your guidebook often leads to unexpected and tantalizing adventures.

And for the bloggers among you, your screw-ups can lead to confessional blog posts, like 4 lessons on learning from your mistakes.

No one thing you do will predict all of your success.


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30 Responses to “Your all-or-nothing attitude will bring all stress and no progress”

  1. […] Your all-or-nothing attitude will bring all stress and no progress […]

  2. […] Your all-or-nothing attitude will bring all stress and no progress […]

  3. […] Your all or nothing attitude will bring all stress and no progress. Read this to save yourself hundreds of dollars in therapy bills. […]

  4. Just found your blog through Communicatrix. I very much appreciate this post—these ideas are something I often remind myself of as I grow/attempt to grow my art business. Every day is a new adventure and a new change to try something new.

    • Helen says:

      Yes- I needed to hear this! ‘All or nothing’ thinking only feeds more negative thought patterns. Thank you for pointing out such an important issue.

  5. Karen Hodges says:


    This for this awesome post — it was just wanted I needed to hear. I plan to post it on my bulletin board so that I can grab it when I’m sinking into an “all or nothing” attitude.

  6. That is so true. I really had to learn to be flexible when I was starting and (and it never ends!)

  7. Pam- great post. In my experience, I usually learn the most from the times I stumble or make a poor decision. Entrepreneurs must learn to embrace failure because not every idea/ project will become successful. By continually trying new ideas and evaluating your old projects, one can gain an edge towards turning the next idea into a success.


  8. George Kao says:

    Wonderful post!

    Just yesterday I was talking to a group of my students about “the illusion of permanence” in niche selection or customer focus… the illusion that causes fear/anxiety and thus procrastination.

    The truth is that *the act of going for it* oftentimes clarifies one’s passion (or lack thereof) for a niche…or clarifies what’s *actually* needed next. Then you can more effectively pursue the resources you need to the next step!

  9. Pamela,

    This is so true! I spent about 3 years thinking through all of the possibilities for launching my first product. In the meantime, I worked on many projects during the day to generate a salary but no real assets.

    Now I have a number of assets, experience from launching my own products, and helping others launch their startups as well!

  10. Mrs. Micah says:

    Very true. When I started out, I was doing copywriting and I found out that I HATED it. I especially hated the things I backed myself into by trying to be sure I’d have work and therefore accepting less for work that was worth more. Fortunately, I realized that I had a number of skills related to running the back-end of blogs and I could make more money and enjoy myself much more doing that.

  11. Dave Kaiser says:

    I like to think of this as flinging spaghetti against the wall, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s best to keep learning and keep moving.

  12. fas says:

    Bingo, there is always something for you if you try so never have preconceived notions.

  13. Star says:

    Dear Pamela,
    I think that was wize of you. I really enjoy getting your newsletter I think it helps out a whole lot. I find it very interesting. your friend, star

  14. Oh Pamela, I SO love your line: “….being an entrepreneur is an adventure.” When I get stressed over a program or something I’m trying to accomplish in my business that is exactly what I tell myself to give myself an attitude adjustment.

    I go from stressed and anxiety to a place of real gratitude when I tell myself that I am an adventure that I consciously chose the day I left my cubical.

    So, Bring It On! (and just for fun, I visualize all of those seemingly “lifeless” people back at the Corp. and then I really feel the gratitude for my stress!)
    Thanks Pamela

  15. Pam, I think that what is the root of all the hestitations and attitutudes you mentioned above is a fear of failure. Once people find out that failure is OK and that it is just a learning experience, they won’t bother so much anymore and will focus on their passion and targets.

    Focusing on problems is very emotional and sometimes it helps to recall some small successes from the past to conquer fear.

  16. Chris Huff says:

    This was just what I needed to hear today. I am having a VERY hard time not moping about my failures. I just feel like every chance I get, I screw it up. I’m like some kind of sitcom entrepreneur – the comic relief for the non-existent audience. Your post made it a little more bearable, thanks 🙂

  17. Pam, I think your point about feeling locked in to a plan makes a lot of people hesitate to the point where they never get started. I think it is great that you point out that not all of your projects took the world by storm. People need to realize it’s ok to correct and adjust as you go along. Or maybe you won’t get it right the first time. Great piece. Thanks.

  18. Susan says:

    Pam, so right! I support helping professionals build successful practices, but many don’t get off the ground because they are stuck on developing a specialty and the fear they will be bored, or can’t be an “expert.” This concept of “change it!” is so important and frees us up from feeling stuck and limited in our work. Thanks!

  19. Star says:

    i think this lady is really neat and awesome i hope she gets a lot more!

  20. Keith says:

    This is that really great advice that’s sitting in the back of your mind too shy to speak up in the presence of all those loud-mouth worries. Thanks Pamela!

  21. Awesome advice that every entrepreneur needs to hear at some point! When I started my organization, I hit a wall when I didn’t have every detail of membership completed, and didn’t have every single marketing partner level executed. Recently, I realized that I could still open up basic membership and our “Supportive Business Partner” program (low cost of entry) while I continued nailing down the details of the rest. Since that realization, I feel like I can breathe again. And things are moving forward! Thank you for all you do in moving entrepreneurs forward!

  22. Emma Newman says:

    Absolutely spot on – and this applies to everything in ourlives, I feel. A critical component of my writing process is giving myself complete permission to write a rubbish first draft. The kind of thinking you describe here, the “but I have to do it perfectly and make all the right decisions the first time” is a perfect path to writer’s block, as well as entrepreneurs block.

    Perhaps all business decisions should be seen as first drafts are for writers; finding the right place in the river to pan for gold.Picking a spot and just trying it out is the first step. Then you can find the nuggets later, or move on. But standing there fretting doesn’t get anything done…

  23. Shann says:

    As a recovering ‘all or nothing’ entrepreneur, I appreciate your reminder to switch gears when needed and RELAX. Cheers!

  24. Agata says:

    As we know trying means accepting the fact that we have a good chance we’ll fail. And I guess if we treat failure just as ‘part of the process’ it will not depress us that much.

  25. They say you have to see the world in shades of grey, not black and white. Totally agree with the “If it doesn’t work, change it”

  26. Tammy Burke says:

    Pam –

    Love this! It’s so natural to fight to get things “just right”, but it can kill momentum when you spend too much time playing without seeing results. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Michelle says:

    Hi Pam, this post is just what I needed to hear tonight! ! I love the imagery of “taking a wrong turn without your guidebook.” What a great way to remind us that running a business is a journey.

    Do you supose that all-or-nothing thinking is our lizard brain getting the better of us?

  28. Renita says:

    This is such comforting advice, Pam. It’s what I tell my individual coaching clients with regard to bouncing back from setbacks and yet, I was taking an all-or-nothing approach towards my own business (especially in choosing a URL!). Iteration is the name of the game… 🙂

    p.s. I too am psyched that I took advantage of 1:1 coaching with you.

  29. Sarah Cooper says:

    Hi Pam
    Loved your post as I certainly felt a lot of pressure to niche, which resulted in my niching too narrowly at one stage (lifestyle businesses). I hated feeling like I was excluding others I’d really like to work with who didn’t fit this tight description.

    So I opened it up again (creative and socially-minded people currently in traditional careers with no outlet for their passions) and feel so much better!

    And phasing out the one-to-one – well I am so glad I snuck in there with you last year! Hurry up everyone before you lose your chance!!!