Does pride have a place in small business? That seems like a simple question. Yes, of course it does. It is okay to take pride in what you accomplish and celebrate it. Right? Or, is there another side of pride all small business owners need to be wary about?

A quick search online provides us the following definitions:

pride
/prīd/

Noun

  1. a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
    “the team was bursting with pride after recording a sensational victory”
  2. consciousness of one’s own dignity.
    “he swallowed his pride and asked for help”

Definitions from Oxford Languages

So, is pride something to be celebrated or swallowed? As a small business owner, the answer is yes. Or, to put it more accurately, there are times where both definitions seem to cooperate and other times when they appear to conflict. For many small business owners, knowing the actual relationship between them represents a crossroads where their companies can be built or broken.

In times of celebration, both definitions easily align. Feelings of success are justified by the achievement your company just experienced and provides a positive vantage point from which to personally view yourself. In such a scenario, you derive satisfaction from the act of accomplishment and satisfaction from how that accomplishment makes you feel about yourself. On this end of the spectrum, the only concerns that may arise are more psychological than anything else. If you forgo reality for a world in which your perceived pride becomes your personal identity, please seek immediate mental health counselling. No one is that awesome all of the time and those that think they are, are destined for a room with padded walls or a career in politics.

It is along these lines though, that the perceived difference between the two definitions can cause poor, if not catastrophic, small business decision making. When the outside trappings of pride play too strongly on your inner sense of self worth, as well as the image you wish to portray to the rest of the world, difficult situations will arise in which you may need to choose between your inner sense of pride and a business opportunity. What often separates the true entrepreneurs from the out-of-business also-rans is how they look at the choice they need to make.

Some of the most important business lessons I learned came from struggling and failing operations I worked at. One I learned 25 years ago at a family owned pizza shop/catering truck/bakery business still sticks with me to this day. Although the company had three income streams, it also had three brothers, each with a family, that company needed to support. And it couldn’t. The result would be them closing in one location and reopening a month later in another location, under a slightly different name. In the time I knew the family it happened 4 or 5 times on an almost annual basis. It was simply a case of too many mouths to feed. In the midst of one of these cycles the brothers were approached by a local grocery store that wished to start outsourcing the production of their bakery items, primarily loaves of Italian bread. Yet, after being presented with this opportunity to sell more loaves each day than they were selling in a week, the brothers declined the offer. Why? Simple, because the grocery store wanted its name on the bag, not the brothers.

These were guys who could not rub two pennies together. They regularly begged every church in the area for money to reconnect the utilities at their homes and eventually bankrupted their retired parents via handouts and home equity lines of credit that they were always going to “pay back”. And the icing on the cake was that the bakery part of the business was far and away the least profitable. On a good day, the catering truck would bring in $300 and the pizza shop $500. The bakery? Less than $100. Yet, turning the deal down was not just the baker’s sole decision, but the three brothers together. They chose pride over doubling one of their income streams.

From my own small business experience, there is nothing I value more than the parts most people would see as the negatives. The first 10 years of blood, sweat, and tears that I went without a paycheck gave me the experience and foundation our businesses are built on today and are times I take more pride in than any bid or contract we win today. I also take pride not only in the tens of thousands of meals we sell each year with someone else’s name printed on the label, but also the trust that company puts into us to do so.

In the end, being conscious of one’s own dignity does not mean being able to swallow your pride for the greater good. It means finding the greater good in what you do, then taking pride in that. At its core, we are not looking at two separate definitions, but rather a combination of those meanings into one. A true understanding of your own dignity allows you to find pleasure and satisfaction in your achievements. Pride in itself is not good or bad, it is just a matter of perspective. It is how you look at things from its vantage though, that can make the results of your pride look good, bad, or even just foolish.

About the author

Thomas Lane

Thomas Lane is an entrepreneur leading the charge in innovation for how we feed children and seniors in need, who has supported the USDA meal program for over 15 years. To reach Thomas for interviews, please email [email protected]