Often when a person has invested a lot of time or money into a business, it’s hard to let it go – even when it’s clearly time. I caution about that today.

When I was a teenager, there was a popular rock band named .38 Special that recorded a song called “Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go.” As “all-knowing” teenagers, my friends and I applied the great wisdom of these drugged-out rockers to our understanding of the big wide “world.” Amazingly, their insight turned out to be true. It was one of the few things I actually got right as a teenager.

Have you ever had a relationship or an opportunity that you clung to so tightly that you suffocated it? I have. I wanted several of my early ventures to work so badly that I choked them right to death.

I have an uncle who is a very successful farmer, owner of a trucking business, and also the founder of a local bank. He was the mayor of our small town for years and had a way of stating things that only a farmer could get away with. I heard him say several times, “The only deals that ever went bad on me were the ones that I wanted too bad.”

When creating a business, entrepreneurs invariably adopt the necessary attitude of forward motion at all costs. The intensity of that commitment grows as more time and money go into the business. Then, ego kicks in and, before you know it, the effort has become all-consuming. At this point you have entered the danger zone. My experience has taught me that I can’t allow myself to get so caught up in achieving success that I don’t recognize when it’s time to let it go.

Several years ago while I was golfing one day, I encountered three young boys playing in one of the streams on the golf course. All of a sudden they jumped back a few steps. Then, ever-so-cautiously, they stepped back toward the stream’s edge. Curious, I went over to see what had caused the alarm. There, just below the surface of the water, was a harmless, three-inch crawdad snapping at the boys with all the perceived ferocity of a vicious, three-foot Tasmanian Devil!

I did some checking on the monster and learned that it was nothing more than a freshwater lobster—a crayfish. After my research, I went out on my own crawdad hunt, armed with nets and a bucket. I jumped right in the stream and began to stalk my prey. I got close to catching several of these little critters, but they swam much too fast for a novice hunter. At last, I grabbed one and a short battle ensued.

It became clear those little pincers could grab and hurt. After a fun but not very productive hunt, I decided to resort to cleverer means. Learning that crawdads were attracted to old bones, bacon, and chicken, I equipped myself accordingly and set out for another try. I was not going to be outsmarted by a micro-lobster.

Tying a small chicken bone to a string, I lowered it into the murky water. I soon felt a tug on the line. The pull grew increasingly persistent, and at just the right moment I lifted the string and bone out of the water. To my surprise, there were five little red-headed crustaceans holding onto that old bone for all they were worth. Their beady eyes glared at me. Their free claws snapped and clicked a warning to stay away. With one shake of my wrist, the five crawdads fell into the net waiting beneath them. They simply didn’t know when to let go. As a result, they ended up in a pot of boiling water and made me a tasty lunch.

As a business owner, you are no different than those crawdads. If you aren’t careful, your venture that you hold to so tightly may land you in scalding hot water. You can’t afford to let go for just anything, but if you find out that you are holding onto a rotten chicken bone, cut and run. Go snap at something else.

Porter’s Points – Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go

• Being an entrepreneur takes balance, so keep a healthy dose of reality in your back pocket even when you run full tilt at your venture. Some warning signs can be overcome, but some mean that it’s time to opt out.
• Success is not hit-or-miss. If you miss it this time but come away clean, you have succeeded and are ready to try again.
• The best sign that you need to back away from a venture is that it starts to violate your rules.

The moral of today’s section: don’t be a crayfish! Tomorrow we’ll learn about setting expectations.