Skip to main content

Making Productive Choices

17 June, 2019

How Business Owners Can Better Manage Stress in Pursuit of Their Goals

By Danny Kerr

Why is everything so hard?” “It seems like I’m always taking one step forward and two steps back.”

“Maybe I’m just not good enough.”

“Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

When was the last time your brain started this type of internal dialogue? A defeated brain is the most dangerous ingredient when running your own business and will often lead to extreme failure. This happens to all entrepreneurs, including me, but there is something you can do about it.

Every journey carries stress

Growing up I learned two very important things: to work hard and be humble in everything I do. Coming from a modest family, I learned to make my own success in life. Going through school I found out I was dyslexic and was treated differently by my classmates and teachers. As I grew up these experiences fueled a desire in me to prove I could do more. Soon this desire turned into a reality.

After graduating, I started my own painting business employing 12 full-time staff and made enough money to buy my first home. At 20 years old, I took on a position as a general manager for a franchise company and grew sales from $400,000 to $1.3 million in one year. At 28, I have a beautiful wife and baby, own a wealth of real estate and am currently working on building my third multimillion-dollar business.

Now this is all warm and inspiring, but what you’re not seeing are the massive ups and downs I experienced along the way. During this time, I lost my dad to a drug overdose, lost my mom to cancer and spent three years working on a failed business. I worked regular 80-hour weeks, gained 30 pounds, cried regularly and wanted to quit what I was doing. Pretty dismal, huh?

The journey through a new experience is filled with highs and lows. Understanding the stages of your journey can help you rise through the low points.

These are personal and professional challenges that we all have in life but few are willing to publicly talk about it. As a result, we often feel overwhelmed and alone with life’s challenges, wondering, “Why me?” We often end up quitting—right before success happens.

After interviewing more than a thousand people to find out what makes them tick and how they would perform in leadership roles, some patterns became very clear. The number one trait that defines a wellrounded successful life and business was a person’s ability to handle stress while in pursuit of a goal. You see, it’s not what happens to us that defines who we are. It’s the decisions we make after that matter the most.

The transition curve

So what can you do to change the way you handle stress? I have found that the best way to alter the habits that hold you back is to be aware of the process that everyone goes through while making vital decisions. It all stems from something called the Transition Curve.

Every new experience in life brings extreme highs and extreme lows. And an entrepreneur’s job description is to live new experiences. As we learn how to deal with these experiences for the first time our brain screams at us, “run” or “fight” as a way to protect us from this stress. This fight or flight battle is silently happening to you every day, and the choice you make ends up defining your success.

Let me illustrate the stages of the new experience journey for you:

  1. Un-informed optimism. Signs include: new venture, excitement, and the thought “What could possibly go wrong?” You might find yourself in this stage when taking on your first commercial project as a painter or hiring your first middle management employee.
  2. Informed pessimism. Signs include the realization of stress and time involved, as well as internalizing and externalizing blame. Keeping with the examples above, you might reach this stage when the commercial project you’re doing is costing you more than you originally thought, or your middle management employee is requiring a ton of direction, creating more work than if you hadn’t hired them in the first place.
  3. Crisis of meaning. Signs include avoiding, fighting, numbness, and a sense of being confused or lost. Following these examples, during this stage you realize you’re going to go into debt just to produce this commercial project. Or, as a result of middle management, customers are angry, the person you hired is angry, and you’re just generally angry at the whole situation.

When you are experiencing a Crisis of Meaning, primal fear and reward instincts hijack your brain and prevent you from using your cognitive brain. This may have been a good thing for our ancestors who needed to run from a predator into their cave, but in today’s modern world this often clouds our judgment and leads to destructive decision-making.

At the Crisis of Meaning stage you have a choice to make: do you give up and form a limiting belief? Or do you let your emotions calm down and make an informed, realistic decision on how to proceed?

  • Choice 1: Limiting beliefs. Signs include burnout, remaining problem-focused and thinking “I can’t do that.” For the examples above, limiting beliefs might include the conclusions that large commercial projects aren’t for you or that it’s not worthwhile hiring middle management.
  • Choice 2: Informed realism. Signs include clarity on your path, perspective for next time and thinking, “It can be tough but worth it.” For the examples discussed above, that might include the conclusions that next time you produce a large commercial project, you need better contracts, better payment terms and better jobsite planning. Or, having employees takes a lot of work in the first year, but learning how to spend time training them and have healthy conflicts can give you the opportunity to get out of the day-to-day.

Ride the wave

As a strategic coach I spend much of my time assisting clients to navigate these decisions properly. It’s important to seek a sounding board so you can gain perspective and slowly over time alter your default behavior.

Here is what I advise to help my clients make the right choice:

  • Reflect on why you started.
  • Relinquish control and release pressure.
  • Ask “how can I?” of friends, family and faith.
  • Be in the process of….

Let’s revisit the examples discussed above:

  • Example 1: For future commercial projects, I need to take time to understand why we didn’t make money and make changes for the next time.
  • Example 2: I need to take time to understand why my middle management employee is angry with me and why they are under-performing so I can get them and my business back on track.

Embrace the highs and lows

Ultimately, through all my ups and downs, I have looked at life in a very simple manner. As long as I can eat, sleep and breathe, life is pretty good.

In today’s modern world, we put too much pressure on living a specific definition of success. I have been through a lot at a young age and I can tell you firsthand that money and fame don’t bring happiness. What brings happiness is being aware of the life you have been given, being humble, and always working hard for what you believe in. Life is meant to be a roller coaster ride, so embrace the highs and the lows as one and life will get much simpler.

Danny Kerr is managing partner of Breakthrough Academy, a trade contractor training program design to help business owners structure their business and anchor it with clear, achievable goals. Kerr can be reached at (800) 875-1704. Learn more at

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Does your company own at least one AED/Automated External Defibrillator?


Did you attend any in-person paint industry events in 2023?


Jobsite of the Week: Detail Work in the Woods

Read Now

Front Door Colors

Dunn-Edwards has announced a new set of colors focused on hues that…

Read Now

Promoting Exterior Painting


Read Now

From the Field: It Won't Mean a Thing in 100 Years

It Won’t Mean a Thing in 100 Years ...

Read Now