I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I was pitching a customer, and it was going better than usual. I was on top of my game today. With every objection she threw at me, I had the perfect answer and communicated it without a hitch.

Not ready to get the house painted? “If not now, when? You’ve got me here, now, and you know I’m going to get it done right. Why risk waiting until it gets worse?”

Too expensive? “This is 10x cheaper than the cost you’ll have on your hands when the wood starts to rot. Don’t you want to get it fixed the right way, now, rather than wait until it’s worse and more expensive?”

My confidence was at an all-time high. It was a good day. Then, my phone buzzed again.

And again.

I booked the job. $2750. She told me I really knew what I was talking about and that she had no more excuses. There’s not a better feeling in sales than turning 6 hard no’s into a confident yes. She handed me the deposit check, and I went to my car feeling like a badass.


Shit. I pulled my phone out of my pocket. 17 missed calls. Oh boy.

I was running a house-painting business that summer. I quit college to do this full-time because I got to be a real entrepreneur, book real jobs with real customers, make real money, and the best part? I didn’t open a textbook the entire time.

My crew was working on painting a house that day. It was towards the end of the summer, and they knew what they were doing by now. I had already struggled through most of my customer issues for the summer. My painters were well-experienced, and I spent most of my days doing estimates, meeting with customers, or running my marketing team. It was nice to not have to worry about production.

I had finally figured it out. I could book jobs, pass them onto my production manager, and he would take care of them. I barely had to pick up a paintbrush by this point, let alone show up to the job site.

The only time they called me was if they unexpectedly ran out of paint, or needed me to bring them another ladder. But they never called me 17 times within 20 minutes. Something had to be wrong…

What happened?

Ok, uhh, I’m not sure how it happened, but basically we tipped over a bucket of paint and it’s all  over the roof.

I had never been in this position before. I couldn’t have taken a class on it, and I couldn’t have had a mentor explain to me in advance what to do in this unlikely one-off situation.

So what did I do?

I figured it out.

The time was going to pass regardless of what I did. The paint was already on the roof, I was 20 minutes away, and something had to be done. That’s all I knew.

I told my production manager to put water on it. I didn’t know if that would work. I asked him if the homeowner was there. “No,” he said.

It was one of those moments where I could only think of one word to say to myself, and I said it over and over.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

I called my production manager every 5 minutes for an update, and he said the same thing every time: “It’s working, but it’s really slow.”

I eventually got to the job site, climbed up on the roof, and began scrubbing paint. I told my painters to all get back to work and finish the house, and *don’t spill any more paint*. I used different tools every few minutes to see what worked best. None of them worked best.

I scrubbed for about 2 hours. Then, when it was mostly gone, I called the customer and let her know what was up. I told her, tactfully, that we had spilled paint on the roof, but we cleaned it up quickly and you can’t really tell what happened. I let her know that I’d be scrubbing for another hour to make sure it’s completely fixed.

In the moment, I had no idea what to do. I ended up doing the right thing because I wasn’t over thinking it. I was simply reacting to the situation, using whatever abilities I had at my disposal.

This moment taught me an important lesson. You will always run into situations in which you find yourself unprepared, and it’s impossible to prepare for everything.

The ability to just “figure it out” is the most important ability you can have.

It’s the ability to put yourself into a situation knowing full well that you might not know what to do. It’s putting yourself on the spot. It’s trusting yourself to rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion. It’s accepting that preparation is only important because it lends itself to making you more effective for game-time. Without gametime, practice is futile.

Luckily, that customer was a sweetheart, and appreciated my honesty. We still got paid for the job, because I had simply decided to “figure it out.” Though, I never got any extra compensation for my near heart-attack.