The Expensive Consequences Of Ignoring My Gut Instincts

I’m sitting in the fanciest restaurant in my small town and spreading chilled chicken liver pâté and fig jam onto a toasted French baguette. The businessman I’m meeting for the first time is pouring me a second glass of wine from the second $100 bottle.

I ignore his bellowing voice that is making the other diners in the restaurant stare. He probably isn’t always like this, he’s just having a good time and trying to show off.

The sexist comments he is making about his wife can’t be typical.

My potential new client is talking about all the places he’s traveled, his multiple homes, the people he knows in Italy, and how big and fancy his house on the island is. 

“You and your wife should come stay with us for a few days sometime. You’d really enjoy our pool!”

I think, “There is no way I would ever want to do that.”

But for some reason I ignore my gut feeling and later accept to work with him. Only now do I know how big of a mistake that was. 

No contracts, only a handshake deal and notes written on the back of the restaurant’s napkin

One year later, our joint project just isn’t working out. His brand isn’t growing and he’s not putting any energy into it. He’s a successful doctor, researcher, and home builder, and he just wants the business to make a lot of money. The problem is he doesn’t want to spend anymore money to make this happen because he spent way too much money in upfront development of the product.

I complete my work as promised and he says I’ll be paid soon.

“I’m traveling in Boca and will send you a check as soon as I return.”

A few more weeks go by and I follow up again. 

“My bank account was compromised, so I need to get that fixed before I can send your payment. ”

A few more weeks go by and then he says, “My housekeeper sent the check, you didn’t get it in the mail? Let me follow up with the bank.”

At this point I was thinking of giving up and counting the project as a loss. There are many things I would rather do with my time instead of trying to shake down a millionaire for a few thousand dollars. 

What should you do when you agree to perform work, the work is performed, and then you aren’t paid?

I started searching online and read that I should take him to small claims court. I didn’t have a contract, but I did have emails and text messages from him saying the money was sent. Is this the equal to confirmation of our agreement?

I decided I didn’t want to take him to small claims court. That is just too much effort.

But I am angry that he keeps bragging about traveling internationally while he continues to have banking problems when it comes time to send me a check.

I decide to hold to my ground, not let him get away with this, and that I will keep nagging him until he pays me.

Months go by and I keep following up by email, text message, phone calls, and by sending invoices through PayPal and the bank. I was a real pest. I would have paid myself just to make me go away.

A couple more months go by, it has almost been one year since the work was completed and he sends me an email with a screenshot of a check on the way.

But then I realize the email may be a fake.

Did he actually finally send me a check?

I go to my Po Box and lo and behold, there is a check for almost the full amount I was owed. It wasn’t the entire amount, but I didn’t care. I was over the moon that I finally got paid, that I didn’t give up, and that now I could move on.

I told myself I would get contracts and the agreed upon services in writing from now on, and agree to a payment method.

Why didn’t I trust my gut?

On the walk home from our very first meeting downtown my wife and I talked about how something didn’t feel quite right. Why didn’t I trust this feeling?

Maybe it was because he agreed to pay me the most I had ever been paid for a project?

Did I get blinded by the money? Probably.

I need to remember to trust my gut on business deals. When something feels a bit off, it probably is.

A couple years later, I’m speaking with a new potential client. He manufactures an interesting product that is quite unusual. His product is vitamin suppositories and he claims they are much more effective than regular supplements because they skip your gut.

A couple of red flags were raised immediately:

  1. He’s had bad luck with a few marketing agencies already
  2. He claims he isn’t much of a marketer and that he is better as an inventor and researcher
  3. His company isn’t making a lot of money right now because he’s reinvesting all of his profit into research. He asks if I will work for less than my regular rate and grow with him

The inventor and business owner makes me an offer for my marketing services and I tell him that I will think about it.

I debate back and forth over taking the project for two days… It is less than I typically charge, but it is a decent retainer and it could be an interesting product to market. 

On a long walk I’m thinking about the project and realize I’m not listening to my gut. What happened the last time I ignored what my gut was sharing on a new project?

Before I can change my mind I fire over a quick email, 

“Hi there,

After thinking about this opportunity over the past 48 hours– I don’t think I am a good fit for your current needs.

I wish you the most success.”

After pressing send I feel a tidal wave of peace overcome me. 

This has become the signal I pay attention to for confirmation of a decision. If I feel at peace when the decision has been made I know I made the right choice.

What will I do if I later feel like I lost out and that I made a big mistake in passing up a deal?  

I’ll always have the option to get back in touch and say, “I’ve thought about our deal some more. Can we please find a way to work together?” They may not accept my proposal, but I’ve found that most people respect when you put thought into their deals. When you are selective and don’t just say yes and accept every deal that comes your way.

How to hone your instincts for important decision making:

  1. Surround yourself with grounded and experienced individuals: They don’t need to be experts in the same field as you, they just need to be people that have been through life, that are willing to spend time listening to you work out problems, and can occasionally help you see alternate perspectives.
  2. Spend time in solitude: Since starting my business I’ve become an introvert. I love taking long walks outside in nature, alone. When I am wrestling with an important decision I leave my phone at home and go on a long walk and I don’t return home until I’ve let my subconscious work things out.
  3. Stick to your core values: Stephen R. Covey shares in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People these wise words from William George Jordan, “Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil— the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man really is, not what he pretends to be.”
  4. Read books: This is my go-to strategy for learning. Why learn things the hard way when I can be mentored directly by the most successful entrepreneurs of all time: James Altucher, Jesse Itzler, Sir Richard Branson, Robert Herjavec, etc.


I still haven’t perfected my gut and brain connection and often make mistakes. I get too excited about an opportunity and ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s probably related to my tendency to be greedy and to want to prove myself. Plus, I often have a hard time saying no.

I need to remember to always listen to my gut. My gut has proven it’s smarter at processing new opportunities than I am. It has the ability to ignore the trappings of fame, success, wealth, and glory.

What about you?

Can you think of a time you ignored your gut instincts and regret the decision you made? What was the result? Have you learned to listen to your gut or is this still a discipline you struggle with? 

Please share your story in the comments below. I’ll read them all.

Feature image courtesy Ruth Caron.

2 replies on “The Expensive Consequences Of Ignoring My Gut Instincts”

Hi James. You packed a lot into this and I read every word. I appreciate your honesty and knowing more about you. I value the issue (and lessons) learned and shared as well. Thank you!

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