From Stress To Success - Lessons From 5 Years In Business - StrongLife

From Stress To Success – Lessons From 5 Years In Business


Today marks the 5 year anniversary of StrongLife Gym.

Looking back, it’s been quite the roller-coaster ride if I’m not lying.

5 years has flown by so fast, yet year 1 and 2 feel like it was 10 years ago.

But as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun.

As I reflect on the last few years, it hasn’t always been fun.

There have been many challenges along the way.

And today you’ll learn about some of them.

Goodbye Corporate, Hello Self-Employed Insecurity

I still remember that Friday in July 2013, the day I sat on my couch at 12.35pm.

I was meant to be at work at 1pm.

But something wasn’t allowing me to get up off the couch.

And that thing was the solid feeling of “I can’t do this any longer”.

So on that day, I decided it was time to pack it in.

No more taking orders from horrible bosses.

No more confined to a life of limitation and lack of creativity.

Time to step up and see what I could create for myself.

So I finished my shifts that weekend, and on Sunday I dropped my work tag on my managers desk along with a letter of resignation.

As I walked out the front door of the building, it felt amazing yet terrifying.

Amazing that I finally quit a job I hated.

Terrifying that I was now officially unemployed with zero income for the next few months.

Terrifying that I was about to take the plunge into self-employment and create a business for myself as the West of Ireland still struggle to recover from the recession.

But I looked at it like this – I would be 27 soon after opening, so even if it went belly up, I had many years to recover from it.

And I didn’t have any real commitments to tend to, so for me it was a risk well worth taking.

So the following months were spent planning, assessing, and looking at whether or not it was a viable idea.

Fast forward to January 2014, I was sat in AIB in Carrick on Shannon signing loan forms to get the ball rolling.

A world of pressure fell on me.

This was real.

It was happening.

Unit got, equipment ordered and excitement sets in.

And here’s where it all began.

where it began

A small unit to “test” the area to see if it was a viable option.

If it was going to be successful or not.

And it ensured that if it went under, the damage was recoverable.

But thankfully, as I sit here in 2019, I’m happy to say it’s gone well!

From Excited To Disheartened

The excitement soon started to dissipate.

And that was driven by something I’ve not really told anyone about.

But shortly after opening, a prominent local business person was telling their clients:

“He’ll never last”.

“No chance he’ll survive”.

“He’ll be gone in 6 months”.

The reason I know this?

They were shit talking directly to a client of mine.

It was like a punch in the stomach.

But it didn’t stop there.

I was sent screenshots of “friends” (I use that term very lightly) making fun of me in Facebook comments.

Others couldn’t care less that I opened a business and never came to see it.

And not a single local media outlet ever covered a new business opening.

It made me question everything.

I sat there one Saturday night, looking at my loan repayments swallowing up my accounts.

I sat there and asked myself “what the hell am I doing?”

Upon opening, I was so excited to open a business in a struggling town to try and breathe some life into it.

I was over the moon to take on the responsibility of building my own business and testing myself.

Yet here I was, completely flattened.

Everything told me to quit and take a ‘normal’ job with an income.

Nothing was telling me to keep breaking myself, hardly able to sleep with stress and having zero life outside of work because of financial restraints.

But as I sat there.

I thought of that business person.

“No chance he will survive, He’ll be gone in 6 months, he’ll not last”.

And all that ran through my head was:

“I’ll fucking prove you wrong!”

(There were many other expletives that are quite harsher and start with letters B and C).

It’s Now Or Never

It was that night that I really realised, nobody else cares.

People would rather see you fail than succeed.

And if I kept listening to others, I’d end up quitting.

So it was time to put on the big boy pants and get to work.

And it was time for StrongLife 2.0

So in January 2015, I moved the gym next door into a bigger unit.

It was the long-term plan I had.

And it was now or never.

More finance was signed, more equipment was ordered and even longer days put in.

It was time to go all-in.

And as Paddy Losty himself would say: “There’d be no feckin stopping me”.

50 – 60 hour weeks were the norm, whether it was studying, seminars, courses or personal training, it got done.

I bought more books than pints.

And month by month, it improved that little bit.

And that little bit kept building in momentum.

Instead of chasing big wins, I stuck to small ones.

Instead of focusing on wondering why people won’t train here, I focused more on those who DO train here.

And the results started to improve.

The name started building more and more.

Word of mouth spread.

And it got busier.

Yet in December 2016, once all the bills were paid, I had €29 left in my account.

I spend Christmas being miserable.

I borrowed money to buy my girlfriend presents and I avoided the “Pints?” text messages.

It was heartbreaking.

Again, I sat there questioning it all.

It was the lowest I’ve felt since opening.

And it was time to pack it in.

But I said I wouldn’t make any rash decisions.

I’d sit on it.

Instead of criticising the year, I looked at what I could learn from it.

The accountants had screwed me over (I now have a great accountant).

Dropped €3000 on a business mentorship that didn’t do much good.

And I had spread myself too thin.

Instead of walking away, what if I used it as a way to learn?

“Failure is only ever permanent if you never try again” I read on a Facebook post by a girl who was showing her arse off.

I’ve yet to figure out how that quote had any relevance to her picture.

And once again, it was time to make a decision.

“Let’s give it one last go – but this time, let’s be smarter!”.



From Stress To Success

The first 2 years are tough in any business, and it almost broke me on many occasions.

But I firmly believe people quit too soon.

Ever small failure is an opportunity to learn.

So in 2017, I vowed to do things MY way.

No more comparing myself to others online.

No more trying to do what others do.

Time to let Colm loose.

And while many a day I question my own sanity, it’s been the best decision I made.

Instead of trying to impress others, I spend more time being myself.

And the ridiculous thing is that my business has thrived in the last 2.5 years.

There’s that cliché picture of business success that shows an iceberg.

People only ever see the tip above water.

Only those of us within a business know the real stuff happens beneath.

And the last 2.5 years I’ve focused on just turning up each and every day and doing things the Colm way.

Whether that’s my marketing, social media presence, blogs/articles and interactions with clients.

It means that I’ve the pleasure of being surrounded by some equally weird and wonderful people every day of the week here in the gym.

And every day is an absolute pleasure.

Look, every now and again something will catch me off guard.

But in general, if this business were a girl on a Saturday night, then I’m on top of her!

Honesty And Reality

Now I could leave you reading this thinking, “wow, he’s doing great and an inspiration”.

But here’s the reality.

I may not be the best Personal Trainer.

This may not be the best gym.

I often gain a few lbs that puts me out of shape thanks to external factors in my personal life.

I may not have it all together as business person.


Every month that goes by, I improve as a PT, this gym improves as a whole, I work on my self-care, and I learn new things in business.

And over time, it continues to improve.

While others strive to portray a perfect life/business/physique/job online, I’ll tell you the truth.

I’ll never be perfect.

This gym will never be perfect.

There are clients that haven’t gotten results here.

But there are many who have transformed themselves here.

Not everyone will like it here.

But lots of people absolutely love it.

There are some clients I feel like I’ve failed.

But there are lots that I look up to in terms of how hard they work each week.

Sometimes I feel under appreciated.

Other times, I’m overwhelmed with the nice messages I get privately.


The bottom line is, while this may never be the perfect gym, nor I be the perfect trainer, I CARE.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of making friends with amazing people in here.

I’ve helped them get fitter, lose some weight and get stronger.

More importantly, this gym in a small town in the West of Ireland has brought lovely people together.

And it’s given me the opportunity to help them.

Whether that’s the ones who have confided in me in regards to mental health issues, low self esteem and confidence issues, the struggles with comparing to others, kids with autism, visually impaired, the back aches, the pains, the stresses of life and even the odd hangover.

I’ve never had a job that gives such a variety of opportunities to help and to learn.

And that’s why as every month goes by, I not only become a better coach and business, but I grow as a person.

Final Thoughts

You might be reading this now and asking yourself:

“This can’t be the same fella that’s stone mental on social media?”.

Well I can confirm, that it is.

Life already has enough misery and hardship.

If I can even put half a smile on your face and try be a better part of your day, it’s worth it, right?

I think people take life too seriously, especially social media.

And we can get sucked in by others people’s comments, opinions and general shit talk.

If I had listened to that person telling their clients that I’d never survive, I wouldn’t be writing this today.

If I had let those comments from friends consume me, I’d have folded.

At some point, you need to remove yourself from the negativity that surrounds us all.

Spend less time worrying what others think and more time being yourself.

To me, life and business is more of an adventure.

Don’t be afraid to be creative and try things your own way.

If it doesn’t work out, learn from it and go again.

(I do also advise that you at least build some principles off successful people, but in smaller areas of business, stick your own mark on it.)

Stop comparing yourself to others, they don’t care about you, they’re too busy worrying about themselves.

The more time you spend focusing on others, the less time you spend focusing on yourself.

You can allow adversity, challenges and tough times consume you, or you can use them as fuel to improve and build a better life for yourself.

And no matter what, a certain amount of people will want you to fail.

Not because they want to see you fail though, they just don’t want you to succeed doing something they wish they had the courage to do.

No matter how little support you get from others, how nobody understands or cares what you’re doing, and how isolated you feel running a business/working towards a goal etc, remember this:

You Didn’t Start To Do It For Others, You Started To Do It For YOU.

Never forget that.

“Live long an prosper” – Chewbacca

Thanks for reading.

Colm Duignan

CEO and Chief Manchild at StrongLife Gym

Colm Duignan

Colm Duignan

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