From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Diving Head First into the Mud

It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up again.

Vince Lombardi

It was August 1984, and I had much to be thankful for: a wonderful life with a very special family and a great job as an administrator for the University of Missouri. Having been in education for over twenty-five years, I was well established and comfortable in my chosen field. I planned on being in academia for the rest of my working days.

It never occurred to me to upset the apple cart and try something off the beaten path . . . until that fateful autumn day. One of my staff members came into my office and handed me a couple of tapes by a motivational speaker I had never heard of named Jim Rohn. While I doubted he had anything to say that would be applicable to my life, I took the tapes home and listened to his message with my wife, Betty. To my surprise, his words had a significant impact on my outlook and caused me to reevaluate my life’s purpose and goals. I realized that I was not living up to my potential, even though I was financially stable and working toward retirement. But with a doctorate in education and a lifetime in academia, what else could I do?

Over the eighteen months that followed, this realization weighed heavily on my mind, and I became more and more restless. No longer was I fulfilled or satisfied. I felt that I wanted to leave the university and try my wings in business, but I did not know where to begin.

In January 1986, Betty and I went to Atlanta to visit my old college roommate. I shared my frustrations and my feeling that there had to be something else I could do in life that would be more fulfilling. He suggested that I join his real-estate company and take a shot at selling franchises in Georgia—this, in spite of the fact that I had no sales training or experience. I would be on a fifty-fifty split and be responsible for my expenses. If I proved I could sell the franchises, then we would try to purchase an exclusive region from the franchiser in Denver.

The offer was appealing, but a far cry from becoming reality. It would mean cashing in more than twenty-six years of retirement monies, selling our house, and moving a thousand miles away from our children and grandchildren—all of this at the ripe age of fifty. In other words, we would have to take a leap of faith and risk losing every material thing we had accumulated over the course of a lifetime.

On March 10,1986, I did just that. I left Missouri for Augusta, Georgia, to launch my career selling real-estate franchises.

They say that in every successful adventure there is a defining moment—an event so dramatic, it either makes you or breaks you. My moment came ten days into my new career.

My first week and a half of selling was an absolute nightmare. I had never had a real-estate license nor did I understand industry lingo. (What in the world is an FSBO? I wondered.) Now, let me just say that I did not go into my new career with unrealistic expectations. I had come to terms with the fact that understanding real estate was going to take some time, but I figured that, until I learned the ins and outs of the industry, my people skills would pull me through. Boy was I wrong! I had never heard the word “no” as many times in the course of a week in my whole life. With every rejection, I doubted myself more and more. To make matters worse, after a long day’s work, I had to come back to the run-down trailer park I was temporarily living in. Why in the world did I give up my nice home and career for this? I asked myself each and every night.

So by day ten of my new life, I was really discouraged. This particular morning, the sky was even grayer than the hair on my head. Rain blanketed the ground, and I cynically acknowledged that it was appropriate weather for my gloomy mood. Late for an appointment that I was dreading, I gathered my sales materials and rushed out the front door of the trailer. With my first step onto the top metal stair, wet with rain, my slick-bottom dress shoes lost traction. Suddenly, I was flailing helplessly, spread-eagle above three rickety metal stairs, and aiming head first for a muddy destination. At the bottom of the stairs I landed, face first, in a sloppy soup of mud and water. As mud seeped its way into my brand-new suit jacket and pants, I questioned my sanity and the decisions that brought me to this place so far away from all that was familiar to me. I thought back to the warmth, security, and stability of my old life. Why had I let go of everything? At fifty, I had jumped out of the nest that I had worked so hard to build and landed face down in the mud.

My thoughts went wild, racing with pent-up frustration: You have lost your mind! You left a great job with a major university. You have faced more rejection in the past ten days than you have received in your entire lifetime. Why? What did you think you could accomplish? If this morning was representative of things to come, I was in for a bumpy ride.

At that moment, I could have easily packed up my belongings and headed back home. It would have been the easiest thing to do. Instead, even as all of the doubts raged within me, something new had stirred. I got mad. I got so mad that I decided that if life was going to keep on knocking me with hard blows, then I was going to stand on my feet and take them. As the rain beat down upon my back, a feeling of freedom enveloped me. I had survived so far, and it couldn’t get much worse. I was determined to find and fulfill my potential. At ground level, I couldn’t get any lower; the only way to go was up. With that, I dragged myself out of the mud, showered, and put on a clean suit and a new attitude. Late as I was, I set out to meet my prospect.

On the way to the meeting, I got lost. In an unfamiliar city, there was little hope of finding my way. When I spotted a man in front of a small office building, I stopped and asked for directions. He invited me into his office to use the phone. Within just a few short minutes of conversation with him, I was surprised to discover that he and his wife were both real-estate agents. Because of our common interests, we kept in touch, and within a couple of months, they became one of my first ten franchise sales.

Within two years, I became a successful co-owner of three RE/MAX regions. This was far, far beyond my wildest dreams. When I left Missouri and all the security I had known to set out in search of fulfillment, I never expected to achieve that kind of success so quickly. Looking back, I thank my lucky stars for that rainy Georgia morning. I thank God that I did not run. I thank God that I did not pack my belongings and head home, deciding that my career change had been a terrible mistake. The freedom I have today would not have come had I decided not to pick myself up from the mud and keep going. I am so thankful for the obstacles I have had to overcome, for they have been my greatest allies in my search for personal fulfillment. In hindsight, I highly recommend taking a good leap, “falling from grace” and getting a little dirty to everyone.

Tom Hill

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