Perspectives, expectations, hopes: Why are things so unfair?

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seedling istock sales
victoria falls
That’s me, at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I had the opportunity last summer to return, after more than three decades, to where I achieved my first dream.

Many years ago, when I experienced my first sales occupation, I looked at awe as the best salesperson in the rather poorly managed real estate office sold so much more than everyone else around her.  She seemed to have the magic touch.The owners certainly didn’t have much control over their business.They refurbished an old funeral home with modern offices, and accepted me as a part-time employee (on commission) as I worked out my final few months as a federal public servant.I didn’t sell a thing, though I was able to purloin a private office and my own computer (a significant resource in 1985) and even could place classified ads costing the brokerage $50 or more for listings that, well, would never sell.

I needed to make a decision: Should I leave the government and jump into my new real estate career full-time, or carry on with the communications officer/writing job that paid quite well and had really good benefits? I decided that I would need to take the leap of faith and jump into the commission-sales waters to find fulfillment.

The following two years proved to be an intriguing life stage. I turned out to be quite good at real estate sales; nowhere near the office top producer, but successful enough to earn far more than most of the others working with me. These “failures” were intriguing. One drove a multi-coloured car:  the coloured paint covered the rust. He managed to fail to maintain/close his one listing — for a cheap mobile home. Another sales representative had fancy city planning maps adorning his office in his rented home, and talked the big talk about huge deals and projects, of which none materialized.

I focused on “FSBOs” — that is “For sale by owners” and discovered the most lucrative neighbourhood was about as far away from my suburban (rented) second floor waterfront place as you could get in our region’s toll-free calling area. Probably the community (just a few blocks from where I now live, ironically) was too far for most Realtors to prospect; but I sold one house, than another, and then at least one family with several properties considered me to be worthy of future business, including the sale of a commercial property under distress when the owner had a heart attack.

I took every sales training course I could find, including materials from guru Brian Tracy.

In the midst of this real estate career, the U.S. government announced a new immigration program. It would accept 20,000 people from selected countries (including Canada) who simply needed to send a single page note to a post office box in Washington, D.C. The news media took up the story, reporting long line ups at U.S.consulates from people seeking information about the program (obviously this happened before simple Internet websites could do the job.)

I read the rules, and discovered that the best way to win would be to fly to Washington, and deposit multiple entries at a suburban postal outlet there. With the help of a former girlfriend, we placed ads in several newspapers. The media took up the story, and we sold several hundred “tries” at the visa application — resulting in a wild and sleepless few nights and a really strange trip to D.C. and several thousand dollars in cash as we fielded calls from newspaper, radio and television reporters. (I ended up with a Green Card, as well, though didn’t actually move to the U.S.)

After that experience and building on earlier discoveries in Africa (you can click on the sidebar image for that story), I realized I had captured the entrepreneurial spirit, setting the stage for the launch of the publishing business, which continues today.

Over the years, many of my business peers have done much better than me; but many others have floundered and failed. I’ve seen how things are often stacked and biased one way or another; where things seem totally unfair to outsiders, but totally reasonable to those on the inside.

These contradictions especially are apparent when “open and fair” solutions are advocated. So the government announces anyone can bid a job, and hundreds of barely qualified contractors show up — who really”wins” this work? Meanwhile, contractors, architects and engineers struggle with lead services, desperately seeking some, any, business, while others seem to sail along, just picking up the repeat business and what appear to be opportunities wired in their favour. Why is it so unfair?

The best answer I’ve discovered is that you cannot go far wrong with rational creativity — combining passion, innovation and a having bit of fun to stand out from the crowd and capture the popular spirit around you. Then you create an unfair advantage with your creativity, talent and spirit. Go for it.

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