“When the opportunity came, it appeared in a different form. That is one of the tricks of opportunity. It has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and often comes disguised as misfortune or temporary defeat. Perhaps this is why so many fail to recognize opportunity.”
-Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
It was a slow Saturday afternoon. It was October 24th 1992. I recall the date because it was game 6 of the World Series. The Blue Jays were handing the Braves another loss and I couldn’t care less who won because my Dodgers weren’t playing.
But I watched the game anyway.
What else did I have to do? I was 31 years old, had already suffered a divorce, was living in my Mom’s spare room, had just declared bankruptcy and also lost all of my money in a failed clothing manufacturing business. I had nothing left to my name. I’d put all of my money into the failed business venture. I had gone down with the ship and closed my doors and liquidated my inventory the previous week. I was broke and a little broken, but I was doing what I knew how to do. I had my trusty yellow pad in my lap and I was making a list of all possible career choices. There were no viable preferences on the list, but I was determined to keep jotting things down until I found one.
Then the commercial came onto my television screen.
It was a guy hurting himself while sliding into 2nd base during a company softball game. The guy didn’t have Aflac. He was going to miss a lot of time at work. He was screwed. I had been with Aflac for a few years prior to opening my clothing company. I’d failed miserably with Aflac. I believed in the company, the people and the products, but the timing wasn’t right and my head certainly wasn’t right. They’d put me directly into a higher level sales management role and I simply wasn’t ready for the position.
It wasn’t my style to go back to a place where I had already failed once, so Aflac wasn’t on my list.
However, the guy who hired me there, Jimmy Hill, was the absolute nicest dude, and he always stayed in touch with me. I even became friends with his two sons, Jay and Greg. Jimmy was always calling…asking when I’d consider coming back. He was relentless that way.
So, as the commercial rolled I swallowed my pride and wrote, “Aflac” down on the list on my yellow pad.
That next Monday I called my friend Jimmy. I was only calling because I thought it would be cool to work with him again. He was such a great leader and mentor. I’d already learned a lot from him in just the short time we’d previously worked together.
He was so glad to hear from me but then he dropped the news.
He’d just accepted a position with Aflac in Virginia. He was moving back to his home state in a few weeks. We wouldn’t have the chance to work together. I tried to back out of the conversation. I told him it was, “Okay,” I was really just calling to see if, “We could work together,” but he quickly commandeered the discussion and invited me to a business luncheon meeting so I could meet with the person that was taking over the Los Angeles territory after his departure, Bill Krzciok. He also wanted to introduce me to a regional manager who would be working under Bill who needed some help in the L.A. area.
I got to the luncheon meeting and saw a few faces I recognized and a lot I didn’t. The luncheon was way down in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, hence most of the salespeople at the meeting were located in Orange County. Bill was busy, so Jimmy grabbed me and walked me over to person we will refer to as “slick Rick.” Rick was the regional manager in L.A. Jimmy introduced me to him, reiterating that Rick, “Needed some help in the L.A. market”, and then Jimmy walked away and left us alone.
Slick Rick couldn’t have looked less interested in talking with me. He never made eye contact with me. He simply picked at his teeth with a toothpick and gazed around the room. Undaunted, I began to tell him of my background, heavy sales as well as recruiting, I was really pitching myself, then I asked him if we could work together. He stared off into the distance while scraping his teeth with that damn toothpick and then he lifelessly muttered, “I’m not hiring right now. Why don’t you just go talk to Bill? Maybe he’ll have something for you.”
I was a bit blown away by his casual dismissal of a person ready to show up and go to work selling and recruiting for him. To say the least, I was less than impressed with my rendezvous with slick Rick. I slipped out of the luncheon without saying goodbye to anyone.
Aflac wasn’t going to be on my list of career opportunities.
I drove all the way home, two hours, in stop and go traffic, feeling like I’d wasted my time along with some precious gas money, which I had little of. When I got home I grabbed the yellow pad and crossed Aflac off the pathetic and now dwindling list of career options.
The next day I received a phone message from Jimmy.
“Hey, Joe B., it’s Jimmy. We didn’t talk before you skipped out of the meeting. How’d your conversation with Rick turn out? Listen…Give me a shout, will ya’?”
There was a part of me, probably pride, that didn’t want to respond, but this was Jimmy…I owed him the courtesy of a call. When I called him back and candidly recounted my conversation with slick Rick, he became quiet and asked if I would take a call from Rick’s boss, Bill, the state manager who was assuming the L.A. market for Aflac.
I’m not sure why I agreed, but I did.
When Bill called later that day we had a nice conversation. He apologized for not being able to connect with me at the lunch meeting and he was also apologetic for the way Rick handled his interaction with me. Bill asked if I would consider driving down to interview with him. Bill’s office was in Vista, California. If you don’t know where Vista is, let’s just say it’s near San Diego, which is nowhere near Los Angeles. With normal traffic, it would be a round-trip drive of about six and a half hours.
I’m not sure why I agreed, but I did.
We set a time for that next Monday and I hung up. I grabbed the yellow pad and wrote “Aflac” on the bottom of my list of career options, just under where I’d crossed it out. Then Sunday night came around. I realized I had no gas in my car and I’d spent the last $15 bucks I had in my wallet for cocktails that weekend.
I picked up the phone to leave a message for Bill. I’d cancel…give him some damn excuse. I actually had the phone receiver in my hand.
But I stopped. My list of options wasn’t looking that good, and Bill seemed like a nice, professional guy, but I didn’t want to drive all the way down to Vista, and even if I did find the gas money, why would I want to work directly for a guy like slick Rick? But during my last conversation with Jimmy, he’d made me promise to meet with Bill. He heavily endorsed him—told me what a great mentor he would be for me.
I took one last look at my yellow pad. The few other career options listed on it didn’t look that good. And this guy, Bill, he really seemed anxious to talk to me, so I marched into the kitchen and found my Mom and Aunt Jean baking something. (Older Italian women are always baking things) I told them of my plight. My Aunt Jean immediately grabbed her purse and handed me a $20.
“Pay me back when you make your first million,” she wisecracked.
The interview with Bill was over lunch. He asked me to recount the conversation with slick Rick. As I told him what Rick said, especially the little nugget, “I’m not hiring right now,” Bill’s ears and neck turned red. He calmly told me that he was demoting Rick, and he needed a new regional sales coordinator to run the entire L.A. Market.
He offered me the position on the spot.
Now, I want to be clear, I didn’t want to step into a regional manager’s position. I had already failed with Aflac at that position once—it was a royal crash and burn—I didn’t want to reprise that experience. I was careful to ask Bill how many orphaned accounts I’d have to work with. His answer was, “None.” I asked him how many unassigned agents were in the area. He answered, “None that you’d want to work with.”
Gee it sounded like an awesome opportunity. NOT!
But there was something about Bill—the resolve on his face, the steadiness of his leadership manner. Then he looked me straight in the eyes and said:
“If you take this position I’ll drive up to L.A. at least a day or two each week. I’ll help you build a big team in Los Angeles. If you make a decision to build this market for Aflac and stick around for a while, I can promise you…you’ll become a millionaire.
I’m not sure why I believed him, but I did.
I accepted the position and then drove home in the worst traffic ever. When I got home I grabbed my yellow pad. In ceremonial fashion I circled Aflac three times, crossed out all of the other career options, tore the page off the yellow pad and tossed it into my trashcan. My best career opportunity on the list had been crossed out twice, but it was the one I decided on.
You see, in the course of my career, good opportunities had always been slightly disguised. I can share other uncanny stories about great things that came out of something that didn’t look so great to begin with, but those are longer stories for another time. (Look for my novel this summer…LOL!) In my life and professional career, things always seemed to happen to me the way they should, and the stuff disguised as misfortune or defeat seemed to spur the greatest lessons and wealth.
I was supposed to go back to Aflac.
That’s why the Aflac commercial popped onto my T.V. set that day while the yellow pad was sitting in my lap.
Jimmy wasn’t supposed to mentor me (at that time in my career), Bill was.
Jimmy remains a great mentor to me today, but I learned things from Bill that I never would have learned from Jimmy. Bill was directly responsible for my subsequent promotion to a higher level a few years later. He even gave up some of his own territory to make that promotion happen.
I wasn’t supposed to take a lower position under slick Rick.
It was pre-ordained for me to step up, take some risk and succeed at a higher position. I can’t imagine how different my career would’ve been if slick Rick didn’t act like an assbite to me that day, all disinterested, with that stupid toothpick sticking out of his mouth.
For the sake of closing the loop on this story and this blog, I will tell you that the rest is recorded history. Bill Krzciok and his wife, Diann, became some of my most treasured mentors and friends. Bill kept every promise he made to me and then some. I not only became a millionaire with Aflac, but I became a multi-millionaire because I simply made a decision to build the Los Angeles market regardless of what it took, and, oh…I stuck around for a while.
While I never physically handed a $20 bill to my Aunt Jean, I hope I paid her back many times over.
As my mom and Aunt Jean grew older, I made sure that we were together on almost every holiday and many trips. We made sure they had whatever they wanted and needed financially and otherwise. When they couldn’t live alone any longer, Beth and I were able to write a check for the best care facility money could buy.
Isn’t that the kind of thing your money is meant to be used for anyway?
Great opportunities aren’t always served up to you on a silver platter by a waiter with white gloves. Sometimes they look like a T.V. commercial on a lazy Saturday afternoon, a sign from above. Or, they may look like a dipstick with a toothpick.
You need to look for signs. (They are everywhere)
You need to trust your gut. (It’s hardly ever wrong)
You need to take risk. (Without risk there is no chance of freedom)
You need to value working with a great mentor over other factors. (I would choose a smaller opportunity with a great mentor over a fat territory with a crappy leader every day of the week)
Everything happens about the way it should. So relax, have a beer, have a good laugh at what’s going on around you and keep working your butt off. It’s taken most of my 54 years to figure out a few things like this. I’m kinda’ slow, hopefully it doesn’t take you that long.
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Joe Buzzello is a nationally recognized expert on direct selling and sales leadership. He has built legacy sales teams and experienced unprecedented success in individual and business-to-business markets as well as the network marketing industry. Joe has held executive level positions for Fortune 500 companies, but he has never strayed far from the art and science of selling, which he loves. In early 2014, Joe began writing, speaking, and coaching through his proprietary platform, The CAP Equation©. Please visit Joe at: http://www.CAPequation.com