"You will spend many years in comfort and material wealth."

Not so fast. Before you start making retirement plans, the "you" I’m talking about is me, not you. Get your own Chinese takeout.

Comfort and material wealth — that was the promise delivered via my little cardboard cookie. Finally, my troubles are over!

The thing with fortune cookies, of course, is that they tend to tell us we want to hear. "You will win the lottery"; "you will be reunited with an old friend"; and "your self-cleaning oven will finally, in fact, clean itself and will clean out the linen closet while it’s at it." These assurances tend to buoy the old spirits, but they’re not real.

I’ve consumed so much Mandarin chicken over the years that I should be bilingual by osmosis, but I have yet to be rewarded with anything but upbeat predictions. "Your in-laws will be moving in with you on Tuesday" doesn’t have the same feel-good ring. "Your multiple listing service doesn’t look like it’s getting better anytime soon," while true, might have me reaching instead for a Happy Meal tomorrow. The truth hurts.

But the real appeal to fortune cookies, I suppose, is that they tend to promise us something for nothing — kind of like our real estate licenses. Somewhere along the way it seems that so many of us got this notion that work in real estate, unlike other careers, is not work at all. It’s the promise of comfort and material wealth, yet achieving material wealth isn’t comfortable.

Sure, you might get lucky once or twice. You also might be caught in a low-pressure zone where it’s raining gold bricks tomorrow, but that kind of thing is a hundred-year storm.

Every day we make choices. We each have limited resources, the most important being our time, and it is up to us to direct and invest those resources. I hear agents complain that their business is slow or that they have no business, and then I watch these same agents spend their weekends at theme parks and sporting events while the other, "lucky" agents are out working and making a living.

I see these same agents turn down opportunities because the property is too far away, the price point is too low, or it’s a little loud on the soccer field. Boundaries are good; they keep us out of the straitjacket. But too many boundaries become obstacles, and it becomes comfortable and convenient to blame a difficult market or difficult clients.

I have taken calls at the dinner table and at wedding receptions, and I suspect a lot of you can relate. I have negotiated contracts from a white sand beach in the Caribbean, from the produce section at my local market, and from my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony.

I have spent money I didn’t have to market my business when I had no business or visible means of support. I have worked on many occasions for far less than I am worth, and at times even for a loss.

One of my first transactions resulted in a $700 paycheck, and this didn’t happen in Love Canal or during the Roosevelt administration. It was in San Diego in 1998. My commission didn’t cover my gas, but I enjoyed a referral as a result that spawned many more over the course of several years. It was a long-term investment in my business that paid off.

Our business is full of uncomfortable cycles. Those slow times, when clients are fewer and harder to come by, are inevitable, no matter how established or hardworking we are. But that isn’t when it’s time for a road trip.

Rather, that is precisely when we need to move farther out of our comfort zone. A real estate career isn’t something that happens to you. Success is not a promise delivered with your license, nor is guaranteed wealth your just desserts.

When I am not working, I am generally thinking about work. What’s going well, and how can I sustain and build on that? What’s not going so well, and what can I do to change that? What are others doing to create their successes, and is there something there that can be bottled, rebranded and reapplied?

Most days, I would much rather be recreating, but this is my day job and, flexible as the hours often are, real estate agents are always on the clock and on call. In order to have work, we need to go to work.

Years ago I was working with young, first-time buyers. They could afford little, their home search was intergalactic, and, sadly, they felt the need to apologize.

"We know we are just little crumbs in your cookie jar, but someday we will be big cookies. We promise!" And since then, I have had the privilege of helping them — and many of their friends — with numerous purchases and sales, often while having to leave my comfort zone.

Those are the cookies of which fortunes are made.

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