I’d run into him in the halls first thing in the morning or when I stopped by on a Saturday, saying a quick hello as he hustled off to deliver a file or get on the phones. We never got the time to talk much, but it was obvious that he was serious about his profession and cared deeply about his clients. Every year he was the top producer in the company, and one of the best loan officers in California, yet he didn’t match the persona of so many others I saw in the business. Brent dressed simply, didn’t talk loudly, didn’t have a big fancy watch or drive a hot sports car, and didn’t schmooze at trendy nightclubs after work. Instead, he was a worker bee, always with his door closed.
At the end of the year, we had a Christmas gathering at a local steakhouse. I managed to sit next to Brent. As we sipped our beers, he congratulated me on getting through my first year with honors. I thanked him, but then shifted the conversation to his tremendous accomplishments. I was still awed by where he was in life, and a little jealous of the money he made.
“So Brent, how does it feel to be so successful?” I asked, like a kid meeting his favorite baseball player and asking for batting tips.
He paused, took off his glasses, and thought for a moment before speaking.
“Tired,” he said, rubbing his eyes. Then he apologized and excused himself because his phone was ringing and he had to take the call.
The night went on and the dinner was great and I worked there for a while. Soon, the market took a dive in the biggest real estate crash in history and we were all freaking out, running about like chickens with our heads cut off, stressing about all of the Monopoly money we’d lost. Brent was stressed too, but it wasn’t on display because he was always in the office with his door closed. The rest of us were all train wrecks by the next Christmas and that year there was no party, but Brent had posted another stellar year in the midst of the worst mortgage market since the Great Depression.
Eventually I moved on from the company and the business, but his words always stuck with me. How does it feel to be so successful? “Tired.” At first, it was odd. I mean, this guy was on top of the world, with a rock steady business, on his way to millions of dollars - if he wasn’t there all ready - and had the money to buy anything he wanted or take vacations as much as he wished. From my very small perspective, he shouldn’t have had a care in the world. So why did he feel “tired” instead of elation, excitement, or like a world beater?
How do you feel when you're successful? Tired.
I didn’t fully understand it, but now, many years later, I’ve started to figure it out.
He was tired because of what it took to BE successful. He didn’t just show up one day and everything was handed to him. There was a whole process of dedication, sacrifice, and commitment; hard work and then, when things got tough, some more hard work. Early mornings and late nights. The extra phone call, the extra email, driving across town to pick something up on a Saturday. When you’ve hit a nail with a hammer a million times, there’s no reason particular reason to celebrate when you hit it a million and one times. He hadn’t won the lottery. There was no bell to ring. His door was always closed because he was firing away - focused, disciplined, putting in the work to be successful that others wouldn’t.
I haven’t had professional or financial success even close to Brent’s level, but now I understand that you have to put the journey first, to fall in love with the work, and eventually the top-of-the-mountain vistas will come. Any high points I’ve experienced as a writer came when I was operating on fumes, but wrote anyway. Exhausted, under slept, busy with a long To Do list, distracted, tempted, stressed about being broke, I still pushed myself to write what needed to come out, driven only by a passion to create something good.
And every time I’ve written an article that made big waves in the world it was under those circumstances – when it would have been much easier to sleep an hour longer, take the night off, or go out and enjoy myself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
I still see Brent every blue moon when I’m back visiting Sacramento. He’s always gracious enough to congratulate me on my journey as a writer, and then rubs his eyes and excuses himself after only a few beers because he’s got work to do. I never really learned anything from him as a loan officer, but maybe his closed office door was the real lesson.