You Can’t Judge a Book By its Cover—an Unlikely Success Story

Robert Terson

I was 23 when I returned to Chicago from a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy and began my short-lived “career” as a real estate salesperson; it lasted three ignoble years. Notwithstanding my own less-than-stellar performance during those three forgettable years, I recall one valuable lesson that I never forgot, which I’d like to share with you today.

This was 46 years ago, but I remember it as though it was yesterday. The company I was working for hired a man whom I was 100% positive couldn’t/wouldn’t be successful. God Himself could’ve come down from the Heavens to train this man and it wouldn’t have helped an iota, I thought at the time. And I wasn’t alone in my assessment of Ron; everyone else in the company was poking fun, yucking it up at the poor guy’s expense—behind his back, of course. He was uneducated, spoke like a truck driver who hadn’t gotten past the seventh grade; his unfashionable clothing was always stained and rumpled, as though he had slept in them overnight; his teeth were crooked, yellow stained from years of smoking; he drove an old car that probably hadn’t seen the inside of a carwash since he bought it; he had no experience at sales, none whatsoever. There was nothing about this guy, zero, zilch, that forecast success in the real estate business.

As you’ve no doubt guessed by now, Ron proved us all wrong. He hit the ground running the day he was hired and never stopped or even hesitated. None of the negatives listed above mattered in the slightest; what mattered was that Ron believed in himself and worked circles around the rest of us. He never let up. Work, work, work, and more work. The man was always on the telephone talking to someone; or showing property to someone; or pursuing a listing. He was the first one in the office and the last one to leave. Hell, I’m not sure he ever left! He was “all work and no play” and who gives a damn if Ron turns out to be “a dull boy like Jack!”

I eventually found out he had a wife and lots of kids, so success wasn’t an option, no sir, success was a must, and the rest of us could take a breather now and then, chew the fat over a cup of coffee, but not Ron, no sir, there were all those groceries to buy, mortgage to pay, kids to educate, hardnosed wife to answer to, so no coffee or chewing the fat for our boy Ron. Just work, work, work, work….

So, never mind the cliché—the lesson is, never judge a book (or a human being) by its cover; you just might get fooled. You just might run into someone like Ron who wants success so badly that he’s not going to allow anything or anyone to stand in his way; he’s going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes; he’s going to work everyone else under the table until they all stare in disbelief—poor speech, rumpled clothes, stained teeth, dirty car, and total lack of experience be damned.

“Ron” could be anyone.

He even could be you.


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