Are you willing to do what it takes, to live your DREAM? Here is the candid story of my life, series of events that happened, completely broken down in the past decade, to where I am today and what I’ve done to live my dream of Traveling the World.
Some people save as much money as they can, quit their job and Travel. That was my goal initially, but life has taken me on a different road and surprisingly.. it works just right for me.
I thought I’d share my story on how I’ve managed to Travel as much as I have (up to 3 international trips a year and multiple US destinations). I have written previously on the subject, but that was more on tips of how to save money to travel, getting over the fear and the inspiration behind it.
It would be so much easier to just tell you that I secretly am a Trust Fund Baby. But that is definitely not the case. Everything I have today is from my own hard earned money starting from random jobs in my college years. Like many other children and teenagers, I changed my mind every year or 2 on what I wanted to do ‘when I grow up’. I honestly still don’t know, but what I’m doing now works. It ranged from being a teacher when I was a small child, to being a painter, to being a movie star, to being a model, to being a psychologist, to being an anthropologist, to being a professor. The latter 2 are still possibilities, but who knows. Getting into Real Estate was never an option to me. My parents are realtors of 30 years now, and I’ve seen & experienced first hand the instability/struggle of the Real Estate Market. It’s 100% commission based, so if you don’t make a sale, you don’t make any money that month no matter how hard you work. My dad repeatedly told me throughout my life to do anything but get into real estate, he plead that I get an accounting job or something with the government so I have a steady pay and great benefits. He never wanted to see me struggle financially like he did.
When I graduated UCR in June 2006, I still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. And I was in no hurry to figure it out, I just wanted to Travel. That is what I passionately wanted to do, and I was willing to do whatever it took to live my dream, until my next wild idea. Call it the Scorpio in me, or the impulsive personality trait I hold to do what I want, and when I want. Being practical is not a high priority trait in my genes. I was also not going to rely on anyone to achieve it. I don’t have rich parents who will throw money at me to Travel and buy nice things, nor was I going to try and find a sugar daddy (vomit!).. so I had to figure it out on my own.
I had my resume on all those sites – career builder, monster, etc. I applied for waitressing & bar tending jobs. I went on random jobs selling energy drinks, or events promoting beer. I interviewed for after school tutoring companies. All I knew was that I needed a minimum of $5,000 so that I could fly to India on a 1 way ticket and travel until my money ran out.
Getting a Job to Finance my Travels
My mom called me 3 weeks after my graduation, while I had been sleeping in, beach bumming it, sleeping on friends’ couches, partying, still living the college life, and said she had a job interview for me as an Account Executive aka “Title Rep” at a Title Company with one of her favorite Title Reps. I knew nothing of what a Title Company is, besides the pens and pencils with the Title Company logos printed on, we used growing up from all their friends. She said I’d be great at it, and they basically just take realtors out to Laker Games and Host Parties (no longer the case today). I thought, well that’s not horrible, but I really don’t want to get in real estate; mom said “you really have nothing to lose, what else are you going to do next Wednesday at 10am? sleep in?” I said fine, I’ll go check it out. I walked into the Ticor Title office July 2006, back then on Central Ave (most Title Companies are all in Glendale for some odd reason), completely unprepared and said all the things you just don’t say in interviews.
I walked into the small conference room with 2 handsome older men who had been Title Reps for over 20 years, dressed in perfectly fit silk Versace shirts, expensive watches, shiny straight white teeth and owned matching Maseratis. They asked me about myself, and what brought me to the interview today. I said “Honestly, I’m here because my mom made me come.” They asked if I knew anything about Title Insurance, I said “not really, just those pencils and notepads we have at home.” They chuckled, “What did you want to do after graduating college?” I said “No idea, I just need a few thousand dollars so I can travel the world, then I will figure it out.” YEP, all the WRONG things to say at an interview! But they must have seen something in me, having managed people for so long, that I didn’t realize in myself, that perhaps I would be great in… SALES? All I knew of Sales was selling cell phones or register lady at the supermarket. The 2 gentlemen who ended up being my Sales Managers for 3 years gave me an offer within 10 minutes with a small base salary, commission plan, an expense account and said “Why don’t you give it a try for a few months.. if you don’t like it, take your money and go Travel to India.”
Wow! As I calculated the monthly salary in my head and thought how many months it would take to save, even if I made no commission, I said “Sure, I’ll give it a try!” They asked “We have Beverly Hills & Torrance open, which one would you like to try out?” I told them I’d think about it and let them know. I talked to my parents, and they both thought Torrance would be a better fit for me since it was more of a modest middle class area with more Asians, and that Beverly Hills may be too tough for me considering my age, and considering they were mainly White. With that advice, I said “I’M TAKING BEVERLY HILLS!” I love a challenge, and the more someone tells me I can’t do something, the more it drives me to prove them wrong.
The Journey Begins in my Early 20’s
August 2006, my journey began as I had a week training outside of the office following 5 different Title Reps around for the day, learning about different styles of selling, and also 1 week training in the office learning about the different departments in my company. My primary job is to bring in as many Title Insurance deals as possible – every real estate transaction whether you are selling/buying or refinancing, you need a Title Company. There are 20 other companies in California, and at least 3-5 competitors in every territory doing exactly what you do, so the goal is to make as many relationships as you can so that they choose your company over the others. I admit I was thrown out there in the wild, but I made the most of what I knew, and learned things along the way. It has been anything but an easy ride, but 8.5 years later, I am still employed with the same company and have come a LONG way in terms of Self Development as well as Business Development.
I was trained back then to visit Real Estate offices every single day, Escrow companies 2 times a week, and Lenders 3 times a week. I did just that. It didn’t work in Beverly Hills, they don’t want to see you every day. They don’t care how hard you work, it’s about who you know, and what you can do for them. I was trained to bring cookies and desserts once a week to bribe them for business, this did not work as well as people in West LA do not eat carbs or sweets. I hosted lavish lunches at Real Estate meetings but got a few things wrong that no one told me before. There are certain holidays that Jews don’t eat bread (as I brought a whole platter of sandwiches to a meeting), and people don’t eat pork. I had to learn these things along the way. I realized that the training I had were from Sales Reps from completely different markets and my style had to change. I began to read every Sales Books I could get my hands on, read many books written by Women who have succeeded in Business and in Sales. I reached out to Women and Asian-Americans who were successful and picked their brains on what they did to be successful. I was not going to fall victim and tell myself or others, that because I was YOUNG (21 years old when I started), or that because I am an Asian-American in a predominantly white affluent area, or because I am female, that I was going to fail. Instead, I used all these factors that many others have used as excuses, and into my advantage.
Being Young, I attracted a lot of people with my fresh energy, my innovative ideas, my un-jadedness, my adaptedness to Technology that some older reps were not as interested in. Being Asian, I offered my Mandarin-speaking skill to many who saw the value in that, especially with the influx of Chinese Investors.
On Being a Female in Sales
Being a woman in sales has major advantages as well as disadvantages. It’s the ongoing conversation in today’s topics. Knowing how to use what us females are good at, can only help. Our intuition, our listening skills, our patience. You don’t have to transform into a man to be as successful as a man. And you also don’t have to be a nasty b*tch to get far. I highly recommend Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, although I do think there is a difference with a women who is a true leader VS a women who is just mean and ‘bossy’.
What I’ve also learned is that being an attractive female may help open doors more than a man, or bring you 1 deal, but it’s not enough to succeed. If you cannot perform, the deals stop there. Another book I recommend is Judge Judy’s “Looks Fade but Dumb is Forever”. I’ve seen many very attractive females fail in Real Estate and other Sales jobs, because they thought all they needed was their cute face and personality to succeed. Sorry darling, it’s not a sustainable goal. You can spend all the money getting your hair did, nails did, buy expensive outfits, but you should really invest your time in learning about your business and working on yourself. You have to perfect your skills in whatever profession you’re in. Educate yourself on what you’re selling. Learn about the market you’re in and the marketshare of competitors. Find your niche and be the best at it. Don’t let excuses get in the way, EVER. If there’s business out there that’s not yours, then there’s no excuse to stop hunting. We’re dealing with properties on average over a million dollars. People are not going to trust you with such a huge purchase and risk jeopardizing their job, just because they find you attractive. They need someone who will get the job done at the end of the day.
Diligence, Resilience & Hard Work
The days of laker games and hosting parties are over after a law passed in 2009, SB133, which bans Title Companies from ‘buying business’. Now we have to work the right way. My managers told me to visit every building in my territory and look through directories for the words “Real Estate, Escrow, Lenders, Finance, CPA, Attorneys” and visit their office. The nature of my job is to visit anywhere from 10-20 offices (every. single. day). Yep, now it doesn’t look so glamorous anymore huh. So I did, I went to every single office building in my territory (West LA), and introduced myself to anyone I could speak to and gave them my business card. Believe me, this was not easy. Many real estate offices were getting kick backs from other Title Companies, and in return, did not allow other Title Companies to come in and get exposure to their realtors (still an unfortunate reality today). I had some very nasty managers kick me out of their office. I was reminded of what my managers told me, “It’s very simple: You have to be able to take rejection, NEVER take it personal, and just keep going back.” But some days, it was extremely tough to apply those advices. When you are yelled at in front of a group of realtors because you walked in their office innocently looking for business, it’s not a pleasant feeling nor good for your ego. I went home sometimes with major mental breakdowns. But Travel was always on my mind, so I kept going.
An unpleasant reality women all have to deal with in the work place is harassment from men. This happens everywhere, but especially when you are in sales, your job is to be nice to everyone hoping they will send you business, you could easily send the wrong message to them or simply, they just don’t respect you as a professional and could care less how uncomfortable it can make you feel. When I first started, I had to deal with this practically every week, I did not know how to deal with men emailing or calling me (not for business) and how to kindly reject them besides lying and saying I had a boyfriend. I would attend coffee and lunch meetings not knowing that it was not for business, and all they wanted to talk about was what I like to do on weekends and if I want to get away. I was faced with dilemmas of whether I should put up with certain annoying men, to get more business. And it was a constant judgment call. I’ve lost some big clients because I was not willing to put up with their shit. At least I could sleep at night with self-respect!
Once again, I didn’t let this deter me from moving forward and knew I had to find a solution. The only way to learn was to speak to other females who have been there before. I learned how to deal with men and how to avoid these situations altogether. After about 3 years in the business, I rarely had the harassment problem anymore. And if you need tips, please feel free to contact me as I would love to help.
Keep your Eyes on the Prize
At times, I was completely worn out and just wanted to quit. I kept my eyes on the prize. The prize of Traveling the World. In the first year of working, I browsed the internet of Travel Blogs, contacted many people who had been to the countries I wanted to go and started conversations. A checklist of many countries and cities were formed. Magazine clip outs were piling up. I finally saved a few thousand dollars, and booked my trip to India for 3 weeks early 2008. I decided I didn’t need to quit my job to travel, and would continue working to finance other trips, for as long as the job worked for me. I had decided that I would never let my job define me or take over my life. That my life was meant to Travel.
I began saving as much money as I could, along with the long list of places I wanted to go. I remember seeing shoes I really wanted at Aldo for $65 but refrained from it for months putting it into perspective Travel Wise, and thinking that that would last me another day abroad.
The Economic Crash
We were all hit some way or another. Many lost jobs, many lost their savings, many lost their homes. I was certainly hit. I had moved out to my own apartment in West Hollywood to be closer to work, 1 year after I started my job (I had been commuting 45 minutes – 1.5 hours one way to West LA daily). When the Economy crashed early 2008, many Real Estate professionals lost their jobs and there was not as much business out there. All the lavish parties people were throwing, the bottle service, the fine dining, the houses bought with sub-prime loans (100% financing) and ‘stated income’ all came to an end. I had a 1 year lease to finish, as I quickly depleted all my savings thus far (thankfully I had at least squeezed the India Trip in before all this happened!). I was in the boat like many others: Do I get a new job? What’s my next move? Completely unsure of what the future would hold, the only thing I knew to do was to move forward. It was extremely tough with months where I made less than $1000 (they had taken away my base salary by then), which barely paid for my gas at $4/gallon, and my rent. I made the decision that I had to move home as much as I dreaded doing so. It was the necessary next step, and I also calculated that each month I’d save $1300 living at home which is an international flight some where, every month. I would just go back to the painful commute.
I had many pessimistic conversations with people telling me to get out of the real estate business asap, that there was no money to be made. I knew these people were not going to last either (and sure enough, none of those people are in the business today). Then I had the few rarer conversations with people that have gone through the recession in the 90’s and optimistically told me that if I work hard now, that I will come up on top. I had also made the decision that I would only surround myself around optimistic, hard working people that did not let outside circumstance define them, i.e.: the recession.
The biggest difference I see in those that succeed vs those that just get by, is their outlook, their goals, their focus, how open they are to new opportunities & change and how they react to criticism.
There is always business to be made. Instead of focusing on how much business had been lost (in any field you are in, not just real estate), I focused on all the business out there that still weren’t mine, and realized that was still a whole lot of it I needed to conquer. During this time, many competitors dropped out, or were laid off. I began expanding my territory into Downtown LA, another booming area and worked harder than ever to build more business. I also found my niche in Commercial Real Estate. It was just what I was more passionate about, and got along far more with Commercial Real Estate Brokers who were focused on making it happen & solving solutions than the minor BS.
With all that was going on, I still only had travel on my mind. I had worked so hard thus far, creating my BRAND and building my clientele. I didn’t want to start over elsewhere. During this time, another obstacle hit. My sales managers that hired me decided to leave the company and start another title company. Within the first week, they took 70% of the staff and sales reps (over 25 people), and by 4 months in, they had taken another 20%. My company had become a ghost town for months and I was stuck with a devilish manager who tried to steal everyone’s business. Everyone asked why I didn’t leave with my previous managers which was a tough decision. I had to think about my own business. I had seen so many Title Reps change companies every 2-3 years, chasing bonuses, thinking of the short term fix, not long term. I decided to stay and make the most of it. We had a high turnover in staff the first year, which was not easy on me or with my clients. But I stayed optimistic and was as hands on as I could on every single transaction. Within a year, our company turned a new leaf, got a new manager and hired a whole new staff team. I knew that it would pay off and we are thriving more than ever today.
By 2010, I was ranked among the top 3 sales reps in my company out of 20+ reps, and the youngest (26 years young then) and was taking 1-2 international trips a year.
Invest, Invest, Invest!
I had hung out with many wealthy individuals in West LA in my early 20’s, who wore nice clothes, drove nice cars, traveled and had 2 hour lunches. It wasn’t the lifestyle I had experienced growing up in Hacienda Heights. The middle class works 40 hours a week minimum and puts what savings they have in a 401k to retire, some fateful day. I wanted out of that. Instead of sitting back, envying these wealthy individuals thinking that that is their reality, but not mine, I took matters to my own hands. I wanted to learn how I can do what they do. Many of them had a head start because of their parent’s money, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t start some where. In 2010, I saved enough money to put a small down payment on a house with an FHA loan (3.5% down). I realized to get out of this rat race, I had to invest some way (more aggressively than a mutual fund) and generate income outside of relying on my job, as well as a tax-writeoff. I never understood stocks, and don’t care to learn, so Real Estate would be the investment strategy that works for me. Thankfully I bought during the downturn, because the value of the house has gone up 30% since then, with a 700% return on my investment if I were to sell today.
In 2013, I invested in a 3 unit building in Los Angeles. I’m telling you this so that it can hopefully motivate you to do the same, that there are solutions outside of just relying on a job for additional income. My ultimate goal is to own apartment buildings and commercial properties, to generate cash flow and travel EVEN MORE. One step at a time.
By now, I have a good book of clientele that trust and rely on me on all their real estate transactions. I’ve made many good friendships in Real Estate and it doesn’t even feel like working half the time. They know that even if I travel, that I check my emails daily and make sure everything runs smoothly, even though I am in another country riding camels or watching a man in a turban make Opium water. I make my own hours, I still visit clients regularly, prospect for new business, continue to brand and market myself, and I’ve learned to reciprocate business as well. Besides asking for business, I ask how I can help others, and try to give referrals.
Believe me, I never thought I would still be doing this 8.5 years later, but I am, and am in a good place. Never thought that I would be able to Travel as much as I do. I have made my dream into a reality through many obstacles I’ve overcome, and have gone through many roller coaster rides to get to where I am. And there is no telling what the future will hold, if and when there is another recession, if business is not as good as it “once was”, you just have to keep moving forward and keep your eyes on the prize. For me, it will always be to Travel the World. I have around 30 countries down, another 30 to go in the mean time. I hope this inspires you to live your dream, and will do what it takes to do so.