Barbara Corcoran's 10 lessons for reinventing yourself

More Magazine's third annual Reinvention Convention took place Monday in New York City featuring a star-packed line-up of women speakers.

New York real estate legend Barbara Corcoran, speaking to a packed house, shared her 10 hard-earned lessons of what it took to go from a real-estate mogul to a fixture on television.

Recounting her salad days working as a waitress in Edgewater, N.Y., Corcoran kept her audience in stitches recounting how she put her busty co-worker to shame by wearing big red ribbons in her pigtails. The story is always an audience favorite, and in fact gave her the title of her bestselling inspirational memoir, "If You Don't Have Big Breasts Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails and Other Lessons I Learned from My Mom."

Corcoran, who sold her brokerage firm for $70 million the Friday before 9/11 -- (the conglomerate who bought it tried for a month to go back on the deal) -- walked away with $66 million in cash. Everyone expected her to sail off happily into the sunset.

Instead, depression swooped in, caused by the isolation of losing a meaningful job.
She lost her staff of "nut job" brokers -- (her words -- and anyone who's ever dealt with a New York broker knows it's true) who she had motivated daily. Journalists and media producers stopped calling her as an expert source. And the woman she had hand-picked to replace her as president had immediately deleted her from the staff's distribution e-mail, severing Corcoran's ties to the company she had built and loved.

This one act made her cry for three hours. Soon she couldn't leave the house without changing her outfit 15 times, she says, or talk about her life without speaking in the past tense. She didn't know who she was without the Corcoran Group. "I became the most negative Nell, and couldn't shake it."

Eight years later we see her on Good Morning America, the Today Show, and advising entrepreneurs on ABC's compelling small business reality series, Shark Tank, based on Survivor and the Apprentice series.

(She was rejected for the show at first. Check out her e-mail to mega-producer Mark Burnett that helped change his mind.)

How did Corcoran crawl out of her funk? First, she made a list of all the things she absolutely hated -- tasks, people. On another blank sheet she wrote down all the things she loved and chose to focus only on this list.

A believer in that people only excel when they're doing something they love, Corcoran knew this list told her she had to go on TV. She would love the attention, she would love the constant change, and it excited her competitive drive. How can a woman pushing 60 land coveted jobs on television, in an industry ruled by men?

It wasn't easy. Here are Corcoran's 10 rules for a career reinvention she discovered the hard way and by knowing herself:

1. There's no such thing as part time: "If I was going to succeed I knew I had to work 40-60 hours a week with that fire in the belly."

2. You can't change your wiring: When Corcoran's copy machine broke down, she hired someone to fix it, instead of attempting to do it herself. She had to treat herself as a business leader and not get bogged down in tasks she hated. So she spent money hiring someone, and spending money is something she loves to do and is good at.

3. Good things come out of insecurities: Corcoran's "D-student" past only fuels her to work harder.

4. Girlie traits that once worked for you when you were younger can't be relied on anymore: The charm she counted on when she was younger, especially when working with men, changed. She couldn't play naive anymore -- she wasn't. "The intuitive stuff got in the way," she said. So she presented herself as a realist, someone who takes their passion seriously.

5. The greater the success in a previous career the bigger the insult when you're not taken seriously: Producers only called her back to get real estate advice.

6. Reinvent yourself in stages: "You have to reinvent yourself in chunks, little chunks, even if you like a nice neat picture."

7. Contacts in your old field are totally useless: "Once you leave your business you're old news." Yes you have to start all over in making contacts -- don't forget the "thank you" follow-up e-mails.

8. In building new contacts, focus on young people: They're the ones who are moving up, becoming the bosses.

9. Have a sense of belonging in online social networking: She missed her community at work the most but found a source of encouragement online. "Tweeting gives you a quick sense of belonging -- an opportunity to build a community with people...It's not a substitute but it's nice," Corcoran says of watching her Twitter followers grow and respond positively to her attempts to "make it" again.

10. Talents in your old business are useless in the new one: It was a whole new jungle.
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