The Art of Mastering Yourself
An Exclusive Interview with Barbara Corcoran
By Amber Snider
In 1973, Barbara took a loan for $1,000 to start The Corcoran Group, which turned out to become a five-billion dollar company. But with all her self-made success, Corcoran wasn’t immune to rejection. After being chosen to participate in Shark Tank, she was told someone else had been picked in her stead. She decided to write a brilliantly savvy email to the show’s creator, Mark Burnett, listing his rejection as a “lucky charm,” because, of course, competition brings out the best in her. She even began the email with “I understand you’ve asked another girl to dance instead of me.” Instead of taking the hit quietly and bowing out, she boldly offers Burnett a sample of her previous life’s setbacks and their inevitably lucrative outcomes, including a run-in with a school nun (who told her she’d always be stupid) and playing in the “boys club” of NYC real estate (where countless attempts were made to lock her out of the industry). Needless to say, she got the job.
Metropolitan’s founder, Nik Kolidas, recently participated in an intimate discussion with Barbara Corcoran, co-founder of The Corcoran Group and star on the hit reality TV series Shark Tank, about the artistry of business and the power of visualization. Maintaining success as an entrepreneur takes skill and a certain something that most others don’t possess. It’s one thing to become financially successful, but it’s quite another to know yourself and know what you need to make it as an independent entrepreneur. So what exactly does it take?
One little esoteric secret to Ms. Corcoran’s success is visualization: When it comes to visualization, it’s not just about mentally creating characters and passively observing their roles in her life. It’s more about visualizing the self as the center point, a kind of fantasy ethical egoism, where the dreamer envisions others revolving around them for the greater good. “There was only one person starring in the movie in my head—it was me. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was the start, and there were other characters or some population, but they were faceless, they didn’t talk to me. I was just performing and they were laughing and loving me for it. It was me in the little movie of life, different situations moving through, and I was amazing in everything!” Even when confronted with other power figures in the real estate world, they were first visualized as caricatures. “When I first met [a top real estate professional in my storybook movie] I was scared to death of him—but it was me who was the star, telling him what to do with my finger in the air and charming him. Who cared about what he thought in my movie? He wasn’t really a player.” The trick to becoming successful is not only the passive visualization, but actually living it, participating in that world, and the satisfaction before the success even comes.
Some consider this visualization as a kind of artistry, even if the elite business world doesn’t necessarily fit society’s interpretation of the art world. Without considering herself as such, Ms. Corcoran embodies that of an artist: she sees something where there is nothing—that is, she sees what others do not. Being an artist is about being put in front of a canvas (or a situation, a blank page, a pile of scraps) and creating something interesting, and Ms. Corcoran does exactly this in all endeavors. Like an artist taking inspiration from every moment of experience, every nuance, every novel idea, Ms. Corcoran takes note of the mundane in order to generate powerful ideas. She says, “You know what? I’m very visual. I don’t think anything goes by my eyeball without me thinking ‘How can I use this?’ And that’s why all of my creativity always happened outside of my office, because I never had a good idea at my desk in my life.” And so how does one consistently project that abstract creativity into something tangible? It’s about molding one’s inner dialogue (or mental visualizations) into the real, into the concrete: “I had to mold a business to get me into the world as I dreamt it to be. In and out of work, my whole life, parenting, everything, I willed it to be.”
To most, this may seem like daydreaming or fantasizing; actually, that is exactly what it is. It’s important to realize that it’s not escapism by any means. In any high-stakes or serious business endeavor, it’s socially frowned upon to be considered a “daydreamer.” But this seemingly frivolous skill, or passive action, is exactly what Ms. Corcoran notes as being one of her greatest strengths. “I do it immediately—I visualize myself in the future, in that setting, with a crisp reality. I see every detail like I’ve watched the movie already, almost like I’ve time travelled, and it’s so real that you just can’t picture that it’s not going to happen,” she tells Metropolitan. What’s notable in her daydreaming is the action that ensues afterwards: she visualizes herself in a situation, lets the dream dissipate, but then goes for it in waking life with stronger force than before. One can think of it working like a magnet—if you project your desires out into the world, concentrating on the finest, most minute details, they are bound to manifest and come to you. Quite literally, it’s simple physics—no energy is ever lost and matter cannot be created nor destroyed.
We’re all faced with rejection at some point or another, either in slow, creeping hardships or catastrophic landslides. What matters is how you react to it all. “When you have that picture and you’ve formulated it in your head instantly, and then start coloring in all the details, and adding more pages to the little storybook in your mind, when someone takes it away it doesn’t compute. It seems impossible. So of course you’re in a better position to come back fighting. With the rejection letter, I came back fighting and got the job,” she tells Metropolitan. Instead of quietly taking her initial rejection from Shark Tank and turning back, she managed to convince the show’s creator in a simple (albeit brilliant, somewhat flirty, off-the-cuff) email that she was, without a doubt, the perfect person for the job. Her confidence was propagated because she had already visualized herself as a success on the show. She diffused the awkwardness of her rejection, played up her advantages, and sold her best qualities in a single email. That, quite literally, is the power of communication.
But what about those people who simply aren’t daydreamers? What is the trick to bouncing back and getting what you want? Essentially, it comes down to fortitude, or resiliency. “You have to have the desire to get to where you want to go anyway, so it’s a combined gene of aggressiveness, the ability to take a hit. Resiliency, I guess would be the best word,” she tells Metropolitan. And while some things are innate, others are learned: “I do think, the bouncing back piece can be learned, but I think visualization cannot. But maybe I shouldn’t say that, maybe somebody could be taught to picture success and make a storybook. I think there are a lot of books out there on that, and maybe it works. But from what I have seen with my entrepreneurs and certainly with myself, it’s an innate ability.” And this innate ability to visualize success, or literally project herself into the future, along with intense fortitude and a cunning ability to communicate, is what has made her one of the wealthiest female entrepreneurs in the country.
Visualization, communication, and fortitude: the triad of business success. Ms. Corcoran has mastered this holy trinity of innate and learned skills, particularly that of egalitarian communication: “I can communicate with anyone and feel one on one with them as an equal. And if you want to be a good communicator you really have to be a great equalizer,” she says. “Equality, like friendship, in business or outside of business, is the best means of communication. Why? Because people have different gifts, and once you’re on equal footing [you can generate new ideas]. I’m a great communicator because I’m a great inspirer. I think it comes naturally to a right brainer, because they innately have the ability to walk in the other guy’s shoes.”
But she’s also not too much of an entrepreneurial guru to recognize the rampant hypocrisy of the business sphere. Figuring out your own hypocrisy is really the meaning of being successful, when you finally get down to figuring out what part of you is bullshit. But without it, “I’d have nothing left, I can’t do that. I think that’s my forte, bullshit!” Ms. Corcoran tells Metropolitan. And can’t we all say that about our careers, our lives, in some way or another? For what is this life anyway? Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage/ and all the men and women merely players.” At the end of the day, all that matters is how you define your own success and create your own part in the play of life.