EPISODE 577: Real Estate Sales Success While Battling Lyme Disease with Adrienne Volpe

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, features real estate and mortgage sales expert Adrienne Volpe. This episode is featured in a series of interviews with sales experts who have overcome chronic illness.]

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Adrienne’s TIP: “Nobody knows the suffering of somebody with Lyme disease unless they’ve had it. I love my relationships. My human relationships in life are everything to me. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever met in my life through Lyme disease. Even though it’s been an absolute curse and bane of my existence, I wouldn’t have these people in my life. I can’t even imagine not knowing the folks I’ve met through these groups and meeting you. It’s changed my whole life. I have to take the good from it, Fred, because it took so much from me, that I have to be able to help other people get through this. It’s not a choice, it has to happen.”


Fred Diamond: For people who don’t know, Adrienne, why don’t you give us a little, just a brief intro to chronic Lyme disease and what it is and tell us a little bit about your story with Lyme disease. Then we’re going to talk about how you’ve performed exceptionally well as a sales professional while having Lyme disease.

Adrienne Volpe: Thanks for having me, Fred. Lyme disease has certainly been an incredible journey for me, as I didn’t know I had Lyme disease for over 30 years. Lyme is basically a multi systemic infectious disease caused by the bite of an insect that causes a myriad of symptoms. Lyme is the only disease that has migratory symptoms. So that’s a hallmark. One day, it’s your knee, the next day is your shoulder, then you have the flu, maybe you get an infection, but it moves all over the body, and so it’s hard to diagnose and quite elusive with the current testing.

Fred Diamond: And as people who’ve read the book, it’s you saying that you didn’t know for 30 years that you had Lyme disease and that is something very common. When I was writing Love, Hope, Lyme, I had spoken to hundreds of Lyme survivors. As frequent listeners of the show know, somebody who is very close to me in my life at one time struggled with chronic Lyme disease and I decided to learn as much as I could about it.

That’s a common thing that I had to learn is that people weren’t diagnosed. They had the symptoms, like you talked about and there’s a whole laundry list of potential symptoms. Again, people can pick up my book and they could read about what those symptoms are, but a lot of times you’re going on in your life and you have those things going on but no one knows about Lyme disease, or the doctors that you’ve gone to see might have misdiagnosed it over the years.

Adrienne Volpe: They did. I saw over 30 doctors and was mainly told I had mental illness and that I was in perfect health. When I finally got my diagnosis in early 2019, it was quite a shock and from then on, it’s just been treatment and management. It’s so insidious because it just takes away your life little by little until one day you find yourself non-functional. I’ve been very fortunate to have a career in sales because it’s allowed me to thrive despite having this illness.

Fred Diamond: Tell us about your career in sales. Once again, as people know, I’m the only podcaster on the planet who does a show bringing the convergence of chronic Lyme disease, tick borne illness and sales success. Adrienne, we’ve done close to a dozen shows talking about how to have a successful career in sales or as a business owner while battling chronic Lyme disease and other related symptoms. Tell us a little bit about your sales career and tell us what you do and then we’ll talk about how have you managed for over 30 some odd years being successful while also battling the disease?

Adrienne Volpe: Well, Fred, the funny part of this story is, my very first job when I was a teenager was in sales. I worked in radio, stereo, and video store. As soon as I started winning awards for selling, I was hooked. When I turned about 19, I got a real estate license and found that to be an incredibly challenging thing for a person my age for people to take me seriously. But by then I’d had five or so years of sales training by some superb top performers who took an interest in me. I was very fortunate to have had that.

My career since age 19, I’m 56 now, has been in real estate and mortgage banking sales. I think it’s one of the few careers that being someone who’s ill or ill frequently, you can still manage and succeed in because there were many times that I was working from home on my phone, or if I was in the hospital, I would have my laptop in my bed.

My clients didn’t know that I was ill. If I had an appointment to list a home, I could just say that I was running late, could I see you tomorrow? There were just so many ways for me to still be successful while managing this illness. Being a single mother at the time of a child who had no participation from the other parent, it was a little bit more challenging, but honestly, it’s amazing what you can do when you have no choice.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second. When you suffered, and I hate to use the word suffered, but when you were dealing with the illness, and you had to perform as a sales professional, what does that look like? Again, sales is hard Adrienne. We do at Sales Game Changers podcast, two times a week. I’m doing interviews all the time. We do a bunch of shows just focused on Women in Sales that the Institute for Excellence in Sales, Women in Sales program Director Gina Stracuzzi does.

Sales is hard. Just being successful in sales, being moderately successful in sales with rejection and macro issues and management issues and product issues, company issues, it’s hard enough as it is. Now you throw in, having to battle a disease as well. What are some of the things you were going through? You alluded to certain times you’d be doing your deals from home, maybe you’re in bed. What were some of the struggles you had to literally face as you were trying to be successful in sales?

Adrienne Volpe: I think the hardest part for me was at times being perceived as unreliable by people in my field or people that I worked with in my organization because quite honestly, I always looked so well that no one could ever believe that anything was wrong. Even my own family, my own child thought I was a hypochondriac. That was probably my biggest challenge was being perceived as unreliable.

When I finally got my diagnosis in 2019, I spoke out very loudly in my community so that people understood what I’d been facing. The other big challenge was, I like to be a top performer in my field. I’ve always been in the top 10% but I haven’t been in the top 1%. While I was making a few $100,000 a year, friends of mine were making a million.

I would say a big challenge for me was lost wages. Probably I’ve lost over $5 million in wages realistically in my career. Now that I’m well again, I mean, not like a normal person, but very well for me, I feel like I can now make up for lost time and fund my retirement because it’s only 10 years away.

Fortunately, in sales where there’s this downside, there’s also an upside in that, if I was in a job that was a W2 salary job I could never make up for that time. But in real estate and accessory type businesses that I’m involved in, such as the title industry or perhaps mortgage lending, I can probably realistically fund my retirement in the next five to six years and I’m very, very grateful for that.

Fred Diamond: Before we start talking a little more about sales, I want to add another multifaceted layer here. You’re also an author as well.

Adrienne Volpe: I am. I always wanted to write books from childhood. I’ve been a voracious reader. I had occasion for a brief period of time to move to Alaska in 2014 and I was there for two years, came back because my health was deteriorating and couldn’t get any answers there.

I write this book about my experience of this New York City girl moving to a small fishing village in Alaska. That was another thing that I took advantage of in my downtime with Lyme was that I did have days where I could write all day long. There were some days where I couldn’t but there were days where I wrote eight hours a day and so being sick afforded me the luxury of being home and having peace to the point where I could focus and write.

Fred Diamond: That’s amazing. Tell us about the book. What’s the name of the book and where can we get it?

Adrienne Volpe: The book is called Running from Bears: A New Yorker’s Wild Awakening in Alaska and it’s on Amazon. The book really is just about my personal experience of cultural differences, having a relationship that didn’t go so well when I was there, and mainly learning about myself. The whole Alaska experience taught me a lot about what I was capable of, things so much that I didn’t know. I developed a deep, intense love for nature while I was in Alaska. That was really a big part of my mental and emotional healing in my life. It was a wonderful thing in the end.

Fred Diamond: I just want to mention that you mentioned something before about Lyme disease where you said that people didn’t believe that you actually had a disease. That’s something we’ve heard many, many times. Lyme shows up as many other things. It’s very difficult to test for. Like you said, you had 30 years before you were finally diagnosed with Lyme disease.

We covered this in my book, Love, Hope, and Lyme that family members and friends, they don’t know because it doesn’t look like. When somebody has cancer, you know that they’re going through either the chemo or through radiation where they lose their hair. Everybody rallies around the cancer person as they should. The Lyme disease person doesn’t get the same love frequently and relationships end and people don’t believe them. Like you said before, some people called you a hypochondriac. That’s got to be a challenge to go through.

Adrienne Volpe: It was a challenge to go through. For me, it manifested in these malaise type illnesses that never really turned into anything but that would render me basically useless to do anything for days on end. Sometimes 10 or 12 days at a time out of each month and I had chronic shingles for over 30 years. I would get the shingles every six weeks, and I was in a general rundown condition.

Even when I wasn’t well, I just didn’t have the same energy other people had but I always looked so well. That was really the problem was I looked healthy and well. I always made sure that I took care of my personal grooming needs. I wore makeup, and my hair looked good and I dressed well, and everyone just thought I was a dynamo except there was no dynamite in this dynamo.

Fred Diamond: Well, thanks for sharing that. Let’s talk about sales for a little bit. Again, you’re in real estate, you sell real estate, you’ve made a tremendous achievement to be successful. I mean, for people listening to the show today, on Facebook for example. It’s actually where you and I originally met.

Once the book, Love, Hope, Lyme came out, a bunch of people in the various Lyme Facebook groups, and for people listening to the call today or reading the transcript, there are hundreds, if not well, thousands of Facebook groups, for example, and other computer related groups devoted to helping Lyme survivors do crowd curing, help each other. Not every doctor knows. Few doctors know about Lyme disease. It’s very difficult to diagnose.

People would go to places like Facebook to ask for advice, “Hey, I’m experiencing this today, how have you treated?” Then so people would chime in, “Have you taken this drug or this herbal or seeing this type of a doctor?” That’s where a lot of the people came through. I want to talk about sales, though. Tell us some of your secrets to success. What are some things that you’ve done to be successful in sales?

Adrienne Volpe: For me, I never stopped getting educated. As I mentioned before, I was a voracious reader. During my downtime at home when I wasn’t feeling well, I was always, always reading. But I followed motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy and these people lifted me up when I felt discouraged or when I felt that I was falling behind and gave me the belief in myself that I could do this if I just bet on me.

Education for me was really important. I did a bachelor’s degree very late in life at age 48 when I felt that it was just time for me to do more. I became a real estate educator myself. Those things just keep me motivated because as we know in sales, a lot of it is just a head game that we have to do with ourselves to be in the right place to talk to people in the right way.

We know in sales that, at least in my business, it’s a numbers game, right? If I talk to a certain number of people a week, I’m going to list a certain number of houses a month and that’s going to lead to a certain amount of income. I know what I have to do. Knowing what I have to do is very important. I know exactly what numbers I have to do to make the income I need.

So, education, keeping myself motivated, and honestly too, Fred, being in these Lyme groups tie into my sales too because the folks in those groups really saved my life when I had nowhere to turn. They were the people that I spoke to in the early part of this illness back when I became aware that I had the illness. They gave me the fortitude to want to continue to be with other people, talk to other people and just participate in life, which in sales, it’s all about our demeanor and our attitude because Lyme affects our mental well-being so much. So much depression, mood cycles, mood lability, we have to work a little bit harder than the rest of the people out there to keep ourselves in a place to be successful.

Fred Diamond: I don’t have Lyme disease, but I joined a bunch of these Lyme groups to understand what a person in my life at one time was going through. When you have a disease like Lyme disease, and for people who don’t know, when a tick bites you – and usually it’s a tick, it’ll come from a deer or from another mammal- they don’t just transport Lyme disease. A lot of cases, there’s upwards of two to three dozen other what are known as co-infections.

It’s a very difficult, insidious, nefarious disease to treat. Many people, Adrienne, not only can they not work, they can’t even get out of bed. It’s very difficult. What is your message? Again, you’ve succeeded. I’ve met so many people over the last year who have battled Lyme disease, who are trying to get some degree of normalcy in their life. You’ve succeeded on the sales side to give yourself a career while many people can’t. What is your message to them? When you’re trying to let them know that there is possibility to have a career and have Lyme disease.

Adrienne Volpe: Well, there is, but there was a year that I was also fairly bedridden. Many of us think healing is we take a pill, or we do a treatment, and we feel better. Healing for me was painful. It took three or four years of treatment and there were setbacks. We have to be patient with ourselves and give ourselves the time to heal and understand that healing is not comfortable, it’s uncomfortable.

So many of the people that I speak with weekly, who do have Lyme who have careers are suffering, and they think they’re getting worse, and they’re not, they’re actually healing. Keep the faith. Don’t stop treating and stay on the path. I believe that since I had 10 co-infections with my Lyme, if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for you.

Fred Diamond: I just want to acknowledge you for being successful with a disease. Like you just said, you were bedridden for close to a year. It is not a very easy disease to live with, let alone to heal from and have the degree of success that you had. From a sales perspective, what would be your recommendations? Forgetting about the Lyme for a second, what are your recommendations for junior people who want to move into sales? If they were to ask you, Adrienne, and again, you’ve told us your age, so I’m not going to ask you how old you are. What would be your advice for people wanting to get into sales right now?

Adrienne Volpe: I would say talk to some people who you know, find out what they do and how they do it. Once you do it, make sure that you associate with people who are more talented and better than you. I’ve learned so much from the top performers in my field so much so that people I’ve recruited are far surpassing me in their success, and I’m now learning from them. I think we all have to be humble enough to ask and learn and be willing to surround ourselves with people who are successful.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about that for a second. One thing you and I talked about when we first met was that you like to give back your expertise and you like to work with people and train them to be successful. Does that come from your experience with the disease or is that just who you are? Why do you believe that you want to give back that way?

Adrienne Volpe: I just think it’s me. I know that there are a lot of people in my industry who have Lyme disease who don’t have the strength or the desire to do this, but for me, it’s really what saves my life. It gives me meaning to be able to recruit a new agent and help he or she become a rockstar, so much more successful than I am. At this point after 38 years in my business, helping other people grow their business in their lives is very rewarding for me and talking to people daily who are suffering with Lyme disease, who are maybe where I was in 2019, who don’t think they have hope. It saves my own life every day to be able to be with people like that, Fred.

Fred Diamond: Do you tell your customers that you have Lyme? Does that ever come up in a customer engagement?

Adrienne Volpe: It does. I live in the epicenter of Lyme disease in the Hudson Valley area of New York State where we have more cases than anywhere else in the world. Dr. Richard Horowitz lives five miles from my house and we have some terrific Lyme literate MDs here because we’re at the epicenter.

It frequently does come up in conversation, especially if I have to show land or a customer or client wants to show me something about their property outdoors. If it’s the summer, and I’m dressed in open toed heels, you can bet I’m not walking through their backyard. People are generally very empathetic about that. Most of them here have had Lyme disease, and have it, they just don’t know they still have it. People who don’t have it here are less common than people who do.

Fred Diamond: You mentioned Dr. Richard Horowitz. I was very fortunate. He wrote the foreword to my book, Love, Hope, Lyme: What Family Members, Partners and Friends who have a Chronic Lyme Survivor Need to Know. He actually heard of that book.

Adrienne Volpe: I read that.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, it was beautiful. Thank you, by the way for reading my book and giving the beautiful review up on Amazon.

Adrienne Volpe: Well, I’ve ordered several copies, Fred, for people I know who have family suffering from Lyme.

Fred Diamond: Thank you very much, and I’d be happy to sign those copies if they would like. But Horowitz reached out and said a book like this has never been written before. It’s unfortunate that the book has touched so many lives, and I applaud you, again, for touching the lives that you have, the people that you’ve trained.

One of the most incredible things I’ve always felt about real estate agents is that you’re making such an impact on somebody’s life. Matter of fact, when I was a kid, my mother who was a very outgoing personable person became tremendous friends with the real estate agent who moved us from the other side of the tracks to a little more of a nicer neighborhood, if you will, and has maintained a friendship with his family for probably 50 years now.

A real estate agent is one of those people that you encounter that can really take your life to the next level. You’ve touched so many lives, Adrienne, with your training, here with your willingness to talk about the disease. I’ve seen you on Facebook commenting and posting as well. Why do you feel that you need to do that? I’m just kind of curious. Again, we just mentioned that it’s you. It’s not necessarily the disease, but what is it about wanting to give back to the Lyme community to support people that drives you to do that, and drives you to do everything that you do?

Adrienne Volpe: Well, because nobody knows the suffering of somebody with Lyme disease unless they’ve had it. I love my relationships. My human relationships in life are everything to me. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever met in my life through Lyme disease. Even though it’s been an absolute curse and bane of my existence, I wouldn’t have these people in my life. I can’t even imagine not knowing the folks I’ve met through these groups and meeting you. It’s changed my whole life. I have to take the good from it, Fred, because it took so much from me, that I have to be able to help other people get through this. It’s not a choice, it has to happen.

Fred Diamond: That’s actually beautifully said. It was interesting, when I started writing my book and researching this, I like to say I knew one person with Lyme disease and my life was devoted to supporting this person. Now I know thousands and people are reaching out who have heard about the book. We’re posting the show in late 2022 or early 2023, and I never in my life thought I would write a book about disease management.

When I’ve met what people go through and how people support each other, that’s like a sales message too is that, the people in the Lyme world because, like you just said, you don’t get it until you get it. You don’t want to get it, trust me. But to be able to just provide inspirational assistance, medical assistance. Like I said, I’ll see somebody posting a question. First up, I have a pain in my shoulder or my feet are burning or whatever it might be and then you get 50 people on some of the boards who chime in with advice or counsel or thoughts or medical recommendation or an herbal recommendation. Even there are some people who are going through very severe challenges to heal.

You made a great point before, Adrienne, where you said, healing isn’t you take a pill, and you’re good the next day. Healing from a chronic illness like this can take, unfortunately, years, to get to a point where you’re back to being who you were. I want to thank you for your friendship, by the way, and I want to acknowledge you for your spirit, and for how you’re giving back. So good for you.

Adrienne Volpe: Thank you, Fred.

Fred Diamond: You’re welcome. Give us a final action step. You’ve given us so many interesting and wonderful ideas. Give us a final action step for the salespeople listening today. Just by putting this in context, the reason that I like to do this particular show is on the average Sales Game Changers podcast, we talked about getting past blocks and if a customer’s not returning your phone call, or if something happened at your company or a macro thing, we’re talking about a real on today’s show, the chronic Lyme shows about something that is like real, that is stopping you from being successful. There are ways to get past it. Give us one final action step, something specific you would give to the salespeople today listening to help them take their sales career to the next level.

Adrienne Volpe: Do one thing every day that moves you forward.

Fred Diamond: Give us an example of something you’ve done recently.

Adrienne Volpe: I started a new marketing program where I could put myself in certain zip codes that I want to work in and subscribe to this specific software that came with this program that gave me the contact information for all the different people who want to sell their homes in my market, who have tried and failed. Having data supplied to me has made my work so much easier because now all I have to do is call.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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