Thursday, August 31, 2006

Part III - Trust That There are Bigger Plans in Store for You - CNN Story

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Eleven years ago a young lady named Heather Whitestone became the first woman with a disability to win the prestigious 1995 Miss America crown. She was deaf.

During her reign, she became known as a tireless supporter of the deaf and hard of hearing community. That inspired Merrill Lynch (ML) to honor her at a lavish luncheon where the World Trade Center used to be. You will recall that I was a successful ML stockbroker during the early nineties.

My intention was none other than to enjoy myself for a few hours, stuff myself with free food and perhaps schmooze with Miss America. When I walked in, I was surprised to see that just about every major media organization was on hand, including CNN.

After everyone found their table, they announced that Miss America had "finally arrived." As if on cue, she waltzed in from the back of the room, wearing a bright red designer dress complete with a white collar and waved like the Queen of England.

Following in her footsteps were two grim-looking "handlers" from the Miss America organization. They appeared uptight, probably worried that if anything went wrong, the entire world would know about it in a split-second. Everything, including how she made her grand entrance, was planned in excruciating detail.

After lunch, the executive vice president of ML introduced Heather and then she got up and spoke for about 30 minutes. She concluded by opening the floor for questions.

Looking around the room, I could see no one wanted to be the first to ask.

Feeling embarrassed for her, I felt an invisible nudge. Similar what happened four years earlier at the Merrill Lynch interview, I received an overwhelming impression to do something.

Like a reluctant schoolboy, I raised my hand, not exactly knowing what the question would be. I felt silly. She quickly picked me, visibly relieved that somebody finally decided to ask her something....ANYTHING!

Not expecting her to call on me so quickly, I stammered, hemmed and hawed and then the most meaningless question came tumbling out.

“How does it feel to be Miss America?” I said, feeling rather ridiculous.

I remember thinking, "Why couldn't you come up with something better than that?"

Well, apparently God had plans for me, that’s why.

Unbeknownst to me, the simple act of raising my hand set in motion a chain of events I could never have orchestrated entirely on my own.

A week later, my manager called me into his office. He was smiling.

Slapping his hand on the desk, he said excitedly, "Guess what Stephen?"

"What?"

"I just got off the phone with CNN. They want to interview you tomorrow. Congratulations!"

"Whaaaat? How did they know about me?" I said, shocked.

"I think it was from that Miss America luncheon a couple weeks ago. You were there. Someone from CNN heard you speak or something, I'm not sure."

What happened, I later learned, was that I had attracted the attention of one of the CNN producers at the luncheon. While I was hemming and hawing, he was overheard to say to his assistant, "Who's that guy? We've got to interview him."

There I was, standing at the door of my manager's office, with grandiose visions of the phone ringing off the hook and prospects lining up to do business with me.

Vigorously rubbing my two hands together, I thought to myself, "Oh Lordy, this is going to be good - really, really good."

They came in the following morning with an entourage including the cameraman, lighting assistants and the producer. My office was transformed into a mini-movie set. After applying make-up on my face, setting up equipment and coaching me and a couple of my clients (who were also there for the interview), we were off to the races.

Two hours later, they wrapped up by informing us that it would air on national television later that weekend. I could hardly wait!

Either CNN executives liked the segment so much or there wasn't anything happening in the news, because they ended up running the interview continuously over four days. I thought for sure the whole nation was going to be banging on my door now.

It never happened.

While a few of my friends did catch me on TV, the phone did not want to give me the satisfaction. In fact, I received only one call from a prospect.

JUST ONE.

It was from a wealthy woman from Seattle. She had just seen me on CNN and wanted to me to be her investment advisor.

After weeks of going back and forth via fax and special telephone calls, she flew to New York to have dinner with me. We met at an exclusive french restaurant where I wined and dined her like there was no tomorrow. No expense was spared - she could have anything she wanted.

"Would you like the best wine?" Oh yes, she sure did.

"Would you like to try the chef's special dish?" But of course!

It didn't matter that the bill would come to a staggering $300, I was going to snatch my biggest client ever!

Towards the end of the three hour meal, I made an attempt to close the deal, but was in for another shock.

Much to my disbelief, the lady had me completely snookered. She was in no position to open an investment account because she was not even remotely wealthy! Why she flew across America to meet me, I'll never know.

Boy, was I crushed!

But once again, God smiled (more like laughed) because He had other plans in store for me.

(No, please God, nooooooooooo more jokes! I've had it up to here with your sick humor!)

One day, a package came in the interoffice mail from the PR Department. Inside the box contained the answer to why everything happened the way it did.

I don't know about you but I love getting packages in the mail. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I ripped it open to find two videotapes with my name on it. One was an unedited version of the luncheon, which was nice, but it was the other one that I clearly prized the most.

It was a copy of the nationally televised interview. Someone from CNN was thoughtful enough to send one to us. What I didn't know at the time was that snippets of this tape would eventually be used as valuable promotional tools for my new speaking career that wouldn't happen for another two years.

See how everything is orchestrated so perfectly by the universe? Amazing, wouldn't you agree?

Food for Thought: God indeed has bigger plans for you even if things do not turn out the way you think they should.
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