I had just dropped my son off at school and had a few errands to run. Notably, I wanted to pick up my weekly $6 bunch of flowers from the Korean deli around the corner.
When I approached the register I realized I didn’t have any cash and the grocer didn’t take plastic. I left the flowers on the counter and dashed across the street to the Citi bank ATM to withdraw my usual $200.
Everything about the ATM transaction went as it had gone a hundred times before. The familiar tat-a-tat-a-tat sound of the ATM counting out the $20 bills and the errrrk as the stack of Andrew Jacksons slid out the front. I stuffed the bills in my Filofax.
It was only as I passed the nearby trash can to toss the receipt that things got weird. I took a quick glance at the slip of paper and couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked up and turned my head right, then left, making sure nobody was watching.
I looked at it again, counting the commas. The receipt informed me that I had the following balance “Available Now”: $46,732,917.32. That’s 46 million!
Oh gosh, I thought. I have to show someone! I looked around and saw six people with their backs to me at the ATMs, and I realized the idea of showing them the receipt was ridiculous. But I had to do something, something to celebrate somehow.
I carefully folded the receipt in half and tucked it in my bra. I walked straight into the diner next-door, and with $46 million in the bank, the very least I could do was celebrate with a half-decent breakfast, and I went whole hog: Eggs benedict, a big glass of orange juice and a café au lait.
As I waited for my breakfast, I took the receipt out and propped it up on the table. I smiled remembering the day years ago when I’d talked my business partner Esther into joining forces with me, telling her how far we’d go together. I thought about all the wild adventures we’d had building the business, and all the ups and downs, and about all the great people at the Corcoran Group who had stood by me through thick and thin, and how we had all built great lives for ourselves as a result of our hardwork and effort.
As I was basking in the satisfaction of a job well done, I was distracted by the man in the booth next to me droning on about all the bad news to his sister. He was complaining about how awful the economy was and how terrible the city’s school system was and how politicians were up to no good. Then, just as he was getting up from the table, he said, “Oh, and did you hear Barbara Corcoran sold her business for mega-millions? Must be nice to have all that money in the bank.”
Yes, I guess it is, I thought. But the real joy in building my fortune was all the joy I had in getting there.
At that point, I pulled out the press clippings my assistant had thrown in my bag. Skimming through the headlines about the sale of my company, one sentence from Women’s Business caught my eye: Exactly how did the Edgewater, NJ native become one of the most powerful figures in New York City real estate? It asked.
“My mother,” I answered to myself. And I knew right away I had an important call to make.
When I got back to my apartment I dialed home, and my mom answered. I asked her to get Dad on the line and then told them the story about the ATM receipt.
“Well, what did you do?” Mom asked excitedly.
“I did just what you would have done, Mom! I went and had a big breakfast and sat there staring at the receipt.”
Dad wanted to know what I had for breakfast. He’d never heard of eggs benedict. Mom interrupted. “Go on, go on!” she told me, “What happened next!”
“So, I just sat at the diner, and I just thought about how it’s true what you’ve always said, Mom. The joy really is always in getting there.”
Mom agreed. “But just think about what you’ve done, Barbara! It really is unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I guess it really is.”
And then I said what I’d wanted to say for a very long time. “In the end, Mom, it all comes down to this: All my life, you never told me I couldn’t. You only told me I could.”