Saturday, July 7, 2012

Living The Big Sky Life: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Montana proved to be a grueling taskmaster. Of course all of the signs were there at the beginning had I only been able to read them with a clarity that is undeniably dispensed through the lens of hindsight.

Frankly, I find it hard to thrive in a place that labors to brainwash me into believing that I should consider myself blessed and thereby be appreciative of the fact that I can work like a slave for a slave’s wage yet somehow be expected to feel incomparable contentment because financial slavery is the price one must pay for the prospect of “quality of life.”  

I tried to believe the hype. I tried to capitulate. Yes, I tried to “live the life.” I really did. But I’m not the type who can thrive when living a lie. Yet unlike some of those well-heeled bulldogs who brought their riches with them, I didn’t have the luxury of not generating an income while living the big sky life and found myself promptly tasked with finding suitable employment upon arrival in June 1992. Standards be damned.

Prior to moving to Whitefish, my career had solidly transitioned years earlier from banking to commercial real estate lending, and the last position I held before the big move was vice president and California corporate broker for a Denver-based lender that specialized in originating commercial mortgage loans throughout the western United States. How was I supposed to convert my specialized, yet somehow unbelievably inapplicable, education and career experience into a paycheck I could live with in a cow town like Whitefish, or anywhere else within the Flathead Valley for that matter, decades before the age of cloud computing?

I began my job search by dropping off resumes anywhere that seemed semi-suitable (given my basic skill set) within the Whitefish community. This basically meant the four banks in town. Talk about lowering my standards. Just the thought of seeking employment at any bank was a claustrophobic compromise for me since I’d purposely left banking for a reason. Glass ceilings that enclose glass cubicles have an asthmatic way of suffocating me with boundless limitation.

It didn’t take long to recognize (admittedly with a huge sigh of relief) that I was mutually classified an over-qualified female and none of the local banks wanted what I had to offer as a consequence, so I took my job hunt down to Kalispell. I left resumes with any business I could find with a tie to the lending industry I knew so well, and this included the four major title companies: Citizen’s Title, Flathead County Title, County Guaranty Title, and Security Title.

I returned home from Kalispell that afternoon to find a phone message on the machine from one of the title companies I’d left a resume with barely an hour earlier. Diedra, the county manager of Security Title, wanted me to meet her at their Whitefish escrow office that Saturday, which came as a huge surprise to me for several reasons. Aside from the fact that there was no evidence (not even a street sign) that any of the major title companies had a branch office in Whitefish, nothing I had submitted for employment consideration even remotely insinuated that I’d ever had any hands-on title or escrow management experience.

Frank Lloyd Wright Building
341 Central Avenue, Whitefish. MT 59937
Security Title’s escrow office was located in the landmark Frank Lloyd Wright building on Central Avenue just north of 4th Street. It was sandwiched between Central Avenue and a paralleling alleyway that offered egress for the cars pulling out of Mountain Bank’s drive-through teller stalls.  

Experience or no, Deidra hired me on the spot and was eager for me to start my new escrow officer/manager job on Monday morning. Apparently Security Title’s local two-person branch office had abruptly downsized to one assistant when the previous managing escrow officer, Maryanne, had stormed out several weeks earlier. Well, it didn’t take me long to understand why.  

No one has ever been happier to see me for the first time than my new assistant, Joan. Joan was a bubbly 55-year old Whitefish native who’d been working for Security Title at least twenty years. Most of those years were spent in Security’s Kalispell office and when the company decided to be the sole title insurer to establish an escrow office in the town of Whitefish, Joan jumped on the chance to work closer to home.

Security Title eventually sent me to its Boise, Idaho headquarters for a week’s worth of corporate training a month or two into my tenure, but it seemed hardly worth the bother for the second that office door slammed shut behind me on my first day of work, my high-stress on-the-job training dance began … and it was to the tune of machine gun fire. The rapid fire commands of those demanding real estate agents forced me to dance as fast as I could while their screaming bullets aimed mercilessly at my feet hoping I'd stumble and they’d have someone to blame for something, anything.

Joan proved to be invaluable to me. She showed me the way with authentic exuberance, and she actively promoted and legitimized me to the locals in a way that only a true native can. My learning curve fortunately proved to be short and it didn’t take me long to make a prominent name for myself in the Whitefish real estate community – something no one else had heretofore been able to do.

This sure came in handy when I had my “Maryanne” moment with Deidra down in the Kalispell office. My dismissed and ignored frustrations had been mounting for months, and when the tipping point finally arrived, I let Deidra have it over the phone one fateful afternoon. Joan and I were alone in the office at the time, and I’ll never forget the look on Joan’s face when I hung up. Seems I said everything she’d ever dreamed of saying after enduring twenty years of mistreatment by Security Title's management.

It proved to be the moment that changed everything for both of us …

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King


  1. My daughter works at a Title company. She calls me regularly to vent. Your story sounds so familiar.....I hope there is a happy ending!

  2. I always like your blog post because you always comes with different ideas and information.
    whitefish real estate


Comments? Great! Please say it kindly. Gratitude, DK.