Skip to main content

Real estate agent Paul Albrighton is photographed in his loft in Vancouver on Dec. 18, 2012.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Paul Albrighton is the kind of 27 year old who could pass for a teenager wearing a nice suit. He's got a wide grin, a wiry build, and the polite exuberance of a young salesman who might have taken in a few Tony Robbins how-to-be-your-best seminars.

His optimism, though, hasn't got that dogged spiritual-boot-camp feel to it. Mr. Albrighton has arrived at his daily up-with-life mantra as a response to childhood health setbacks that linger into his adult life. In other words, he's happy to be alive. In fact, he's so happy and goal-oriented, he tells me, that his mind is even working while he sleeps.

"When you give yourself good thoughts before bed, you do a little dreaming about what you want," he says, seated in a Gastown coffee shop. "Your body and mind work over time when you are focused, even when you are sleeping. Define what you want, make it realistic, and go for it with passion," he says.

The world will always need salespeople, those vital cogs in the consumer wheel. Mr. Albrighton works as a realtor for Macdonald Realty Ltd., although he had a career selling knives before that, at which he also thrived. He specializes in selling loft apartments, most of which are in Vancouver's Yaletown and Gastown area.

It's a limited market because Vancouver doesn't have a lot of old manufacturing buildings with true lofts, and also, it's gone soft in the last year. Still, he will rank for the fourth year as a member of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver's Medallion Club, which is an award given to realtors achieving in sales, listings and dollar numbers in the top 10 per cent.

Every day, he sets small goals towards achieving his personal best. He rises early, he works out, he doesn't drink, and when he's having a rough day, he'll check in with a mentor.

"I've had great mentors along the way. There is my manager, from the days when I was selling knives. There are a couple of agents that I speak to frequently. My dad has done well in his business as well. He's also my coach. Whether he is a mentor or coach, he keeps me in shape when I have a rough time.

"I have, over the years, built a really good support system for when I have health problems or business problems or life problems, and those people really help me get through it.

"It might look great on the outside, but it takes a lot of work to get good things."

If there can be an analogy drawn between sales and the human condition, Mr. Albrighton can draw it. The key with everything, he says, is to take realistic steps. Break it down. Set small, realistic, daily goals, and become committed to doing them. If your dreams are big, realize that the goal may take months or years, but wake up in the morning and commit to that small goal that you've set for that day. He's managed his health this way, and he's managed his career this way.

"Don't worry about the figures," he advises. "Just work the plan. Break it down, and do the steps required."

Every day, for the rest of his life, Mr. Albrighton will have to take medication so that his body doesn't reject his organ transplants. He's been on the drugs since he was 8 years old, when he had an intestine transplant. Mr. Albrighton holds out his hands, which shake, the only sign of his health battles.

"My hands are a bit shaky. There could be a thousand side effects from the drugs, but this one I notice."

Every few months, he goes for blood work to make sure "his numbers" are good. If his iron is off, or if he's dehydrated, he'll receive the appropriate treatment, because his body doesn't rebound from a deficiency like the average person's body.

Just five years ago, he underwent a kidney transplant, with the donated kidney coming from his mother, whose recovery was tougher than his own.

He says the transplant was most likely required because of the toxicity built up from a lifetime of medications. He'd undergone an intestine transplant at age 8, after a series of mysterious infections attacked his body. There was no diagnosis of disease or a condition that may have caused his illness. All he understood was that his intestines were not working and his body wasn't absorbing the necessary nutrients. The uncommon transplant was a major surgery, and he spent weeks in intensive care surrounded by intravenous tubes and machines.

His body rejected that transplant, which made him extremely sick at age 13. At the peak of his illness, his heart stopped. Because he missed out on a lot of school and extracurricular activities, his memory of childhood is a lot of home schooling and hospital stays. That said, he looks back on his childhood as a happy one. He even made friends, even though he wasn't a regular at school, and he was always the small, underweight kid.

"I was quite short and really skinny, so I had some teasing in my days," he says, laughing. "I got my growth spurt when I was 19 or so."

His optimistic outlook, he says, saved him.

"If I wasn't an optimist, I probably wouldn't be here right now.

"It still plays in my life today, but it's really trained me to overcome obstacles. I wasn't scared, because when you're a kid you have a really strong spirit. And I have a really good family, but I had to lead the way, because it's not like anyone knew what was going to happen."

When he was 14, the Make-a-Wish Foundation offered him a wish. He chose to go with his family to Maui, because he'd never been out of Vancouver and he fantasized about white beaches and palm trees. The trip, he says, was part of his healing.

Because it was one of the highlights of his life, he has committed to donating 1 per cent of his realtor profits to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He's also committed to treating his body like the proverbial temple. After he quickly recovered from the kidney transplant at age 22, he felt immediately, and immensely, better. His energy was higher, he gained weight and he even grew in height. Now, when he sees people his own age punishing their healthy bodies with drink or cigarettes, he can't help but feel a little angry.

"Sometimes, if I'm down, and I've had a health problem that week, or some number is off, and I see some guy who's, like, tall and in good shape, and he's smoking and drinking, it gets me a little upset. But I have to shake it off. I can't run the world. Everyone is different.

"I'm sure I've taken things for granted," he adds.

Last year, he got engaged, and he's purchased his dream loft, so the happiness project continues.

"We all wake up as the same person," says Mr. Albrighton. "Sure, some of us have larger mortgages or something, but we wake up and it's the same thing. You have to choose to do something. You have to get passionate about something. You can't just live and maintain. You have to have a purpose.

"I don't really think I even have any natural talents. I'm just really good at pushing myself. Sometimes, just to wake up early is pushing myself."

Editor's note: Paul Albrighton works for Macdonald Realty Ltd. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.