The other day I’m on my way to a vintage clothing shop (read: second hand), and I see two fellows on the bus bench in front of the shop. They’re obviously homeless as evidenced by their grubby, layered frocks; mangy, matted hair; shopping cart of filthy blankets and extra, oversized army jackets; and the 2 litre bottle of cheap chardonnay they are sharing at 10am on a Tuesday morning.
The fellow facing me has brown hair and glaucoma. He asks, “Can you spare some change?”
I say, “Just a minute,” and go into the store, not wanting them to filch my cash, feeling paranoid they’ll steal my wallet and somehow out-shuffle me down the street. I enter the store, search my purse and find two dollars. I go back outside—the other man has removed his jacket revealing a body riddled with scabs. As I approach the men, I smell stale urine. (I must note that I have chatted with a few homeless people, and they do not all smell foul. In fact, on the days I ride my bicycle early enough on the boardwalk, I’ve seen these out of doors dwellers at the free public showers, soaping up. The water isn’t heated. But I digress.)
I approach the men and hand them each a dollar. The fellow who didn’t ask for money and isn’t facing me immediately hands his dollar to his friend, and I feel chastened having made the assumption.
I ask his friend, “What’s your name?”
I stick my hand out to shake his: “Anna.” His smile reveals heavy plaque and bad teeth.
His friend hasn’t turned to greet me, so I touch a clear patch of skin on his arm, “And you?”
He turns, “Wolf.” He shakes my hand, and I resist the urge to rub my hand on my jeans.
Jules says, “Did you hear about Joe?”
I reply, “No, sorry, I don’t know him, what happened?”
Jules says, “He died last night in the park.”
Wolf adds, “They found him with his dog, Wolf.”
Though I’m now confused about whether this man and the dog are both named Wolf, I say, “Oh, I’m sorry for your loss.”
Wolf has turned back facing the road and says, “Wolf just stayed by his side until they found him.”
I say, “Well, he’s not homeless anymore, now he’s home free.”
They ponder this in a moment of silence, then Jules lifts a dirty shirt off the bottle of Chardonnay they’re discreetly hiding and offers, “You want some chardonnay?”
His graciousness catches me by surprise, and my throat tightens, “No, but thank you.”
“It’s good stuff. You don’t drink?”
“Not really, but I appreciate the offer.”
“You want a coat?” He points to his buggy, and I have to blink several times to disperse excess eye moisture.
When I take my leave, I can’t help but think about my own habitation: I’m spending the winter in an attic, cozy, and I’m happy about it to be sure, but a long way from the custom-built 2500 sq. ft. home I’d had back in Canada.
For those who know me as Anna J the Realtor, and perhaps a few that don’t, this ‘real me’ blog may appear extreme at first glance. I agree that it is. My intention with my first public blog post (and its first word) was to shock, shake it up, and share a real side of me that most people didn’t know exists but has existed throughout my 20 years as the consummate professional. I feel egotistical writing about myself this way, as though anyone might care that I toss swears around from time to time, but since I’ve outted myself with real estate clients, I feel they deserve an explanation (justification?).
For 20 years, I wore the realtor hat. I know plenty of realtors who are completely their professionally conservative selves in the business, but only the ones who are legitimately ‘suit and tie attire’ personalities are at the top of the real estate food chain. I was there, too, for many years, only I didn’t feel that the conservative appearance and personality was my natural, most authentic self. I was filtered. Certainly, it was part of my personality—but maybe only 15%—which meant that 85% of the time I felt like a fraud to myself.
I had wanted to be successful, at the very top if possible, because at the time I was motivated by ego. I managed to accomplish my goal if only for a short while. Was it worth it? I lived 15–18hr endless days appeasing even the most difficult clients who were unnecessarily rude at times: “Obviously, you’re too busy making money to bother with someone like me who’s only interested in a cheap condo …” was one such email I received after 9pm. I hadn’t answered her original inquiry by 10am the morning following her inquiry because I had been at a building inspection at 8am and negotiating an offer until almost midnight the night before.
I dealt with not getting listings when I presented an honest evaluation of price, while dishonest realtors ‘bought’ those listings (Industry lingo: To buy a listing means a realtor falsely inflates the estimated sales value for anxious sellers– what home owner trying to sell their home won’t be impressed with a realtor who says their special home is worth more?), only to watch those same sellers later reduce the asking price to what I had originally suggested, have their home sell, and watch the dishonest realtor get paid for it.
I dedicated years to my real estate clients (and, yes, my big ego) with little or no time for my family; My Little Mom (MLM) and siblings lived within half an hour of my home in Comox, and I made time for them at Christmas. The rest of the time I worked or rested. (Read: Recovered.)
I still sound bitter, don’t I? Truth told, when I think back to these times, I am a little disappointed but only in myself. And don’t get me wrong—the majority of realtors and the majority of clients are not like the ones described above, but my having a lot of clients in general increased the odds, and a few sour cherries a week seemed to have a cumulative effect on my satisfaction level. I understand the psychology of sales. That’s part of what made me successful, and I say that with confidence not ego but, in a way, I wished I’d honoured myself (and my family) more. I wish I’d spent more time with them and less on making it big time. I say “‘in a way” because I also believe in no regrets. Everything happens for a reason and, I believe, for each of our greater good. Whether we perceive it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is entirely up to us. That perception can either make us happy or not happy.
The other day I have a conversation with a friend who hates his job and he tells me he admires my bravery in choosing to leave my lucrative career for a life of freedom.
Friend: “I admire what you’ve done, choosing the simple life.”
Me: “I made compromises to have this. No room for kids in the budget, not that I need that anymore, but you know what I mean. I made a choice. I’m happy I did.”
I tell him about my experience with Jules and Wolf and how Joe died in the park with only his faithful dog trying to nudge him back to life and finish with: “Don’t die alone in the park.”
Years ago, after my divorce to Nice Man, but still in the snowball of an early mid-life crisis, I read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a story about a psychiatrist finding moments of joy living in a concentration camp. It changed my perspective or at least tickled the notion of changing my perspective. I realized a couple things at that time: 1) I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do professionally, and 2) I wasn’t happy.
At the time I didn’t have the awareness to understand what I was doing ‘wrong,’ but I knew I’d have to make some major changes in my life. I started evaluating what was making me happy and what wasn’t. Change is scary, but it’s the only constant, and we’re either taking charge of changes or following the stream of them. I decided to be proactive about my future happiness. The first thing I did was to hand over all buyers to the realtors working with me on my team. I loved working with buyers! Generally speaking, they don’t pay out of pocket for a realtor’s service. They also tend to be more grateful and easy to please (whereas sellers pay out fat fees and want to know, “Why hasn’t my property sold yet, damn it?” [emphasis added]). But I also realized that a buyer might take a day or a week to find the right property, compared to taking a listing that either our team or some other realtor might sell, which required half a day at most to view, evaluate, present value, complete listing paperwork, design marketing plan, and hand the works over to my loyal assistant to implement. It was no longer sanity smart for me to work with buyers.
The realtors in ‘my’ team (and my assistant) have been working with me since 2005. I knew they were more than capable. I let go of control, ego and income to share the work and reward. My reward was time. Yes, you can buy time. Though my share of the team income declined, my spirit increased. After a while, I started giving away listings as well, focussing on managing and marketing, which are my strongest skills anyway. I bought myself more time, and the unexpected side effects were an improved marketing system for our listing clients as our team now had what was essentially a marketing agent (me) working full time in that department and my work hours reduced to a normal persons day.
Nonetheless, some clients didn’t like the new system, either wanting to work directly with me and/or having been discouraged by competing, hungry realtors. All’s fair in sales of land. After a couple of years, I started travelling and working from afar, namely Seattle; those are the years detailed in my memoir. Our team is still in the top 1%. It took a few years for the public to trust our maverick marketing system, but the results speak for themselves. The two realtors who continue to work under our original umbrella don’t have to worry about marketing. They focus on servicing clients and since they do the majority of the hands on, belly-to-belly work, they also get the majority of income. I’ve got freedom. It’s worked out to be a win-win-win.
Cut to today: I’m living in an attic space in a shared home in Venice Beach, California, working from one of three offices, namely: Intelligentsia, Tom’s One for One, or Cielo Espresso—the finest espresso shops with free Wi-Fi! Because I invested a lot of money in marketing and shoes over the years, I must now live within a relatively tight budget. I have enough Air Miles to get anywhere (thank you mega marketing expenses!), the residual I receive from an investment property and real estate pays for food, clothing and attic.
A bonus of being an environmentalist is minimization; I’m content with what I have, plus I’d rather not add to landfills by purchasing anything new. I’ve gone from Gucci to Gap to Goodwill, and I’m happy. In fact, I’m joyful (most of the time). My take on happy/joy is thus: happiness is situation based, event + perspective = reaction; joy is internally based, perspective = perspective. I could have changed my perspective toward how I managed being a realtor, but the real estate reality is that ego—and some degree of acting—would have been a necessary commitment (for me) to have best continued to benefit my clients. It sounds terrible. To be sure, I wasn’t acting per se as a realtor, but I was spending more time in that side of my personality than was healthy for me. I’ve never been great with moderation.
Yesterday, I get a text from my friend: “I bought a plane ticket.”
Me: “What?? Where are you going? And when?” I’m wondering if he’s booked something for his Christmas holiday break.
Friend: “Home. I fly out tomorrow at 5am. Then who knows, maybe Argentina.”
Me: “Did you quit?? OMG good for you! Bet you feel relieved, hey?”
Friend: “You have no idea—well, I guess you do. I’m happy again.”
I live a simple life now. My days consist of riding my bike on the boardwalk, practicing yoga, doing my day job (my real estate tasks for the team), writing, going to farmers’ markets, and chatting with whoever is around and open to conversation; an unexpected and pleasant side effect of quitting being a realtor and having to talk to people is that I now love connecting with people and am far more genuine in my interest in them, even the cranky ones! I don’t have lofty goals or a major life purpose that drives me. I try to enjoy each moment. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to set up my life this way, though it was more by lucky default than strategic planning. And I’m grateful to wake up in an attic with a space heater and not in a park with a bottle of Chardonnay, even though there are many here who are just happy to wake up. Period. I’m glad I woke up.
What have I (re)learned?
Life is simple if not always easy.
The ease of life depends on our perspective of it.
We can change our perspective, and we can also change our circumstances.
Homework: Continue to enjoy waking up to the journey ahead.