When I started commercial real estate brokerage, my mentor told me I had entered the “big leagues.” At the time, I thought he was talking about the breadth of knowledge required to do the job: marketing, sales, finance, etc. Years later I discovered what he actually meant: that you better know what you’re doing or prepare to get ripped apart.
There were days when I felt ripped apart. Boneheaded mistakes and sleepless nights. Experiences that not only made me lose confidence in myself, but sometimes in the entirety of American capitalism.
But for every heartbreak, there were breakthroughs and, eventually, triumphs.
I thought I was alone in my hectic journey. But the more I talked to people, the more I realized that most young professionals go through a similar experience.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my first 6 years post-college. I wonder if you can relate?
CEO’s Don’t Always Act Like Adults
“what did you expect to find here?”
“I don’t know, grown-ups.”
— The Big Short
We believe early in our careers that all CEO’s and business leaders are venerated. That they’re successful because they’ve done and said the right things. It’s a comforting thought, that if you display similar qualities, you too can rise above the masses.
That optimism vanished quickly for me.
I’ve worked with an executive who gave me his word but just used me for information and signed a deal with a competing broker — a high school buddy.
I’ve worked with companies with over 100 employees who had no idea who’s in charge or responsible for important decisions. Can you imagine? The livelihoods of 100 people in their hands, and they treat their office like a scene from Apocalypse Now.
I’m beyond fortunate that my boss, the CEO at Colliers in Columbus, is a leader I can look up to. The problem with capitalism is that it cuts people down to numbers, it’s a nasty habit, especially in commercial real estate. But Rich doesn’t believe in that. During my interview, he told me there are people with heartbeats at the other end of every transaction, and they deserve our respect.
Not every leader is genuine, but don’t take for granted the ones who are. You’ll know it when you see it.
Invest Your Own Money and Learn A New Skill
This one is a cliché at this point. “Just because you graduated from college doesn’t mean you stop learning.”
Allow me to take the cliché a step further.
The classes, exams, and certifications required from your employer don’t count towards your continuing education. I’m talking about a philosophy of lifelong learning. I’m talking about picking up a book and investing your own money to learning a new skill and building upon long-term goals.
I won’t bore you with my life’s details, but take my word for it, I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t taken education into my own hands. In my parent's basement, I guess.
Spend Time With Your Friends, You Won’t Regret It
My friends and I recently rented a lake house for a weekend. We all live in different cities, but we usually make time to visit each other a few times a year. This year was different for obvious reasons. I hadn’t seen most of them since early 2019. My friends had planned to stay through Monday afternoon. I wanted to leave Sunday because, well, I didn’t want to miss a workday.
That’s when my mom called and said something I’ll never forget. “You should stay and be with your friends. In 50 years from now, will you care if you worked 438,024 hours vs. 438,014 hours?”
I stayed until Monday, and I’m incredibly thankful that I had.
We all want to get ahead, but don’t take these years for granted. I promise you regret the times you didn’t spend with your friends.
Network Your Face Off
It’s great to be in the inner circle of influencers, celebrities, and CEOs. But this shouldn’t be your goal post-college.
Network with other young professionals. Maybe they won’t get you backstage to a show or refer a massive deal, but these are the people you will be doing business with for the rest of your career. If you show kindness and empathy, they will have your back when things get rough.
Here’s some practical networking advice: Join a club or a sports league or volunteer group. Honestly, anything is better than forced conversation at happy hours and networking clubs.
Never Live Above Your Means
I screwed up big time a few years ago. I crushed my first year in brokerage. I was closing deals, making real money, and winning awards for excellent sales revenue. My company even flew me to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, the company’s way of saying, “Hey, just stick with us, kid.”
Instead of being smart with my newfound earnings, my ego got the better of me. I wanted to live like the influencers I’d been following on Instagram. I spent that money on going out, vacations with my girlfriend, clothes, whatever. I expected deal flow to continue and profits along with it. Little did I know, that’s not how commercial real estate works, that’s not how business works. The hurricane inevitable comes, and that right soon.
I never want to relive the stress of going broke. Your mind uncontrollably floats from activities you care about to “how the f*** I’m I going to pay the rent this month.” It’s nearly impossible to be creative, productive, or enjoyable to be around. Don’t do that to yourself.
Markets are cyclical. Take that into account whenever you’re riding a high. Celebrate success, of course! But do so, responsibly.
Elevate Your coworkers, Without Looking At The Scoreboard
Corporations have a knack for breeding dog-eat-dog cultures. That the only way to climb the corporate ladder involves grabbing the person in front of you.
Instead of pulling others down, might I suggest an alternative approach?
In Adam Grant’s Give and Take, he concludes that “givers”, or people who help others with no strings attached, consistently outperform selfish coworkers or “takers.”
A study conducted at a sales agency in North Carolina found givers produced 50% more sales revenue than takers, as long as their actions were well-intended.
It could be a karma thing, but I think givers win because the opposite philosophy, a spiteful taker, is emotionally exhausting.
How could anyone get any work done if you sit around all day plotting and brooding like Voldemort?
Always Do The Right Thing
“Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.”
— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray ,
Dorian meant this tongue in cheek. The internal dialogue of an immortal dude with nothing to lose. Oscar Wilde was famous for his irony. The irony here is that, for the rest of us, nothing is more vital to growth than experience.
Look, you’re going to screw up, and worse than that, you’re going to get chewed out for it. But those experiences, no matter how painful, build leadership and mental toughness.
Just remember, when things get rough, be kind and see the positives in every experience, they’re always there.