My Business Broke My Heart

Posted by | November 29, 2015 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Business Broke My HeartThis year, the commercial real estate brokerage company I own will facilitate over $100,000,000 in transactions, for clients worth billions. Before creating and building this company, for nearly two decades I owned and operated an international rafting and adventure travel business, running trips from Bolivia to Baja and Norway to the Pacific Northwest. Most people see these industries as very different in terms of focus (money versus lifestyle), employees (white collar versus no collar), and culture (stiff versus loose). I was one of those people. As a broker rather than a guide, I at one point viewed myself as a pursuer of things shallow and selfish rather than a provider of inspiring and life-changing events.

I felt empty and drove myself nuts in the early years of brokerage. I had left an industry that I adored, believing that my young family needed more financial stability and material comfort to thrive. Guiding rafts did not meet my idea of what a father should be doing. I let go of a job that matched my entrepreneurial DNA and moved into one that felt ignoble and misguided in its singular pursuit.

There are not many jobs like owning a rafting company, where virtually every moment is heart driven. You are part of a community regularly reminded by your “uniform” of how precious each day is: we wore life jackets to work. It was easy to wake up each morning with passion and purpose as I provided guides and clients alike with trips that lifted spirits and unveiled goodness in each other, the result of having fun and tackling exciting challenges in beautiful places.  Our whitewater trips helped grow local economies, empowered people to work as a team, left clients in awe, and spurred guests to create a life that really meant something to them and to the rest of the world. In my years as a guide and outfitter, I can’t tell you how many times I heard, and told myself, “You are so lucky to be able to do this.”

No one has uttered that phrase to me as the owner of one of the most successful brokerage firms in the Northwest. The thought did not cross my own mind for years, either, as I grew weary of colleagues and clients who would put their heart on the shelf during negotiations. For some reason, it was acceptable in our business to wall off interpersonal traits that I know we each have. For some reason, kindness and consideration—that are apparent in other aspects of lives, as evidenced by how we compassionately raise our kids and fairly treat our friends—did not apply here. I did not understand or accept this disconnection but sometimes even found myself rationalizing my own ego- or profit-driven behaviors. At times it broke my heart. Professionally, I broke my own heart. But, I discovered a deeper truth in the pain.

After several years of hollow and unfulfilling days, I realized that regardless of the industry any business could be heart directed. It came to me in my car on the side of the road after a nasty “circular” conversation with a broker representing a buyer of my client’s property. My clients were in their 80’s, had run an auto electric shop for many, many years, and were now interested in selling the real estate they owned to operate their business. They were kind and shrewd and never ill willed. After the other broker repeatedly threatened legal action if my clients did not recommit to selling their property, I unraveled. This was a broker who was not interested in what really mattered to two folks well into their retirement. He only wanted the deal to proceed to his client’s benefit. I stopped talking in circles, melted down, and grew resolve. For the last time on my watch decency took a back seat to dollars.

There was no reason to honor industry philosophies and practices if in my gut I knew they weren’t needed or right. As an outfitter I had long helped people feel comfortable, safe, happy, and rewarded in often very challenging and scary situations. I always took their heart and soul into consideration. It dawned on me again—and now permanently—that holding one’s heart was infinitely more important than following an ideal that could spiritually and financially hurt people. I knew as I sat on the side of the road that I would never allow anyone’s heart to be ignored in real estate or any other business I owned, no matter what the transaction.

It was an overnight change. I asked myself and others to use a true gauge, to measure what really mattered. I reminded my employees and partners that there is no reason to replace what you feel in your chest with what you hope for in your wallet. We are each intuitively wired to be compassionate and connected to others. This is what secures our survival. Disregarding this essence happens only when ego-driven pursuits overpower heart-driven motivations. But one person’s gain at another’s loss—financial or spiritual—is not a global net gain. It is a community “wash,” or worse, and never pans out to growth for all. Success is best celebrated with others and there is no such thing as true success if it comes at some expense of another. In my world, “just business,” where disregarding another for the sake of personal gain, is unacceptable.

Our company motto is “Community before commodity.” We live it and we are spreading it. It feels great to change an industry where honest and honorable relationships struggle to form due to egregious focus on material gain. It feels great to bring heart to life.

This year, the commercial real estate brokerage company I own will facilitate over $100,000,000 in transactions, for clients worth billions. Before creating and building this company, for nearly two decades I owned and operated an international rafting and adventure travel business, running trips from Bolivia to Baja and Norway to the Pacific Northwest. Most people see these industries as very different in terms of focus (money versus lifestyle), employees (white collar versus no collar), and culture (stiff versus loose). I was one of those people. As a broker rather than a guide, I at one point viewed myself as a pursuer of things shallow and selfish rather than a provider of inspiring and life-changing events.

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