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"The optimist says there's opportunity everywhere we look. The pessimist says everything is messed up, and it's as though every system is perfectly designed to stay messed up, no matter how many things we try to fix."
From "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, Dave Jenks, Dave Jenks [Book]
"Alexa, flash briefing" is a phrase I hear every morning as Dana summons our Amazon Echo for her daily report. Alexa starts with the weather and then gives the latest in international news via NPR.
As I gathered my belongings on Saturday morning for a trip to visit my in-laws, I could hear Alexa begin her daily briefing from across the apartment. "Right now in Brooklyn, it is 35 degrees..." Toward the end, there was a preview of a story from NPR's Planet Money podcast. It was about a young couple struggling to buy a home in the competitive Montana real estate market. Yes, you read correctly. Competitive. Montana. Real estate market.
With Dana and I actively looking to buy a home, we were curious to hear more. I swiftly queued up the episode for the hours-long ride ahead of us.
Set in Bozeman, Montana, the podcast profiles Sean Hawksford, a local business owner who originally came to Montana for college ten years ago then fell in love with a local. With plans to start a family, Sean and his wife decided it was time to upgrade from their 400 square foot apartment and buy a home. Unfortunately, they're not only the ones looking to buy a home these days, and their search immediately proved to be a challenge, even in Bozeman.
19 offers later, and they're now proud homeowners. So, what happened? Well, after 18 losses, Sean and his wife found out they were expecting their first child. Uneasy with the idea of bringing their baby home to a tiny, poorly insulated apartment, Sean took matters into his own hands, literally.
Sean set up shop on a Bozeman street corner displaying a cardboard sign equipped with his and his wife's financial qualifications along with the message: "Please sell me a home. Local business owner, wife pregnant, paid rent here 10 years." After three days, he had some leads. The rest is history.
Initially, this sounds like a simple, heartwarming story about the power of persistence. However, the more that I sit with it, the more value I discover.
There are many challenges we face in life. Some we create for ourselves, like learning to play an instrument or training in a new sport. When we don't make progress, we assume responsibility and work harder or opt to take on a new challenge. Then, there are the hurdles in life that we may choose to pursue but appear out of our control. For Sean, buying a house would fit in this category. As he and his wife were putting in one offer after another, I'm sure there were times where they felt hopeless, like nothing they could do would change their fate.
In these moments, it can appear as if the world is out to "get us." We default to waiting on chance, and in some instances, we stop trying altogether. When adopting this attitude, we create narratives to lighten the blow of disappointment. We make excuses like "that's just my luck" or "everyone is having a hard time right now." This mentality gets us nowhere.
Rather than wallowing in defeat, Sean took action. He chose to take ownership vs. point fingers at the world around him. Sean recognized the circumstances that couldn't change, like the competitive real estate market, and focused on what could change. By shifting his perspective, he surfaced a new approach.
Personally and professionally, Sean's story hits home. No pun intended. No matter the obstacle, I've been practicing accountability as a default, focusing on what I can do to create success. Essentially, winning new business is no different than building out a new service offering or acquiring a new skill.
I used to fall into the trap of thinking the obstacles in my life were unique to me, for better or worse. The funny thing is that we can say the same about obstacles we all encounter because "everyone" is faced with them. So, where does that leave us? As demonstrated through Sean's actions, it doesn't matter how common a problem is; what matters is how each of us finds a way forward.
Lesson? When we shift from classifying the obstacles in our lives to assuming control of all of them, we're more likely to progress. Time spent making excuses means less time finding a solution.
Where have I lost hope without considering my control?