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From Family Man to Salesman & Back

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There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends. ~Homer

I never thought I’d overcome my failures.  I never thought I could make it all “work”, as they say.  My wife and I were married when we were 18… yes, 18 and no, it wasn’t because she was pregnant.  We were in love, well that’s what we thought it was at the time.  Now, we more readily identify it as lust.  It took us about seven years of disdain and staying together simply because we want to prove our parents wrong to get it right.  About 8 years ago, we figured it out through a variety of hardships.  We walked through fire, hand in hand and came out best friends and fused together on the other side.  Amazingly enough when I put my life in priority and not be the over-achieving work-aholic that I had become, it all worked out.  That story can be found elsewhere…

What the heck does this have to do with Real Estate???  Everything….  I’ve never been one prone to motivational speakers or holistic lifestyle programs.  But, I do subscribe to the fact that a balanced personal life will influence your career, as much (if not more) that a miserable personal life.  My family has been an important element to my Real Estate career and an inspiration for each time I had to deal with one more difficult person.  My focus has been based deeply in my belief system and in family.  It’s given me balance and made me a better person.  

Too often practitioners become so overly concerned with the awards, the accolades, the status that they fail to see that the one true purpose in life is to leave a legacy.  Let me ask you, when you are retiring from this career will your children remember all the plaques and awards, the nice cars and the endless banquets that they had a babysitter for?  If so, what benefit that they receive?  Would it be more influential that you were a solid parent to them?  Did you pass on your ability to balance life and appreciate people?  When my three beautiful daughters grow and mature, I want to know that I had a part in their capabilities and compassions.  I don’t want to relegate that to my wife in order to provide comforts.  The trade-off isn’t worth it.  I know…I’ve tried…I’ve failed.

Balance in life is organizing your lifestyle to ensure that all needs are met.  I LOVE the social media aspects of the RE.net and deeply appreciate the friends that I’ve made there, but tomorrow when I fail (as we all do, from time to time) who am I going to turn to?  Will I have made enough deposits of relational value to my family, to cover me in my time of need?  I pray that I have. 

I try very hard for my life to be family centered and what I have found is that emphasis on relationship, has prepared me better to interact with my clients.  This priority based lifestyle, has helped me put my clients needs in perspective.  We fail in this field so often, because we listen but don’t really hear what our clients are telling us.  We treat them as spreadsheets at times or some agents see them as a commission check in the end.  There are many opportunities to stop and ask yourself if you were in your client’s shoes, what would you do? 

I want to end this post with a challenge for all the readers.  Stop.  Ask.  Reflect.  Take Action.    Stop what you’re doing right now…  Ask, is my family benefiting from my business practice (not just financially, but more importantly emotionally).  Reflect on your answers and then take action to revisit your business activities to ensure you have the proper priorities….  

Matthew Rathbun is a Virginia Licensed Broker and Director of Professional Development for Coldwell Banker Elite, in Fredericksburg Virginia. He has opened and managed real estate firms, as well as coached and mentored agents and Brokers. As a Residential REALTOR®, Matthew was a high volume agent and past REALTOR® Rookie of the Year & Virginia Association Instructor of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter as "MattRathbun" and on Facebook. Matthew's blog is TheAgentTrainer.com.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Mariana

    March 11, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Matthew – Awesome! I was talking to a good friend of mine today. We both are in the middle of what we call “restructuring” parts oof our lives. We spoke about how DOING things WITH the family and friends is always and infinitely better than HAVING things FOR your family and friends. I would rather DO MORE with less, than HAVE MORE with more. The “with” factor cannot be replaced, especially with little ones in the house.

  2. Bob Carney

    March 11, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I did that when I decided to take a buyout from my last job. needed to see the family.

  3. Candy Lynn

    March 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Matthew:
    My friend – you always get it right! You may be young in years but old in wisdom.
    Thank you for always being there.
    Candy
    VLA2007

  4. monika

    March 11, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I think you get to a point in life… when you realize that you can do more with less and enjoy doing it. Like you, I feel a balance in your life with family and friends means more than dollars and cents. I could pick up and start over as long as I have my family, my husband…I can get by with very little… material things wise…if I’m happy personally. Excellent post!

  5. Rocky VanBrimmer

    March 11, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Three years ago I had to step out of real estate and refocus what is important to me. I can no longer miss a dinner, a date, or time with family and friends becase I need to “seal a deal.”

    Good post.

  6. Benjamin Ficker

    March 11, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Great post. I’m in the same boat as you, though not as far along. My wife and I got married when we were 19 & 20 (Again, not because of kids). We are 24 & 25 now, and are still trying to figure this whole thing out. It’s good to hear I wasn’t the only one who married young for lus… er… LOVE.

  7. Matthew Rathbun

    March 11, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    thanks all for commenting on this post. It’s been a 15 year lesson, that was worth the effort to figure out. Jennifer is my best friend and my girls are amazing. My career is a way to support those other priorities in my life. You all are so cool! Keep working at it – I tell you, it’s completely worth the effort!

  8. Ryan Hukill

    March 11, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Matthew, you’re wise beyond your years, and you’ve put it into words so well. Balance is one of the most elusive targets out there, and so many simply don’t realize they’re chasing the wrong targets. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Toby Boyce

    March 11, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    My wife and I don’t fight very much. But, lately it has been a very tough situation at home.

    The reason: I’m working too much. I keep thinking if I put in one more hour, something will pop in this crazy market. I’ve cashed in all these chips to walk away from a “safe” salary job that had me on the verge of a mental breakdown to the commission only world of real estate.

    So I need to take Matt’s advice more and turn off the “work” side more often.

  10. Ines

    March 11, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Wow! That’s what I call a FIRST GENIUS POST!! I can’t even imagine my life any other way than it is now – I love working with Rick by my side, love my 3 boys and being able to pick them up from baseball, school, whatever……..and yes, we need to listen. Not only to our clients, but to our surroundings and our lives.

  11. Rick

    March 11, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    I don’t make too many appearances but I’m watching. Mattew, GREAT post. Just today I was in the car with my 3 sons Blackberry in hand at a red light and my oldest son says, “Dad, do you ever put that thing down???” (Ouch!!) That is the perfect situation to ask myself, “Am I in balance?” “Am I hearing?”.
    Thanks for the eye opener.
    Rick (Ines’ silent half)

  12. Ines

    March 12, 2008 at 9:36 am

    OMG!!! This is a day to remember and document!!

    Rick actually commented!!……he exists! he is real!! Can I frame it? 🙂

  13. Matt Scoggins

    March 12, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Great post, Matthew! I have a one year old son and it is very tough sometimes to find the perfect balance between work and family. Your post made me think…

  14. Vance Shutes

    March 12, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Matthew – Thank you for sharing with us the results of your experience. No matter the volume of business in this market, or any other market, YOU are a success. Your family is very lucky. Continued blessings in life and business.

  15. ForexTrader

    March 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Truly Inspirational Post! I have the advantage of working from home, but this also require a balance in between home and work. It feel it’s even harder sometime to switch off when your office is almost in your living room. But with a few rules, life gets in balance and in the end both personal life and work benefit from you being at your best.

  16. Sarah Stelmok, C21 New Millennium

    March 13, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    This is a topic and point that I was trying to get across on another blog site. I didn’t succeed. The topic there was whether you could be an effective agent and have set hours. The consesus was that this is a 24/7 job… well until your AR Warrior Princess appeared. I changed the way I looked at my business the moment my husband, then fiancee, looked at me in the kitchen with tears in his eyes and her said, “I’m not even third in your life.” That was the moment RE became fifth in my life and I am happy and my husband are happy with this decision.

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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