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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

Basic tips on how to handle common (and ridiculous) interview questions

(EDITORIAL) There will always be off the wall questions in an interview, but what is the point of them? Do interviewers expect quick, honest, or deep and thought out answers?

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We’ve all been asked (or know of friends who have been) some ridiculous interview questions:

  • What type of fruit would you be in a smoothie and why?
  • If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is one item that you couldn’t live without?
  • Could you tell us a joke?

Sound familiar? You may have worried about stumbling in your response, but the reality is, you will receive questions in an interview that you may not know the answer to. Many of us sweat bullets preparing for interviews, trying to think through every possible scenario and every question we might be asked. Usually the hardest part about these questions is simply that you cannot prepare for them. So how do you approach questions like these?

First and foremost, you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and do your best to answer them in the moment. Interviewers are not expecting you to know the answer to these question. Instead, they are literally looking to see how you handle yourself in a situation where you may not know the answer. Would you answer with the first thing that comes to mind? Would you ask for more information or resources? What is your thought process and justification for answering this question? Please know that how you answer this particular question is not usually a deal-breaker, but how you handle yourself can be.

Now, with more common questions, even though some can  still feel ridiculous, you have the opportunity to practice.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

They want to be able to see that you have confidence and know your strengths – but also that you are human and recognize where you may have areas of improvement, as well as self-awareness. This isn’t a trick question per se, but it is an important one to think through how you would answer this in a professional manner.

If you’re not feeling super confident or know how to answer the strength question, it may be worth asking your friends and family what they think. What areas of business or life do they feel comfortable coming to ask you about? Were there subjects in school or work projects that you picked up really quickly? This may help identify some strengths (and they can be general like communication or project management.) One great way to delve in to your strengths is to take the CliftonStrengths Test.

“Your CliftonStrengths themes are your talent DNA. They explain the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave.” It gives you your top 5 strengths (unique to you), as well as a detailed report on how those work together and amongst groups. Per the research from Gallup, they say time is better spent on growing your strengths than trying to overcome your weaknesses.

The thing with the “What is your weakness?” question is that you cannot say things like “I really cannot get up in the morning!” or “I absolutely hate small talk!” – even though those may be true for you. They are looking for a more thoughtful answer demonstrating your self-awareness and desire to grow and learn.

They know you’re human, but the interviewer is looking for what you’re doing to address your weakness. An example of a response may be, “I have struggled with advanced formulas in Excel, but have made sure to attend regular workshops and seek out opportunities to practice more functionality so that I can improve in this area”. Another example might be, “I have a very direct type of communication style and I have learned that sometimes, I need to let the other person share and speak more before I jump to a decision.” Many times you can also find some great insights in self-assessment tests too (like DISC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram for examples).

“Why do you want to work for this company?”

Let’s be real. Companies want people that want to work there. They want you to be interested in their products/service because that usually means you will be a happier employee. You should be able to answer this question by doing some company research, (if any) drawing from your personal experience with the company, or getting “insider insight” from a friend or colleague who works there and can help you understand more about what it’s like to be employed by that company.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

All companies have goals and plans to make progress. They ask this question to see if you, a potential future employee, will have goals that align with theirs. Jokingly, we are all curious about how people answered this question back in 2015…but in all seriousness, it is worth asking yourself and thinking through how this company or role aligns with your future goals. This question is similar to the weaknesses question in that you still have to remain professional. You don’t want to tell them that you want to work there so you can learn the ins/outs to then go start your own (competitive) company.

Take a few minutes to think about what excites you about this job, how you can grow and learn there, and maybe one piece of personal (hope to adopt a dog, travel to India, buy a home) but it doesn’t have to be anything super committal.

When it comes to behavioral interview questions, these are also much easier to prepare for. You can take out your resume, review your experience, and write out 3 examples for the following scenarios:

    • Handled a difficult person or situation
    • Decided steps (or pulled together resources) to figure out a problem/solution that was new to your team or organization
    • Brought a new idea to the table, saved expenses and/or brought in revenue – basically how you made a positive impact on the organization

These are very common questions you’ll find in an interview, and while interviewers may not ask you exactly those questions verbatim, if you have thought through a few scenarios, you will be better conditioned to recall and share examples (also looking at your resume can trigger your memory). Bring these notes with you to the interview if that makes you feel more comfortable (just don’t bring them and read them out loud – use it as a refresher before the interview starts).

Practicing is the best way to prepare, but there’s always a chance that you’ll get a question you might not know the answer to. Do your research and consider asking friends (or family) about how they’ve handled being in a similar situation. Ultimately,  you have to trust yourselves that you will be able to rise to the occasion and answer to the best of your ability, in a professional manner.

Whatever you do, please also have questions prepared for your interviewers. This is a great opportunity to help you decide if this is a right fit for you (projects, growth opportunity, team dynamics, management styles, location/travel, what they do for the company/what are they proud of/how did they choose to work here). Never waste it with “Nope, I’m good” as that can leave a bad final impression.

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Opinion Editorials

Be yourself, or be Batman? A simple trick to boost your self-confidence

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) “If you can’t be yourself, be Batman.” We’ve heard it before, but is there a way that this mentality can actually give you self-confidence?

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Batman symbol has long been a way to boost self-confidence.

The joke with scary movies is that the characters do stupid things, and so you scream at them. No you dumdums, don’t go FURTHER into the murder circus. Put down the glowing idol of cursed soda gods and their machine gun tempers. Stop it with the zombie dogs. STOP IT WITH THE — WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?

We do this as the audience because we’re removed from the scene. We’re observing, birds eye view imbued ducklings, on our couches, and with our snacks. Weird trick for horror movies to play — makes us feel smart, because we’re not the ones on meat hooks.

But if a zombie crashed through our window, like RIGHT NOW, the first thing we’re going to do doesn’t matter, because that thing is going to be stupid. So so stupid. You can’t believe how stupid you’ll act. Like, “I can’t leave behind my DONUT” stupid, as a zombie chomps your arm that was reaching for a bear claw you weren’t even really enjoying to begin with. “Oh no my DOCUMENTS I can’t leave without my DOCUMENTS.”

There’s a layer of distinction between those two instances — removed versus immersed. And really, this colors a lot of our life. Maybe all of our life. (Spoiler: It is all of our life.)

It’s Imposter Syndrome in overdrive — the crippling thought that you’re going to fail and be found out. And you tell yourself that all the little missteps and mistakes and mis…jumps are entirely your fault. Feedback loops reiterates, and then you get paralyzed. And man, what a time to be alive — what with the world on fire — to start up a self-deprecation engine shame machine. No way our self-confidence is suffering now, right?

The point is: You — as a being — experiencing things first hand is the perfect time to see your shortcomings. You can’t help but do it. You are living in your skeleton meat mecha human suit, and all the electronics in your head strangely remember all the times you struggled. And weirdly, if you look at someone else in the exact same situation you were just in, you suddenly have this powerful insight and awareness. It happens naturally. It’s why you think I would never head on down to the basement in a creepy mansion. Watch any cooking competition show to see this in action. Armchair quarterbacks, hindsight 2020. It’s all the same.

But when it’s just you and you’re doing things in real time? You lose focus, you stumble, and you wonder why it’s suddenly so hard to make rice, or why you fell for the really obvious fake punt.

So where does that leave you? How do you solve this problem? There are ways. But the journey is arduous and hectic and scary and difficult. Time tempers your soul over and over, you harden in ways that build you up, and you become better. The process is ages old.

I bet you’d like at least… I dunno, there’s gotta be a small trick, right? Life has secrets. Secrets exist. Secrets are a thing. Let’s talk about one to boost your self-confidence.

Stop seeing things in first person, and instead, talk to yourself in the third person. Yes, just like George did in that episode of Seinfeld. Don’t say, “I need to finish the project today.” Say “Bob needs to finish the project today.” If your name is Bob, I mean. Substitute in your name. In effect, you are distancing yourself from the situation at hand, as you begin to view it from outside yourself.

Studies have shown that doing this causes a fascinating side effect — an odd insulating barrier that can give someone just enough distance from the problem at hand, which in turn lets someone more calmly examine the situation. Once that is achieved, a plan can be written and executed with great results.

There’s some research demonstrating this concept, and as truly crazy as it sounds, marked improvement in behavior has been measured when participants are told to think of themselves as a different person. It’s like the “fake it ’til you make it” principle — suddenly you’re sort of cheering on this other person, because you want them to succeed. It’s just that in this case, the other person is still you.

I’ve heard the concept also said that “your current self can give your future self an easier life if you work hard now.” It seems like distancing functions on that wavelength — that by thinking you are supporting some other entity (and even when that entity is still you), some empathetic mechanisms spring into play, and your natural desire to see success rebounds back onto yourself. This is you eating your cake, yet something still having cake.

So that’s magic in and of itself, right? I want you to try it. Don’t think in terms of what you have to do, but what you watching yourself will do. All these fun tiny benefits concurrently happen — encouragement, pressure removal, controlled thought, drive, momentum, and motivation. It’s all there — a trail mix built out of emotions and psychological buffs. And they’ll all fire off at once and you’ll start noticing how much better you feel.

Here’s the best part — we can take this further. At least two different studies have shown with children that thinking of an alter ego and then distancing creates even stronger outcomes. Now we’re not just hyping ourselves up — we’re hyping up an impressive figure. Batman is already taking down jerks. So what if you say you are the night and combine that with self removal? Even in children, the conclusion was fascinating. When they were given a menial task to complete, those who were told to believe they were Batman had an improvement of 23% in focus and productivity over a group who was given no directive. Even without the consequences of adult life and its inherent complexities, children naturally showcased that they work harder if they undergo an alter ego transformation. Now you’re not just there for yourself, you’re there for Batman himself.

“But that’s just children.” Ok, well, it works in adults too. Beyoncé and Adele would psych themselves up by creating onstage personas that were confident, successful, fearless versions of themselves. It’s an act within an act, with a performer further elevating themselves away from reality through the substitution of a personality built and engineered for success. Set aside that these are powerful, fierce, intimidating entertainers in their own right; the focus here is that they also used this mental trick, and it worked.

(There’s an aside here that I think is worth mentioning — in the midst of performing to a crowd, you are 100% in control, and I think this simple realization would help scores of people with their fear of public speaking; a concept to write about another day.)

Distilled down: If you think you’re a hero, you’ll act like one. Easier said than done, but give it a try by taking yourself out of the equation, even if for a moment. You’re not changing who you are so much as you are discovering the pieces of innate power you already had. You aren’t erasing yourself — you’re finding the hidden strength that’s already there. Having a way to kickstart this is perfectly fine.

The ultimate goal with all of this is to build the discipline that lets you begin to automatically engage this mode of heightened ability – that you’ll naturally adopt the good parts into life without the need for ramping up. Armed with that, you’re unstoppable.

Life — as a series of interactions and decisions — can be gamed, to a degree, with tiny and small shifts in perspective. Dropping a surrogate for yourself gives you enough room to have the chance to take everything in, and augmenting this concept further with the thought of having an alter ago creates even wilder possibilities. Psychologists are finding that this sidestep phenomenon can potentially help in different areas — improved physical health, learning how to better handle stress, emotional control, mastering anxiety, and a host of others.

So put on a mask, and then put on a whole new self. It’s almost Halloween anyway.

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Opinion Editorials

Don’t forget about essential workers in a post-COVID world (be kind)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) As the world reopens, essential workers deserve even more of our respect and care, remembering that their breaks have been few and far between.

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Tired essential workers wearing an apron leans against the doorframe of a cafe, eyes closed.

Anxiety about returning to work post-COVID-19 is real. Alison Green, of Ask A Manager, believes “much of that stems from a break in trust in the people and institutions that have shown they can’t be counted on to protect us.” Green also goes on to remind us that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of returning to the workplace – the essential workers who never left the workplace. The grocery store clerks, janitors, garbage collectors, and healthcare providers, just to name a few. As the country reopens, we have to be more sensitive to these essential workers, who often are left out of the discussion about safety, work norms, and benefits.

Essential workers got lip service during the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, the essential workers were hailed as heroes. We appreciated the grocery store workers who tried to keep the shelves stocked with toilet paper. We thanked the healthcare workers who kept working to keep people healthy and to take care of our elderly. I remember being more appreciative of the person who delivered my mail and the guy who came and picked up the trash each week. Now that the pandemic has been with us for more than a year, these workers are still doing their jobs, just maybe not so tirelessly.

Some of these workers don’t have sick days, let alone vacation days for self-care, but they are still making it possible for their community to function while being treated with less than respect. They’ve weathered the pandemic while working in public, worrying about getting sick, dealing with the public who threw tantrums for policies beyond their control, and managing their health while employers didn’t enforce safety measures. I’d hazard a guess that most of the C-level executives didn’t bring in any of their essential employees when writing new policies under COVID-19.

Bring essential workers into the conversation

In many cases, it has been the workers with the least who are risking the most. In Oklahoma, even though Gov. Stitt deemed many industries as essential, those same workers had to wait until Phase 3 to get their vaccine. Please note that elected officials and government leaders were eligible under Phase 2 to get their vaccine. Society pays lip service to the essential workers, but in reality, these jobs are typically low paying jobs that must be done, pandemic or not. In my small rural town, a local sheriff’s deputy contracted COVID-19. The community came together in fundraising efforts to pay his bills. It’s sad that a man who served the community did not have enough insurance to cover his illness.

As your office opens up and you talk to employees who are concerned about coming back to the office, don’t forget about the ones who have been there the entire time. Give your essential workers a voice. Treat their anxiety as real. Don’t pay lip service to their “heroism” without backing it up with some real change. As offices open up to a new normal, we can’t forget about the essential workers who did the jobs that kept society going.

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