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3. There is Real Joy in Doing "Meaningful Work"


Years ago my sister went through nursing school and completed all of the requirements to become a Registered Nurse and graduated.  Nurses were in demand so she got a job as an R.N. quickly.  She kept that job for exactly two weeks and quit.  She didn’t like anything about being a nurse.  Shortly after quitting the hospital, she took a job working as a bookkeeper for an accountant, where she stayed for years.  She must have liked the idea of being a nurse but not actually being a nurse.

Many men and women complete law school and yet don’t practice law.  Because the barrier to entry is so much lower a huge (as in very large) number of people enter the real estate business and don’t stay (about 13 out of 14 are gone by the end of the 2nd year).  "I think I would like driving around town in a Cadillac, wearing nice clothes" is one I used to hear a lot when I drove a Cadillac.

People who aren’t actually in a particular game seldom ever know what it is really like to play that game.  They think they do but they don’t.  Even the players themselves have to get "all the way in" a game to really get it.

In his groundbreaking book, "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell identified the three qualities work has to have if it is to be satisfying: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward.  Being a Realtor – for those fortunate enough to get into the business far enough to make a full connection with those three things – this business can be mostly joy.  Outsiders can’t usually see that part.  It is invisible to most of them and even to many in the business.  Nevertheless, it is there for all who care to partake.

For the following three paragraphs I am borrowing (direct text or concepts) from Malcolm’s wonderful book:

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When you come home at night you might be tired and even short on cash and a bit overwhelmed.  But you are alive  You are your own boss.  You are responsible for your own decisions and direction.  Your work is complex: it engages your mind and imagination.  And in your work there is a relationship between effort and reward: the longer or more effectively you work on and in your business the more money you can make.

Those three things – autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.  It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy, it’s whether our work fulfills us.  If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take?  I’m guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy and a connection between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that’s worth more to most of us than money. 

Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful.  Being a teacher is meaningful.  Being a physician is meaningful.  So is being an entrepreneur.   …..  Hard word is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.  Once is does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you dance for joy.

Any Realtor who learns to effectively lead generate (lead generation itself has all three: autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward) can have a business worth having and a life worth living (as in mostly fun).  Lead generation is very well covered in Gary Keller’s wonderful book, "Shift".  I highly recommend it.

Written By

Russell has been an Associate Broker with John Hall & Associates since 1978 and ranks in the top 1% of all agents in the U.S. Most recently The Wall Street Journal recognized the Top 200 Agents in America, awarding Russell # 25 for number of units sold. Russell has been featured in many books such as, "The Billion Dollar Agent" by Steve Kantor and "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller and has often been a featured speaker for national conventions and routinely speaks at various state and local association conventions. Visit him also at and



  1. Austin Smith -

    February 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

    “…autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward.”

    insightful words of wisdom. the ‘connection between effort and reward’ is what keeps me going to work every day; sales is an awfully hard industry to be in right now, but every rebuttal is one step towards a sale, and this tangible reward is more fulfilling and exciting than a trip to Benihana’s.

    Nice job Russell. I think the only thing wrong with this post is the Hubbard quote at the top…:)

  2. Trace

    February 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Why oh why are you quoting L Ron Hubbard, Russell?

  3. Jonathan Dalton

    February 24, 2009 at 11:58 am

    People quote the New Testament all the time; I don’t get the point of those references … call me meshugah but that doesn’t mean those references have any less relevance to those using them.

    Back on topic, I’ve been running on fumes for days thanks to a wave of buyers and some well timed offers on my listings. As my wife said, “At least you’re not punching a clock.” Not what you want to hear at the end of a 12-hour day that ended without an offer being written but quite true nevertheless.

    When I get tired of the 12- to 15-hour days, I can make a change to my business and work with some buyers’ agents. All of the control is in my hands.

  4. Russell Shaw

    February 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    >Why oh why are you quoting L Ron Hubbard, Russell?
    Because no other writer – living or dead – has ever said that nearly as well.
    Actually, I tend to go out of my way to *not* quote Mr. Hubbard – there are incredible quotes of his I could use in almost every post I have ever written – just so what I am saying doesn’t come off as trying to “convert” people or endlessly proselytize. There is very little material that has ever been written on the subject of success that I have not examined and I will usually use other author’s quotes just for that reason.
    I have been a Scientologist since 1973 and continue to study Ron Hubbard’s work (I am currently taking a course at the local organization) to further learn and be better able to improve conditions in my life and the world around me. There are some materials from Hubbard that do not exist – in any form – from any other writer that I consider *so* vital that I not only quote them, I link directly to them and teach classes to Realtors so they can learn have the benefit of that wisdom, as well.
    My goal is not to proselytize or convert – my goal is impact, huge and positive, on the people around me – to help to smooth out the waves that tend to capsize them. I succeed quite well on that goal thanks mainly to what I have learned from L. Ron Hubbard.

  5. Trace

    February 24, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Gotcha. 🙂

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