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You Don’t Have Enough Experience or the Right Connections to Be in Real Estate: Overcoming the Obstacles of Being a Young Realtor®

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I entered the wonderful world of real estate when I was 26 years old (and Derek was 28) – almost half the age of the average real estate agent in the U.S., which is 51 years old now – and closer to 54 years old at that time.

Let me tell you… That is quite a hurdle to overcome! Not only did many “seasoned” agents feel the need to take on a condescending tone when they talked to us about … anything, but even potential clients did not know what to think when they met us for the first time. (And looking young for my age helped nada.)

How the heck could someone as young as I was actually help people buy and sell houses?
Mind boggling. Truly mind boggling.

(Is this where I bring up the fact that many doctors graduate and start practicing medicine around this age? Or should I save that concept for later?)

I have often brought up the “perception of real estate agents” in reference to how people distrust, dislike and flat-out “dis” them. Although similar, what I am talking about here is a wholly different facet of that perception.

The perception of real estate agents was/is one of an older, “Good ol’ Boys Club” persona … a persona of which I did not/do not even remotely resemble … in more ways than one.

I am now 33 and I am STILL overcoming this hurdle. And although I am still very young in the eyes of real estate, I am not alone and nor am I the youngest whatsoever. There are more and more people – people like me – (to include both younger, and young-minded older) – that are faced with an “industry perception” that can be difficult to overcome.

An interesting manifestation of how my age plays out in my career is figuring out how to overcome the perception that it takes decades of “experience” and “having the right connections” to sell a home.

Okayfine. Define “experience” and “connections” …

If by “experience” you mean: I have written a billion contracts and sold a billion homes and have a billion alphabet soup letters trailing after my name, then no – I do not have THAT kind of experience.

I have the experience that has taught me that no two clients and no two contracts and no two closings are EVER alike and that I need to approach each new situation with a WIDE OPEN mind and a desire and willingness to think “outside the box” to accommodate my clients’ needs in the best possible way. I have the experience that has taught me to surround myself with brilliant people who can walk with me into any situation and make it good.

If by “connections” you mean: I can pull some strings at the Title Company to get a closing date and time that you want, or I go golfing with the president of the country club, then no – I do not care about those type of connections.

I have the type of connections that actually bring home buyers and home sellers together. I have the type of connections that give my Buyer clients access to every home that is for sale that could meet their needs. I have the type of connections that places my Sellers’ homes in front of the maximum amount of potential buyers. I like to call it my “internet connections“.

I understand that the perception of real estate agents is misguided in more ways than one. Our industry HAS had our share of bad apples. Our industry HAS been dominated by the Good ol’ Boys Club for a looooong time. Our industry HAS been stuck in an Old School ways of thinking for longer than other service-related industries.

But, times are changing. Our industry is facing a paradigm shift.

If you are reading this, then you are already embracing this shift. But look around you… How many people in your office are still building their “Value Propositions” on things that are Ego-Friendly but not Client-Centric?

Until this shift reaches the tipping point, and more people understand the NEW face of real estate, I (along with my peers) will still have to overcome the hurdles of being young in real estate.

It is not an easy task, as it takes a type of dedication that goes beyond complete and total comprehension of contract law and local real estate market conditions. It goes beyond total fiduciary responsibility to each of my clients. And it most certainly goes way beyond the commission check.

I still have to, not convince, but educate each potential client as to what it really takes to be a competent real estate agent… TODAY. I have to educate my clients that it is not necessarily the designations that create a good agent (if the client even knows what they even mean …). I have to educate my clients that it is more important to advertise and market their home than to advertise and market myself. I have to educate my clients that because I am NOT a part of the Good ol’ Boys Club, I am forced to be innovative and always be looking for bigger and better ways to help my clients accomplish their goals. I have to educate my clients that being a part of the Good ol’ Boys Club just creates a false sense of security anyway, and it lets it’s “members” become lazy and justify their non-forward-thinking-behavior with pats on the back and another round of golf.

Fellow Genius, Matthew Rathbun, recently tackled the agent-to-agent side of this paradigm shift in his recent post “If you say that… it will ruin your career!” and also brings up an excellent point, in reference to the agent-to-client side:

Unfortunately there are far too many people who are trying to meet the consumer where they were 10 years ago.  I am leaving room for the fact that they maybe right and the talents of open houses and playing solitaire during floor duty maybe back in vogue… but I think it’s unlikely and only time will tell.”

After explaining the “new face of real estate” I am often “rewarded” with clients commenting, “Wow. You are really different (better) than I expected. Thank you.”

However, if after all the education they STILL choose to go with Hairsprayetta Lookatme Lookatmenow ABC., RBIT., LOL., then I say “go” …

And in my heart, I know that my business card (that they casually tossed in their desk drawer) will eventually resurface … when jaded by their initial decision, they realize that MY experience and MY connections may actually be just what they need to accomplish their home buying and selling goals.

Mariana is a real estate agent and co-owner of the Wagner iTeam with her husband, Derek. She maintains the Colorado Springs Real Estate Connection Blog and is also a real estate technology trainer and coach. Mariana really enjoys helping real estate agents boost their businesses and increase their productivity through effective use of technology. Outside of real estate, blogging and training, she loves spending time with her husband and 2 sons, reading, re-watching Sci-Fi movies and ... long walks on the beach?

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Hi Mariana!

    We are the shift that is happening in our industry. I brought up if “experience” matters the other day on our Trulia blog and have received some great feedback. Your point about educating your buyers and sellers about what it takes to be a competent agent is where I think we as an industry have a lot of work to do. We are changing with the times on a daily basis yet buyers and sellers are in the real estate loop only every so often. Keeping them abreast of the recent changes and trends that have occurred that better the real estate buying and selling experience and HOW you utilize them for their benefit is what can be communicated better . I have seen too many agents fail to do this properly and lose potential lifelong clients in the process.

    After meeting you and Derek last year, I understand why your clients appreciate you 🙂

    – Rudy

    “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward

  2. Matthew Rathbun

    March 15, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Man, I love reading your writing! This is a great post and I’ll be referencing it in my trainings in the future! The experience of the newer group of Realtors may not be in real estate, but they can supplement that lack, by studying and using experiences they have from their own purchases. I think this is why we’ve seen an increase in the number of Realtors taking more classes in the past few years.

    Did I say GREAT ARTICLE?!?!?

  3. monika

    March 15, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Excellent post Mariana! I’m writing something very similar. A paradigm shift …is exactly what it is!

  4. Mariana Wagner

    March 15, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Matthew (RE trainer) – Thank you! I admire your approach to everything that you do and am glad that I can help you in your training.

    Monika (RE trainer) – Hi there! Thank you, and I look forward to reading what you write!

    You are both trainers for/of RE agents and it is awesome to see that the “future” is in hands like yours. Thank you.

  5. Russell Shaw

    March 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Excellent article. There have always been new agents entering the business. Some new and young. There have always been agents who have been in the business a while who are doing quite well. Those things are not going to change anytime soon (say the next 500 – 1,000 years).

    As home buyers (unlike home sellers) are seldom actually looking for an agent but only really looking for a house a new agent is just as desirable as a veteran agent to most of them. The newer agent’s challenge isn’t being “new”, it is being able to make contact with the potential home buyer in the first place.

    The attribute that the buyer is most interested in is never going to be, “is the agent certified” (GRI, CRS, ABR, E- Pro – or any of the constantly growing list of initials that even industry members have NO idea of the meaning) – but is the person honest. Can I be sure they won’t try and trick me? Can they be fully trusted? Get a “yes” on that one, have a lockbox key and access to MLS and you’re in. There is no other “requirement”. Even though they have to initial various clauses and every page of the contract, unless the buyer is a lawyer or a commercial broker, etc., in most cases, they have NO idea what any of it means. Most agents do not know the meaning of the word, “escrow”. But if the buyer has already decided that they are talking to an honest person they will sign the papers where told to and move along the process to “open escrow”.

  6. BawldGuy Talking

    March 15, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Mariana — As an agent who, as you did, started quite young (18 + 60 days) I feel your pain. What you’ve done to combat it is what your readers should really pull from this post: You produced for your clients — and that’s all you needed to do.

    Because you not only produce results but have obviously gone a near vertical learning curve, your 7-8 years of experience has proven far more valuable than most who’ve had the cliché ‘one year’s experience 13 times’. 🙂

    Don’t discount your exuberant behavior as a significant and taste enhancing spice, enhancing the flavor of the heaping plates of results you serve up.

    The other agents? Most of them are so worthless their actually props on your daily ‘set’ — put there to make you look good. 🙂

  7. BawldGuy Talking

    March 15, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Ignore the poor syntax and incorrect words, as I made the mistake of commenting before finishing my first cup of coffee after staying up past 2. 🙂

  8. Benjamin Bach

    March 15, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    I received my licence when I was 22, and I’m a few months shy of my 25th birthday now

    The issue of my age was in my head, but that made it very real.

    Now that I perceive myself as a business owner, a professional and a valued consultant, I am.

    The largest property I ever sold was bought by someone one month older than me. He isn’t 25 yet either. The seller’s didn’t care 🙂

    BenjaminBach.com

  9. Annie Maloney | Sevierville Real Estate

    March 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    AWESOME Articel!! It was as if I was the one writing it, or you were writing about me. I have, and continue to deal with, the same things. Now 33, I became an agent when I was 29. Being a youngster in a market that was comprised of older Good Ol’ boys, it was hard to get motivated in the beginning. Now I love it. I love being part of Generation X as it allows me to be unique in my market and advertise/market properties in ways that are not traditional , so to speak. Whats that you say, You have been doing real estate for 30 years and you know what works and what doesn’t. Individual Porperty what? Search Eng..huh? OK, Mr. Being Phased Out. You go right ahead and take that ad out in the paper for your new listing. I love it! In May I will become Managing Broker of my office and I suspect that I will continue to have to deal with these issues at an all new level. Oh well. I love it when other agents ask me how my listings and sites always come up high in the SERPs. With exposure like that and attitude that is young, fresh and confident there aren’t too many listings that I don’t get. It has also allowed me to pick and choose the ones that I really want. Great Article and Good Luck.

  10. Mike Farmer

    March 15, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Age definitely doesn’t matter, except in real cases where clients have a perception of age mattering, but online efforts help to overcome that for the most part, because you can show what you know and who you are. I do think this “I have the experience that has taught me to surround myself with brilliant people who can walk with me into any situation and make it good” is the most critical part for new, young (or old) agents to realize — when dealing with skepical clients it pays to help them understand that you may not “know” everything, but you “know” that, and you “know” who to consult that does “know”.

    From my experience, many buyers, who sense a young, inxperienced agent has something on the ball and is intelligent enough to make things happen and not make stupid mistakes, want to give the agent a break and help them along in their careers. It all boils down to the individual — it’s difficult to make blanket statements about “experienced” or “inexperienced”, and you don’t have to frame the experienced as “good ol’ boys” although I understand that system and its weaknesses — you just need to be you, the rest will follow.

  11. Angela Clark Graviss

    March 15, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Mariana, I became licensed at 23 years old in 1997, and have had many simliar experiences: I may have felt discouraged, but I have never given up! Age does not magically give expertise, or knowledge, or the ability to market to today’s changing markets. Today, 11 years later, I’m a little older, a little wiser, but I still have that energy that helped me in the beginning. Just FIDO it: Forget It and Drive On to the NEXT client who needs you now!

  12. Mariana Wagner

    March 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Rudy – You are right … We are each swimming in the pool of the real estate on daily/hourly basis, and because our clients are NOT, we MUST be able to educate our clients to the most up-to-the-minute accurate information as possible. It was great to meet you last Summer!

    Russell – Thank you. Home Buyers are less inquisitive than home Sellers, and are more likely to choose someone on gut-feeling than Sellers are. And with good reason. Hopefully this market will separate the wheat from the chaff and create more agents (than not) that really DO understand the industry.

    Jeff – I love that: “one year’s experience 13 times” Sometimes that is how I feel people define “experience” … And I can’t help but laugh at your “there to make you look good” comment, but those are the same agents that are out there helping buy and sell real estate… scary.

    Benjamin – Age really doesn’t matter, but there are those who choose to make it matter. Ultimately, it is an obstacle that we ALL have to oversome at some point in our lives. Confidence, though, can make all the difference.

    Mike – Thank you. My intent was not to lump all “experienced” agents into the Good ol’ Boys Club … just a large handful of them who refuse to embrace a much needed change in the industry, and look down on those of us who do. And you are right. It DOES boil down to the individual. 100%.

  13. Mariana Wagner

    March 15, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Annie – Thank you for your comment and good luck to you, too!

    Angela – FIDO … Great!

  14. Blue Ridge Mountains Cabins For Sale

    March 16, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Doogie Houser sold me a house. Why should it matter if at any point they were not sure they could decline service. I find young people motivated and creative and I much prefer them to a seasoned person who does all there work from the office and thinks the internet is a nusiance.

    As with any job a skill can be learned by all and experience comes with time. It doesn’t make you better just known in the community to have experience.

  15. Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra

    March 16, 2008 at 9:03 am

    This is one that rings true with me. Kari and I started at 24 and 23, respectively. Other agents looked at us like we had three eyes when we first started. As we progressed in our careers, we learned that one of the reasons for this is that many of the other agents felt threatened by our mere presence. Overcoming hurdles with clients is much easier, since you get to meet them one-on-one, and we have always been forthright and honest, which goes a long way to establishing credibility.

    In the end, we just keep doing what we do, and stay committed to our clients. We are just trying to carve a career out for ourselves, just like most other agents.

  16. Mariana Wagner

    March 16, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Daniel – You are right. Overcoming hurdles with clients IS easier than with other agents, and eventually it will all even itself out.

  17. Benjamin Bach

    March 16, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Let me float this out there . . .

    Who cares what other real estate salepeople think? Spend time with your clients, not in the office 🙂

  18. Mariana Wagner

    March 16, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Benjamin – I am more concerned about my clients – yes. However, the agent across the “deal” from me is the other facet of my obstacle.

  19. Ines

    March 16, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    One frustration I still have that goes beyond age and 30 years experience in the business is for clients to fall for the “image” and what monika calls “glitz and glitter” – the fact that they know you will get the job done, you will go above and beyond, but they fall for the trap of the other agent talking down about their competitors.

    I like the shift, now the consumer needs to open their eyes.

  20. Ines

    March 16, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    Oh – I forgot, and the yound thing happens with any profession. I remember opening my own architectur firm at 25 and having to overdress to meet clients – the suit (in 90 degree weather), heels, make-up and they woud still say, “you are so young!” – My expertise was easy to prove as an architect, not so easy as a Realtor.

  21. Cat

    March 16, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    “However, if after all the education they STILL choose to go with Hairsprayetta Lookatme Lookatmenow ABC., RBIT., LOL., then I say “go” …”

    AMEN to that! I totally relate to this. 🙂

  22. Mariana Wagner

    March 17, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Ines – I will NEVER talk down about my competitors – even the ones that have done me and my clients horribly wrong. I may re-state pertinent facts, but I keep that to a minimum. I cannot stand that political **** that some agents feel that they need to participate in.

    Also, it DOES take a bit longer to prove expertise as an agent, as opposed to other areas. I agree.

    Cat – Thanks! Me too…

  23. Mariana Wagner

    March 17, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Blue Ridge – Experience is very important, but not the be-all-end-all, in my opinion. And it definitely depends on what kind of experience you are talking about.

  24. Jeremy Hart

    March 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Mariana, SUCH a good post – of course, you didn’t need me to tell you that, everyone else has thought so as well. I started my career in real estate when I was 26 … my first clients? First-time buyers, and about my age. I was terrified to tell them it was my first deal, and so I didn’t tell them. Why would anyone want to entrust their first home purchase to little ‘ole ME? The closing attorney, however, thought he’d have some fun at my expense, and told them at the table. I couldn’t believe that they thought it was awesome – I was floored. Still am, in some ways. But you – and the commentors – are right, it’s all in our head. We are all at the leading edge of the shift, simply by the fact that we’re trying to find new ways of doing business. Someone here said – I think it might have been Benjamin – that we are the professional we think we are, or something like that, and I truly believe that. This is a very timely post, thank you for sharing it.

  25. San Diego real estate lawyers

    March 17, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Mark my words, either Obama or Clinton will win – and the legal changes they bring will force a more equitable distribution of wealth AND risk. First, rebuild the social safety net, shredded by decades of rightwing mismanagement. Second, better govt regulation will bring more centralized control back over the markets. As time goes on, the federal govt will reassert its rightful authority over more sectors of the economy, and we will march together into a brighter future for our children! I read an interesting article called “The number one question in San Diego real estate.” you can check it out at: http://www.brokerforyou.com/brokerforyou

  26. Mariana Wagner

    March 17, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Jeremy – Thank you. It IS all in our heads, but it still is also in the heads of those who choose to be judgemental.

  27. Mark Hendriks

    March 19, 2008 at 12:53 am

    I too started at the age of 23, I had a hard fight, it took me a full year before I signed my first listing, It was such a harrowing experience, but I felt like I was doing something that I could be happy doing for the rest of my life.
    At 30 yrs of age I still get the curious remark from potential clients about my inexperience and now that I am in a new market, it is as if I have turned back the clock to 23 again, But I have the fundamentals and stay abreast of technology, so I will soon traverse these growing pains. The Ol’ boy network is bound fall, I think we can see that already from the exodus of ads from the newspapers to the web.
    My hope is that, as the ol boys network falls, I hope in turn the ol boy clients will go away with them. I am tired of clients asking If I will put their listing in the paper.

  28. Sue

    April 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Great post. I don’t think age matters, knowledge and keeping an open mind for new and better more effective ways to do things is important…progression. The harder part will be educating clients on the value that this brings..

  29. Jennifer in Louisville

    July 1, 2008 at 5:08 am

    I started in real estate at the ripe old age of 20 (well, ok, I was 1 month away from being 21). It was extremely difficult getting started. I had recently moved from my home in Indianapolis to Louisville Kentucky, and didn’t know anyone beyond my husband’s family. I was young, & inexperienced so I had to work doubly hard to prove that I was good. I’m now selling homes to the children of my earlier clients.

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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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