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Scraping real estate listing data is a red herring controversy

When analyzing the issues in protecting real estate listing data, many people are looking at it from an outdated angle, as listing data becoming a commodity actually makes Realtors more valuable to consumers.

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The red herring of protecting listing data

A recent blog post on the Realtor.com lockbox blog starts out with the rather definitive and provocative statement:

“Listing data.
It’s valuable, it’s important, and it’s something that a lot of folks are trying VERY hard to steal and misuse.”

So, I figured it would only be fair to start my editorial with something equally provocative:

“Listing data.
It’s so common online that it’s a commodity of far less value than you’ve been led to believe.”

Before the comments fill up with angry missives, I want to be clear that I don’t condone scraping, I think it’s unprofessional and undignified, and I fully support Realtor.com’s efforts to prevent it. But I also don’t lose any sleep over it, and here’s why I think it’s a red herring.

Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us. Perhaps you saw a name and number on a lawn sign, or a friend suggested their agent, or you just walked into a real estate office and chatted with the available floor agent.

In an era where all of the information we once so closely guarded is now available for anyone online 2/47 without having to talk to a Realtor, it’s easy to feel irrelevant. Our value hasn’t gone away, and I’d say our value has actually increased because of the incredible amount of data now available online. Where is the value in a Realtor?

The modern value of a Realtor

First: Making all of the data make sense
We can make sense of all of that data and put it in a meaningful context in a way that makes it easy for a particular client to understand. For an agent that actively tours in their market and engages daily with buyers, sellers, lenders, appraisers, and other real estate professionals it’s so easy that we sometimes don’t realize how valuable it is to take a huge amount of data and distill it to the relevant, essential and important information. This isn’t meant to sound patronizing to home buyers and sellers. They aren’t babies who need to be gently spoon-fed an easy to digest puree of real estate information. But home buyers and sellers have jobs, lives, families, children, pets, travel plans and hobbies – and they can’t put all of those things on pause to buy or sell a home.

Second: Real Estate will always be about People
It’s about people buying and selling homes. Yes, square footage matters. Yes, location matters. Yes, bedrooms, bathrooms, school-districts and plenty of other data points factor into the decision. Research1 has shown that the greater number of data points involved, the worse our conscious minds are at making the decision. It’s the ability to trust your gut, and have someone that you trust – an expert – to cross-check that feeling by being able to turn and say “I can’t put my finger on it, but I really think I like this home. What do you think?” Moments like that are when real estate is more about the people involved than the home itself. While I might ask Siri where to help me hide a dead body (just for fun and games, I assure you), I can’t envision the day when people are comfortable asking her if they should buy this home or that home. There are too many intangibles for a computer program to ever capture the quirky, bizarre, hard-to-describe but important details in buying a home.

Third: Websites only capture the easy data
Beds, bath, Square Feet, Date of Construction, Schools, etc. Those are the easy fields to capture, display, sort, and generally manipulate. But what about those items that are highly subjective, periodic or otherwise hard to easily classify and assign a value to? What’s light and airy to you may be a cave to me. What about the house next to the high school field used for band practice late into the evenings – but only during certain months of the year? Can you imagine the number of data fields it would take to capture every possible aspect of a home throughout a year? And if you can, see point two above.

Fourth: Negotiating and Navigating Escrow
Ever gone white water rafting without a guide? If you have, and you’re still alive to tell the tale, then you are both insane and lucky. It’s common sense to hire a guide when you are negotiating and navigating wilderness that is unknown to you – particularly when your day job involves sitting in a cubicle and wearing stylish shoes. Plunging into the river called escrow without a Real Estate agent to smartly negotiate and navigate on your behalf is inviting disaster. Real estate is filled with wildly unpredictable animals, well-camouflaged dead-ends, and false mirages – the cost of a simple mistake can be far greater than it originally appears. Just like the wilderness!

Realtors are more valuable when listing data is a commodity

So if Realtors are more valuable when listing data becomes a commodity, why the concern with scraping?

One: it makes it easy to misrepresent who the listing agent for a property is. If you are going to display my listing on your website (and depending on who you are, I might or might not be okay with that), at a minimum, I want credit as the listing agent. Not because I want to represent both sides of the transaction (double-popping/agent level dual agency) but because I worked hard to get that listing and my reputation online is incredibly valuable to my business.

Two: Accuracy. If I had a dollar for every phone call I got from clients looking on Trulia, Redfin, or Zillow asking about listings that are advertised as available but really aren’t available, I’d have a Benjamin and a few extra Lincolns in my wallet. And these are from some of the big players that work hard at keeping their data up-to-date.

Three: I’d prefer to make money from my hard work, thanks very much. Plenty of sites using scraped or syndicated data have business models that don’t rely at all on selling houses. Trulia, Zillow and even Realtor.com (and these aren’t even the scrapers) are in the advertising business, making money by selling advertisting on their sites regardless of if a particular home sells or not. They aren’t interested in selling homes, they are interested in generating page views and click-throughs. But to generate those page views, they need your listing data. Which they get without ever offering me or my broker a few dollars…

The continuing evolution

Listing data is on the internet, and it’s not going anywhere. How and where it is displayed, how it is protected (or not protected), and who controls it will continue to change and evolve. Realtor.com wants you to know they are obsessed with defeating the scrapers. But like I said, I think it’s a red herring and pretty far down on my list of concerns. What about you?

1 Research about decision making

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Benn Rosales

    April 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Epic, just epic.

  2. Jeff Brown

    April 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Hey Matt — “Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us.”

    Change that to, “Coke used to be very successful cuz they kept their formula very well guarded. Since they gave it away, they’ve become less than a shadow of what they were.”

    Coke knows that giving away their only possession of any value would be, um, less than intelligent. I understand where you’re coming from, Matt. But this discussion and all that flows from it, is akin to talkin’ about how to get along without all the gold we used to have before publishing our vault’s combination.

    It begins with a false premise: That the public has a right to the only thing we had of value. How’s that been workin’ out for us lately? Nobody wants to address that question, cuz they realize the horse is outa the barn, making the discussion a complete waste of productive time.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      Jeff,

      Coke is carbonated water, sugar, and a few other chemicals thrown together. Those are all commodity items. The magic in Coke (if you think there is any) is how they take a few commodity ingredients and turn them into massive profits and brand loyalty.

      I think the same argument applies to successful Realtors. They take a few commodity items – listing information and customer service for example – and spin them into their secret sauce that wins them business and clients.

      The only thing that came close to killing Coke was when Coke got mighty arrogant and insular and decided they knew what would make for a better tasting Coke than the general public.

      • Jeff Brown

        April 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

        Much appreciated. I understand now.

  3. Russ Bergeron

    April 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    It is not so much about protecting the data itself but protecting the copyright to the data. If you don’t enforce it, the copyright does not exist. The question I would ask is – should any 3rd party be allowed to use copyrighted material (raw materials) to start a for-profit business at the expense of the owner of those raw materials?

    I am starting a subscription based blog. Below is my first article. What do you think?
    ———————————————
    The red herring of protecting listing data

    A recent blog post on the Realtor.com lockbox blog starts out with the rather definitive and provocative statement:

    “Listing data.
    It’s valuable, it’s important, and it’s something that a lot of folks are trying VERY hard to steal and misuse.”
    So, I figured it would only be fair to start my editorial with something equally provocative:

    “Listing data.
    It’s so common online that it’s a commodity of far less value than you’ve been led to believe.”
    Before the comments fill up with angry missives, I want to be clear that I don’t condone scraping, I think it’s unprofessional and undignified, and I fully support Realtor.com’s efforts to prevent it. But I also don’t lose any sleep over it, and here’s why I think it’s a red herring.

    Realtors used to be valuable because we were the gatekeepers to listing data. We knew what was for sale, how much it cost, and where you could find it. And the only way to get that information was to work with us. Perhaps you saw a name and number on a lawn sign, or a friend suggested their agent, or you just walked into a real estate office and chatted with the available floor agent.

    In an era where all of the information we once so closely guarded is now available for anyone online 2/47 without having to talk to a Realtor, it’s easy to feel irrelevant. Our value hasn’t gone away, and I’d say our value has actually increased because of the incredible amount of data now available online. Where is the value in a Realtor?

    The modern value of a Realtor

    First: Making all of the data make sense
    We can make sense of all of that data and put it in a meaningful context in a way that makes it easy for a particular client to understand. For an agent that actively tours in their market and engages daily with buyers, sellers, lenders, appraisers, and other real estate professionals it’s so easy that we sometimes don’t realize how valuable it is to take a huge amount of data and distill it to the relevant, essential and important information. This isn’t meant to sound patronizing to home buyers and sellers. They aren’t babies who need to be gently spoon-fed an easy to digest puree of real estate information. But home buyers and sellers have jobs, lives, families, children, pets, travel plans and hobbies – and they can’t put all of those things on pause to buy or sell a home.

    Second: Real Estate will always be about People
    It’s about people buying and selling homes. Yes, square footage matters. Yes, location matters. Yes, bedrooms, bathrooms, school-districts and plenty of other data points factor into the decision. Research1 has shown that the greater number of data points involved, the worse our conscious minds are at making the decision. It’s the ability to trust your gut, and have someone that you trust – an expert – to cross-check that feeling by being able to turn and say “I can’t put my finger on it, but I really think I like this home. What do you think?” Moments like that are when real estate is more about the people involved than the home itself. While I might ask Siri where to help me hide a dead body (just for fun and games, I assure you), I can’t envision the day when people are comfortable asking her if they should buy this home or that home. There are too many intangibles for a computer program to ever capture the quirky, bizarre, hard-to-describe but important details in buying a home.

    Third: Websites only capture the easy data
    Beds, bath, Square Feet, Date of Construction, Schools, etc. Those are the easy fields to capture, display, sort, and generally manipulate. But what about those items that are highly subjective, periodic or otherwise hard to easily classify and assign a value to? What’s light and airy to you may be a cave to me. What about the house next to the high school field used for band practice late into the evenings – but only during certain months of the year? Can you imagine the number of data fields it would take to capture every possible aspect of a home throughout a year? And if you can, see point two above.

    Fourth: Negotiating and Navigating Escrow
    Ever gone white water rafting without a guide? If you have, and you’re still alive to tell the tale, then you are both insane and lucky. It’s common sense to hire a guide when you are negotiating and navigating wilderness that is unknown to you – particularly when your day job involves sitting in a cubicle and wearing stylish shoes. Plunging into the river called escrow without a Real Estate agent to smartly negotiate and navigate on your behalf is inviting disaster. Real estate is filled with wildly unpredictable animals, well-camouflaged dead-ends, and false mirages – the cost of a simple mistake can be far greater than it originally appears. Just like the wilderness!

    Realtors are more valuable when listing data is a commodity

    So if Realtors are more valuable when listing data becomes a commodity, why the concern with scraping?

    One: it makes it easy to misrepresent who the listing agent for a property is. If you are going to display my listing on your website (and depending on who you are, I might or might not be okay with that), at a minimum, I want credit as the listing agent. Not because I want to represent both sides of the transaction (double-popping/agent level dual agency) but because I worked hard to get that listing and my reputation online is incredibly valuable to my business.

    Two: Accuracy. If I had a dollar for every phone call I got from clients looking on Trulia, Redfin, or Zillow asking about listings that are advertised as available but really aren’t available, I’d have a Benjamin and a few extra Lincolns in my wallet. And these are from some of the big players that work hard at keeping their data up-to-date.

    Three: I’d prefer to make money from my hard work, thanks very much. Plenty of sites using scraped or syndicated data have business models that don’t rely at all on selling houses. Trulia, Zillow and even Realtor.com (and these aren’t even the scrapers) are in the advertising business, making money by selling advertisting on their sites regardless of if a particular home sells or not. They aren’t interested in selling homes, they are interested in generating page views and click-throughs. But to generate those page views, they need your listing data. Which they get without ever offering me or my broker a few dollars…

    The continuing evolution

    Listing data is on the internet, and it’s not going anywhere. How and where it is displayed, how it is protected (or not protected), and who controls it will continue to change and evolve. Realtor.com wants you to know they are obsessed with defeating the scrapers. But like I said, I think it’s a red herring and pretty far down on my list of concerns. What about you?

    • Benn Rosales

      April 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Russ! Benn here, so glad to see you – your point is well taken, but I’ll be honest, Matts points are also well taken. As he mentions, protecting copyrights as well as trademarks are important, but what I got out of this was something so much more – a Realtor brilliantly defining how powerful it is to be a Realtor in 2012 regardless of data hijacking, right?

      I’d go a step further however with his assertions of Realtor value proposition – I sort of get the feeling non-Realtors, namely a simple licensee can use R/T/Z or any number of sources to actually provide some semblance of representation in a neighborhood these days. It’s all out there for a well farmed licensee w/o the R the do what Matt so artfully describes as value. This service will in time get better as aggregators get better, and why can’t they use the new tools Zillow provides to disintermediate the associations right on out of the drivers seat. ahhhhhh Zillow CRM? Zillow IDX? etc…

      They don’t and aren’t a broker, they’re defining a new way. Matt’s points only makes this more evident.

      • Benn Rosales

        April 23, 2012 at 6:41 pm

        If it’s not the agenda, then they’re missing a huge opportunity – not that I support it, I’m just sayin.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      Russ,

      As I mentioned at the beginning of my article, I’m not condoning scraping. As to your question about “should any 3rd party be allowed to use copyrighted material (raw materials) to start a for-profit business at the expense of the owner of those raw materials?”

      From the agent level perspective I’d say that to a degree, sites like Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com do exactly that. They are all in the business of selling advertising packages – primarily to real estate agents, and while Move.Com might profit from allowing Zillow to use their data, it doesn’t trickle down to an individual agent.

      That said, I also couldn’t tell you the intricacies of who owns the data about my listing once I enter it into the MLS. From a quick google of your name, it sounds like you have a fair amount of experience in this area and I’d love to hear more from your perspective.

      I’d also be really curious to hear your opinion and thoughts on IDX. When I display another agent’s listing on my website and a buyer contacts me, have I profited at the expense of the owner of that listing data (the listing agent)?

      Cheers,
      Matt

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      Russ,

      Isn’t Google’s entire business model predicated around indexing (scraping, to some degree) other people’s data, selling advertising around it and making a fortune? The value isn’t the data, in google’s case it is helping people find the data. And no, Google doesn’t represent other people’s data as belonging to them, but they’d be out of business without it.

      – Matt

  4. Roland Estrada

    April 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I’d like to bring up a possible scraping issue not of MLS data but of Realtor email addresses for spamming purposes. I’ll tell you why I think one or all three associations are at the core of Realtor spam.

    In 2007, I switched email providers from Earthlink to a .mac account. After a couple of months I thought I should update my association info – NAR, CAR and OCAR. Up to the point where I updated my email info with the associations, I had zero spam of any kind. Roughly two days after I updated my email info, I started getting real estate related spam. I was suspicious of course.

    I set up and alias address with Gmail and resubmitted that new email address to the three associations. Sure enough, within a couple of submitting the new email address I started getting real estate spam. All three associations deny selling our email addresses. Either someone on the inside is selling them or they are being scraped. It’s a pretty crappy situation when we can’t trust our associations to keep email info secure.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      Roland,

      While I have nothing to base it on other than personal experience, I’d say that’s scraping and not your association selling your data. That said, I’ve never actually bothered to ask my association what our privacy policy is with regards to member data.

      But spam still sucks!

  5. Matt Thomson

    April 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I think the biggest element here is that Realtor’s value has changed. That’s okay. The sad thing is few Realtors have changed with it, or understand or are willing to admit their value has changed.
    I’ve made a really nice living the past 4 years, while many former top producing agents in our community have left the business, redefining value.
    A community blog offering tons of information about the community folks are buying into. I have dozens of out of state clients…I do face time chat or send videos of homes to them, so they don’t have to keep flying out here and can see more than just what is online.
    We still have value, we just need to define what it is.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI

      April 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm

      Matt,

      I totally agree with you! Our value has changed, and I’m okay with it.

      I’d be curious to hear how you define your value – unless, of course, that’s your secret recipe for success, in which case you should keep it in the vault 😉

      Cheers,
      Matt

      • Matt Thomson

        April 24, 2012 at 1:58 pm

        I promote my value as having extensive knowledge about the community.
        I know the real estate market #’s intently. I know the absorption rate and DOM of each price range. I know who the builders are of which homes.
        I have spent time getting to know administrators and personnel in each school, including the private schools. I engage in Chamber activities and attend a weekly Public Affairs forum.
        I know the City planner, the county commissioner, the superintendent of schools, the chief of police and the fire commissioner.
        There’s not many questions about our area that I can’t answer, from the schools and parks to where to get a hair cut and who to call to remodel your house.
        Finding homes is something I do, but something my clients can do just as well on my site or any number of other sites.
        Really truly knowing this community is something my buyers need and my sellers appreciate as I can market their home around the perks of the community as well as the home.

  6. Matt Cohen

    April 24, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Funny how it’s obvious that scraping is a problem for emails (for a commenter) but scraping of listings, which can result in the same harassment of consumers (especially when listing address is mashed up with a telephone directory) is a ‘red herring’.

  7. Frank LL0SA- broker FranklyRealty.com

    April 24, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Redfin? You sure? You lumped them in with the likes of Trulia and Zillow.

    While I agree that Zillow can have weeks or months old data that causes problems and confusion for the consumer, are you sure Redfin has the same issues? They have a direct IDX feed from the MLS and a kick ass site. Never heard of one complaint about them having outdated info.

    Frank
    broker
    FranklyRealty.com
    FranklyMLS.com

  8. Bryan

    May 14, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    First, I must correct a horribly silly mistake one commenter made: Copyright does NOT have to be defended to be retained. This is a very common belief that betrays total ignorance of intellectual property law. Trademark has to be actively defended, COPYRIGHT DOES NOT. Likewise, copyright does NOT cover information or methods. It covers the SPECIFIC PRESENTATION of the information. A "copyrighted" listing is not the number of beds, baths, square footage, acres, etc. It's not subject to copyright. It's how that information is displayed that falls under copyright. Photos, of course, do fall under copyright, even if they are in digital format.

    Second, when I have done housing searches purely for myself, I have resorted to crude scraping. I can then use the data amassed to pare down the selection based on criteria that are derived from the scrape but are too tedious to go through on a listing-by-listing basis (yes, the search tools on the sites are too crude and primitive for me).

    Then, once I've pared that down, what have I done? That is where the Realtor comes in. When it comes time to take a look at specific properties, I find an agent willing to represent me as a buyer. Any Realtor who viciously clings to listing data as if it were life-blood a secret that must be kept to stay in business is nobody I would trust to do business with in the 21st century. They provide ZERO added value by being listing gatekeepers. However, there is still a lot of added value a good Realtor can provide a prospective buyer without being a listing gatekeeper.

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Opinion Editorials

Idea: Color-coded face masks as the new social contract to combat COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Americans must come together on a new social contract if we have any hope of permanently reopening the economy and saving lives.

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social contract: color coded wristbands covid-19

A church in Texas used a stoplight color-coded wristlet system to help churchgoers navigate the new social awkwardness of closeness. Those with green bands are comfortable with contact including high fives, yellow bands indicate someone who wants to talk but not touch, and red is for someone interested in keeping their distance altogether.

In pre-pandemic America, basic social cues were sufficient to communicate these feelings, and most violations of them were annoying but not harmful. We now live in a world where daily banalities like grocery shopping and shaking hands with a new acquaintance are now potentially dangerous – for you and those you care about.

So what is the way forward?

Humans are social beings, and much of our survival is reliant on our relationships to, and interactions with, other humans. A way forward is critical. But our brains are trained to find and read faces in an instant to assess emotion and whether that emotion indicates a presence of a threat.

Not only has this pandemic challenged our innate notions of community and safety, the scientifically healthy way forward is to cover most of our faces, which is staggeringly counter to our understanding of a threat. It is now impossible to tell whether a sunglassed-masked stranger walking into a restaurant is a robber or just a person who was walking in the sun.

But because we are humans with large brains, we are able to adapt. We are inherently compassionate and able to emotionally understand fear in others and ourselves. We are able to understand both science and social grace. In this case, the science is straightforward but the social grace is not.

Governor Abbott of Texas announced the second closure of bars and reduction of capacity in restaurants last Friday in response to the dramatic increase in coronavirus cases statewide. During the press conference he said: “Every Texan has a responsibility to themselves and their loved ones to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay six feet apart from others in public, and stay home if they can.”

It is this shared responsibility that we must first embrace before any meaningful reopening can proceed.

We must accept that for the indefinite future, we have a new normal. We have to adapt to these new social codes in order to protect ourselves and our neighbors. Color-coded bracelets, masks, hats, choose your accessory – this could be a way forward.

First, we must agree these measures are necessary. And we shouldn’t take them because a politician told us to or told us not to – many people feel that our government has failed to provide us with coherent guidance and leadership considering a broad social contract.

We should adapt them because if you are not free, I am not free. We can do this together.

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Opinion Editorials

What to do when you can’t find your passion and you’re feeling lost

(EDITORIAL) Global Pandemic or not, people struggle to search for job opportunities, their career, and find their purpose. Knowing yourself is the most important part.

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career choices

Feeling lost? Can you relate to this Reddit post in the Career Guidance forum?

Careers that aren’t boring?

I’m really lost right now. I just graduated high school and I really don’t know what I want to do with my life.

At the moment my only idea is to join the military (United States) and see how it goes. I really want to go to college on the side but I don’t know what I want to get into. I tried coding in high school and it didn’t make sense, making me feel like i won’t be successful in the technology field. Medical field costs too much+ time in school. Only other career field that’s on my mind is engineering but I don’t know if I’ll be successful?

Is it okay to feel like I’ll fail? Will college actually teach you unlike in high school? I feel like high school didn’t really prep me and I’ll be behind”

And then you have to love this response:

Is the grass really not greener on the other side?

I’ve been a trucker since I left school 10 years ago. Every post I come across are full of people dreading the office culture, politics, environment etc. and saying how they’d love to be outdoors.

I work outdoors and it’s shit, -5°C in winter and 40+°C in summer. Slogging 12-15 hour days behind the wheel, micro-sleeping and hallucinating just to make delivery times. Getting filthy and soaking wet when working outside.

The idea of being in a nice cooled office, not having to put my life on the line and actually working on a project with a team sounds so stimulating to me instead of being a monkey behind a wheel. But then I see so many people call themselves monkeys in other professions and hate the office.”

It’s alluring how the ego is meant to ensure our security and survival, and unless we learn how to work with it and the messages we tell ourselves, we can often feel alone, isolated and the only one with these feelings. It is when you start exploring others’ stories that you may feel an a-ha moment, or things may seem like they click.

One would venture to argue that many people are sometimes lost in a fog, and not sure what to do. Above was an example of a high schooler who is feeling like the military might be his only option, but if you read through the thread, it does appear that he has other ideas but just doesn’t know enough about them or doesn’t trust himself enough to look further in to them. And if the military is the right option for him, that is okay too.

“The ego is the human consciousness part of you. It was designed to ensure your security and survival. Unfortunately for many of us it has never relinquished its initial purpose. Instead, for many the ego became the master script writer and because of it, everything becomes a drama based on past happenings.” Beverly Blanchard

If you’re feeling in a fog, people may ask you:

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What do you love doing that you can make money from?
  3. What company do you want to work for?
  4. Where do you want to live?
  5. Are you living for your resume, or for your obituary?

If there’s a screaming feeling inside that literally feels like you are going to BURST with all caps of “I DON’T KNOW”, then let’s take a breath and see what we can do to work with that. Here are some ideas that may be great activities for you to help move forward.

Kindly note, the first thing is to allow yourself TIME. You need some time to figure it out, do some research, look in to options, have conversations, possibly work experiences, maybe some inner soul searching and spiritual work. If you think you have to have this figured out right away, you may have already put a limit on yourself (sorry to be a buzzkill but you might need YEARS to figure out your purpose). You ideally need to figure out how to get from A to B, not A to Z right now.

  • Do some research on Design Thinking.
    Spend some time with a journal getting out some of your thoughts so you can move them from the emotional part of your brain to a more logical and rational place (usually once you’ve put something on paper or even said it out loud). You may like this Design Your Life workbook based on a Career Exploration class at Stanford where you explore your interests, and how they can align with work and your purpose. The workbook is great because it gives you writing prompts that help guide you (they also give ideas on how long to spend on an activity so it could be 10 minutes or 30 and you can decide if that is something you can do at that point in time). They also just released a book, Designing Your Work Life. How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work.
  • Make a simple list.
    Spend 5-10 minutes just writing out things you really like or love (no explanation, just the name of the item). There is no judgement to this list and nothing is too silly (Iced coffee, video games, tennis, music, dogs, photography, favorite subject(s) in school, friends, family, reading…) Walk away. Come back to it. Do any of these things give you clues on what type(s) of professions fascinate you? Then make a list of what you need to do from here (more school, internship, volunteering, pro-bono projects, part-time or full-time job). Stop and ask yourself how you can get more of these things in your day to day.
  • Consider yourself an Investigative Reporter, and talk to people about how they chose their areas of study and/or careers.
    The hope is that you are pleasantly surprised to hear many people have had this feeling and they moved forward anyway. They made decisions with the information they had, and their career and projects grew from there. This could help you recognize what is that next step you need to take.
    I would tell that high schooler to go meet with military recruiting offices and see what they have to say. I’d also suggest they reach out to mechanical engineers and learn about what they work on and what they had to do to get there. If they are unsure of how to find any, check out LinkedIn to start. Many people look at those that they consider to be successful and see where they ended up – often we miss the part of the story about what they had to do to get there. This is what we should be looking to uncover, and that may give us insights on what our next steps can be.
    In job searching, a great tool is conducting Informational Interviews and speaking with people that are in jobs that you think may interest you and they can tell you more real details. Whatever you find to be really intriguing and makes you want to know more about, that could be a good sign of a career/job you’re interested in. Ask them about education and skills requirements and take notes.
  • Consider your life like a flight of stairs.
    Each step is leading to the next one. You don’t have to know or see the entire staircase, and you may not even know what’s on the second floor.
  • Write your Eulogy.
    This sounds really morbid and maybe slightly is, but a plane doesn’t just take off on a flight plan without knowing where it’s going and landing. If you write out your eulogy, you may discover what you want to be remembered for, and start living a life that includes those types of efforts, endeavors, and projects. This also may take a little bit of pressure off of you that everything in your life will not be solely based on your job or career. Then, maybe hide it so your family doesn’t think you’ve lost your mind.

Whatever you do, please know you are not alone and the more you think everyone else has it all figured out, the better acting you are witnessing. Yes, there are people that have known what they wanted to do since they were little but even their job/career has had it’s twists and turns.

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Opinion Editorials

I was laid off, but then my position was filled, what can I do?

(EDITORIAL) Is it good form for your position to be replaced in the middle of a pandemic? No. Is it legal? Well, usually, but what can you do about it?

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If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being laid off, you might have found yourself revisiting your work place’s job posting to see what kind of ship they’re running in your absence–only to find that, instead of downsizing, your employer has filled your old position.

You would be well within your rights to question whether or not your employer screwed with you, and you might even consider contacting legal representation. Before you do, though, keep in mind that being laid off from a position due to budget cuts, and having that position cut entirely are two different things–and you might just be looking for a problem where there isn’t one.

After all, according to Evil HR Lady, this kind of process isn’t just legal–it’s actually pretty normal.

Yes, it’s normal to assume something sinister when you find yourself without a job that someone younger (and let’s not forget cheaper) than you is now doing.

But Evil HR Lady (a personality who, despite the title, seems absolutely benign) points out that seniority often plays a role in who stays and who pays: “[Imagine] there are five team leads, and the company decides to lay off one of the team leaders. This person has seniority over the people below him, so he takes the top remaining position and bumps that person out of their job…The position eliminated is Team Leader, but the person who loses his job is junior trainee.”

The above process is legitimate on paper, but the true take-away here should be that such a “replacement” might not be a replacement at all; downsizing is still downsizing, even if your position isn’t the one that is actually cut.

It is worth noting that the sheer volume of layoffs due to COVID-19 does leave some potential for system abuse. Under the cover of a global pandemic, it wouldn’t be unfeasible for a company to sneakily replace older employees with younger talent under the guise of downsizing, and even though the former employees would have a case for age-based discrimination, they might not think to make that case given the obvious context.

If nothing else, this phenomenon is a functional reminder to keep an eye on your workplace after you leave for a trial period–if for no other reason than to ensure that your employer isn’t trying to pull a fast one.

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