It was an odd feeling Friday to meet a couple at a house that’s for sale — and to be the “expert” to help guide them through their process of evaluating whether to make an offer on it.
Even though I’ve worked for a real estate company — in one capacity or another — for a couple of years now, it was my first time to be the licensed agent showing the house and hoping to write an offer. Everything went well and I’m showing them another house Saturday. I hope I can help them find what they’re looking for.
To be honest, I know I can do this job well. I’ve worked extensively with the ins and outs of contracts and negotiation and managing the closing process for more than a year now. Nothing about it is intimidating to me.
I also know I can make a lot of money doing this job. If I average closing just two houses a month, I should be able to bring in more than $100,000 in 2018. I haven’t made anything close to that kind of money since I got out of politics. I’ve gone through such a dark period that the money sounds really good. This is a business in which I can become wealthy after a few years if I choose to.
I have solid financial plans and projections, but there’s still the matter of my identity. I can make a lot of money doing this. I can help a lot of people get what they want. But it will never be who I am.
About 15 years ago, someone I know in Tuscaloosa saw a display of new books on campus at the University of Alabama. She called me in excitement.
“You have got to buy this book,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything that more perfectly describes who you are and what you do.”
The book was called “Thinking for a Living,” by Joey Reiman. He was one of the brightest stars of the advertising business until the middle of the 1990s, when he announced he was closing his successful advertising agency in Minneapolis and moving to the South. In Atlanta, he founded a company called BrightHouse — a company based on the idea of gathering a group of bright people who clients would hire to think about their problems and come up with solutions.
It sounds a lot like traditional consulting, but Reiman put more emphasis on pure creative thinking than traditional business analysis. He was so successful that the Boston Consulting Group eventually bought the firm.
What does this have to do with me? What was it that made my friend so excited when she discovered this book?
There are several different ways to explain what I am — what my identity is. Although I still feel unworthy of the title, I think of myself as an artist, because that best describes what I have a need to produce. But at my core, what do I actually do best? What do I have a passionate need to do?
More than anything else, I have to observe the world and think about what I see, then come up with insights and ideas to explain what I synthesize. I have to ask questions. I have to be curious. I have to make connections that others haven’t seen. I have to share those insights. That’s simply who I am.
Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.”
That might seem like an odd distinction, but I know what he meant. In the purest sense, I don’t really want to say anything. I’d rather just keep my mouth shut and let the world burn on its own. But I can’t, because I see things and feel things that I somehow must say.
I have to be this observer and synthesizer and thinker.
I can’t help it. In various ways, I will always produce works of art — hopefully better and more original art in time — to express the ideas which have slowly coalesced in me. I don’t have any choice about that. It’s a burning need — and I need someone in my life who cares what I have to say.
That’s my identity, but it doesn’t really make much money for me. Not yet.
Today, we think of a vocation as being the same as a job or career, but that’s not what it’s always meant. The word comes from the Christian church — and it originally referred to a calling that a person felt. A vocation was something holy. It was something that came from inside — something which said this is what this person must do to obey what he was created to be.
What I’ve described is my vocation, but it’s not the way I can make a good living. At least not right now.
The world doesn’t tend to pay well for people who observe and think and talk. But I need money — lots of it — to support a family in the near future and to make up for stumbling around so much for much of the last couple of decades trying to figure out some things.
So that means my career and my vocation will have to run on parallel tracks for the time being. Maybe they can merge in the future. Maybe not.
In the meantime, I can gladly serve the people who have real estate needs that I know how to serve. Helping others in this way will never be my vocation, but it can serve my needs if I’m willing to serve the needs of others.
I would love to be paid well for my vocation. Maybe there will come a time when I can make the sort of art that people will enjoy enough that it will be wildly profitable, but entertaining them will never be enough. If I can’t make art that expresses the things I need to say, mere entertainment will seem like a waste of time.
So I’ll be showing houses for now. I hope I’ll be writing a lot of offers and closing a lot of contracts. I hope my wealth will quickly grow and the painful poverty of the past few years will soon be just a bad memory.
But as I’m working hard at selling houses and helping people find what they want, my true vocation will be churning away in the background. I’ll still be observing and thinking and synthesizing. I don’t have any choice. It’s simply something I have to do.
I’ll be happy to make a lot of money, but the most valuable things I have to offer are those things which nobody is willing to pay for right now.
Maybe it’s ego or delusion — it really might be — but I’m still confident that people will one day pay dearly to hear what I have to say.