F**K “Figuring it Out”!
We have all heard it, and we’ve all asked it to others “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Such an interesting question don’t you think? It almost suggests that there will be certain point in time, at a certain age where you have ‘become’ that thing that you are supposed to become. What I’ve come to learn, however, is there is no ‘become’, there is no moment when you’ve “figured it all out”; there’s just the continuous journey.
Let’s rewind to my time in high school shall we. I was in Grade 11 and after having spoken with the Guidance Councillor, I was led to believe that the most successful people went to University and got their degrees in Science; having wanting to be one of these said “successful people”, I concluded that I too would get my Science degree. My goal was to become a Dietitian.
The year I graduated high school was also the year the Government of Ontario had decided they would do away with OAC (aka Grade 13) and so, I had the added benefit of graduating with the Grade 12’s. It was highly competitive as there was double the amount of students applying for school, with only a slight increase in the number of acceptances. Nonetheless, I researched the requirements of the few schools who offered my program early on and spent my last 2 years of high school ensuring I had successfully completed all of the courses. I submitted my applications early, yes I was that kind of student, and received early acceptance. Everything was falling into place just perfectly and I was well on my way.
I packed up my belongings, moved into residence and started my first set of courses. After just a few short months, the stress began to build and my grades were not in keeping with the straight-A student I knew myself to be. I lived among a group of BioScience students who seemed to study with ease and even more so, enjoyed it!. It was only then that it dawned on me, Science was not my best subject in high school, in fact English and Drama were. I loved presenting and writing essays and if I had been fully honest with myself, I would have recognized that I wasn’t in the right place. Unfortunately, some bad advice, plus a desire to be a part of this “elite” group of students had led me to where I was but I simply didn’t want to quit. Afterall that would set me back a year and I feared how it would look to others by admitting that I had no clue what I wanted to be. So I decided to stick it through.
In order to become a Dietitian in Canada, you need to complete certain criteria, the most important being your post-degree internship program at a hospital. I was nearing the end of my 4th year and having graduated in the double cohort in high school proved to be challenging again. Hospitals did not receive increase funding and this year there would be double the number of students applying for internships. My grades during the last 2 years of my undergraduate program would determine whether I would get accepted; I had stepped up my studies after that first semester and felt I would be right on the cusp. In fact, it would likely come down to just a handful of courses.
I remember the moment well, it was Christmas Eve of 2006 and I logged on to my computer at home to get my final grades. I stared at the screen, and there it was, 1 grade that would essentially render my application to the internship useless. Everything I had worked for, for the past 4 years, 7 if we include most of high school, would seemingly all be for nothing. It’s strange; although I was disappointed, I wasn’t devastated. I had options after all. I could get a job in the industry to gain “real life experience” and apply for an internship at a later time or I could choose a career in Nutrition which did not require Dietitian designation. I could also walk away from the dream entirely. Faced with the proverbial “fork in the road” now was my chance to make a decision. I had a degree, albeit extremely specific, but a degree nonetheless. The door was wide open, I could become anything!
After receiving lots of advice and deliberating my options, I decided I would say goodbye to Nutrition. I had concluded I was still young and I would soon “figure it out”. So, I took a job at a full-service Concierge company in Toronto, which helped high net-worth individuals manage their home, travel and lifestyle. The 10-employee company intrigued me, and although I would be taking an entry-level position as an Administrative Assistant, I thought I would gain lots of experience watching others manage their client’s high demands. After only a year however, something in my gut told me, this was not how my story would play out and so I left.
Now 23 years old and having no real plan, I had gotten a great deal of feedback from those older than me which was essentially “you need to figure it out quickly” because the worst thing you can do is have a resume that has gaps in employment along with experience that seemed haphazard. I took this to heart and decided I needed time to think while also making enough money to pay for my rent. I took a job as a Nanny, caring for a Special Needs teenager, named Heather. I am the youngest of two, I grew up with friends mostly older than me and I never even had a baby-sitting gig. Once again, I was ill-prepared but some how managed to make it work. During this time of self-discovery, I decided I would try my hand in the fashion industry but needed to complete a Retail Buying Certificate which landed me back in school in the evenings.
I submitted my resume for an intern position at the head office of Canada’s leading luxury department store, Holt Renfrew. I wanted this so badly, and I had hoped that my experience working for the luxury concierge company would allow me to stand out among the extremely long list of applicants. I got no response. So, I reached out again. And then again. After about half a dozen attempts, I finally got a response and I was soon on my way to meet the Director of Cosmetics for an interview. Ironically it wasn’t my luxury experience that got me hired, it was the fact that we bonded over our ski racing background and my time as a coach. You never know in what way you are going to click with someone, and so I was hired.
My internship was for 1 year but it was my goal to show enough value in this time that they couldn’t not hire me full time after it was over. The work was tedious by I was steadfast in achieving what I had set out to. By the time the year was over, it was now 2009 and the impact of the financial crisis in the US, was taking a toll on consumer confidence in Canada. Sales of luxury goods was substantially down and Holt Renfew had implemented a hiring freeze. After all of my hard work, I was not hired on full time.
I took the next couple of weeks to gather myself, trying to pick up the pieces of yet another failed attempt to “figure it out”. Ironically, at the same time someone in the Cosmetics Department had left, which opened up a position. Here was my chance to go back but I decided not to. After my stint in retail buying, I think I had concluded that although I love fashion, I would much rather be the person shopping at Holt Renfrew, than the person who shopped for Holt Renfrew and so my ambition led me back to school yet again.
The family I previously worked for found out of my intention to do my MBA and offered me to come back to care for Heather while I did my schooling part time. It was an opportunity far too good to refuse and so, I was back to being “the Nanny”. It was this point in my life where now the people closest to me were showing concern; I was back to a job I had left 2 years earlier, only to go back to school for a general degree with no real plan after all. There is no way to describe why I made this decision except for this nagging feeling that just knew I needed more time to sort it all out.
To get into a Business School it is mandatory to complete your GMAT’s. I studied for 6 weeks straight and wrote the test; my grade was okay but I had decided that if I was going to put all this work into an application, I better have no doubt in my mind that I will get in and so I studied for a few more weeks and wrote the test a second time. In addition to the test scores, I was required to write multiple essays and submit references from previous employers and professors. I submitted the application packages to two schools and waited. The self doubt started to creep in. I found my undergraduate experience to be extremely stressful (CLICK HERE to read my post on Perfectionism). Was I really capable of being in a class full of experienced businesspersons? I had no educational background and my work experience was all entry-level. Would I be able to keep up? I would start my program at the age of 26 and wouldn’t complete the degree until I was 29. Was that too late to start a career over again? All of my friends would almost be a decade into theirs. Was I making the right decision? Then the day came where I received not one, but two acceptance letters and the doubt left in an instant. It was official, I was going back to school.
My days would be spent caring for my friend Heather which included trying to get her to exercise, feeding her, changing her, bathing her, entertaining her, and most importantly trying to minimize situations for which she would find stressful, while also getting her to experience life outside her home. 3x a week I would leave work and head for my evening classes, the other 2 nights were spent studying and completing my assignments and weekends were usually spent meeting with my fellow students to work on our group projects.
There would be times where the doubt would creep back in. Whether it was the start of a new class or meeting new people on campus, I was asked on many occasions what it was that I did. Although proud of my work as a Nanny, I was unsure of how to explain my current circumstance to people who had such clear goals and objectives. Most of the students in the program were in their 30’s; they were managers of companies, using their MBA’s as springboards to advance to the next position. They would tell stories of budget meetings and innovative ideas their companies were coming up with. I, on the other hand, would tell tales of what Heather and I did that day. Sometimes it was a trip to the movies where Heather threw her popcorn at a child, others was when she screamed the F-word at the Pandas at the Toronto Zoo as they were receiving more attention than she would have liked.
Confused by why I was there I’m sure, they would ask me what my plans were and at first I would just say that I was there to get my MBA in Marketing. I would get those stares from people that clearly said “you need to figure it out.” It wasn’t until my second semester that I had concluded I was going to become a realtor. This garnered more worried reactions from people. “You know you don’t need your MBA to be a realtor right?” I would get asked. I would smile and say “yeah I know”.
Along the way, the doubt subsided. Perhaps it was the chip on my shoulder to prove them wrong, perhaps it was learning that many of them hated their jobs and longed for retirement. I recall thinking that I was going to love my job and use it as a catalyst to change what was otherwise, a poorly respected industry. After 3 exhausting years, I finally graduated. The week later, I got married. Oh did I mention that during full-time work and part-time school, I also planned a wedding and got my real estate licence? I was busy needless to say.
Now at the age of 29, I could finally start the next chapter. I did tons of research on which brokerage I wanted to work for. I had decided I wanted to work for a team as by working with and learning from people already respected in the industry, my learning curve would be minimized substantially. After a number of interviews and contemplation, I decided to go with REC Canada, a team operating within the Brokerage of Royal LePage Signature. They were team of 25 and one of the top 15 teams in the country for all of Royal LePage. I was confident that it would be here that I would gain the best experience.
My first listing appointment was conducted on the driveway of a seller’s house. I had brought along with me one of the Managing Partner’s of the team, Jas, in order to help facilitate the negotiation. The seller had advised us that the home was a teardown and that no potential buyers were allowed inside; “walk the lot only” as we call it. We were faced with a conundrum. How do you sell a house without the ability to show the house? The only way around this was to go all in on highlighting the location and the development potential and so I spent the next week researching zoning by-laws, maximum lot coverage, required permits, location features, and costs to build. After only 2 days on the market and multiple offers later, I sold my first home for over $1M.
Just a few short months later, I sold my second home, again after only a few days on the market and this time I found the buyer as well. The seller, then needing to downsize, allowed me to help him purchase a new property; I guess you could say I triple-ended the deal. This was turning out to be everything I had hoped it would and finally I thought I had my life together. Resting on my laurels, the months went by and listings grew more difficult to get. Within the next 2 years, I only completed 6 deals, hardly enough to make a living off of. It seemed the more free-time I had on my hands, the less I was motivated to do. On top of this slow period, my own friends had purchased and sold property without me, which was an extremely tough pill to swallow. I was so disappointed. Was my original success just beginner’s luck? Was it that I was not built for a career in sales?
Not wanting to quit just yet, I had decided that at the start of that calendar year that I would give it one last push until December. I guess you could call it the right place at the right time because on my way into the office that same week, the 3 Managing Partners of my team were outside talking about their upcoming weekend as they were going to be at an real estate seminar in Niagara Falls, launching a pre-construction project. They were down a support staff person and on a whim asked if I wanted to go to help out. Although I knew they really just needed someone to run around and do admin work, it was an opportunity I could not miss. So, I cancelled my plans and spent the weekend doing whatever was asked of me, no matter how trivial. More importantly however, I listened and I watched.
After the height of the launch we had some downtown, which is when I spoke up. I made a few suggestions on ways I thought the process could be better next time and took it upon myself to take some of the workload off their hands. After the weekend was over, there were a few lose ends to clean up, so I went to the office first thing Monday morning and offered up my services. Again, I did whatever was asked which at times meant getting the team coffee. Yes, I was a 32 year old, MBA graduate going on coffee runs.
None of this stopped me however. I continued to show up day in and day out. I found ways in which I could help. I put up my hand whenever an opportunity came, and most importantly I took initiative by finding solutions to problems. Never once did I ask how much money I would make; I simply trusted that I would be appropriately compensated when the time came and in all honesty I would have done it for free for that time because the experience I gained was far greater than the monetary value.
Ironically, as my role grew with the team, more and more I realized how useful my random experience and education truly was. My joy for writing proved useful as I created new marking brochures and re-wrote our team book. My marketing background was paramount in helping to create a new brand image. My MBA taught me the importance of being aware of industry disruptors and gave me a solid foundation on why it pays to give away the information for free and why competition fosters growth. My time at BMO and Holt Renfrew taught me how to put systems and checklists into place to make processes run efficiently, allowing us to grow quickly. Working at the luxury concierge company gave me a solid foundation in customer experience. My time as a Nanny was perhaps most useful as I know how to juggle multiple tasks in a rather fast-paced and stressful environment; it also taught me to look a head and foresee potential problems before they arise.
Fast forward 2 years and the girl who had been getting coffees and tracking paperwork is now the Director of Sales and Marketing for what has become the top 3 team in the entire country. I am the Executive Producer of our Podcast and help run our media division. I continue to create systems to help a team of over 35 people do their jobs effectively. I have developed a “World Class Service” training manual to ensure our clients are appropriately looked after. I’ve made more money than I ever thought I would by the age of 34, and most importantly, I have helped over two hundred people build wealth by buying, selling or investing in real estate.
What I’ve learned from all of this is vast but if I had so summarize, it would be this. If you’re in a job and not seeing the results you want, find ways to bring more value, and do so without expectation. If you’re doing something you’re not passionate about, change it or start over. There’s nothing worse than looking back regretting you didn’t take a chance to try something new. Get comfortable in not having it “figured out”. What does that even mean anyway? Having it figured out? Chances are my career will change again and I’m excited for what’s around the corner. Why? Because I know that all the twists and turns and ups and downs have only better prepared me for the next phase of my journey.
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