Dale e-Musings

My Thoughts Today

New Beginnings

Sixty is the new forty.  Well, at least that’s what I keep telling myself as I head into my new venture.  I decided to write this for those of you who may be wrestling with the same reality check that I have been, whether you are in the second half, or resting in between quarters, in the big game of life.

Transparency alert – This isn’t about pursuing my passion.  if I was truly pursuing my passion, I would be writing humorous commercials for Geico, or hosting the Today Show.  The train has probably left the station for both, so I decided to go with what I know best – taking care of people, something I am passionate about.

Let’s start by defining real estate sales.  Sales is a misnomer.  I’m in the client service business.  In Philly, I’d be called a fixer. I’m a psychologist, marketer, marriage counselor, mediator, resource provider, and most importantly a giver.  I give my time freely without any promise of reward.  I give my experience and knowledge to those who have never, and may never do business with me.  I give my support and empathy to anyone who needs it, because I believe that is God’s will.  I’ve never been promised, nor have I known great riches, but if friends had a monetary value, I would be the envy of Warren Buffet.  To me, that’s the payoff.

After sixty years, I think I’ve finally figured it out.  For the last 20 years of my 30-year real estate career, I’ve wrestled with the decision to either manage a brokerage, or run a successful real estate team.  Brokerage management seemed safe, and as a single father of three great kids, that was important.  It also didn’t hurt that I had the perfect skill set for the job.  What I have learned is that being good at something can sometimes be a curse, and that “Safe” is personal growth’s greatest enemy.  Although it took a long time, with what appeared to be proper justification, I learned that there will never be a “good” time to make the transition to what you truly want to do.  (Unless it’s hosting the Today Show.)

After several years of trying to wear two hats, I’ve put away the brokerage management fedora, for the no-salary, knee-shaking, unpredictable, ego-bruising, self-employed, business owner Stetson.  This is appropriate considering real estate sales now resembles the wild west, with more changes in technology, marketing and communication in the last five years than the previous twenty-five.  Whether it’s real estate, another business venture, or a new life’s pursuit, there are certain characteristics that will help ensure the transition will be a positive one.  Here are my six.  Let me know if you agree, disagree, or have additional ingredients to a successful transition.

The first is Gratitude.  When I wake up and remember what I am grateful for, my day is exponentially more positive, and my outlook is more optimistic.  With practice Gratitude learns to show up at the right time.  The other day I was sitting in my car suffering from a recent disc problem and feeling quite uncomfortable.  A few business challenges that day seemed to make things worse until I was drawn to the image of a gentleman with a disability getting off the bus in his business clothes, and struggling to walk home in the heat.  What would have been a short walk for me, was considerably longer for him as he shuffled home, but I watched, amazed, as he walked with headphones on, singing and smiling the entire time.  My situation paled to what he must struggle with every day, twisting and turning just to take a step, yet there he was smiling and singing.  It’s easy to forget all that we should be grateful for, if we let the problems of the day overshadow them.  Gratitude is the foundation on which everything else is built.

My second ingredient is Confidence.  This is a little easier for me because I have been in the real estate business for 30 years.  I’ve been fortunate to sell homes in nine different counties in Maryland as well as the District and Northern Virginia.  My experience and knowledge give me a distinct advantage, but I’ve also mentored many newer agents, and I always reminded them that confidence grows by knowing you are always doing the best for yourself, while doing the best for your clients.  Yes, they are compatible, and yes, I believe in Win-Win.

The third is the hallmark of a fraternity brother of mine, president Calvin Coolidge, who said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.  Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not, the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”  I wish I could say it better, but I can’t, so I just hang it on my bathroom mirror to remind me every day to never give up.

Each of these is worthless in the hands of a man of bad character.  The boy scouts laid the groundwork for me with Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.  If you use that as your checklist, you’re in pretty good shape.  I learned early on that Character is how you behave when no one is watching.  If you say you are going to do something, do it, because promises are worthless unless kept.  These are the guidelines I have set for myself, and I take pride in knowing that I have the respect of my fellow real estate professionals.  My reputation in the real estate community is a personal badge of honor that I wear proudly.

Faith.  In oneself.  In others.  In a higher being.  Someone once told me that God will never give me more than I can handle.  That doesn’t mean God and I haven’t had discussions about this topic, and the degree to which I must be tested, but I have found that having faith in a positive outcome, is a better way to live than the alternative.  I have also found that the older I am, the greater my faith has grown, which leads me to number six.

A Sense of Mortality.  It seems that those who fail to live to their fullest potential, act as if they have a thousand years to do so.  Do I see life different at sixty than I did when I first entered the business at twenty-nine?  Of course, I do.  Suddenly, it has an expiration date, so I take the words of Mark Twain to heart as I begin this new venture.   “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  Fitting words in which to launch the new Beltway to the Bay Group.

I would love to hear what you think.  Please leave a comment.

The Dilemma of Doing

I am a Doer. I come from a long line of Doers. My mother was a Doer.  While growing up, I don’t remember a school activity she wasn’t involved in, whether it was making costumes for the school play, baking cookies for fundraisers, chaperoning class trips, or serving on the PTA.

My daughter’s a Doer.  Obviously the apples fall very close to our family trees.  She plays several sports, directs the school plays and serves as class president, all while carrying a 4.0 grade average.  I could fill pages documenting the Doers in my family from my grandparents and their work with the church and Masons, to my father, a five term township commissioner, who had to serve for the love of doing, because it certainly wasn’t for the love of money.  So, as fate would have it, I, the son of a Doer, and father of Doers, am trying to decide if I am Done.

As blasphemous as it sounds considering my family tradition, I am having second thoughts about this whole “doing” thing.  I’ve had many wake up calls along the way but it has taken until now to fully awaken to the fact that there is a dilemma to doing.  Doing can be dangerous because those that do, often forget one of the most important lifesaving words in our language – NO.  We don’t say it.  We can’t say it!  Instead of No, we muster just enough courage to not say Yes until that project, we didn’t volunteer to do, starts to implode, and we find ourselves crying out, “I’ll do it!”  We do because we know we can, and everyone else knows we can, which is why they don’t.

Doers don’t prioritize.  If we did, we wouldn’t do as much.  We are great plate spinners, but all those spinning plates begin to look the same after a while.  In reality, some are fine china and others, plastic picnic ware, but we don’t notice the difference until the fine china shatters on the floor beneath us.  We are then left to pick up the broken pieces of our lives, families or businesses.

My awakening started after the real estate crash in 2008.  Like many in my industry, I encountered serious financial difficulties, and it became apparent that I had spent too much time doing for everyone else while neglecting my own personal welfare, and that of my family.  You would have thought the heart attack in 2005 was enough of a wake up call, but I was too busy doing to notice.  Two weeks after my heart attack, with a stent in my right coronary artery, I was hosting my 30th high school reunion in Pennsylvania.  Unlike the heart attack, my financial crisis was more painful, more prolonged and more suffocating than any pain in my chest.  Prioritization was no longer a choice. I had to do for myself and I became my first priority.  If only it was that easy.

As I began to right the ship, I found myself slipping back into volunteering for a variety of projects, except this time I tried to justify my actions as being good for my business.  In reality, focusing on my business is good for my business.  Focusing on everything else is not.  So here is the truth about Doing.  Doing would be more rewarding if more people did it.  I’ve discovered that there are no shortages of opinions, suggestions and recommendations from those who depend on Doers.  If only they were as generous with their time.

Organizations are littered with Committees of One.  Libraries are full of books that attempt to fix leaders to solve this problem, but I think we need to shift the focus on the follower.  If Doing is not in your nature, at least respond when Doers ask you to do something as simple as responding to an invitation or showing up for a meeting or conference call.  This is when Doers become Chasers, and it’s the part of Doing that we hate most.  It is also when we begin to question ourselves.  It is not burn out that causes us to quit doing, it’s the lack of respect shown by those we are doing for.

So as I contemplate my retirement from Doing, I ask everyone that knows a Doer to simply write a note, send an email or make a call today and say, “What can I do to help?”  You don’t have to go “all in” like a Doer does, but as my grandmother used to say, “Many hands make small work.”  A little common courtesy for the Doers’ time, energy and sacrifices will keep them doing, and that’s good for everyone.  That’s how parties get planned, charities get funded and communities get improved.  If all the Doers decided the were Done where would we be?  Society needs Doers in order to thrive, so let’s take a little of their plates so they can keep them spinning.

And Now A Word From Our Founding Fathers

Happy Birthday! Yes America, it’s time to celebrate your birthday once again this Independence Day. I guess that name has gone out of fashion except for sales advertisements, and has been replaced by “The 4th of July” which makes it one of the easier birthdays in my life to remember. I wonder how many Facebook wall posts Uncle Sam gets on July 4th?

Because of our unusually hot and wet June with all its recent storms, many of us have had to contend with power outages, flooding and no air conditioning. Luckily we no longer wear wool knickers and powdered wigs. That alone should give you an even greater appreciation for what was accomplished in 1776, in the stifling heat of Philadelphia in early July.

In honor of our nation’s birthday, I thought I would go back and look to our founding fathers for words of wisdom that are still relevant 239 years later. We know they were great political thinkers, but did we indeed have the right guys, in the right place at the right time when it came to creating the greatest country on earth, and what would they say today?

With their highly publicized troubles lately, news organizations and banks would not find a fan in Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson said, “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”  Can we add the entire news media to that quote? He also said, “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” That was quite an observation over 200 years ago, and his response to our current debt crisis would simply be, “Never spend your money before you have it.” Tom, we could certainly use your leadership now.

I wonder how our founders would feel about Congress’ role in trying to fix the economy. I believe John Adams would have little faith in their success having said, “In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.” That would probably explain Congress’ single digit approval rating by the American people.

Many of our founders lived long and healthy lives. I’ve never thought of them as health nuts until you consider the following. Thomas Jefferson, the original power walker exuded its benefits by stating, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.” Imagine Tom in his suede walking shoes exuding these words of advice, “Health is worth more than learning.” That’s a huge endorsement of healthy living coming from one of the greatest thinkers of our country.

We all were taught Ben Franklin’s famous saying, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” but did you know he warned of the coming obesity epidemic in America when he said, “To lengthen thy life, lesson thy meals.” He was anti-super sizing, and they hadn’t invented McDonalds yet.

Our founding fathers laid the groundwork for the many motivational speakers and writers of the twentieth century and beyond? Although it doesn’t have the same ring to it, “Just Do It” could be replaced with Franklin’s “Well done is better than well said,” or maybe “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” I wonder how that would look on a t-shirt?

I do believe our founders would have little patience for the sad state of victimization and self-entitlement that is much too prevalent in today’s society. Imagine trying to explain away bad behavior or poor results by blaming someone else, and having Washington respond, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Franklin might then pile on with, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” Mr. President and members of Congress, take heed!

Today, when I hear people jealously speak of successful people as being “lucky,” I remind them that Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” It made sense then, and it makes sense now.

Reflecting on all of their contributions to our country, we only have to look back to find solutions to the many problems our country faces today. Maybe some of society’s ill’s could be solved by remembering this telling quote from Jefferson: “The happiest moments in my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” Family is the foundation upon which society is built, and those words of wisdom, spoken over two hundred years ago about the value of family, are more relevant today than ever.

A special thank you to those who helped create this great country of ours and to those who protect it still today – Happy Birthday America!


The Art of Fatherhood

As I reflect on a Father’s Day that has just passed, and look forward to my father’s 85th birthday this Saturday, I thought I would share some thoughts about my father’s impact on my life from both a father and son’s perspective.  Being a good father, whether in a traditional or non-traditional family role, requires sacrifice, patience and constant self-evaluation.  It is often accompanied by self doubt, and the occasional humiliation that comes from trying to be something we are not.  Hip Hop dancer comes to mind.

Some of us are lucky enough to open our mouths, and find our father’s words automatically coming out of them.  In our minds, we are saying, “I can’t believe I sound just like my father,” shortly followed by, “Thank you Dad.”  Our fathers act as a reference point for us as we learn the ropes of Fatherhood.  Since much of this is by trial and error, it is always good to go back to that reference point for guidance.  Some are timeless, like no transistor radios on camping trips.  (Transistor radios?  Wow I’m getting old!)  That was a lesson on being present and appreciating your surroundings, something I am desperately trying to teach my daughter with her head buried in her mobile phone.

When I discipline my children, I want them to feel bad about their misbehavior, but good about themselves.  Thanks to another Dale, whose last name was Carnegie, I have learned that the best way to get my children to listen, is to listen.  I learned to make a habit of trying to catch them doing something right, because my two main goals as a parent are to help my children gain self –esteem and self-discipline.

Whether it was sports, music, school or any other activity, my father always focused on the good things I did, and then asked me to evaluate my performance.  He knew when I was giving my best effort and when I wasn’t, and I knew he knew.  This self-discovery helped me achieve my own self-esteem and self-discipline.  Personal development through self discovery is pretty heady stuff for a meat-cutter from rural Pennsylvania, even if he doesn’t know it.

I work every day to give my children my attention, share my faith and express my love.  I know that I am going to make mistakes, so part of the process is to learn from my children how to be a good parent.  They don’t know it, but our children are great teachers -exasperating, challenging, self absorbed teachers.

So what did my own father teach me?  Sacrifice, humility and the ability to laugh at myself were my father’s most important lessons – lessons learned through observation.  Yes, I was always watching.  I learned more by his actions than I ever did from a lecture; just another important, indirect lesson from my father about fatherhood.  My dad stopped smoking one day, cold turkey, because he didn’t want me to smoke.  It worked.  He worked long hours in below 40 degree temperatures to support his family.  He then came home and took on projects around the house that were neither glamorous, nor noteworthy.  Recreation was relegated to family vacations or an occasional bike ride.  His was a life of sacrifice for his family.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something.”  My father would never call it sacrifice.  To him, that’s a term for a younger generation.  The most amazing thing about my father is that I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about him.  Not one person.  Unfortunately, one can’t say the same for his eldest son.  I  think that is due, in large part, to my father’s humility.  My dad never took himself too seriously.  He was all too aware of his faults, would freely admit them, and always work to correct them, usually to no avail. From that I learned the frailty of being human, and the advantage one had if he could laugh at himself.

From my father, I learned to do the following when I am with my children: Sing as loud as I can along with the car radio with the windows down, be the oldest guy on the dance floor at weddings, pretend to be great at every sport at which I am not, hug my kids at their sporting events, and always tuck my shirt into my shorts.

It is the moments that we mortify our children the most that give us true immortality. These are the things they never forget.

Happy 85th Birthday Ernie Rickenbach!  In your honor I will get out of the car at an intersection this week and do the crazy dad dance with my daughter and her friends in the back seat.  Perfect!

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