Watching the world grapple with a pandemic has had a profound impact on my heretofore limited ability to count blessings. Yes, we are sheltered in place, but my immediate family is presently in good health. And though I suspect the coming days, weeks and months will be disrupted by yet unknown challenges, I am grateful that the hull of my career has been hewn solidly by countless hours of hard work. I take deep appreciation of the experience I gained during other times of hardship like 9/11 and the Lehman collapse. Though I worry about the well-being of my 84-year old father, he’s seen great returns on the investment he made instilling in me a zero tolerance policy for BS and hypocrisy and a stern warning to never take advantage of others through my expertise, privileges, resources or place in life.
No doubt the developments of the last few days have come at breakneck speed, and there I was having a heart-to-heart with a client in process. This individual was clearly stressed under the weight of making a critically important decision in a market shifting under our feet. As I grappled with several of his most pressing concerns, I wondered to myself, “What if I have it wrong?” “What if this time is different and my advice doesn’t apply here?” “What if we just don’t know?”
In my mid-20’s, I was fortunate (again) to have had an astute mentor in a job that forced me, for the first time as an adult, to be accountable for decisions that impacted an operation. I had screwed up and I was scared and embarrassed. But, I also had an out. My subordinates could have easily gone under the wheels of the bus this time. Right about the moment I was stewing in my own panic, my boss burst into my office and short-circuited my fraying wires, “What the hell happened here?” Reflexively, I told the truth. I apologized — I looked him in the eye and said, “Dude, do what you gotta do. I accept responsibility.” He only asked one more question: “Did you intend to do that or was it a mistake?” Never one to easily concede perfection, I had to hesitate but admitted that, yes, it was not only a mistake, it was my mistake.
We only had one more discussion on the topic — the most impressionable one. “Rob,” he said, “I’m pissed about the whole damned thing. I’m not gonna lie. But it had to be either your mistake or my mistake for completely misjudging your character.” He continued, “Errors of execution can be forgiven. Errors of intent cannot. Get back to work.” With that, the conversation and the ordeal were put to bed.
So here we are. Real estate pros in the middle of a global pandemic. None of us have seen this movie before. We can’t expect all our decisions from this point will be perfect. We will make mistakes, we will dispense advice that turns out to be bad. It’s inevitable. And in this time of lockdown and reflection, I am reminded that when my future self looks back at any detrimental advice I may give, will it have been an error of execution or intent? Whose interests did I put first? We don’t get to pick the times and circumstances of the crisis that finds us. We don’t get to bend reality to our whims. We can’t shirk the heavy responsibility and duck the tough questions now, when we are needed most. In every decision we make for those who entrust us, who are in our care, who rely on us, we are wholly responsible for our intent. There is no margin of error here, and no forgiveness for getting it wrong. Now, get back to work.
Take care and stay safe,