Embrace the Suck: Real Estate Edition


I’m working on a couple of year-end monster posts, but wanted to throw this up as a quick sort of mental snack before the other stuff.

Through a friend, I was introduced to Mark Manson, the self-help guru. Normally, I think of self-help gurus the same way I think of used car salesmen and religious cult leaders… but Manson did write a few things that resonated with me. I thought I’d share one of those things, which he himself calls the “best post to start with to understand the underlying philosophy of my work.”

That post is The Most Important Question of Your Life and it’s worth reading in full. The key graf:

A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

I think it really applies to every aspect of our lives, but I thought it applies with special force to this crazy industry we all call home. It explains so much of what we’ve seen, what we see, and what many of us struggle against.

The Struggle Is Real

The core concept of Manson’s post is that everybody wants the same result, but that doesn’t actually matter very much. What matters is what struggle we want in our lives. What pain, what annoyances, what we actually enjoy that sucks.

What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences but the quality of your negative experiences. And to get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life.

We’ve all heard this from coaches, from teachers, from parents, peers, mentors… and it seems like a no-brainer. Where Manson introduces something somewhat unique is that he thinks that wanting the suck is actually wanting the result. Otherwise, it’s just a fantasy. He talks about having this fantasy as a young man about being a rock star, then writes:

Despite fantasizing about this for over half of my life, the reality never came. And it took me a long time and a lot of negative experiences to finally figure out why: I didn’t actually want it.

I was in love with the result — the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, pouring my heart into what I’m playing — but I wasn’t in love with the process. And because of that, I failed at it. Repeatedly. Hell, I didn’t even try hard enough to fail at it. I hardly tried at all.

He talks about the daily realities of being a rock star, or trying to become on. The rehearsals, the practices, the touring crappy bars and playing for beer to get established, etc. etc. and so on. Then he points out that our culture would say that he didn’t persevere, or that he lacked the courage, or self-belief, or whatever. They’d tell him to dream big and stick with it. Manson has a different take:

But the truth is far less interesting than that: I thought I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t. End of story.

I think this is true. He hit on something here that is profound and fundamental.

Proof is in the Manziel

I thought instantly about Johnny Manziel. The guy was nicknamed Johnny Football for a reason. He’s freakishly talented. One CBS Sports writer called him the best college player he’s seen since Barry Sanders. He can make all the throws, he can scramble, he can run, he’s creative… incredibly gifted.

Yet, he goes down in history as one of the biggest busts in NFL history since… well, another freakishly talented quarterback, Jamarcus Russell. Why?

His former teammate Josh McCown had this to say:

“I spent a year with him, and mentally and physically, he can do it. But he’s got to eliminate distractions and he’s got to move forward, and he’s got to ask himself, ‘Do I love the game?’” McCown said. “If ultimately, in his heart, he doesn’t love the game, he’s going to split his time between all these other things and trying to be good at football, and it’s just a hard sport to do that with.”

In retrospect, given the disaster that Manziel’s life has turned out to be, it seems obvious that Johnny never loved football. He never wanted to be a NFL quarterback. He loved everything that case with being a quarterback in high school, at Texas A&M, and then in the NFL. But he didn’t actually want the suck that goes with the territory. He wanted the result, he didn’t want the process.

In contrast, you have Tom Brady. Here’s a copy of his pre-draft scouting report someone found online:

Negatives: Poor build. Very skinny and narrow. Ended the ’99 season weighing 195 pounds and still looks like a rail at 211. Looks a little frail and lacks great physical stature and strength. Can get pushed down more easily than you’d like. Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Lacks a really strong arm. Can’t drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral. System-type player who can get exposed if he must ad-lib and do things on his own.

Summary: Is not what you’re looking for in terms of physical stature, strength, arm strength and mobility, but he has the intangibles and production and showed great Griese-like improvement as a senior. Could make it in the right system but will not be for everyone.

How in the world did that guy in the scouting report become a 4-time Superbowl champion married to a supermodel whose name is floated in the Greatest of All Time discussions with the likes of Joe Montana and Dan Marino?

Brady’s work ethic is legendary. He shows up at 7am on the Monday morning for the very first workout session allowed under NFL rules. His wife caught him watching game film at 3:30am. And so on and so forth.

Then you’ve got Peyton Manning, whose work ethic is equally legendary:

What I can’t help but believe is that Tom, Peyton, and anybody else who is a great quarterback must actually enjoy the preparation. What might seem like insanely boring and painful ordeal to normal human beings must feel fun for them at some level. Watching 18 game films on an opponent must not feel like real work to Peyton Manning for him to do it so consistently. Working out at 7am on a Monday morning can’t possibly feel like real work for Tom Brady; yes, it’s work, but he must actually enjoy it at some level. Otherwise, there’s no way that any human being can keep that up day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

You have to embrace the suck.

Johnny and Jamarcus and hundreds of other quarterbacks don’t have that weird thing inside of them that makes them enjoy the struggle, that helps them embrace the suck. So they fail. And fail. And fail.

I can relate, in my own small way. I’m a pretty good writer, and yes, there are rewards that come with being able to phrase things a certain way and to write clearly in an entertaining fashion with a voice. But this doesn’t feel like work to me. I mean, sure, it is work at one level, because writing a post or writing a paper isn’t the same thing as watching a movie, but it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy the process.

Same goes for financial modeling or reading legal opinions or public speaking or strategy or whatever else I think I’m pretty good at doing. None of it feels like real work to me. Yes, it’s hard work, yes it’s draining at times, yes it isn’t “fun” like partying is fun… but I sort of enjoy it. I embrace the suck.

To be honest, success or failure is secondary. Whether what I’ve written or produced is amazing or sub-par or just a piece of crap… at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is that I enjoyed the process of producing that amazing/sub-par/piece of crap thing.

Conversely, while I’d love to be fit, in shape, and have a rocking body like say Mike Simonsen or Alex Lange do, I’m just not all that willing to embrace the suck that goes with being physically fit. I mean, yeah, at some point, I’ll drag my sorry-ass carcass down to the gym and do some work, but every single minute of that feels like work.

I’m sure there are people out there who think that pumping out a 3,000-word blog post is the very definition of boring-as-shit work. There are certainly millions of people who think reading a court case on fiduciary responsibility is something they would do only if paid hundreds of dollars an hour to do it. I respect that. I’m just… built this way, I guess.

Do You Really Want to Be a REALTOR?

As should be obvious by now, this principle of wanting the pain to want the reward applies with full force to the real estate industry.

As an industry, we highlight and honor those who are successful. The top producers. The “thought leaders” who get to be on stage at industry shows and who get interviewed for their stories. And of course, success in this industry means absolutely fabulous amounts of money that most of these individuals couldn’t ever make in a different industry.

The results of being a successful real estate agent are wealth, income, flexible schedules, being your own boss, fame and respect, and all of those wonderful things. Everybody wants those things. Everyone can embrace receiving an award on stage, then driving home in a Porsche.

But we typically do not talk about the struggle, the pain, the suck of being a real estate agent. I went on Facebook and asked my friends to tell me the worst thing about being an agent or broker. Their answers are awesome, and this one might be my favorite response:


One friend, who requested anonymity, emailed me this bulleted list which is worth reproducing in full:

  • You wake up every morning unemployed. And you stay unemployed until you hustle up a job. It’s not like a traditional job where you go in every day and have a boss that tells you what needs to be done. You have to be driven enough on your own to hold yourself accountable for the daily work.
  • Most agents suck at lead gen. They don’t know how to do it, or they aren’t willing to do the daily activities that are required to generate a consistent stream of business. And if they get busy, they stop doing the lead gen activities. So the highs are really high, then followed by dramatic lows once the busy-ness subsides.
  • You don’t wake up and fall into a bucket of money. 10% of agents will be really successful. 40% will do ok. 50% will starve unless they have another job or have a spouse/SO with a steady income.
  • There is a lot of unsexy work that goes into the business. HGTV has fucked a lot of people by making them think that all agents do is work with amazing clients and show houses. Or they lull you into thinking that you can take a piece of shit and make it into a palace in 6 weeks with a $60,000 budget. Nope. Sure, you show houses. But you are also trying to juggle 17 different relationships on each transaction – from the buyer, seller, co-brokerage agent, title, escrow, appraiser, underwriter, inspector, blah blah blah. They each need to know how they fit into the puzzle. And they each require communication.
  • We have to set expectations. That’s harder than it may sound. People don’t understand what we do or how the processes work because agents don’t do a good enough job of setting the expectations upfront. And in this, we also have to mitigate emotions …. that’s as much of a cluster fuck as it sounds. A lot of it can be done with the agent sets the tine from the beginning, but it doesn’t solve all of the problems. Residential real estate is emotional. Period. 
  • Be prepared to give up your life for the first 2 years. If you’re new to the business, you don’t have the luxury of having a life. Deal with it.
  • You may go a few months between paychecks. Budgeting is a real thing, and you have to understand it. Also, no one takes out money for taxes. So do that from the beginning so you’re not scrambling to figure out how to pay the $35,000 to the government.
  • It has to be run like a business. You have to build processes and systems for everything. You need to build routine into your business to make it work. A lot of sales people aren’t great at this. If they’re not, they need to acknowledge it and find people who are good at that. No one can do everything on her own. Find the right people, and ask for help. There’s no shame in having weaknesses, as long as you’re wiling to surround yourself with the right people.

That’s a lot of suck to embrace.

And we really don’t do a lot of talking about the need to embrace the suck. Whole sub-industries have risen up within real estate by telling real estate agents and brokers that they don’t need to embrace the suck — this magic bullet will deliver the results you want without the struggle you hate. I can go on Facebook right this minute and find ad after ad about “Leads Delivered to Your Inbox!” and “Get More Listings Right Now!” and some such. Go to any real estate conference, and the most popular sessions are going to be one where some guru or another gets up and tells the audience that they can generate leads without too much effort if they do Facebook/blogging/Instagram/Pokemon Go/Snapchat/video/whatever. And the vendor area is filled with companies promising results without the effort. It’s natural, of course, because human beings like efficiency.

Example: Lead Generation

But take lead generation as an example. Every single broker, manager, and successful agent I have ever spoken to about real estate tell me there are only two time-tested, proven, without-fail methods for building up one’s business:

  • Sphere marketing
  • Geographic farming

That’s it. Do those two things, and you will be successful in real estate.

Sure, you can use grocery carts, or Zillow, or social media marketing, or whatever else to supplement the core two activities… but that’s what they are: supplements. The base of a real estate practice is Sphere and Farming, or so they tell me.

Yet, the two surefire, proven-and-tested methods for making money in real estate are the two activities agents do the least. Why? What’s up with that?

Because it sucks to do those two things. Constantly staying in touch with your sphere is difficult to do for a lot of people, who feel like they’re slimy salespeople to their friends and family. Really farming a neighborhood means a lot of suck: going to every open house, knowing about every home, door knocking, delivering newsletters and postcards month after month with zero results.

So the vast majority of real estate agents want to try something, anything, other than the tedious, painful, seemingly wasteful, and rejection-filled process of sphere marketing and geographic farming. They want the success like everyone else. They want it bad, like everyone else….

Or do they?

According to Manson, maybe they don’t really want it. Maybe they fantasize about success in the business, but don’t really want it — because they don’t want the crappy struggle that goes with the territory.

It’s Okay Not to Want It

My final thought here is that it’s totally, 100% fine to not want something. What we want is different for each one of us. I don’t want to be a rock star. I don’t want to be a corporate chieftain. I don’t want to be President. That doesn’t make me better or worse than those who do; it just makes me different.

Maybe our problem as an industry is that we don’t discuss, don’t encourage, and don’t make clear that simple idea: that it’s okay not to want to be in real estate. Doesn’t make you a failure or a loser or whatever. It just makes you not suited for real estate.

Because to want something isn’t to want the result, but the process. To want something is to want the struggle that defines that job, that business, that industry. To want something is to want to embrace the suck, not to want the awesome that comes at the end.

Those who are successful in this industry are those who embrace the suck of real estate. They want to wake up unemployed every day. They want to make phone calls and door knock and deal with rejection. They want to “waste” hundreds or thousands of dollars each month on mailing and advertising and portals. They want to not have free weekends and get phone calls from clients at all hours of the night. They want to be nervous going on vacation. They want the chaos, the ups and downs, and the hustle. They want to drive a buyer around for two weeks, and have them just go, “We decided to rent!” Ok, maybe they don’t want that, but they’re willing to tolerate it as part of the deal.

And it reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies:

This is the business we’ve chosen. It’s okay not to choose this business. It might even be laudable to choose some other business. But if we’ve chosen this business, then we ought to, indeed we must, embrace the suck.

Your thoughts, as ever, are welcome.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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13 thoughts on “Embrace the Suck: Real Estate Edition”

  1. Must respectfully disagree with you,the US just disagreed with you they refused to suck it up anymore,the Europeans also are headed in the same direction,refusing to suck it up, the real estate business is not showing it’s true colors at this time but will reject the establishment, this RE Agent likes his job, it used to be a lot more fun and profitable until the establishment demanded I should suck it up,I am rejecting that notion and I hope you will, soon.

  2. Great post Rob. As always is the case. I just wish in this business there was a way for the consumer to differentiate those that have “embraced the suck from those that don’t give a . . . .” Well, you know. This that enjoy doing nothing for the occasional something are dragging this industry down to the point of it totally sucking for the consumer. And that my friend, is a real problem for the industry. When what we do sucks for the consumer it leaves the “front door” wide open for this who will make it suck less. At the unfortunate expense of the 120K or so true professionals who have truly embraced the pain in order to make the gain – and have doe so to best serve that pesky and ever so demanding consumer.

    • the pain of prospecting doesn’t really benefit the client; it’s how you find him. what are the other tasks for the client that suck? I guess prospecting the other half of the transaction

  3. Hi folks – The road to success is
    “Sphere marketing
    Geographic farming”

    Right on – I do only rural land. homes and farms. That’s my “sphere AND geographic marketing.”

    I mail postcards religiously – 1,500 to 3,000 a month.

    I get addresses from tax records. Copy and paste each on mailing labels. Stick on the address labels. Stick on the stamps and carry box to the post office. So, yes, it gets tiresome, and I throw out a township every three years andmake a new mailing list of that township.

    I started this in 2007, and while I have not gotten wealthy, wife and I are comfortable. I sure kick ass with the franchises.

  4. I have heard it said that: most people fail at real estate because they fail to do unpleasant necessary tasks: 1) cold calls and other prospecting;
    2) always be in business mode (social occasions family occasions, etc) ie commercialize your life

    is this what u r talking about?

  5. what about things that suck which can;t be ignored: 1) the client can hurt you with your broker, your local association, and/or the State Commission. 2)you pay for your local association which is accountable to no one (or atleast not you) 3) vendors of faulty products MLS etc are accountable to no one certainly not an agent and don’t care

    It’s like Washington they all get a free ride or maybe they are just sucking it up too

      • our new gov will reduce rules and regulation, lessen education and market forces we make us free and profitable AGAIN

      • has your local association asked for a supplemental donation for political lobbying in addition to all the other required payments. Despite the fact that they don’t account for any of the money you already give them

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