A few years ago, shortly after graduating from college, I found myself treading on a path that wasn't where I wanted to go. I worked long hours for a pay off that didn't seem worth the time. I grew unhealthy with my diet choices as food became the only joy in my day. I was slowly dying and didn't know it, like a smoker addicted to poison. I looked forward to escaping the doldrums of my career, relationships, and life. I would come home exhausted only to wake up feeling the same way. My job kept the bills payed and offered a thinly veiled promise of financial security like a spider web offers support to a fly. It's one thing to look back and know that I eventually changed my path, but I can't remember actually having an exact plan of how I made this happen. I just had faith that things would work out.
The only skill that I had up until that point in my life was the ability to build a computer, something I picked up in college while hanging out with 'nerds'. I had some savings, and owned a house that I shared with friends. I had observed my brother buy and live in a house with friends from college which he sold a few years later at a reasonable profit. Learning from his example, I was able to do something similar with help and guidance from family. This asset turned out to being my saving grace.
After I quit my job, I moved on to a boutique financial planning firm as a partner since I brought over clients from my previous appointment. However, I struggled to maintain interest in the private practice where the only party that saw a profit was the landlord. I knew that I could afford to take some risk in my new business venture since my bills were offset by the rent generated from the residents living in my house, but I was only buying time. I had grown accustomed to the lifestyle of a suit-wearing banker which meant that dry cleaning bills and dining at restaurants were draining my bank accounts one day at a time. I decided to take a cue from the landlord that I was paying a king's ransom to each month in order to host a non-income producing business; a little after two years I left my firm (This was my ego getting in my way and stubbornly holding on to the idea that I could somehow still come out on top despite the facts pointing to the contrary).
After quitting my second job, I needed to make my housing asset work for me. I began with renting the vacant rooms left from roommates that graduated and moved out. I placed ads on 'craigslist' which brought an interesting demographic of potential boarders to my attention. After interviewing a few people I made a decision which taught me a lot.
I've heard it said, "There is no accounting for tastes" which speaks to the truth that each person has their own preferences for 'likes' and 'dislikes'. Within a few weeks I discovered the house had turned into a refuge for filth and disarray. Between my old roommate, myself, and the new person, something had changed in the environment for the worse. The casual nature of leaving dishes in the sink, trash rotting in the garbage, and messes around the common living areas led to apathy between the residents. No one wanted to take responsibility for the other person's carelessness which created a chain reaction of indifference. This was not the environment in which I wanted to live. After asking the 'new' roommate to leave, I decided to try another approach to finding somebody to live with and help pay the bills. This taught me to set clear expectations with each new roommate.
After developing a system of roommate selection through trial and error, I was blessed with roommates that taught me the most valuable lesson in business and life. If you do anything, it's best to do it with 'Love'. My new roommates quickly became like brothers as we shared our culture and experiences with one another. The condition of the home improved as proper expectations were being set and everyone seemed to respect the rules. It was secondary to the joy of living with brothers who actually looked forward to spending time together. No one minded picking up the slack for each other as each person did their best to look out for themselves and their brother. At no other time in my life up to or since then has living with others been such a joy (It felt like heaven on earth). As all good things eventually come to an end, our experience was short lived (while the brotherhood continues to remain). After the first of our quartet moved out for job reasons, the second followed shortly thereafter. My original brother (and roommate) were back to where we began only this time equipped with the knowledge that life with roommates can actually be amazing.
Enough time had passed where I had recovered from the financial setbacks of the past and was actually in a position to invest in another real estate endeavor. My older brother and I were actively searching for a deal when my neighbor left a note on my door asking if I was interested in purchasing his house at great price. I took the offer as providence and followed through on the purchase. With my father's connection to the construction industry I was able to renovate and remodel my newly acquired asset to fit my needs as a 'professional landlord'. Again, faith in myself and the ability to attract the right residents was required and a new learning curve was being figured out. I now had two properties to manage, one of which I didn't live in and had to rely on assistance from my faithful roommate from before. I was beginning to learn the value of effective leadership. Since I could not be in two places at once, I needed to delegate responsibility to someone who could lead by example and hold others to the same standard. This also meant learning to bridle my ego as I discovered that everyone has a different style of leadership which means trusting in them even if it seems contrary to your own method. It meant observing the results of action instead of the promise of words.
As time passed, I grew into my role as a live-in landlord. I had a relationship with my residents and treated them as brothers. My position allowed me to travel and experience the world making trips to India, Africa, and the United Kingdom. I learned to ride a motorcycle, a childhood dream. I experienced the thrill of competitive boxing while getting into the best shape of my life. We even worked out a deal with a local gym to host a bi-weekly sparring session with my residents, affectionately referred to as 'fight club' (a current tradition). With time, I was able to leave the company of my business in the capable leadership of my resident brothers in order to pursue my dream of living in another city a few hours away.
The confidence to delegate the responsibility of leading each house away from apathy and toward responsible brotherhood came with the practice of setting fair expectations and holding one another accountable to their word. I knew in my heart that it was my ego telling me that things would fall apart without "me" being there to fix potential issues. Again, I had to work to conquer myself by choosing to remove "me" from the equation and move in with my parents (not easy to do in one's 30's) in order to gain perspective on how things would actually run without my presence. I lived away for an entire year and learned a lot.
I learned that I was lucky to have parents loving enough to be supportive to such an idea even if it meant compromising some of their freedom. I learned to separate 'lip service' from one's behavior. I learned to have faith in myself and others which sharpened my skill at becoming an effective leader. Ultimately I gained more income, which allowed me to make expensive repairs and save for costly maintenance. I returned to my property as a wiser, more experienced business owner and landlord after making some adjustments which included letting go of those who deal in lip service, gossip, and hypocrisy. I had been given the chance to bridle my ego, observe human behavior from both the 'in' and 'outside', and confirm some beliefs about leadership that living with dozens of people over the years had taught me. I confirmed the knowledge that most people are followers and the burden of leadership falls upon the shoulders of those strong enough to lead with authority (right or wrong, morality aside as there is no accounting for tastes).
Besides becoming a more effective leader, I learned to cultivate and develop the traits of leadership in others which over the course of another year I was able to finally make my move to Austin, my favorite city in Texas. The process of developing leaders is understanding that leadership is: a constant battle to lead by example, an exercise in compassion, and maintaining the ability to hold others accountable. A good leader has to be impeccable with their word and especially their actions. A great leader understands people as humans are entitled to making some mistakes and doesn't take things personally. A leader doesn't make assumptions. They set proper expectations and guidelines. And lastly, they believe in doing their best in whatever they set out to do. It has been said, "how you do anything, is how you do everything". This is a habit and takes time to develop, but once you move from thought to word to deed to habit, it eventually becomes your character; and a character is the person you dreamed that you could become when you wanted more from who you were. The 'old' becomes the 'new', and the 'new' becomes You.
"Your past is just a story. And once you realize this it has no power over you."
― Chuck Palahniuk