Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Want to be successful? Do the unpleasant work.

It’s important to do what you love, but does it matter that you love what you’re doing? Until you understand the difference, you might be sabotaging your own success. Here’s why.

These days, if you’re sticking around in the real estate industry, you really must love the business. The people, the potential for unlimited income, controlling your own hours, you name it: Now is not the most fun time to be in the housing industry. So it’s love of the business that comes first.

But does that mean you have to love everything you must do to be successful in this market? No, it does not. In fact, if you were only to do those things you loved doing – or even liked – well then you’d probably just sit in a conference room all day waiting for closing checks to fall from heaven. Until that happens, you probably have to do lots of things you don’t like, if you want to be successful.

As one of my favorite business authors Larry Winget says: It’s called work for a reason.

For a long time, I’ve heard too many agents, too many managers, too many brokers sabotage their success by saying one phrase: But I don’t love doing that. What they often need to hear is:

Too bad. Suck it up. Now do it.

Sarcastic? Maybe. Truthful: definitely. Why should real estate professionals get a “pass” to decide whether or not to do what needs getting done in order to reach their goals? And to satisfy customers? Oh, they can say they’re independent contractors (funny how many of them rarely execute a contract independently, but I digress). Or they can say protest that the things they like doing always worked for them in the past, and are still good enough today. Maybe. If you consider working harder and earning less than a school bus driver a standard of success.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: If you simply dismiss doing things you don’t love doing, you’ve set a limit on your own achievement. You’ve capped your opportunity based not upon markets, technology, education or customers, but your stomach. Your gut grumbles that you don’t like doing something. Just imagine how it will grumble when it goes hungry, too.

I don’t like doing videos, so I’m not going to use them in my marketing. I don’t like firing non-productive agents, so I will let them linger and corrupt and pollute the workplace. I don’t like using technology in a listing presentation, so I’m not going to buy an iPad. I don’t like confrontation, so I won’t ask my agent why he didn’t show up for the office meeting. I don’t like Twitter, so I’m not going to do social networking.

The biggest limits we encounter are most often set by ourselves.

It’s not about training: Apple offers tons of free and ridiculously inexpensive training to master your iPad. CRS and CRB and WCR and lots of other great organizations have offered training in , , brokerage for decades. It’s not about having enough time: you make your own schedule, after all. It’s not about money: It’s thrown down the drain every day.

It’s about doing the work that needs to get done. It’s about leaving your “comfort zone” at home, in your comfy chair, and coming to work to actually work. It’s about loving your hobby on the weekends, but doing the tough stuff during the weekdays. It’s not even about loving the people – oh, the cliche! – but doing the right thing for them. Does anyone really think surgeons “love” cutting deep into flesh? Gross, huh. But at least real estate sales isn’t a hospital emergency room.

I guess the last piece is this: Do you really want to be successful? If not, that’s fine, but imagine if you put that on your business card. A byline that said: I don’t like using an iPad, videos or Facebook. Or telling recruits up front: It’s ok if you don’t attend meetings or file a business plan; we don’t really fire anyone. Seems absurd, but often we act that very way.

Reaching our goals requires us to do the unpleasant work. For our clients, and for ourselves. If you really love what you’re doing, you’ll often do the things you don’t love to do. It’s not a paradox. It’s the secret to success.


  • It’s refreshing to read something other than “do what you love and everything will fall in place” stuff that is proliferating throughout the Internet and Blogoshpere. 

    You’re absolutely right. If I did only what I loved it would be sitting in that conference room waiting for the checks to roll in.

    As a sole practitioner, I don’t even have the luxury of “delegating” all the stuff gurus tell me I should delegate (i.e., stuff I don’t “love”).  I do the prospecting (unpleasant), the client follow-up, transaction coordination, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Lots of it, I don’t love…especially some of the people – both clients and agents.

  • Michelle Spalding

    Sorry, I do have to disagree with you, but only slightly.  While there are things that have to be done in any business, real estate included, they don’t have to all be done by one person.  Remember the eMyth by Michael Gerber. Building a team, delegating and outsourcing are ways to do less of what some may call “work” and more of the things that you like.  Besides, what one calls work, another calls fun so with the right people in place it’s a win win for all.

  • Steve

    Probably one of your most important articles ever.  I believe that if a person’s reason for succeeding is big enough, it will propel them through all the trials, tribulations and discomforts that are present in all endeavors.  I think Gary Keller calls this the Big Y and the power of future pull.

    The problem is that most people don’t have a big enough vision or reason for doing what they do so any impediment is enough to derail them.

  • Steve:
    This is why having a business plan and GOALS is so critical to success. Beginning with the end in mind makes it easier – or at least understandable – when it comes time to do the tough stuff. But if you just “go with your gut” and avoid the pain, then there’s little chance of gain.

  • Usually the first two or so miles of my run are the hardest and I really want to stop and walk back home. But then I hit some imaginary “tipping point” and my brain buys in to the distance I planned on running and I feel great when I reach my desired distance. One of my favorite affrimations while running was this – “Pain is temporary. Quitting last forever.”

    The same idea resides in real estate. Whether it’s the first ten phone calls or the door you have to knock on or the co-op agent you’re trying to recruit, business development isn’t. It’s always more comfortable to sit around and do business support activity because there is no rejection involved. But the agent who spends all of his or her time on buisness support instead of business development will soon have no business to support.

    My good friend Brian Dodge reminds us “The easier you are on yourself when no one is looking, the hard life will be on you. The harder you are on yourself when no one is looking, the easier life will be on you.”

    It’s your choice. 

  • Oh so very true! Thanks, Sean!


  • Greetings, stumbled across your blog and had to comment on this post.  I do not sell real estate, In fact I am a not so young entrepreneur seeking to start my own personal professional services business with absolutely no experience in marketing.  I know that I have to get out there and start, “shaking hands and kissing babies,” if I want to get a buzz going about my business, but I just hate the idea of cold calling people for opportunities to speak to their groups.  But guess what, as you say I have to leave my comfort zone if I want to succeed…period.  

     If you simply dismiss doing things you don’t love doing, you’ve set a limit on your own achievement. You’ve capped your opportunity based not upon markets, technology, education or customers, but your stomach. Your gut grumbles that you don’t like doing something. Just imagine how it will grumble when it goes hungry, too.   Thanks for telling me not what i WANT to HEAR, but what I NEED to HEAR!

  • Thanks for your comment! I agree entirely that the ultimate issue is limiting ourselves because of our aversion to the tough stuff.

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