Back in 2007, when I was working for Turner Construction as a Project Manager, I was sent to Delaware for leadership training. I was required to take a much dreaded “public speaking” training that was an intense workshop over the course of 2 days, with a well-known consultant named Joe Takash. I was nervous, I was young, and I was already a bit of a fish out of water when it came to educational background and personality traits of someone in commercial construction. I was a bit too soft, a bit too quiet, and perhaps most importantly, I was a Sociology major. The truth, however, is that I had been managing large interior fit outs for all sorts of notable companies for a few years and, if I could dare to find the confidence, I certainly had some experience from which to “publicly speak.”
The first day, we were supposed to draw on any recent speaking experience from work that we wished had gone better. I knew exactly what I wanted to share. I had recently been on a large panel interview with a property manager, developer, architect, and engineer for a renovation in DC, and it had not gone well. I had felt trapped in my thoughts, was getting ahead of the panel’s questions, and over the course of the first 10 minutes, my mind had completely betrayed my passion and I was just a ball of nerves. So, I got up in front of all the strangers in the public speaking class and gave some context and then said what I had wanted to say in the interview. I got tripped up, nervous, couldn’t make eye contact with anyone in the room, and finally took a deep breath and let the awkwardness sit there, in front of about 40 strangers because, after all, I was there to improve, and it seemed ok, to just let it be and hope for a better outcome on day 2. I then had to stand there while Joe Takash went around the room and asked for all these strangers to give me feedback. One woman raised her hand impatiently and I waited for something awful like, “why are you here?” but instead she said, “your bangs are in your eyes and you need to pull them back, so we can see your face.” Huh? Everyone nodded. Someone else said I was “thinking too much.” But, what stuck with me was my bangs in my face. (Part of me was devastated because I was really trying to work a Kate Hudson shaggy bang do at that time and the realization that it probably wasn’t me, was basically mortifying.)
When I went back to my room that evening, I pulled my bangs back and looked at my face. Besides the normal complaints we all have about offset eyes or a funny nose or too small of a mouth, I found that I was kind of proud of my face when I looked in the mirror. And though pulling my bangs back would require a silly half ponytail that was a bit too high, I felt so clean and “open” showing my entire face. As I prepared my speech for the following day based on all the work shopping with other participants, showing my entire face had become some sort of metaphor for showing me, showing my heart. And as I wrote down what I wanted to say, I found myself writing from my heart for the first time in a professional setting. What I wanted to convey was what I loved about managing construction projects. Maybe it was possible for a property manager or developer to find someone who had more clever thoughts on how to set up a temporary HVAC system for a multi-story renovation, but they wouldn’t be able to find someone who loved it enough to wake up earlier, stay later, mediate between subcontractors and billionaire developers, keep subcontractors motivated on a job where paychecks were being cut too slowly, and research options tirelessly until I could feel good about a solution for our clients.
The next morning, I pulled back my bangs, grabbed my speech, and, although nervous, was excited to present what I had prepared. Everyone’s speeches were so good. Some participants were still struggling with tapping into their passion though and even though their thoughts were more coherent, and their voices were stronger, they were still very much caught up in their brains. When I got up to present, I was so energized that I zipped through it until suddenly, I had completely lost track of the last paragraph. Still a work in progress. Once I had realized there was no hope of regaining the words from my memory, I just smiled and said, “thank you” and everyone clapped. Joe Takash’s praise was effusive, in fact overwhelming, and it was enough to solidify that I should always bring my heart to work with me.
I later remembered what my closing remarks were…that my favorite part of managing construction projects was in those rare moments either at the beginning or end of a day, when a young woman (me) could sit on a stack of drywall sheets with (mostly) men from all around the world and we could talk about where we lived or how we got into our various fields, and usually find something to laugh about. And those laughs would later lead to better conversations about when the paychecks were coming in, or how could we help out a client without charging an arm or a leg, or was it possible to stay an extra hour today to finish up the base so we wouldn’t have it left for tomorrow? Bringing our hearts to work led to more trust. I’m sure veterans in the world of construction could disagree with me, but what you really want in a project manager is someone who gets the ball over the goal line without costing a lot of extra money or time. You can do it by beating down subcontractors, threatening them with no pay, or you can do it the opposite way.
It’s easy to lose sight of your heart in any situation that’s new. Sometimes it’s starting a new job, or meeting a new friend, walking into a room full of people you don’t know, in a new neighborhood. Whenever we are pushed out of our comfortable habits, our brain starts to take over with logic and thinking, and overthinking. When I first started my career in Real Estate, I was so worried about knowing everything that I found it hard to build a rapport with people. I would have clients sharing stories with me about their lives or their families, and I would be sweating my way into a lockbox, praying it would open, so I could get into the house and not mess up the showing. Six years later, I never leave Meg at home. My clients will get contract expertise and market knowledge, but they are going to have to also suffer through my jokes and anecdotes. Part of that journey was getting more comfortable in my professional intelligence and a lot of it was developing my writing over these years in Real Estate. At first, it was writing on our website or lengthy remarks for luxury listings. Then, I had enough experience to have actual musings on market scenarios or the importance of home. I found that when I wrote or spoke from the heart, I not only felt more congruent in my professional passion, but the people I related to in those stories were kind enough to give me feedback from their hearts.
Today, I got to kick off our Dwellus team meeting with this theme of how to balance your head with your heart at work. Although everyone is a little bit different in their balance between the two, we had a great discussion about how we always want to be operating with both. Residential Real Estate is such a personal business – your friends can decide to list with another Realtor, your client can start crying over a home inspection, husbands and wives can openly fight at showings, and sometimes a real estate transaction is the result of a death in the family or a massive life change. Sometimes you need logic to repair hurt feelings and sometimes you need heart to overcome overthinking. And since we never know on any given day, what we are going to need, it’s probably a good idea to show up to work (to anywhere) with both logic and passion.
If you need a jump start to get your heart out of the trunk and into the driver’s seat, I recommend music. When I’m caught up in my brain for too long, I don’t write. And usually, the best way for me to get back into a writing mode is by playing music that evokes a passion. And so, it’s fitting, that my earbuds are in, listening to my favorite band, The Head and The Heart.