The following interview appears in the final section of my book Playing Big. It’s a selection of interviews given by people I’ve had the privilege of working with as they commit to making extraordinary changes in their lives.
Ten years ago, Carrie was a successful commercial real estate broker. She had a great income, and had finally moved into the home of her dreams—a country ranch with stables for the horses she loved. But she was miserable, still working in an environment where she knew in her gut she didn’t belong. She took a risk, made the switch to selling agricultural properties and today owns Black Dirt Land Sales & Management.
PB: Can you remember a particular moment when you knew you needed to get out, to make a change?
CD: There were probably two moments. There was the moment I knew in my heart I needed to make the change but wasn’t willing to take the action. Then there was the moment I knew I had to make a change—it was a life-or-death situation in my mind, and I was willing to take the next step and engage a coach. I knew I needed to make a change and was willing to listen at that point.
My goal in life was to earn enough money at what I was doing that I could eventually have a place in the country, where I could have horses on my property and live the lifestyle I felt I was destined to live. And I did that, and then when I got there, and I walked out the door in the morning to go to work in commercial real estate, I realized I was finally where i was meant to be, but I was only part-way there. Because I was still working in a place that didn’t match where I lived and what I really loved. And I knew then, oh my gosh, its going to be so hard to continue down this professional path, having reached this goal, living where I want to live, but the one component thats still not right is where I’m spending my professional life—which is a big part of your life. But I also felt like financially I needed to stay on at that place to sustain what I had achieved. And it was between seven and ten years later that I lost five very close friends in a matter of two-and-a-half years. The first to cancer, the youngest of which was 42.
PB: It does make you think…
CD: Yeah, yeah—and I had a mammogram come back suspicious. And two of those friends I had lost to breast cancer. And my first thought was, “If I’m one of these unlucky ones that I’ve just watched lose the battle, and I know now having watched them that my time might be less than I had envisioned, what’s the first thing I’d change?”
And it was instantaneous: it was my career. That was absolute. And that was enough motivation to spend some money, spend some time, whatever it took to make a change. Because we all know life is short, and every day we leave, we never know if today’s our last. But when you’re really faced with thinking in those terms, either because of life experiences, or because of something that’s just thrown at you as a scary moment, then you re-evaluate how you want to spend your time. And thankfully, (the mammogram) turned out fine. And you know the other thing I went to is if there’s something in my life that’s toxic and that’s going to undermine my health, what is it? And it was my profession.
PB: I’ve known a lot of people in that business, and it’s really high stress. And at a certain point, even if your commissions are great—it sounds like what you’re saying is that when you look at the cost, is it really worth it?
CD: Yeah…and I knew…no, I guess I should say I thought I knew it was high stress and I hate to use these terms, but cutthroat, and a highly competitive environment. But when you’re in it every day, you kind of lose perspective on that. And I would go to a place of, “I just need to toughen up,” or “These other people seem to be doing it and it doesn’t bother them—why does it bother me? I’m a freak.” But since I’ve been out of it, I find it amazing when other people like you say it’s stressful, because when you’re in it, it’s hard to realize really. And I think that’s true of any situation. I don’t care if it’s a bad relationship or whatever, or if you have some illness, you don’t realize how bad it is until you’re removed from it.
PB: And it’s amazing what we can adapt to—like it’s our nature as human beings to be highly adaptable.
CD: Right. So that was my moment when I decided to take the next step. And I don’t think it was any mistake that I knew somebody who knew Scott and what he was doing, and I think they had told me before I had reached that point. But I was able to go back to them and say, I’m really at a point where I want to meet with him and try and figure this out.
PB: And what was that first meeting like?
CD: Well, I knew Scott, but certainly not as well as I know him now. After the first meeting I thought, “We didn’t talk about any of the things I thought we were going to talk about.” I thought it was going to be all about goals, and financial goals, and all the things that you’re being driven to when you’re going to make a change or achieve something different. And it was a lot about how I felt when I was where I was at, and how I felt when I was in this fleeting moments when I was where I thought I should be, where I found the greatest joy in life. And then we talked a lot about faith. A lot about faith. And I say this totally tongue-in-cheek, because I felt it was the bait-and-switch, it was like he was going to make this so easy (laughs). I’m just gonna pay him, and he’s gonna do it and say, “Here’s where you’re supposed to be!”
PB: Like, “I hired this independent contractor, and he’s going to take care of it…”
CD: Yeah (laughing)—like he was just going to tell me what color my next office was going to be!
PB: Exactly. “Just let me know when to show up, and…”
CD: But it was not that way.
PB: Looking back, what do you think really carried you over the hump? It was challenging, right, because you had worked yourself up to a certain level in your career, and nobody likes to start over, regardless of what that pot of gold seems like at the end of the rainbow. What do you think kept you Playing Big through the tougher parts?
CD: The tougher parts of the process of changing?
PB: Yeah. You knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight, but at the six-month mark, or the one-year mark, when you’re still spending your savings, what kept you going and motivated?
CD: Well, part of making the change was changing who I was working with. Not only did I change career paths to a certain degree—I mean I’m still doing real estate, but in an entirely different environment and a whole different product line. But it was the new people I associated with in my day-to-day business. Their priorities and values just matched mine to a much greater degree. And they were so encouraging! They kept telling me, “You’re doing great!” And I thought, “Well, I sure don’t see it financially.” But it was their encouragement, and the fact that I was now in an environment where the values matched my own. And that gave me the strength, encouragement and faith to hang in there.
PB: Can you recall a moment when, at last, you finally felt this new direction was going to work out?
CD: Yeah, and the timing of that question is pretty interesting, because I just went a week ago Friday to one-day commercial real estate conference. I needed some continuing education, and this particular conference satisfied that. But all the people I used to do business with were there. And I was really disappointed…and this is just something I’m going to have to work on. I was really disappointed about how anxious I got when I was going. And I was like, “Why am I so nervous about this?” I didn’t have to get up there—I wasn’t on some panel. In years past, I might have been somebody on one of the panels.
PB: I guess its our nature that those situation tend to dredge up all those feelings…
CD: It was just like a blast from the past. And everything came rolling back.
PB: But after you got beyond that, wasn’t there some satisfaction in thinking that they’re all still there and you’ve moved on—and moved on in a pretty big way?
CD: Yeah. And I had a number of people ask me, “Did you get into agricultural property sales because you knew the commercial market was going to tank and agriculture was going to take off?” And I’d love to think I’m that smart, but I know I’m not. It was just the luck of the draw. When I say that, I love this definition of luck I read a long time ago—that it’s when preparedness meets opportunity. And I was certainly prepared to make a change. And when the opportunity presented itself, a lot of things fell into place in the way they were supposed to, and I was lucky that I made the move when I did. Because everything cycles.
PB: So how do you plan to keep Playing Big and build on the success you’ve already experienced?
CD: You know, I’m really expanding my networking opportunities in the agricultural world. I got this from the process of Playing Big, because the possibilities now seem limitless, where before my vision was a lot narrower. I don’t know that where I’m sitting at my desk today is the end of the path. I think I’m on the right path, but I don’t know that this is the end. And to that extent, I’ve become involved in ag-related networking groups where I’m not only talking about real estate, but implement dealerships and environmental issues. It’s cattlemen and anything that’s remotely related. I do believe that I’m supposed to be in some ag-related business. Whether it remains the real estate end of it, I don’t know. I don’t know what God’s got in store for me. But I do know that these are the kind of people, this is the kind of environment that I’m meant to be in. But maybe that path means that I’ll end up going to work for someone in some ancillary line of business. And to that extent, I’m leaving tomorrow to meet with some people in Tulsa that own hotels, of all things, office buildings, apartments—a lot of the stuff I came from on the commercial side, but they also own some pretty large ranching operations. So what I hope in being able to meet with them is to be able to showcase what I know—which was the commercial real estate side, so I speak their language. But the fact that they have some large cattle and ranching operations means that they are also very committed to the ag side of things. So, I’m going to go down to meet with them because there may be an opportunity to do some business with these people. I have no idea what that will look like. And before I went through this Playing Big process, I really had to be able to visualize what something was going to look like before I was willing to step out there. And now I can go, not really having any preconceived idea of what it’s going to look like or what the end result will be. Just go in there, make the contacts, meet the people and leave the rest up to how it will be.
PB: Was that your background? Did you grow up in an agricultural environment?
CD: No, no! I grew up in midtown Omaha. Attended high school in South Omaha. But I remember in high school meeting with the guidance counselor and talking about college. And he was saying, “Well, where do you want to go?” And I said I wanted to go to South Dakota and study agriculture. He looked at me like I had two heads because he wondered, “Where is this coming from?” I knew I loved horses, I knew I loved being outside, but my dad was a bricklayer. And I got no encouragement in that direction. But what I found out much later was somebody did our family tree and studied the family genealogy, and that my dad’s side of the family came over from Ireland. A bunch of them settled in eastern Iowa and were all farmers. It was like gosh, maybe it was just in my veins, just really in my makeup.
PB: But I love all that because it speaks to the idea that there is an inner voice in everybody, and it’s amazing how, particularly when you’re in high school, you’re so susceptible to influence.
CD: I liken it to when you’re a first-time parent. You have all these little inner voices telling you something’s wrong, but then your physician or grandma says everything’s fine. But you know there’s something wrong. That was my experience with having children. You feel like you’re born with something maternal, that my gut was telling me things. I think that’s one of the great things about getting older is that I’m not as afraid to listen to what my gut says anymore.
PB: Well, that’s all great stuff—anything else? Any advice for others who want to be Playing Bigger in their lives, who might now be where you were 10 years ago when this whole thing started for you?
CD: I’m friends with someone who is in a very similar position of how I felt prior to making a change, so I now get to look and say, “Wow, I know way too well how this feels.” I don’t think she believes me when I try to talk to her about some of the stuff, because apparently she’s not ready. But the one thing she is coming around to, that I think would be good advice for anybody in that position, is that we have that inner voice, and one thing that drowns that out more effectively than anything is being around those people that are coming from a place of their own fear—or they have very self-limiting beliefs. Because I can get really sucked into that if I’m not careful, if I don’t see that for what it is. Some of it I guess is just aligning yourself with those people that are going to encourage you. Another thing is that there’s always risk in making a change, but it’s a more calculated risk, and I think that’s something Scott’s good at—helping you quantify some of the risk. You don’t want that to be what limits you, but he helps you quantify it.
PB: And maybe what is real, tangible risk what’s only risk in your mind?
CD: Exactly. Like asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” They might get mad at you? Wow!
PB: People do get mad—it happens.
CD: (laughing) That’s right! The only other thing I would say is, this change for me took place three-plus years ago now, and I realize that everybody moves through this process at a different pace. When Scott and I first took this on, we were going to get it done in six weeks. It took me six months. It just took me longer to process some of these things. So I think you have to be gentle with yourself when you go through this, and know that no two people are going to do it exactly the same. You certainly don’t want to compare yourself to anybody else that way. But the other thing is that when this all took place my kids were 16, 15 and 12. So they were just going through the process of finishing up school and thinking about college, and my thinking about what was possible for them really opened up. My idea of what their possibilities were changed dramatically when I began exploring my own possibilities. So, I think my kids today are in a much better place as far as thinking beyond, whether it was their guidance counselor, or the influence of their friends, or even where I might have been had I not done this. I think we would have been a lot more worried about, “Oh my gosh, you want to study abroad—are you kidding? How are we going to pay for that?” This has just taken me so beyond all of those things, not just for myself, but for the people around me and my kids especially.
PB: It’s an amazing story—thanks for sharing it.
CD: Oh, thank you!