In 2011, almost a year after my oldest daughter, Sophie, came into this world, I found myself seated at a table at Nordstrom Café with my mom and dad. Tears were streaming down my face, which then turned to full body sobs much to Sophie's delight as the convulsions bopped her up and down. I was at a crossroads and it was one of those seminal moments in life that you know will change its trajectory forever. You see, six years earlier, my husband, Brian, and I both took a huge leap of faith to pursue life as entrepreneurs. At the same time. Yeah. We both left our "stable jobs" - I was the manager and teacher at a Pilates studio and he was a high school English teacher. He had always wanted to be a writer and I, well, wasn't sure, but I was getting the itch to start my own business. We saw our friends finding success and meaning in their careers, which is something we were just not feeling. It was clear to us that it was now or never. We jumped. And it's been quite the journey.
Back in 1997 while still at Penn State, Brian and I befriended Ruth and George, a very special couple who were in their 80s. We stayed in touch with them until the end of their lives. One of the last things George said to me in his Brian-Cox-In-Succession voice, as I was the one who picked up the phone on what would be our last phone call, was, "Steffi! Remember this always: In the hour of adversity, be not without hope for crystal rain falls from black clouds." I since learned it was written by the poet Nizami Ganjavi. George loved sharing his favorite quotes in his booming voice. I wrote this quote down and it sits to the right of me at my desk. I look at it often. Entrepreneurial life is magical and it's also a constant test of one's belief in the universe having your back. Which brings me to the banquette in Nordstrom in 2011.
By that time, I had built a respectable personal Pilates studio, worked as an independent sales consultant for a growing online guide to Philly's happenings, and was a co-director for Ladies Who Launch in Philadelphia. (Full-on hustle.) Brian's career was gaining steam and his travels started becoming a regular thing. Having a baby added to the instability of our lives. I was at my breaking point. I loved what I did for a living and the world it had opened up to me, but the pressure of looking for something with more potential AND flexibility for me to be with my daughter was growing. (And yes...the joke is not lost on me about having flexibility in real estate, but there's more than one would think. There are tradeoffs with any career.)
I shared this dilemma with my parents. My dad, a dentist with his own practice, saw something I did not. He suggested I go into real estate. "It's clear to me! You're great with people, every day will be different, and you'll have flexibility to be with Sophie! You can even still teach Pilates." I took a few days to think about it and talk it over with Brian. We decided I would get my license which would give me a new path to pursue. Once I made that decision, the magic started happening. I bumped into a friend whose brother-in-law had a team at a local brokerage in Philadelphia. He made the introduction, we met, and I found a place to "hang my license" as "they" say.
It was a bumpy entry. First of all, I thought it was all about houses and properties, and for someone who was used to working with emotions and movement, this was the opposite energy. Second, I was essentially thrown into this wild new world in an unconventional way. The manager wasn't the welcome leader I imagined. When I first met her, she told me I was not allowed to reach out to her with questions. She went on to say that it was my team lead's decision to hire me and I was only to report to him. Jarring coming from the world of wellness where the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Regardless, I was not deterred and went through what felt like the Mr. Miyagi introduction to real estate; I was given only rental leads with very little explanation as to why it was the only transaction I was learning. I knew there were reasons for this approach, but only time would reveal what they were.
One of the hardest parts was the identity crisis that came with pursuing a new career. At that point people knew me as a Pilates Instructor. I was well on my way to being an expert in my field, so it was understandable that I'd often get the question, "Are you still doing that 'real estate thing?'"
Eventually I gained my footing and the ratio of Pilates instruction to real estate sales flipped. I felt empowered, I got burned, I switched brokerages two more times. It was at the third brokerage where I met Terry Kirkwood, a manager who inspired and brought humanity to this world that still felt uninviting to me. I gained new perspective on my role as an agent and more confidence in my work with clients.
In 2019 I was working out of the LifeTime Work (LTW) space on the Main Line (outside of Philly). My thought was, why work out of my real estate office if I could have a home base in an absolutely stunning space surrounded by other entrepreneurs with an incredible gym at my fingertips? It was a huge financial stretch for me. I kept telling myself it was a business expense. Ah justification. But wow. I am eternally grateful I did, because it was there that I got my first glimpse of the people from Compass buzzing around the space getting ready to launch their first suburban Philadelphia office. I had heard of the company and followed their trajectory. Their vibe spoke to me. I wanted in.
I inquired with Ashley, the manager of LTW, what she knew about their plans to set up shop in the area. The idea of the workspace was one of collaboration and synchronicity, which is why she immediately offered to introduce me to Gary Lacy, the person spearheading the opening of this office. The minute we met, I knew this was the brokerage I wanted to be part of as soon as possible; he explained the company's fresh approach to the Industry, there was passion there that I had not felt at the other brokerages I had experienced. After a months-long rigorous vetting process, on March 11, 2019, I sat down at Compass' temporary office - ironically in the space that housed my first job at The Limited back in the '90s - for my onboarding.
For someone who for so long felt that she could not find her "thing" or her place in the world, joining Compass has been a godsend for me. It's reframed the what I'm doing into the why I'm doing it. The sense of purpose and gratitude I feel in helping people through these times where they are making moves that constitute a new chapter in their lives is so incredibly profound. At Compass, I have been guided not just professionally, but personally, to get to this place where I can recognize and honor my gifts and how to harness them to best help my clients. It's amazing what happens when you work with a company whose values align with yours and you're surrounded by colleagues who make you want to be a better person and agent.
Five years later after joining Compass, and twelve years after getting my license, I can confidently say, "Yes. I am still doing that 'real estate thing.'"
And thanks, Dad.