If you’re hoping for all real estate, this post will disappoint you. I’m about to do a deep dive into spirituality, and it’s going to get heavy. If this resonates with you, we should probably be friends. I’m guessing this will make sense to about .1% of the populations. Let’s get deep, y’all.
We have a dog, Rosie, whom I adore. I got her because something bad happened.
I was working with a seller to get her home sold. It was my first listing in Austin. We were under contract with a buyer and the appraisal came in lower than the contract price. My client was upset. She would either have to pocket less money than she expected, or let this buyer walk away and hope for another buyer to come around soon with a higher appraisal. “You didn’t tell me this could happen!” She exclaimed.
She was right. I didn’t tell her that could happen. I had failed to prepare her for this possibility, and now she was asking me to cut my commission to make up the difference. This was a great lesson for me in setting expectations and preserving relationships with my clients when they freak out. Which is more often than I might like, because real estate is stressful for people.
Being a people-pleaser by nature, I was really letting this whole situation get to me, so I told Chris I needed to go pet some dogs. We didn’t have a dog at the time, but I adore dogs, grew up with dogs and have always seen them as a balm for the soul. They love you for exactly who you are. They are fully present. They are absolutely themselves. They never ask you to cut your commission. They never freak out about money. They never tell you you messed up or they’re disappointed or you’re not good enough.
I’m not sure you can tell, but some days I prefer dogs over people.
So I proposed a trip to the pound, to “just look.” Chris eyed me skeptically but he hates it when I’m anything less than chipper so he agreed to take me. “This is a terrible idea,” he protested tepidly, and drove me to Austin Pets Alive.
When we were shown to the puppy section, the young man helping us asked if we’d like to each hold a puppy. There were two sleepy muttsw, sisters, who were sharing a stall. It was cold outside, and we stood outside holding them. The dog I picked up was a small black and brindle hound mix, mostly asleep, and shivering. She snuggled onto my chest, rested her small head on my upper back, snuggled her soft puppy neck right against mine, and went to sleep.
I could barely stand to put her down again. When we left, I was no longer thinking about work. I was thinking about a little black and brown puppy that we absolutely did not need in our busy lives and 16th floor apartment.
A week later I was still obsessing about that little dog. I remember waiting for the elevator in our building when Chris looked over at me and asked, “You’re still thinking about that dog, aren’t you?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed.
“Have you picked a name for her?”
“Yes, Rosie. Short for Rosalita, like the Bruce Springsteen song!” I almost shouted, surprising myself, the words pouring out of me from some deep, hidden place of dog-mom longing.
Chris saw where this was going, and skillfully capitalized on the situation, like the savvy businessman he is.
“We can get her. But I am not feeding her, and I am not taking her out in the mornings. I am having my coffee in bed. And I’m not taking her out late at night, either.”
“Okay, yes, whatever!” I would come to regret this concession for years to come, but I got my dog, and I love her.
I tell this story to make a simple point about life. Often, the “bad” things that happen to us turn into wonderful things when we reflect back on them after a bit of time passes. Several good things came out of that “bad” day. First, I learned to set expectations better with my clients. It started me down a path of systematizing my business that ultimately made me much more successful. Second, I got a dog that I absolutely love who brings me joy every day.
These kinds of delightful confluences of events make me sympathetic to the law of attraction and the power of positive thinking. If you aren’t familiar, the law of attraction posits that we attract everything into our lives, both good and bad. And that nothing is really bad, if you look at it the right way. We are the creators of our own life experiences.
And here’s my take on positive thinking: “I’ll probably be grateful some day for this ‘bad’ thing that’s happening to me. Just like I am about how I got Rosie. So why wait for later? Why not just be grateful for it now?”
True disciples of the law of attraction will say things like “Nothing happens to me. Everything happens for me.” They’ll say that even about a cancer diagnosis. A more mainstream version of this idea would be “Everything happens for a reason.”
My upset client seemed like something happening to me, but it was actually happening for me. Because I wanted to grow in my business. I wanted to learn to manage my own emotions around clients. I wanted to be less of a people-pleaser. And I wanted a dog. And I got all of that.
And I also believe that law of attraction has its limits.
I met a woman recently and heard her story. As a baby, her son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that caused him to regress from a normally developing child to one who would need nursing care for the rest of his life. The medical costs associated with this tragic news forced her to figure out how to make a lot of money, fast. So she, in her words, built the business she wished existed. She now runs a successful real estate brokerage, as well as a women’s collective focused on happiness and fulfillment.
I believe she worked hard for these things. I believe she responded admirably to difficult circumstances. It’s inspiring. I do not believe she attracted a tragic illness into her family so she could become inspiring, or that her baby son attracted a genetic disorder to himself. And I don’t believe her success in the time since his illness somehow makes his disease “worth it.”
That’s where the law of attraction breaks down for me. It’s fine to say “I had some challenges in my business. Now looking back, I see that I grew professionally, and I am grateful for them. Challenges cause growth, and I welcome them.”
Tragedy feels different. Tragic events seem like they can’t possibly have a pay-off that would justify them. Does this woman ever think “I sure am glad my son has a rare genetic disease. Otherwise, I probably never would have gotten to do a Ted Talk!”
No, she doesn’t. I know, because we had this conversation. Her take: “Life is brutal. Nature is brutal. Biology is brutal.” I think it’s possible to feel this way about life and still be happy, grateful and fulfilled. She certainly seems to be.
But then, tragedy doesn’t seem entirely un-redeeming either. There’s always something to me about tragic circumstances that move me in a way that I don’t understand. Sadness, yes. But also something that feels holy. I think it’s grace.
In some of my hardest moments, when my parents were going through a messy divorce, when we lost someone we loved to drunk driving, when family lost a four year old to cancer, I’ve found a strange kind of solace and comfort in the depths of despair.
Take someone like Mark Nepo, the author of The Book of Awakening, beloved by yoga instructors everywhere. He got cancer and got peace, too. Would he say his cancer was worth it? Or can he see some beautiful, difficult truth the rest of us can’t? Did he find something that blows apart that kind of petty calculation, and makes it irrelevant?
I don’t know the answer, of course. If I did, I’d be traveling the world on an epic speaking tour and taking long vows of silence and making extended eye contact with people while uttering mysterious and important sounding prophesies about their future.
Like this guy, who has recently come back into favor after being posthumously rebranded.
Or maybe that’s just what people do who pretend to have the answer.
Here’s where I shrug and decide that I can’t possibly understand important things without my head exploding. Like life and tragedy and grace and whether or not the law of attraction is heretical for me to believe in as a Catholic.
So when people say “God works in mysterious ways,” I agree. And I’m okay with not knowing the answers. Is your current tragedy going to make you better? Will you be glad it happened some day?
I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.
I don’t feel like it’s my place to decide that for anyone else. It seems like saying “they’re in a better place” or “everything happens for a reason” or “everything happens for you, not to you” is another way to say “get over it already.”
Which is also why I usually find myself at a loss for words in tragic situations. After I say “I’m so sorry,” and “I love you” and “How can I help?” I’ve got nothing else to say, and it feels so inadequate.
So I just pray that by the grace of God, it’s enough. And that maybe Heaven will be one eternal moment of finally understanding it all.