The first decade of this millennium was rough for anyone in the mortgage industry. We’d watched house prices soar to new heights in 2006 only to plummet months later. Mortgages went belly-up, almost no one knew what had happened, and no one knew what would happen—in a decade, a year, even a month. I felt helpless – and I was supposed to be a leader.
I was in real estate. I’d received a great education, had worked hard to build my career, and then, in an instant, when the economy collapsed my confidence fell with it. The future was suddenly bleak, and I didn’t know how I could navigate it, much less encourage my employees to do the same.
It was agony, the kind of agony you keep bottled up until you’re in a dark bar with a drink and your dad.
We ordered our beers, sat down, and I talked, and talked, about the industry and my fears and all the people who relied on me for their jobs, their livelihood. My father sat and listened. Whenever you talk about your stress—put words to it—a little pressure gets released. Of course, it matters whom you’re talking to.
My father knows about stress. Born in Pakistan, he moved to Chicago as a teenager in search of a better life for himself and his family. He had no education, no experience, and hardly any support network in this country, but he had a work ethic and hope for the future. For at least a decade he worked any job he could find, as a bartender or taxi driver. When I was growing up, I hardly ever saw him he was working so much, and it took years for me to understand why he did what he did.
He was moving ahead, pushing forward, for me, for our family: Not just to put food on our table and pay rent, but to show us how to succeed in a world where nothing is certain, where the future is always unknown.
I never forgot that, but when troubles of your own happen, they tend to move everything else out of your mind.
My father saw this. He felt the stress I practically radiated. He had watched my daily routine turn into agonizing labor. Sitting in that bar, he didn’t tell me anything about mortgage forecasts or the cyclical trends in real estate. He didn’t address my concerns, one by one. He didn’t pay any attention to the issues and details I’d just dumped on him.
He said you need to have courage, and push through. If you give up, he told me, they’ll all give up.
That was leadership, I realized, the leadership my dad exemplified as I was growing up. He always kept moving forward, despite any obstacles or fears. He maintained the courage to drive ahead, no matter what, which encouraged me and my brothers to do the same, to pursue an education and launch successful careers.
My father’s leadership didn’t just result in his children’s success; he succeeded himself too. He eventually invested in real estate and now owns an empire. He’s the epitome of the American Dream, but nothing was handed to him. He succeeded because he worked tirelessly and courageously, and he showed me how to do the same.
The housing market has turned around. The economic recovery has made the future of real estate and mortgages look bright again, but I haven’t forgotten that evening with my dad when everything seemed so bleak. He told me the way we handle hardship gives meaning to our lives. I remember that whenever a branch manager calls me with a concern, or when a new report predicts a downturn in one of our markets, or any time I feel the onset of stress and worry.
Even in the best times, life will always have challenges. But if we persevere, push through, and maintain courage, we better not only ourselves but every person we work with, every client we meet, and every family member we love.
Alvin Shah is a Branch President at First Option who works every day to ensure the success of our Atlanta and Dallas branches.