The Anvil

These are the times that try men’s souls.

—Thomas Paine, The American Crisis (1776)

During my 45 years in the real estate business I, like many, have suffered the slings and arrows of difficult times and enjoyed the successes that have most often outweighed them. Reflecting on the world today, and on several recessionary periods over the years, I have been mindful of constant market changes, political upheaval, uncertainty, and America teetering on the head of pin. Watching the nightly news provides a different cabal every day. All weighs heavily. This brings to mind the tools that many— especially those of us in the real estate industry—have used to fight against the grain when things get difficult..

In my literary travels, a year or so ago, I came across a small article in The Wall Street Journal that gained my attention. Unfortunately, in my haste to cut out the article the author was not included, so I give credit where credit is due…even though I do not know his name.

Below is an excerpt of the article which addresses the fears and anxiety perpetuated by what seems to be one calamitous event after another.

The theologian Paul Tillich wrote about the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is of something, you can name and face it, and in the facing of it lift your own morale, show yourself what’s in you. Anxiety is amorphous; it doesn’t quite have an object, it’s a state. And so it’s harder to shake and no empowering necessary comes from it. A lot of people this year will have to break down a generalized anxiety into specific fears and deal with them courageously. . . . It’s going to be the work of years to dig ourselves out fully, but there are many reasons to believe we can and will.

Those of us in the real estate business, who dedicate ourselves to being professionals, know that there is a sense of strength that we hold to guide us through our business and personal lives.

Carl Sandburg, in his poem “The People, Yes,” provided this analogy: “The old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.” Over the course of the last year, I have repeated that phrase many times to address my own fears and anxiety. The chaos and challenges I have experienced in developing real estate are like, in the words of Daniel Murphy S.E.C., “riding a psychotic horse through a burning barn.” Those in other real estate disciplines, I’m sure, feel much the same from time to time.

From Sandburg, I formed in my mind the image of a fire-hardened mass of steel, impervious to the force of a strong arm slamming a solid hammer down upon its surface only to shatter upon impact. The visual was a significant revelation. The anvil is impregnable—resistant to the effects of its antagonist, the hammer. Though the recipient of continual blows, it remains only slightly tarnished from chips of broken hammers. How appropriate for this time in our lives. A hardened soul with tough resolve emulates the way of the anvil.

I reflected on the hardships faced by my parents and my grandparents, and tried to make an analysis of their tribulations and how they persevered.

At a young age, my father had to physically hold back my grandfather from running into his auto workshop as a fire consumed the place. Together, they watched as the years of a small business evaporated in minutes. But, the ethos of the anvil had been imbedded deeply in their characters; soon a new building was found, and work began again. The old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.

My maternal grandfather worked for Fisher Body in Flint, Michigan, in the depths of the gigantic factories that embodied the auto business in the 1930s. He was summarily dismissed one day; is arthritic hands were no longer capable of the intricate work. He watched as his life melted before him—a crippled man in a physical work world who had few options. With 6 kids to feed, my mother being the youngest, the horizon was bleak. But a call from a friend, Walter Reuther, restored his confidence. Reuther did not take issue with his physicality, strength, or dexterity. He wanted my grandfather’s sharp mind to negotiate contracts for the newly formed UAW. And so he become an international negotiator for the UAW for the next 30 years. The old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.

I am sure all of us have personal stories of events in our lives, or those of our families or friends, where the road became impassable, but by some resolve, we, or they, went on to greater achievements and fulfillment.

I thought long about these stories, and asked myself where the anvil got its strength and resilience. I finally surmised that it came from within each of us to advance our careers and provide purpose to the lives of others through the real estate profession. This quality instilled in our human DNA and we gain access to it when confronted with challenges. This is inherently true of creative problem-solving real estate professionals.

If you are having a bad day, take a look out your window. All you can see is real estate everywhere. Land, buildings, homes—all inventory. Endless opportunities abound. Exercise your creative talents and draw on your inner strength to overcome anything holding you back. Grow and achieve more than you first imagined, no matter the circumstances. Remember, most of us failed our way to success, and most often when things were bleakest, the opportunity for success was nearby.

Remember always: The old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.

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