“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”  – John Lennon

Truth. And as we’ve just survived one of the most horrendous, life-altering, soul-searching years of our lives, I’m here to tell you one thing… go get a life! And by that I don’t mean the manic pursuit for a bigger paycheck, larger house, or faster car. What I mean is reflect on your life, take control of it, and get a life that’s worth living to you. 

You and me? We live in the HOA industry. Yes, our industry is difficult, and often it’s hard to ignore the complaints that are readily hurled, and to notice the appreciation that is frequently buried. But at least in my opinion, it’s a life worth living.

As I see it, what we contribute to society in general, and to the HOA industry specifically, relates to one of the most important things in people’s lives – their homes, their home-life, and the communities surrounding them. We make a difference.  We have the ability to create, shape, and foster successful communities.  And, as managers, board members, and industry professionals, we are all in this together, in both the struggles and successes. 

As we venture into 2021, I thought I’d share some life lessons for both reflection and action in our HOA pursuits:

Life Lesson No. 1:

Life is short.  It is really easy to waste time. I’ve lived with a keen awareness of mortality for more than two decades now, ever since I lost my father in 1999.  He was only 64. When he died, once I accepted the preposterous notion that the world would keep spinning without him in it, I came to the obvious conclusion that life is precious and fleeting.

But life being short is not just about the people we lose, but it’s about the loss of opportunities along the way, as well as the inability to meet our goals, because we’re too busy making plans instead of executing them. Stop planning and start doing.

Our industry is driven by tasks. And tasks come from a plan. And although planning is certainly the key to success, it can also be the means of our downfall.  When you are working through your 2021 plan, you do not need a detailed course of action for every single task.  Establish the plan, flesh out the tasks, and start working on them immediately. As we all know action, not planning, is the true key to success.

And more importantly, do not micromanage those who are carrying out your plan. One of the keys to being both an effective leader and team member is understanding each person’s role in achieving the desired outcome, trusting each person to carry out that role, and not exceeding your own role or infringing upon someone else’s role in the process. 

The micromanager has his or her hands in everything, shows no trust in others to perform tasks that are assigned to them, creates more paperwork than necessary, and wastes the time of everyone around him or her. If you continue to look over every one’s shoulders, rather than just doing your job, you may find it difficult to keep anyone by your side.

Life Lesson No. 2:

Words made famous by Forrest Gump – philosopher extraordinaire.  That quote exemplifies the randomness in life. There is no way of knowing what is in a piece of chocolate until you bite into it.  Now you can think of this in one of two ways:

First way – It doesn’t matter what you wish, hope and dream for, you still could get stuck with that icky, coconut-filled piece of chocolate (not one of my favorites), so why even bother taking a bite.  Forego the chocolate for you’ll never pick the right one, you’ll gain weight, it’s messy.

I don’t subscribe to that philosophy.

Second way – You get to choose, you get to search for the tastiest chocolate in the box, and you get to experience the sheer delight in your search.  And if sometimes you pick an unsavory piece of chocolate, you also know that once you eat it, it’s now behind you. You’re moving on to better and tastier chocolate. 

We can face it with reluctance, or on the sidelines, picking our chocolate very carefully or choosing not to eat at all. Or we can embrace the box of chocolate for all it has to offer, and gobble up each piece with vigor.

Applying that to our industry?  No doubt that you will experience the “bad” chocolate. There’s no way to avoid it, because no matter how hard you try you will not be able to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. There are too many people with too many divergent interests, and it is simply impossible to make them all align at once.  So, undoubtedly, you will experience sometimes heartbreaking setbacks. Accept that fact.

However, once you’ve tackled that challenging task, once you’ve maneuvered your way through that dreadful annual meeting, once you’ve dusted off that ridiculous and unnecessary verbal assault from left field, that “bad” piece of chocolate is behind you, and you will experience the “good.” A tastier morsel is right around the corner.

It’s our duty as participants in life to look for the tastiest piece of chocolate.  Our search will be marked by challenge, success, passion, loss, and it’s the deliciousness along the way that makes it worthwhile!

Life Lesson No. 3:

Life is about people, not things.  And along the way we meet extraordinary people, we meet kind people, we meet hateful people, we meet inspiring people. But the point is we are not alone. People fill our daily lives. 

In our industry in particular, we often cycle through various groups of people. Board members turn over. Managers switch management companies.  Industry professionals retire or change careers.  As we face these relationship changes, remember that we can both learn from and impart valuable knowledge to every single person along the way. Every meeting is another opportunity to make a positive impact in our industry, in our work relationships and in our communities.

Speaking directly to business partners, if you had to write a resume of your HOA life and career, how would it read?  I hope that mixed in with the number of clients obtained, monetary goals achieved, and promotions received, is the number of people you impacted in a positive way, and the level in which you directly raised the HOA industry bar.

As an industry leader, you are in a position to promote change.  You are in a position to influence what the community pays attention to.  Use your website, newsletters and social media to publish stories and happenings that encourage positive behavior and inspire change.  If your company provides education, incorporate at least one class on building community, or curing the dysfunctional board, or eliminating unethical behavior in the HOA, all topics that could advance the industry as a whole, while helping one community at a time.  And if you’re going to share a HOA horror story, make sure it comes with a lesson so your boards and managers can learn from the incident, rather than just be disgusted by it.

Life Lesson No. 4.:

The HOA industry, particularly in the time of COVID, can be pretty chaotic.  But how to stay calm in a world full of chaos?

Whenever we’re feeling particularly beat down by a chaotic period, one of my work colleagues and I always laugh and bring up the movie “Get Him to The Greek.”  If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll know that the character Aldous Snow tells his friend that when life lets you down (or in Aldous speak “when life slips you a Jeffrey”), then all you have to do is stroke the furry wall.  And there’s this furry wall that Aldous makes his friend stroke to calm him down. The furry wall is soft, feels good, makes his friend forget his rising panic, and reminds him that the world around him is, in one word, beautiful (Yes, it IS!).

So maybe one thing you can do when someone is screaming at you on the phone because you won’t open the pool, or your email inbox has grown from 10 emails to 50 to 100 in one day (or one hour??), or you have to plan for two back-to-back virtual annual meetings each with 200+ people, is stroke the furry wall! Figure out what makes you feel calm, what soothes your senses, what lowers your heart rate, then step back and do it.

When I was feeling continually exhausted last year when the COVID craziness first hit, I would literally take one of my dogs (I have two: Bridget & Bailey) and snuggle and pet her.  This action did not make my task list shrink. It did not finish my legal opinion for me. It did not help me climb out of the ever-growing weeds.  But it did make me feel a lot better.  I would immediately feel calmer, my breathing was more relaxed, my attention became focused on how adorable my dogs were and their unconditional love for me.  This was my “furry wall.” Soon, the pandemonium in my head would lessen to a dull roar before disappearing completely.  All of a sudden, I was smiling again.

And, when I was able to step back into the world, my mind had ordered itself, so that I was in a much better position mentally to face the tasks, calls, problems in an orderly manner, instead of just contributing to the chaos.  (By the way, I now fully subscribe to the whole “emotional support animal” concept). 

So, what can you do that will make you slow down, breathe, relax, remind you of the goodness of life? Taking a nice long drive? Gardening, or just sitting in your garden surrounded by all your lovely flowers? Snuggling your favorite furry friend? Having a bubble bath? When you’re feeling the chaos build, don’t let the momentum destroy you. Make a decision right then and there to create calm. A relaxed body will help the mind and the emotions calm down.

Time to recap:

  1. Life is short. Stop wasting time.
  2. Life is like a box of chocolates. Devour that box with abandon.
  3. Life is about people, not things.  The value in people can outweigh the profit in your pocket.
  4. Stay calm. Stroke the furry wall.

Now I’m not especially equipped, educated or qualified to give life lessons. I don’t own a statue of Buddha, nor do I take long vacations to find myself. I don’t have a philosophy degree, don’t play the bongo drums. I’ve never gone barefoot in central park.  But I do know this: Life is what you make of it. 

So what are you waiting for?  Go get a life!

(Originally posted in CAI-Southern Colorado Community Connections Newsletter, 4th Quarter 2017, but slightly revised.)

11 responses to “Life Lessons for 2021
  1. Thank you for this timely posting. I really needed to hear this today. Smiling now.

  2. Melissa, I have always appreciated your intelligence and personal insight. You always keep it real. I have been in in this industry a long time and still love learning and sharing. You are one of the best, thank you!

    1. Such kind words Michelle! We can always learn from each other and I’ve learned quite a bit from you as well!

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