I am a luxury real estate broker in Manhattan; we have discussed a bit of what that entails daily, but it was a superficial glance. It is constantly emotionally demanding in many ways Staying focused, remembering conversations with each of your clients as if they are the only ones you are having. Navigating high pressure, fast-moving dynamics with colleagues balanced with the lonely existence of an independent contractor.
How do we stay relatively sane and highly functioning in this milieu? I am still in a discovery phase but have made significant progress. Part of that has been becoming comfortable in my own skin, knowing who I am and embracing it. In short, I have learned to accept that I am a major nerd and am allowing this to benefit my mental welfare!
Yesterday, as I was feeling a soupçon of guilt about indulging in one of my favorite past times while faced with a full workday ahead (this was Sunday), I arrived at MOMA for a quick walk through the Picasso in Fontainebleau exhibit. I enter exhibitions and retrospectives with my mind ready: to learn, to question, to critique; excited for the mental challenge which lies ahead.
I plant myself in front of the first wall of writing, ready to open my eyes, spin my wheels -and to take my glasses on and off multiple times to make sure that I am not missing some aspect of a piece that may be obfuscated by my purported need to wear progressive lenses. I now have most of these conversations in my own head, as over the years I noticed the confusion and boredom on the faces of those who accompany me when I start sharing my thoughts.
I am no art expert-student-critic; it is my absolute passion for the subject and my small frustration over the fact that I cannot spend my days immersed in artistic and literary or historic academia that drives me. I know that I idealize the daily existence of those who arduously work, day in and day out, in these disciplines, but I continue to indulge this fantasy.
Does this personal passion relate in any way to my career choice? Yes. Manhattan is undeniably one of the world’s cultural centers. The architecture and decoration of our magnificent pre-war buildings, contemporary gleaming towers, the sculptures, arboretum and botany carefully chosen for our public spaces – it distinguishes our unique island.
But the mere existence and experience of life in Manhattan has inspired all cultural disciplines since humans first inhabited the area. The beauty, the struggles, the intensity and the uniqueness of life in Manhattan continues to stimulate artistic achievement beyond simple comprehension. Ergo, my first point is that Manhattan real estate, and the Manhattan lifestyle - in all its diversity and art - are inextricably intertwined.
Second, I will make it personal. My career in Manhattan real estate is not a casual choice for me. If it were, then the potential for success would be limited. The history of the greatest city in the world fascinates me perpetually. I walk through the laundry room of a pre-war building and wonder about the people who have stood in these historic caverns, those who did the excavation, laid the stones – what were their lives, their stories that define these edifices for perpetuity.
These days, my generation and younger are ultra-focused on work-life balance: recharging, restoring, boundaries, unwinding and mindfulness. My tendency has been to roll my eyes and to brace myself for some kind of life-coachy lecture when I hear these terms.
I do understand the importance of having an outlet, particularly for those of us whose careers are especially detrimental to a work-life-health balance, but I never gave it much thought. I don’t clear my head at the gym, I can’t play a musical instrument, sing or draw particularly well. The thought (no pun intended) of meditation sends me running for the hills.
Then one day, I walked into the Metropolitan Museum, which I do a few times a month, but never considered why. Walking in, I breathed a palpable sigh of relief. There it was.
Immersing myself in an artistic, historical institution, listening to a three-hour podcast about Stonehenge, watching a documentary about Henry V or standing in the laundry room of a 100-year-old building all give my brain a reprieve from the pressures of being a luxury real estate broker on the one of the top-performing teams in Manhattan.
I know you might chuckle at the absurdity of that statement. But these things remind me that my daily concerns, stress and pressures are so trivially relative to the scope, beauty, magnitude and complexity of humanity. My mind is immediately lifted out of the moment, opened, lightened – and I notice myself start to breathe.
Most importantly, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the world in which I have the privilege to live and work – with all its imperfections, challenges and ugliness - it is still a magnificent gift.
Thankfully, cultural enlightenment and mental healing are not relegated to the grandeur and magnificence of institutions like the Metropolitan Museum; as I mentioned earlier, it can occur in some of the most mundane locations.
Take a moment to let the everyday of our lives elevate your thoughts. Louis Nevelson’s imposing piece at MOMA, Sky Cathedral, is described as, “A shrine filled with everyday objects found in her Manhattan neighborhood.” And she calls it a Cathedral, elevating the everyday to something worthy of quiet contemplation and worship. Andy Warhol said, “I just happen to like ordinary things. When I paint them, I don’t try to make them extraordinary.”
Mark Rothko regarded his art as a profound form of communication, “Conveying the ‘scale of human feelings, the human drama’” – the human experience.
Maybe that’s what people mean by mindfulness; I’m not exactly sure. Whatever you are drawn to for balance, mental well-being, release – let it be your own. You don’t have to choose from a list but find it and embrace it.
Even writing these articles provides me with that reprieve and escape – and I and deeply grateful to those who push and gently remind me each month to get something done, and thankful to those who magnanimously opened this door for me.
Thank you to those of you who take the valuable time from your day to read.