In a year marked by worldwide tragedy, we’ve been forced to reexamine what is truly important and wrestle with how we can reorient our lives to truly make a difference going forward and leave our mark on the world.

It has been a year for the record books, and I know many who will be glad to see 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror. It’s been full of heartbreak, as the coronavirus has taken hundreds of thousands of lives. It has been devastating financially, as businesses have gone under and livelihoods have been lost. It has been hallmarked by loneliness and isolation, as we’ve been forced to shelter in place.

A significant question many of us are asking is: How could something we did not even know about at the beginning of the year wreak so much devastation in every corner of the globe and utterly alter our lives? We did not see this coming, and yet its impact will be felt for generations to come.

In addition to the COVID-related events of the year, we’ve had two separate incidents rock our personal world. The first was a call I received a short while ago from the brother of one of the handymen we used on a regular basis. “I found your business card at my brother’s house,” he began. “Were you working together on anything?” I explained that we frequently partnered together on projects for our listings.

“Well, as you know, he was in Mexico visiting relatives,” he continued. “Apparently he was mistaken for someone else, and both he and his wife were killed in a shooting by members of a cartel.”

The second was a call from a member of my team regarding a well-known Realtor in our area. “Did you hear that Robert (not his real name) just died?” Shocked, I queried, “No – what happened?”

“It seems he was cutting down a tree in his yard,” they explained. “It evidently crushed him as it fell.” This agent was not only a friend, but someone I competed against in listing presentations and frequently swapped places for No. 1 in our region. We were constantly aware of each other. In the blink of an eye, our competition, unit numbers and sales volume meant nothing.

As I reflected on 2020 and the recent unexpected deaths, I was reminded of the Byrds’ 1965 song, Turn! Turn! Turn! Taken from the third chapter of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, the song reiterates the idea that we all have a specific time to be born and a similar time to die. The problem is simple — we have no choice in the events surrounding our birth and, in similar fashion, we normally have no idea when or how we will die.

I’m an incredibly competitive person and not only keep close tabs on my own production numbers, but those of other agents in my region. I can usually tell in any given month how our team’s production stacks up against other local agents and teams.

As I have recently been reminded, however, in the end, those numbers mean absolutely nothing. In 10 years, none of my clients will care what my production numbers were for 2020. In reality, unless I carefully nurture relationships over the next 10 years, many will not even remember who I am.

Given those facts, along with the reminder that our days are finite, I believe we need to have more to show for our existence than plaques on the wall touting our yearly sales accomplishments. Here are my recommendations:

1. Focus on relationships

At the end of the day, relationships are what really matter. Trophies, awards, plaques — not so much. We handle a lot of trust sales and frequently work with family members left with the task of disposing of the estate.

As we meet, they frequently share special memories of times spent together with the deceased. They agonize over what to do with various items they know were valued by the departed but mean nothing to those left behind. They never hesitate, however, when it comes to disposing of old sports trophies or achievement plaques.

2. Celebrate life events

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to being a workaholic. I never, however, want my kids to remember my back hunched over a computer instead of attending their special events, sharing birthdays, going on vacations together and taking the time to stop work to just be together.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that honors achievement at the detriment of relationships. When I’m gone, I do not want to be remembered for how hard I worked and how many homes I sold or how large an investment portfolio I managed to assemble. Instead, I want them to remember times spent snuggling together watching a movie, all the congratulations I handed out after their performances, the special meals cooked for birthdays and more.

3. Give back

The question I’ve had to ask myself is this: At the end of the day, what do I really want to be remembered for? If I think for even a moment that my family and friends will celebrate the fact that I ended up No. 1 in the region for most homes sold, then I am deluded.

For this reason, our real estate team chose to passionately pursue the ability to affect change in the lives of those we encounter. Our tagline, “Changing the world one home at a time,” defines our mission.

We purpose to partner with our clients to not only change their personal lives through the process of helping them achieve their real estate goals and dreams, but also in providing fresh starts locally and globally for those who cannot help themselves.

As a team, we’ve set up a fund into which we put a portion of every commission that’s given to organizations dedicated to providing fresh starts. The letters we receive every year from the organizations we support tell us that we are making a real difference.

4. Set up a legacy

I watch a fair bit of public TV, and I’m always enamored by the credits at the end of the episodes. Inevitably, significant funding comes from foundations or endowments set in place by those who had significant means.

While I will most likely never be able to match that level of funding, my wife and I have chosen to ensure that we can continue to give after we’re gone by setting up a legacy to fund those charitable organizations that support our ideals and beliefs.

5. Serve in person

While many of the traditional service-related opportunities are currently unavailable (think local school workdays and the like), there has been a dramatic rise in other areas of need. COVID-19 has made the rift between the haves and have-nots even more visible — especially in the growing homeless populations.  

The shelter-in-place mandates, especially for those with high-risk health issues, has intensified depression and suicide risk factors. Substance abuse is also on the rise. In a nutshell, there is a growing need for sacrificial service to provide help for those most impacted by the coronavirus. Realtor.com has long championed service to the community and has just announced their 2020 winners. If you are looking for ideas, this is a good place to start.

Given that most of us are governed by normal circumstances, we will not get to choose when we leave this world. We can definitely, however, change how we leave by making sure that those who remain are not staring at our achievement awards covering the walls, but are the better for us having touched their lives in significant ways. Instead of the physical walls of a building, our legacy will be lining the walls — of their hearts.

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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