A few years ago, after showing a client’s apartment to a prospective buyer, my client returned to the apartment. We stood in her kitchen, as I reported on the details of the showing.
After, she looked at me and asked, when is it going to sell?
I could hear the fear in her voice, and I understood it. She had three young kids, and the process of selling a home is disruptive to family life.
Although the apartment had been on the market only a few weeks, we had started the process several weeks earlier, with decluttering and staging. Each open house, each showing, required the family to leave the apartment spotless, pack up the kids, and leave for an hour or more. When your home is on the market, it can feel like you’re living in a glass house, trying to keep everything in “show condition” so that you don’t have to clean up too much before each showing.
When my client asked me when is it going to sell? She was really asking when will life return to normal?
Beneath her question was fear: What if nobody wants to buy it?
There was also grief hidden in there: she would soon be letting go of this home that she loved, in a neighborhood in which she had lived for most of her life. It’s hard to grieve the loss while you’re still in the home, while the process is still unfolding.
These are issues that confront every homeowner selling a home.
What The Nervous System Wants — and What It Needs
When we’re in line at a store, on hold with customer service, waiting for the subway, waiting at home for the cable guy, selling or buying a home, or in countless other situations, our nervous systems are constantly asking how long will this last? and when will this be over?
Sitting in the mystery of the unknown is uncomfortable. We want a timeline, and we don’t always get one.
I did not have a timeline for her, because I don’t have a crystal ball. 🔮
What my client needed from me in that moment was to hold the space for her fear and grief — emotions she hadn’t necessarily faced consciously at that point — so that she could learn to hold it for herself and eventually for her children. We cannot give others what we don’t have.
Although we want a timeline, what we really need is certainty.
That is what I gave her that day in her kitchen. First, I acknowledged her fear. I welcomed it, held space for it and allowed it to be with us. This is a normal emotion in the process, and I recognized it as such. There is no shame in fear.
One of my favorite teachings from meditation teacher Tara Brach: This belongs here.
I acknowledged the difficulty of her situation, the loss of her old routine, the state of limbo she found herself in, her desire to return to a normal routine.
While conceding that I couldn’t give her a timeline, I focused on what I did know. She had a beautiful home, I reminded her. I reiterated the feedback we had received. I reminded her of what we had done to market the home so far, and what was still in the words. I was 100% confident that we would find the right buyer.
As we stood in her kitchen I could see the weight lift from her shoulders. Her energy lightened. My confidence and certainty gave her the certainty she craved.
The Sacred Work
We did eventually find a great buyer and negotiated a great deal, but one of the least understood aspects of the real estate business is that real estate brokerage isn’t really about real estate at all. It’s not about finding properties or buyers, or negotiating deals.
Yes, those things are part of it. But the bigger piece of what I do — the most important and most impactful part of my work — is represented by my “kitchen conversation” with this client. In fact, I’ve had this kitchen conversation with every client (and it really does happen most often in the kitchen).
Holding the space for what arises in the realm of uncertainty is the secret sauce to moving through with greater ease. This is sacred work, and it transcends the situation in which we apply it.
This is Everyone Right Now
These issues don’t apply only to homeowners selling their homes. I’ve had this conversation with other clients too, regardless of the transition they were navigating. And these issues are applying to everyone right now, which is perhaps why this story came back to me.
Consider the major patterns here:
- An unfamiliar situation with no certainty of how long it will last.
- Disruption to your normal routine.
- Loss of what you’ve known. Fear of what lies ahead.
- Grief. Fear. Anxiety. Maybe panic.
- The inner voice asking, When will this be over? How long will this last?
This is all around us. This is everyone right now, in every corner of the world, as we live in the mystery of the coronavirus.
Quarantine. Working from home. Cultural and sporting events shuttered. Fear of getting sick. Losing touch with community and losing routines.
We don’t know how long this will last, and when it will be over. It could be a few weeks or a few months, or longer.
Uncertainty is the only certainty.
This, of course, is always the case, but we feel it now more than ever.
We are in uncharted waters. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Not even the “experts.”
How to Create Certainty in Uncertain Times
The only way through it is to be in it. To hold space for the emotions that arise: the fear, the grief, the anxiety.
This work is not meant to be done alone, even if you’re in quarantine.
In times of uncertainty, we need people who can hold the space for us to be with what is and give us the confidence and certainty that we will get through this. We need a person with us in the kitchen to say, this belongs here.
Reach out for support. You don’t have to navigate alone.