Be Open To Being Interrupted

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Cornerstone Business Group Inc 0225086119
“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.”


In the mid-1990s, I was on a mission. I had a plan, and a goal that was centered on academics and a career teaching at the collegiate level. I had completed three Master's degrees and I was talking to different schools about a PhD. Everything was moving along nicely. Ultimately, my plan would end in an  academic environment where I would retire after years of filling heads full of mush with more mush.

It was during this time that I started using real estate investing to fund the pursuit of my goals. I was happy and looking forward to a future behind a lectern instructing students and then . . .  My primary college advisor, who was one of the most admired and respected people in my life, sent a note to an organization that was attempting to do something completely out of the box, and he told them to call me. He said he thought I would be a perfect person to help them in their mission. What was their mission? Their mission was start a Christian college in a post communist country. What? That seemed a little out of my scope of knowledge and experience, but I was open to being interrupted.

Long story short, I became an adjunct professor in Ukraine from 1998-2004. Our goal was to graduate a class and hopefully a few students from that class would have a desire to become instructors. When the first class graduated, we sent four of the potential instructors to the US for Master's degrees and today, they are the primary instructors at ZBC. The team "mostly" finished up in the Ukraine which entailed buying property, building a campus with dorms and classrooms and turning over the lionshare of the work to the Ukrainians who worked with us from start-up to completion of our mission. Oh, I didn't mention, it was all volunteer on our part.

What does this have to do with real estate? Nothing and everything. When I was on my journey to academic bliss, I was solely focused on that one thing. It took up an inordinate amount of my time and for me, it was exciting and exhausting at the same time. My family was totally behind me, but it did cost family time, and that stung a little. I was undeterred until the invitation to join the Ukrainian opportunity arrived.

When I arrived in Ukraine, I realized that the average Ukrainian lived way below what an impoverished American on welfare lived on. They didn't have everything, or the best of  many things and they often didn't have basic needs met, but they were happy. How could that be? It happens because happiness doesn't come from without, but it comes from within. After teaching my first intensive, which was a semester in 10 days, I left the country very melancholy.

I realized my life was a continuous series of strivings for something a little further down the road, and there is nothing wrong with that, but what I learned in the process is that when you are so focused on an end goal, you may miss opportunities to do something amazing. It may be business related, a social opportunity or a personal life change. It doesn't matter. It's intended to make your life greater, not less. I reached my goal of achieving a PhD, and I had multiple college teaching offers. I had arrived, or had I?

By the time I arrived at the end of that goal, I was no longer interested in the goal. My life had been interrupted. I saw things differently and I was suddenly open to new opportunities. With a new perspective, I started a second company. I handpicked the people I wanted to work with. With the real estate company, I only hire completely new agents. I want people who can be raised up in the field with the right techniques, a respect for the process, the right attitudes and the solemn goal of helping others. Our company is small (8), but they all fall into those categories.  I also wanted to employ people I hoped I could help dream and then exceed their dreams.

I require people who work with me to read certain books, and I pay for them to do that. I want them to see the world differently. In each case, they have ended up seeing the world with new eyes. They have changed the way they see money, use money and give of their resources and time. One of my top producing agents has started a shelter for abused women. She funds it partly with her commissions. She was interrupted on her way to building a comfortable life. She does live a comfortable life, but she also helps others find comfort in their lives. 

I wouldn't change the way my life has gone at all. Pursuing my academic goals opened the door to going to the Ukraine, and that changed me and my view of the world. I did end up teaching in two colleges (Zaporozhye and Sumy) while there, and a college in Nikopol asked if I would consider coming there. Sadly, I was not able because of time. The whole thing was a surprise to me, but being interrupted allowed me to use the goals of the past to create a new life in the present and the future. Be open to being interrupted. You never know where it might lead. 

Comments (12)

Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Mike - things happen.  For a reason and seemingly for no reason at all.  Why?  Well, that's the question we keep asking.  

Jul 20, 2021 04:03 PM
James Dray
Fathom Realty - Bentonville, AR
Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results

Morning Mike.

My dad was a salesman, I would go on road trips with him, observing the way he conducted business.  I told myself I would never be a salesman, now look at me.  I wouldn't trade my experiences watching my dad for anything, it taught me a lot.  It goes full circle

Jul 21, 2021 12:41 AM
Barbara Tattersall
Keller Williams Realty Metropolitan (Keene,NH) - Keene, NH

Hi Mike,

A motivational speaker came to our office and started touting the benefits of lots of money making angles so we could have the mercedes and new boat, etc., etc. I asked him what if I didn't care about all that material stuff and already felt rich in ways that did not take money.  He said it meant I was content. I'll take content, grateful and happy anyday.  I enjoyed your story. Thank you.

Jul 21, 2021 03:42 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning Mike - that is quick a career you have had.  When we are open to being interrumpted we sometimes find new doors to open.

Jul 21, 2021 04:47 AM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker, eXp Realty - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

I don't even think those were necessarily interruptions. They were opportunities that went down a different path. If we are open to the opportunities that come our way, our journey can be incredibly interesting and satisfying. I'm glad you were open to yours!

Jul 21, 2021 05:35 AM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD

It was sort on a parallel path, wasn't it? I did make a lot of life long friends on the other side of the world. 

Jul 21, 2021 06:46 AM
Carol Williams
Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals. - Wenatchee, WA
Retired Agent / Broker / Property Manager

Hi Mike,
I love your story and am happy I am at a point in my life where I am happy and content. That doesn't mean I don't keep striving but the contentness is still there.

Jul 21, 2021 09:15 AM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD

I hear you, Carol. I started a blog the other day that deals with what aging has taught me. It's a lot. 😁

Jul 21, 2021 12:34 PM
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224

Mike- your post reminded me of when I first moved to FL. I thought my life had ended. My world in Houston was set professionally and with life-long friends and of course, my family. So, yes, my life was interrupted and when I look back, I realize how fortunate I was to have it interrupted. I think of the new friends I'd never have met and all of the things we did in FL. 

Jul 21, 2021 03:36 PM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD - What a fascinating story of your life so far.  I say that because you still have chapters to write and I am sure they will be just as interesting.  Happy Friday.

Jul 23, 2021 02:44 PM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD

Thank you, Sheri. I was speaking at my Alma Mater last year and I said that I was entering the fourth chapter of my life. One of the students said, "Don't you mean the fourth quarter?" I said, "No because I have many more chapters to write, and sports tend to be over at the end of the fourth quarter. I have more to do."

Jul 23, 2021 04:05 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

That's quite a story, and career, Mike. And a life-changing illustration to what can happen if we are open to being interrupted. Sometimes plans do, and should, change.

Thank you!


Jul 24, 2021 10:29 AM
Ed Silva
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

From the title I was expecting it to be something along the lines of getting distracted with a call or visit.  You just had crossroads to select and did what felt best even if it wasn't the most financially rewarding at the time.

Jul 24, 2021 01:35 PM
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD - That was a blessed stroke of serendipity. Who would have guessed your mission, plan, and business goal would change into something completely different and the lives of so many, including your own in the most positive way. This was a road map that didn't exist. You were in unchartered waters when you were challenged to start a new mission, "a Christian college in a post communist country."  I was very intrigued by the people and how happy they were despite their poverty. I believe you because in my Chicago neighborhood where I grew up, many Ukrainian families came to live and I played with their children. Gradually, the kids learned English and they were the best friends.  I'm not just talking about one family, I mean a lot of Ukrainian families came to live on my block. They were loving, kind, happy, and generous people. The kids were all well disciplined and they had faith. Mike, you definitely took the Road Less Traveled and you became a better man. You inspired me.  

Sep 10, 2021 01:34 PM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD

Thank you, Patricia. Many of those Ukrainian contacts who worked with me have become life long friends. I love them like family.

Sep 10, 2021 02:26 PM
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

I was looking for your current posts.

I hope you have enjoyed a productive summer.

Sep 15, 2021 08:54 AM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD

It has been a crazy one, Roy. My blogging has taken quite a hit this year. Hopefully Fall will give me more time to get back in the game.

Sep 15, 2021 12:19 PM