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.