This is a guest post from Bruce Kirsch, founder of Real Estate Financial Modeling, a unique financial modeling tutorial service. Bruce has an MBA from Wharton with a focus in real estate. This is the first in a series of ‘Advice’ posts from successful real estate professionals.
The month before I started business school at Wharton, I came to the stark realization that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life professionally. So I sat in my shoebox apartment in Philly and started making lists of all of the things that I would be qualified to do 2 years hence with an MBA and the loans to prove it.
I had come from the entertainment and mutual fund businesses, and I knew that I didn’t want to continue to work in either of those. As I read more about finance, private equity, consulting and operations, I couldn’t help but hear John Cusack’s character Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything…
I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.
While my outlook wasn’t quite as dire as his (and I was in no danger of pursuing professional kickboxing), the list of things that I could do that I might want to do for 30 years was dwindling indeed.
After more reflection, I was certain about one thing – I wanted to do something that involved a grand physical scale, a component of artistry, and a relative permanence. So consumer goods was also out of the question.
To help process my thoughts, I would walk around Center City Philadelphia a lot. This was my first time living in a downtown on the East Coast, and although it was overly humid in July, I enjoyed strolling around the city and gazing at the pre-War buildings, trying to figure out the economics of their development and operation. The more I walked the city, the more I enjoyed doing this, and it quickly became apparent that I was interested in studying real estate finance and development.
From that point forward, I adopted a laser-like focus on learning everything I needed to learn and meeting everyone I needed to meet to transform myself into an attractive job candidate for a top real estate development job coming out of business school. I joined ULI and did as much real estate oriented networking as I could in my spare time. And I asked questions – probably thousands – of everyone who would tolerate my curiosity relating to all things real estate. I kept reminding myself that there were no dumb questions, just questions that would become embarrassing to ask if you didn’t ask them sooner rather than later.
After my first year in business school, I only knew enough about real estate to be dangerous. I was lucky to get an internship in New York that allowed me to learn more and become a little less dangerous. I continued to ask questions and read. I also started to write about real estate in an effort to educate myself. I figured that if I could explain complex concepts in writing, they would be mine forever. I was right.
In business school I learned a lot of techniques and concepts, but no school can teach you about real financial risk – the kind that would be life-altering to you. That is something that each person can acquire if they choose to put themselves in such a situation. If you wire your entire life savings (no matter how small) into escrow to control a property, and have 90 days to make your decision on whether to close on that property, you will know what I mean and realize how naïve you were about financial risk when you used to talk about it nonchalantly.
My recommendation for those considering a real estate program for graduate school is to simply ask yourself – “What would I do for a living if I knew I couldn’t fail?”, and “What would I do for a living if I didn’t have to work?”
If you come up with real estate, we are alike, but this is coincidence only. There is no right answer to those questions, only a right answer for you. Don’t be swayed by others in choosing your career field either before or during graduate school, because there will always be cheer squads for all career fields. You need to retreat to a solitary place within yourself and be absolutely sure that what you are pursuing will fulfill you to the utmost. Because you will be the one doing the work at 2 and 3 AM on weeknights, and through the weekends, not the people on the cheer squad.
I wish you the clarity and strength to find and adhere to your own career compass, and the best of luck in all of your career pursuits. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can help in any way.
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