Stop the AE Superhero Cycle

How to find your path toward a healthy and happy work-life balance.

My mother was an AE. She was the CEO of the Apartment Association of California Southern Cities for more than 20 years. Try bringing up housing policy in Long Beach, Calif., and see how long it takes people to invoke her name. She dedicated her life to protecting property owners and small businesses and advancing the state of housing in Long Beach. She died in December.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that her story is, in fact, my story, and maybe your story, too.

She worked tirelessly. She ate poorly, skipped lunches, exercised never, and did what she could to make sure the needs of the association were met before her own. Late nights were a given, and family vacations were often interrupted by board members with questions.

She became diabetic and overweight and after she finally retired at age 67, the last three years of her life were spent in and out of hospitals or going to and from doctor appointments. It was not the leisurely retirement she had expected.

I resolved to not follow in her footsteps. I would never let a job take over my life the way it took over hers.

But now, one year into my job as an AE, I’m 40 pounds overweight. I belong to two gyms, neither of which I’ve seen the inside of in months, and I can’t tell you the last time I took my lunch without it being a meeting. I usually take the 9 p.m. Amtrak out of Union Station to get home.  

(By the way, I’m writing this on a layover where I’m flying back from our family vacation early for my association’s board of directors meeting.)

In other words, I’m falling into the same trap my mother did. And from conversations I’ve had with my fellow AEs over the years (I’d been a GAD since 2000), I am not alone.

We love this job. We love the issues. We love the roles we get to play. We love the industry. We love the difference we make. However, it’s time we look at the toll it can take if we don’t put it in perspective.

To my executive board’s credit, they tell me to slow down. They tell me I don’t need to change everything overnight and that they want me to continue making the progress I am making with the association for a long time. And I truly appreciate that support. That said, their support doesn’t always translate into less work or more time. So I’ve decided to make a plan. It’s a guide I’ve started to write for myself to bring more balance into my life. It’s aspirational, but it’s a start. I hope you’ll join me on this journey to becoming better AEs by putting ourselves (and our families) first.

Step 1. Set (and stick to) work limits. 

I try very hard not to take that call at 6:45 a.m. or 7:30 p.m., or during Sunday family dinner. I’ve set new limits for how available I’ll make myself to members and directors outside of office hours. Of course there will be exceptions, but I know that the more I stick to my “unplugged time,” the fewer calls I’ll get. 

Step 2. Eat better.

I have to stop shoveling in my food between meetings, eating what is convenient over what is good for me, and ignoring my own health signs. I’m not a dietitian, but I know what my diet should be, and I’ve made a new pledge to follow what makes sense.

Step 3. Take “me time.”

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates regularly worked outside. Most U.S. presidents regularly took naps, and plenty of famous scientists and philosophers took walks during the day to allow their thinking to expand. My idea is to just take my lunch hour (the whole hour) away from work and away from the office. Whether it’s sitting in the park, going to the gym, reading a novel, or just running a personal errand, it’s a valuable exercise in letting go. The association will survive an hour without me.

Step 4. Exercise more.

Believe it or not, I used to run marathons. The last one was in 2013, and I am going to get back to that shape. I’m going to start getting my money’s worth from my gym memberships. I remember the energy, clarity, and strength that regular exercise delivers, and I want that back. 

My mom was a wonderful person and a great AE, but she let her personal life and health slip in this job. Don’t let yours.

REALTOR® AE magazine will feature stories and advice for AEs on finding and maintaining work-life balance and health throughout 2017. If you have a story to share, contact Carolyn Schwaar, RAE editor, at cschwaar@realtors.org.

Chip Ahlswede, RCE, CEO, Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of REALTORS®, spent five years as a REALTOR® Government Affairs Director in California. Reach him at 310-967-8800 or chip@bhglaar.com.

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