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— by Sarah Chatel

7 Lessons From My Past

This article is part of an ongoing series that highlights and celebrates the women and real estate professionals of LabCoat Agents. Thank you for all you do!

Someone asked what my background was before Real Estate. In light of Women’s History Month, a month-long celebration of the contributions women have had on the world, I thought I’d reflect on the circuitous route I took to my career in Real Estate. Each career, I’ve had many, built on the next although at the time I didn’t realize I was gaining transferrable skills.

I am from the Celery Capital of the World, Sanford, FL.  When I was a child, my mom bought up old historic houses and flipped them. She even made us live in several of them while we gutted them. My dad was the town Banker and financed her “hobby.”

        Lesson 1 – Pay attention and be present. You never know when the Universe is giving you knowledge for the future.

Fast forward to college, Converse College, a Woman’s College, where I majored in Philosophy of Religion.  Being in class with all women gave me the confidence to speak up in class and challenge my peers as well as professors. My dad, the Banker, asked, “How do you expect to support yourself with a Religion degree?” I didn’t care what he said. My mind was being expanded in ways I never imagined as we looked at the Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology of Religion in societies around the world.

        Lesson 2 – It’s not about your major, it’s about being around people who encourage curiosity and positive inquiry, as well as the discipline that comes with doing some sort of post-high school studies.

After college, I moved to Atlanta to join Macy’s Retail Management Training Program.  At 21 years old I was sent to Augusta, GA to open their new store at the Augusta Mall and be the manager of the Women’s Lingerie Department managing 6 women who were all older and definitely more experienced.  Luckily the head sales lady took me under her wing and mentored me that year so I left a little smarter than I arrived.        

    Lesson 3 – Never be too arrogant, egotistical, or shy to ask for help from people who know more than you do.

Macy’s transferred me back to Atlanta a year later to be a Buyer in the Men’s Suit, Sportscoat and Dress Slacks department buying for 13 local stores. Again, out of my element, I used the only skill I had to date, smiling, being friendly, and asking lots of questions. My dad always said, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar!” Yes, dad, you got that one right! 

        Lesson 4 – Being polite and respectful makes people want to help you succeed in an unfamiliar job.

After Retail, I had the opportunity to change horses, aka jobs, and move into technology.  This was the 1980’s, at the very beginning of the technology boom.  The opportunity to learn cutting-edge stuff was fascinating. I was in outside sales and my territory was downtown Atlanta. Being from a small town in Florida, street smart I wasn’t!  So, I rolled up my sleeves, had a map in the front seat of my car, and headed into unchartered territory. This time explaining new concepts to business owners who didn’t understand the new jargon was my challenge. I ended being #25 nationwide from my company by the time I left to start a family.

      Lesson 5 – People want new concepts patiently broken down into bite-sized pieces. The willingness to ask and answer questions endeared me to my clients, which ultimately sent me to the top of the company’s charts nationwide in sales.

Next came motherhood. I decided to stay home with my kids for a decade in the 1990s.  While I was home reading “Goodnight Moon,” the internet was invented. Unfortunately, also during this time my marriage ended and I was thrust back to the working world as a single mom.  I contacted my old boss from the ’80s and she enthusiastically hired me back. When asked if I knew how to navigate a computer, I promptly said YES, although at the time I had only rudimentary skills.  Being “hungry” is a great motivator.  I stayed up at night learning the computer and soon regained my former footing as a top sales rep in the voice-over IP technology arena when it was first introduced.

      Lesson 6 – Call people you know if you need clients, a job, or a recommendation.  Everyone you have ever known wants to help you be successful and they love being asked to assist.

In 2009 I came home one day to my new husband of a year and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” Cloud computing had just been introduced and technology was changing weekly.  I was constantly in a training class for some new special thing. I’d grown tired of working in a male-dominated industry and I had no passion or feeling that I was making a difference in the world. Peter suggested I stay home for a year and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  In my early 50’s you’d think I’d figured this out by now. So, I proceeded to clean out all of our closets and label everything I could think of, nearly driving him over the edge as a newlywed.

He suggested I “get a job.” So, not really sure what to do, I decided to dust off my Real Estate license, I’d gotten licensed 10 years. My goal was to work part-time and still enjoy semi-retirement in my early 50’s.

What actually happened was that I called all my friends from my old technology job, retail job, volunteer organizations I’d worked with, etc., to let them know I’d decided to sell Real Estate.  This was 2011 and I had no idea the market was down and that it wasn’t a good time to get into Real Estate.  My former colleagues had money and were looking for opportunities to buy Real Estate.  They trusted me because we’d worked side by side. That year, I ended up as Rookie of the Year in my office, all because I innocently picked up the phone and called my friends.

      Lesson 7 – Your life is like a big pot of vegetable soup.  You never know when or why you’ll need to pick out the peas or carrots so pay attention. You know more than you think you know! 

So, the moral of the story is, trust your instincts and believe that your path has led you to where you are at this particular time in history. The world and your clients need to know what you know.  Don’t be shy about sharing!

Sarah Chatel is Principle / Owner of Chatel Group at Keller Williams Atlanta Midtown. She is a KW Certified Market Center trainer, a Certified Referral Trainer and leads her team to excellence in a hot Atlanta market. Sarah and her husband Peter have a blended family of 5 adult children, 3 grandchildren, and 2 Coton du Tulear dogs, Emma and Cody. You can find her on Linkedin,  or Instagram, or Facebook.

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