What Success, Self-Help, and Real Estate Have in Common

“In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times.”

That’s a piece of wisdom from Peter Gallagher playing Buddy Kane, the trite mantra-spouting real estate king in the 1999 film American Beauty. Of course it’s utter B.S. because Buddy, well, he was B.S..

But there’s a Realtor out there right now, down on her hands and knees, scrubbing dingy bathroom carpet in a late ’70s Fox & Jacobs tract home, saying (or pleading) to herself “I will sell this house.” And like Annette Bening playing Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty did, she’ll hear advice like Buddy’s and believe he’s the smartest man that ever lived. And that’s why self-help is a $11 billion business.

I know this because I wrote about self-help and personal development for 12 years while I was with SUCCESS magazine, based in Plano. (You might have seen the big SUCCESS sign outside on the building as you drove past Spring Creek and the Tollway, until some city violation prompted them to take it down.)

success magazine shelby skrhakThe magazine catered to entrepreneurs and “solopreneurs” like real estate agents and network marketers because they were typically avid readers and audiobook consumers who wanted to learn more about themselves so they could be more productive, and in turn, more successful.

But a few months ago I quite unexpectedly became a solopreneur when SUCCESS abruptly laid off the majority of its editorial staff, including magazine editors and my web staff who ran the million-plus visitor website, SUCCESS.com. Management called each of us on a Monday night, saying the company had to undergo some radical restructuring and our positions were eliminated effective immediately.

Yes, SUCCESS shut down and laid off nearly its entire staff with a late night phone call and no severance to speak of.

And you know what made it worse? When SUCCESS social media posted trite, ironic, laugh-inducing motivational quotes as empty as Buddy Kane’s success secrets mantra, like this one:

“Come through for others and they will come through for you.”

I guess it’s particularly ironic because I might have been the one who scheduled that quote to post on Facebook days earlier.

Too often a charlatan in a sharp suit comes along promising the secret to success, only if you purchase access to his $1,000 “mastermind” group, which is more of a business model for them and less a meeting of minds as they were first intended. These so-called success thought leaders are the ones that give legitimate self-help content a bad name.

Buddy seems like a mastermind kind of guy, who’d love for people to pay him thousands just to pick his brain. He believes success is an external thing, which can be accomplished by walking the walk as long as you don’t have to talk the talk.)

But success is more of an internal thing.

Even if you don’t think motivational content is real, ask yourself this: when’s the last time you talked to yourself? And what do you talk to yourself about?

I think most people talk to themselves. In my case, I make lists aloud when they spill out of my head and I can’t write them down. Or when I think a snarky observation I’ve made is so good, I have to say it aloud. In my mind, I’m freaking hilarious.

But take a tally of how many times what you say is positive, like complimenting yourself when you catch a surprise look in the mirror; neutral, like list making; or negative, like a self-deprecating comment when you can’t seem to do anything right that day.

You know that the word self-deprecating is a derivative of the word depreciation. When you make negative comments to yourself, you are literally lowering the value of your own “property.”

Just like you see Caroline in American Beauty saying “I will sell this house” as a positive affirmation, you’ll hear many real estate agents spouting their favorite motivational quote. Why? Because real estate is hard work and you have to have something that keeps you going in tough times.

What’s another favorite motivational quote? “Fake it till you make it.” When people ask, “How’s the market?” you say “great.” “How are sales?” they ask. “Never better,” you exclaim. You’ll never hear anything less than great because no agent wants to pull the curtain back to reveal just one ordinary woman when all other agents are projecting smoke-and-mirror images of the Great and Powerful Oz. Or in the case of American Beauty, Buddy Kane the real estate king.

With 12 years writing, editing and curating all varieties of personal development content, I’ve learned to spot the B.S., the smoke and mirrors, and the sharp-suited charlatans.

That’s why I started my own podcast called the Secret to My Success, my very first solo venture after being laid off from SUCCESS. It’s a cheeky take on the fact that there is no one magic life hack or ancient law of attraction secret that’ll make you a success. It’s all the little “Ah ha!” moments you have, the skinned hands and knees from failure, and the hard-learned lessons we gather in life.

That’s also why I’m writing this self-help column on a real estate blog. Real estate agents are solopreneurs whose entire livelihood comes in proportion to how hard she’s willing to work and how many hours she can possibly work in a week, with no guarantee that hours worked will equal income. And thanks to Candy Evans who reached out to me after I was knocked to my hands and knees from that life-changing layoff, I want to write practical and grounded self-improvement content and curate the best advice from my podcast guests to share with you here on CandysDirt.com.

No Buddy Kane B.S. I promise.

Have a subject or idea for a future “Secret to My Success” column? Contact Shelby Skrhak at shelby@skrhak.net.

2 Comment

  • Thank you, Shelby!! I am very much looking forward to reading your no B.S. articles. I am not a Realtor, but a Professional Home Stager and Redesigner located in Ormond Beach, FL. I am also a Senior Citizen just starting my own business and fortunately, do not have the income to squander on the Buddy Kane’s on the internet! Kudos to Candy for having the foresight to feature your articles. Best of luck to you!