By Natalka Falcomer

I’m a fanatic learner. I’m always learning about different subjects, industries and professions. This fanaticism has been categorized as a serious character flaw. Another course? Another designation? You’re so unfocused. Although initially hurt, I’m now impervious to the “eye-rolls” and slights. What my critics don’t know is that this flaw has actually been a great advantage.

Learning helped me develop the discipline to consider different perspectives before acting and it taught me that finding the best solutions only come from connecting a vast range of ideas from different fields. Apparently, Leonardo Da Vinci and the (overly revered) Steve Jobs did the same…only at a much higher, better and more profound way than me, to be sure.

Each learning occasion opened my eyes to possibility and to opportunity; whether I was learning from the mistakes of my mentors or learning from my teachers while earning a professional designation.

If you need an example, here it is: I was able to create an entirely new and improved way of delivering legal services only because I first learned how to practice law, sell real estate and build a leasing and property management company. Just like you, I’m wary of any anecdotal evidence and never spin a fact out of the experience of one person, so it gives me great relief that others have experienced the same thing.

Learning is what all of the greats – Charles Darwin, Mozart, Henry Ford – and contemporary leaders – Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, Bill Gates – did in order to succeed. They all intimately understood that they would not succeed if they did not learn. It’s a simple, obvious fact, yet few do it.

Perhaps we ignore the vanilla concept of learning because it’s just that, vanilla. Learning is mundane and “untweetable”.  There’s no glory, achievement, epic pieces of work or “game changing” innovations. Given that learning isn’t glamorous, it’s no wonder that when we talk about the “greats”, we strictly focus on their glory and talk little of the drudgery of learning.

With this misplaced focus, it’s also no wonder that our efforts to replicate our hero’s success always end in failure. The reality is that the learning process is not overnight or immediate. It took decades to transform the minds of our heroes in ways that inevitably led them to their future success.

How does this help you?

How does this help you increase sales, build your profile and close more deals? Simple: learn from the real estate gurus. So, what are the gurus doing? They’re all busy learning about the industry and learning how to refine their craft. They are not watching Game of Thrones or complaining about their low sales, ungrateful clients or the general unfairness of life.

The gurus know that learning does more than just get you a designation to hang on your wall (although, this is very helpful and required if you’re holding yourself out as a doctor, lawyer or real estate pro). I draw this conclusion from the very mouths of the gurus who I met as a Real Estate Institute of Canada member, student and now, Certified Leasing Officer.

The gurus’ claim: Learning gave them an upper hand to succeed and become industry leaders. Pursuing a CRF (Certified in Real Estate Finance) or FRI (Fellow of the Real Estate Institute) designation taught them how to find and then how to dominate niche markets. They also learned from fellow REIC members how to weather economic storms; an outcome only realized because they were taught how to analyze markets beyond just understanding current CAP rates.

There are other advantages too. For example, CLO students were stunned to learn about the law as it relates to commercial leasing.  Some had been in the industry for years and it was only after their pursuit of learning that they realized how exposed both they and their companies were to potential lawsuits.

It was only through learning that the CLO students understood the core reasons as to why some conflicts exploded into costly litigation. This knowledge will help them protect themselves from common mistakes, lawsuits and embarrassment – something I’ve witnessed far too often.

Why formally learn when you can learn from your mistakes?

You’re right. We can learn from our mistakes. And, as any business god will tell you, it’s very important to do so. But, I prefer how my grandmother – someone who successfully overcame more than just a tech bubble (she faced poverty, starvation, racism, sexism, war and violence without even breaking a sweat) – said it: “Stupid people never learn from their mistakes. Average people learn from their mistakes. But, truly smart people, they learn from other people’s mistakes.”

It just makes sense – I do not want to learn what it’s like to go through litigation, rebuild (if possible) a damaged reputation or declare bankruptcy. Some characterize this as necessary “growing pains” or an exciting part of the roller coaster of life, but I don’t like physical pain and I can’t even handle Canada’s Wonderland. I’d prefer to learn from others.

Learning, however, isn’t that easy. It must be deliberate and you have to work at it. Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence. (Abigail Adams)

The way to learn can be encapsulated in one verb: to commit. You have to commit yourself to learning. This means you have to do unpleasant things like get up early, spend less time watching kittens on YouTube and do things that will get you no recognition. Learning requires listening, reading, quiet observations, early mornings and late evenings, going to classes and practising. It’s only years later that you’ll have the knowledge to do the “tweetable”, glamorous stuff – experiment, create and challenge what you’ve learned.

It is only after going through the process of learning that you’ll find yourself more confident, able to connect seemingly disparate ideas to find opportunities and act with a healthy does of fearlessness. Once you see these outcomes and the success that follows, you’ll be addicted.

Natalka Falcomer is a lawyer and Certified Leasing Officer who has a passion to make the law accessible and affordable. She founded, hosts and coproduced a popular legal call-in show on Rogers TV, Toronto Speaks Legal Advice. She founded Groundworks, a firm specializing in commercial real estate law, and is the EVP of corporate development at Chestnut Park.


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