The Most Important Leadership Lessons I Learned from Selling a House

We all know someone with a pair of favorite jeans in the back of the closet “just in case they fit again.” No thought given to changing style trends; they’re there, taking up physical and mental space. For me, it wasn’t jeans in the closet but a house in Virginia.

Nine years ago, my family and I moved overseas. We tearfully packed away our six-year-old son’s favorite train table and polar express train, and we promised our nearly nine-year-old daughter that her trundle bed would see a lot of action when we returned. TVs from before the flat screen era, tchotchkes, and treasures were all boxed and stored. We whispered promises of a return. 

We also said goodbye to friends and family and told them we’d return to our Virginia-based lives in two or three years max. We planned to move back into our family home and temporarily welcomed renters. 

Over the years, we’ve moved in and out of apartments and sold homes. Usually, you sell one and move into your new one – letting go and moving on. Simple. This time, with our family home in Virginia, we physically moved out and mentally pressed pause. 

This was the house where we celebrated birthdays and brought our baby home from the hospital. We can still hear echoes of our children’s joyful giggles as we look at old pictures. Truth is, if we flung open the front door tomorrow, we wouldn’t be stepping back in time with our young children in tow. Giggles have given way to more mature laughter, our kids older, and our lives not what we imagined when we signed on the dotted line to purchase our dream home. 

There is no pause button in life, no freeze-frame. You can take your time, but you can’t stop time. 

For nine long years, we told ourselves we would move back into that house. Today, we signed a contract to sell it. 

Here Are the Most Important Leadership Lessons I Learned from Selling A House

I thought that selling my house would be a transaction; that’s it. After all, it’s a financial asset. What was unexpected was the emotions and anxiety. However, the best part, besides selling quickly and for a good price, was what I re-learned in the process. It’s easy to be so busy with managing day-to-day tasks that you forget some of the most important leadership lessons. Selling my house was a great reminder.

There is no going back.

People in varied circumstances imagine going back – to a company where they once worked, to an old flame or old house. What’s often forgotten is that time does not stand still. You change; the people and organizations you’ve left have also changed. Old memories do not mirror new realities. A return could be better or worse, but never the same. 

An idealized past should remain there – in the past. Even if you return, you’re starting a new beginning from today, not picking up where you left off. 

That safety net may not be serving you.

I’ve coached people who left the security of their company jobs to be their own boss. Some of them made the transition, and others did not. However, almost all of them imagined that if it didn’t work out, they’d go back into their old positions or at least into the fields they left behind. Imagine how things would be different if you closed the door to your past and embraced your present? What would that mean? How would that change your mindset?

When you leave an old door open when opening the next, all it does is create a draft.

The value you put on memories is not the market value.

Our daughter told us not to take less than a million for our family home. We broke the news to her that we’re not in that price bracket but appreciated the thought. Our memories are not what people are paying for when they buy our house; they’re priceless. Similarly, when moving from one company to the next, people want your experience but not the constant sharing of fond memories from the past. Every organization is different and what worked in one is not a perfect fit for the next. If you’re starting every other sentence with “where I used to work…” and droning on for ten minutes about what made it so wonderful where you used to be employed, stop. (The same holds for a new romantic partner too.)

Focus on where you are and cherish the memories of where you’ve been without constantly comparing them. 

Staging sells. 

Our house was empty once the renters moved out, but we hired a stager. We wanted to help people imagine what it would be like to live there instead of staring at empty walls and freshly vacuumed carpet. On the flip side, other homes on the market looked like the owners lived in them for 25 years and had so much clutter; that there was no room to picture anyone else in the space. The bones of the house, in both cases, didn’t change, but the way buyers experienced them did. Like a new home, people around you notice how you present yourself before discovering the nuances of your personality that take more time to learn.

You can be authentic and curated. Be thoughtful about how you present yourself to the world and the impact that you have on others. Don’t forget that relationships start with superficial attraction but flourish on a deeper level.

Your partner matters immensely.

My husband and I have worked with real estate agents we’d never recommend even to our enemy. This time, our outstanding agent reminded us of the impact of working with someone who’s not only great at their job but enjoys what they do. When you interview for a new position or find yourself drifting towards a new social circle, think about who will surround you.  Will they bring out your best or worst qualities? Inspire you to push towards your goals or coast?

The people around you either inspire you to be and do your best, or they don’t. You deserve to have the greatness in you energized by those closest to you. 

Good enough exists. 

If you’re a perfectionist, I know you’ll hate this one. Are you someone who believes you could always do more? Never satisfied with the final product? When you’re selling your house, you have to learn to be comfortable investing in improvements with a close eye on ROI. You could spit on a rock and polish it for ages, but it will never be a mirror even if it shines more brightly. Our house looked amazing by the time we got it ready for sale. If we lived there, would we have done more? Not going to lie; we probably would. Should we have done more? No.

Develop an awareness of the point of no return and recognize when you’ve done as much as you can without doing more than you should for the circumstances. 

Decisions bring peace.

Whether it’s selling a house, changing jobs, or moving on from or into a new relationship, thinking about the change takes a lot of energy. It’s stressful. Sleep suffers, work suffers, and you’re caught in the in-between. When you finally decide, that’s it. Do you know what happens next? Peace. Not every choice needs to be forever but moving in any direction, being brave enough to step into an unknown future, brings calmness and clarity and opportunities that were out of reach in the indecision zone.

There are few things in life that can’t be undone. Don’t let fear of making the wrong move paralyze you.

My husband and I settle on the house next month and are now, after nine years, letting go of the “if it doesn’t work out in Australia, we always have that house in Virginia” mindset. Don’t even get me started about all of our belongings still comfortably resting in climate-controlled long-term storage. We’ll get there. One step at a time is what gets you across the finish line. 

Could today be the day to toss those jeans and buy a new pair that makes you feel fabulous just as you are? You deserve to step into the present instead of waiting to fit back into your past.

Related: How to Stop Sabotaging Your Confidence and Authority