The funny thing is, if you analyzed a snapshot of my life from kindergarten through 12th grade, I would probably be the last person you would expect to be talking to you about success and operating at a high level. I have severe dyslexia and ADHD, and because I had so much trouble keeping up academically in elementary school, I ended up having a stint at a gracious plenty of Atlanta schools. When there were no more local options, I went to boarding school up north in the 7th grade. At an early age, the only useful thing I learned was the first rule of Real Estate—Location, Location, Location. But it came in the form of “Please take this kid to a different Location, Location, Location!” If I was going to have any chance at success in school, I would have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
I finally started fitting in as a student at the University of Georgia, where I majored in Real Estate. My third year, I took a fundamentals class and it all clicked. I made straight As for the next two years, when I had never made an A in my life. I figured out what I wanted to do with my life and became obsessed with where I wanted to go. Surprisingly, in a school setting, when learning about real estate, I learned what hyperfocus was and how to keep myself in a “zone” leading towards success and purpose.
Real estate is in my blood. In the early 1900s, my family developed the Ansley Park neighborhood in midtown Atlanta. It is known for its park-like feel and stately homes, as well as the Ansley Country Club, with its historic clubhouse and golf course. Perhaps most important for me, my father founded a successful real estate brokerage and development firm in the mid-1970s, starting from scratch in a trailer on a plot of dusty red Georgia clay. He sold the firm in 1999. My father is an excellent teacher. He never pushed real estate on me yet shared his hard-earned wisdom and tools of the trade, gently motivating me to find a path which I would find fulfilling and where I would find success.
My ADHD partially explains why it was a challenge for me to stay focused in class growing up. I was always judged by my IQ. As students, we’re all supposed to fit in a traditional academic setting, and for many of us, it doesn’t work. For me, I felt like my teachers didn’t think I would go anywhere.
Well into adulthood, I learned that there is such a thing as EQ. What’s EQ? It’s Emotional Intelligence, a concept first developed by Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman. In many ways, EQ is the opposite of IQ. EQ is often developed “outside of the classroom.” It involves people-skills, connecting with others, the ability to sell and persuade. People with strong EQ are often very self-aware, motivated and empathic; they can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. EQ involves knowing yourself deeply, which is a first step in mapping out and predicting exactly what you need to do to reach your goals. Countless human resources professionals are coming to believe that Emotional Intelligence is the job skill of the future.
Communication is perhaps the key to EQ. We find that this has greatly helped Ansley in leading the way in the market. It didn’t take long for us to realize that if you can effectively communicate with people, the sky is the limit. You can solve most of your problems and meet almost any goal with a little bit of meaningful discussion. It is like the duct tape of leadership—it can literally fix anything.
Most people weren’t betting that a dyslexic and uninterested student could build a company like Ansley. But I have found that my perceived limitations are simply strengths in disguise. They have ultimately given me far more than they have taken away. We’ve all been there with personal challenges and negative self-talk. Those can be some serious potential killers. Ever feel like that?
Like the superhero who at first envisions his strengths as a curse, I wasn’t sure I would make it through those difficult times in school. But in fighting hard and trying to stay above water, I inadvertently developed a whole new set of characteristics. Whether it be persuading the teacher not to flunk me, or building strong friendships on campus, I knew the way I related to people would serve me throughout the rest of my life. EQ was the key.
Starting a business at a young age and overcoming a learning disorder through sheer grit and determination have in many ways become my rocket fuel. They have propelled me and my business farther and higher than I believe I would have otherwise gone without these challenges.