reading time: 2 minutes 58 seconds

One hot autumn day many years ago I had an epiphany. Walking down Union Street, I saw a middle-aged white man getting his briefcase out of the trunk of his car. He was dressed in a suit and tie but he wasn’t wearing it well. He looked beleaguered and sweaty. He looked late for an appointment.

I figured he probably drank a few too many scotches each week. I guessed he had a regular job and a regular life. I pictured him living in Orinda and playing golf on the weekends. He was a privileged white male and he probably had plenty of money.

But there was something about my mood that day. Something about the slant of the sun. Something about his red, sad face. It just tore me open. I saw him as a wriggly newborn baby. I realized that he was once vulnerable and helpless and tiny, and someone loved him or didn’t love him and now he’d come up in the world and the world was with him and with all of us. The world is cruel and beautiful and we’re all indistinguishable from each other and we’re all the same.

From that day, my capacity for seeing the humanity in others — regardless of their specific station in life — has slowly grown. It’s usually top of mind, and it softens my vision and judgment toward others. It deepens every experience, every interaction, every connection.

People everywhere are just people. They are all humans and they are more alike than different. They’re suffering because they’re starving for food or they’re suffering because they’re starving for self compassion. But they’re all suffering and striving.

In my job as a Realtor, I am privileged to have a front row seat to the live drama of a life playing out in real time. I witness people in that “now” state of suffering, striving and progressing. There’s flailing and wailing. There’s delight, boredom, anger, tears and laughter. I get to see it all.

When my job introduces me to anyone, they are going through a stressful and largely unpredictable transition. It might be a good stress. Moving to Ireland to live with one’s beloved. Hooray! It might be a bad stress. Getting a divorce after the lengthy and embittered decline of a marriage. Bummer!

There’s no way around the stress of packing, selling and moving while negotiating a high-stakes real estate deal. If you’re buying or selling that’s going to be a thing. But the traumas of the underlying, undesired and unavoidable changes – compelled by death, divorce, illness, age or job loss – are the hardest to navigate. I’m lucky to be able to serve as witness and support.

The intimacy of my work is breathtaking, and it continually shoves me up against my own humanity. Witnessing a breakup, I remember my own divorce. Witnessing a death, I remember my father’s last days. Witnessing a job loss, I recall when my finances went over the cliff. There’s a lot of grief there. And watching compassionately isn’t easy.

But it adds a richness and sweetness to my job. Of course, I like the game of “selling” and I won’t argue with the monetary reward! But the best parts of my practice are the human aspects.

If you are a Realtor and you’re not diving deep, then ALL you are doing is selling. You are a salesman. You are a used car salesman. You are simply chalking up another notch on the whiteboard in the manager’s office (and possibly carrying some guilt about the privileges of wealth and/or your perception of productivity).

There’s another way to wrap your arms around this burden, and that’s to recognize your own humanity and enrich your practice of real estate. I suspect that’ll require some attention to the spiritual side of work. But you can begin by refusing to be a salesperson.

Stop selling. Start loving.

Author and RealEstateTherapy curator Cynthia Cummins has been devoted to homeowners and homebuyers for three decades and counting. Visit KindredSFhomes.com for more information on San Francisco real estate.