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Lessons I’ve Learned from Climbing Mountains

By: Patrick Murray, CCIM, SIOR

The first step of any endeavor is often the hardest one to take. The first "real" mountain that I attempted to climb was Mt. Adams in the Cascades of Washington. In 2015, I set out with a guide company from Seattle to Attempt to summit the mountain. Until that point in my life, I was an avid hiker, and I thought I was in the physical condition needed to climb a 12,000+ foot mountain. I wasn't. Not even close. Half the team summited the next morning. The other half, me included, was turned back about 1,000 vertical feet from the summit because we had been moving too slowly. 

The "failure" I experienced on that trip ignited a passion for mountaineering that had allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. The lessons I've learned over my years of climbing have parallels to many areas of life but can be applied to commercial real estate brokerage exceptionally well. 

The first lesson: take that initial step. 

Teamwork Can Save Your Life

Most guided climbing trips will begin with a team meeting and a gear check. It is an essential step to building trust, since team members are often strangers who could potentially be responsible for saving your life if things go badly. Climbing while on a rope team adds a layer of difficulty since your actions and mistakes can directly impact the others on your team. However, when you’ve fallen, it’s those same teammates who will catch your fall. On a recent climb in Alaska, one of my climbing partners on a different rope team fell 20 feet into a crevasse. Watching our guides expertly set up the anchor system to haul him out while giving directions to the rest of our team was an incredible experience, and it also stressed the importance of having a dependable team. Without that support, my climbing partner might still be in that crevasse. 

It’s essential to our business success to have built a team around us that we can trust and fully rely upon when needed. Whether it’s the junior broker on a sales team, legal counsel, or lender, your commercial real estate team should be there in the same way my climbing rope team is there for me. 

Do Not Neglect the Basics

A substantial portion of any climb is simply walking. I used to get very anxious prior to climbing, especially the hours before the summit push when you are lying in your sleeping bag trying to sleep for a few hours. The fear of the unknown, or in some cases, knowing the complexity of the challenge ahead, would make sleep elusive. I came to the realization eventually that all I must do is walk. Sometimes, the walk requires tools and the risk of falling 1,000 feet off a cliff, but it’s still ultimately walking – albeit very carefully. It’s a basic life skill we learn as a young child. 

Almost all brokers are guilty of getting too busy to return phone calls and emails promptly, run a consistent prospecting campaign, thoroughly read documents, and perform other tasks that our clients expect us to be able to do in our sleep. Unfortunately, we can be tripped up by commercial real estate basics. Remember, it’s just walking. It’s just a phone call. 

These basic skill sets are fundamental to a successful career, but do not let your education and professional growth end there. The specialty education I have received through The CCIM Institute and, most recently, SIOR, has been a game changer for my career. If you want to take your career to the next level, I strongly recommend you invest in yourself to earn the CCIM Designation. 

Embrace the Suck

If you’ve never tried it, climbing a mountain can be really, really challenging. During numerous prior climbs, I’ve had moments where I wondered why I put myself willingly into these situations when I could be relaxing by the pool, playing golf, or anything else that isn’t so grueling and potentially fatal. It’s not just the climb but the months leading up to it during the training and preparation phase when I have hours-long hikes with a heavy backpack in the humid North Carolina summer, repetitious climbing of a stairwell in a parking deck in downtown Fayetteville, N.C, or 10-mile trail runs with gnats, snakes and other critters. You could very easily have the attitude that this entire process is not worth the “reward” of summiting a mountain peak. 

Climbing a mountain starts well before you have ever stepped foot onto the mountain. The physical training and logistical planning take months of preparation and can be just as challenging as the climb itself. It can be a process that truly sucks sometimes and gives you doubts as to whether you’ll be able to accomplish your goals. In the same way, 
the commercial real estate deal cycle can be a long, arduous process of planning and preparation before you get into the deal (climbing that mountain). By being able to “embrace the suck” of every moment of the process, no matter how difficult it can be, your attitude will change from the commission check being the only fulfilling moment of your work to being able to appreciate and maybe even enjoy all those cold calls and listing appointments and failed transactions. 

Revel in Success, But Don’t Dwell There

At around 7:40 p.m. on June 3, 2023, I was just reaching the summit of Mount Sanford in eastern Alaska at 16,237 feet. At that time of year, there were still many hours of daylight left, and we had the good fortune of a nice weather window, although the temperature was still below zero. As with every successful summit attempt I’ve been on, we took some photos, took a quick snack break, and began the descent after only a short amount of time spent on the actual summit. After all that time preparing for the moment we reached that summit, it was over in a flash, and we moved on to the next objective of getting back down safely. 

Celebrate both your own and your colleagues’ successes. Whether it’s a new listing or closing a difficult transaction, revel in the accomplishment and allow that to motivate you or your coworker to the next deal. But move on and move forward. Dwelling on your past accomplishments will not advance your career or win you new business. Know when it’s time to get back into the grind after that success.

Consistency and Dedication 

Have you ever investigated the training programs of professional athletes? We see the results of the dedicated training processes, but rarely do we see how much time and effort they spend to get there. When I am training for a climb, I use a 24-week training program that was designed specifically for mountaineering. My coworkers at my office likely see me every day, leaving at various times to go to the gym or go running. Or not eating the donuts that a vendor brought into the office. 

The occasional missed workout, or maybe not meeting your prospect calling numbers for the day, isn’t going to blow your entire year or your climb. But consistently not meeting these goals certainly will. If you want to achieve success doing remarkable things, it will take consistent, dedicated hard work that others are not usually willing to do. Some days, you must work extra hours, miss the golf outing, or get to the office before the lights are turned on. 

Accept Failure

After returning from a climb, the two most frequently asked questions are: 

1.   Did you get to the top?  

2.  Are you going to climb Mount Everest one day? 

Reaching the summit of a mountain is an obvious indicator of a successful expedition, so anything short of that would be a failure. Having to descend with the top of the mountain in sight certainly feels like failure, but multiple attempts to climb Mount Rainier changed my perspective on what it means to have a successful climb. 

I have had a love-hate relationship with Mount Rainier for many years. It began in 2015 while driving to Mount Adams from Seattle and seeing this colossal stratovolcano filling the sky. I returned in March of 2016 for my first attempt and was woefully unprepared, but it continued to haunt my thoughts. I returned year after year and met with various obstacles to prevent my successful summit bids. Finally, in July of 2022, the weather gods smiled upon the upper mountain, and my team made it to the summit of Rainier. The first couple of missed attempts were gut punches for sure, but each climb helped to hone my climbing abilities, and I met some amazing guides and friends along the way. 

After nearly 18 years as a commercial real estate broker, I have had my share of deals fall through. I’ve also watched my fellow brokers deal with the disappointment and frustration of having worked on a project for months only to see that commission check, which they had already planned how to spend, evaporate when a deal failed to close. The key to longevity in this industry is to have the ability to learn from your failures and not let it take the wind out of your sales (pun intended). Keep climbing and never quit. 

About the author: 

Picture of group on Mt. Sanford, AK, June 2023

Patrick Murray, CCIM, SIOR, is the co-owner and broker in charge of Grant-Murray Real Estate in Fayetteville, N.C. He has been involved in the industry since 2005 and has completed over $100 million in real estate transactions by representing both buyers and sellers, providing site selection/tenant representation, and leasing office and retail properties. Before embarking on his journey in real estate, Murray served for over five years in the Army Reserves and attended North Carolina State University.

Murray earned the prestigious CCIM Designation in 2007 and the SIOR designation (office specialty) in 2023. Murray prides himself on being a knowledgeable and active member of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), and the North Carolina and Fayetteville Realtor Association, as well as being a part of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce. In 2021, he became President of the North Carolina CCIM Chapter’s executive committee board of directors. Murray holds a real estate license in North Carolina and South Carolina.

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