Jerry H is a 62-year-old realtor. He has a huge circle of friends, and he’s very active in his community. His secret talent is not one I would ever have guessed (I am 0 for 2 on guessing people’s secrets so far). Jerry explains to me, with a slightly rueful smile on his face, that “I can get people to tell me their life stories really quickly.”
After that sinks in, my first thought is that this talent would be useful to a realtor, and Jerry agrees. “Most of the time people have in their mind one thing, a vision of what they think they want, [but it’s] totally different than when you actually start looking.”
Being a realtor today is very different from what it was 30 years ago when Jerry was starting out. “People used to take 30 seconds at the front door to decide if they like [the house]. Today it’s less than 7 or 8 seconds.” He cites electronics and HGTV as reasons, but also says that people usually do a lot of looking online at a house before the realtor takes them there. A realtor today doesn’t tend to have a lot more knowledge about a house than the buyers do. So Jerry focuses on knowing his clients–and that goes beyond getting them to open up about their lives. When Jerry shows a house to prospective buyers, he walks behind them and focuses on reading their body language, because he says that will tell him more about what they really think than what they actually say.
People have lost the connection
of their soul to their lives
I should mention here that Jerry is in fact my realtor, and guided us to a fantastic house thirteen years ago. He was indeed very intuitive about what we were looking for, and I would never want to work with a different realtor. So it doesn’t surprise me when Jerry tells me, ”I approach [realty] as a ministry.”
But Jerry’s secret talent is actually a much deeper, more beautiful thing than simply a skill to help with his career. “I enjoy finding out what makes people tick,” he says, but it’s also “a way of kind of helping them reconnect themselves to themselves.” Jerry uses the term “soul-ectomy,” meaning a symbolic removal of a person’s soul, to explain how many people feel today. “People have lost the connection of their soul to their lives, and one of the ways to reconnect it is to start discovering the things that make your heart & soul sing.”
Jerry has benefited a great deal through working with a job and life coach, and he uses that knowledge to help other people. “People are starving to be heard or to have their stories told. I’ve had people come back to me and say, ‘Remember that one time we were talking? You have no idea how much that meant to me, how much it changed me.’” It sounds to me like Jerry approaches his friendships as a ministry as well.
For example, Jerry has asked new parents how parenthood changed their lives, and the answers are something he can use in his own life, and can also relay to other people. Those answers, by the way, are that parenthood has made people more compassionate and more patient. They think twice before they speak, and take less risk. “Imagine how that translates into your working life,” Jerry says.
Jerry does note that some of his friends have learned of his secret talent and respond with humorous exasperation when Jerry strikes up conversations with strangers. Of course, Jerry says, sometimes it isn’t even him who starts the conversation–people will just come up to him and start talking.
As I am listening to the recording of this interview, I find (with humorous exasperation) that I have told Jerry quite a few details of my life while I’m supposed to be interviewing him. I try to analyze his conversational patterns to figure out why–other than, of course, the fact that as a blogger, I do enjoy talking about myself.
Here are some of the prompts Jerry gives me during the interview: How long have you lived in your house? Wow, the kids have grown. How’s your dad? To answer that, I mention that my dad recently sold his house and Jerry asks me if it’s hard for me to see the pictures of my now-empty childhood home online. Written out, that seems like kind of a personal question, but coming from Jerry, it didn’t feel strange at all.
Start discovering the things that make your heart & soul sing
Jerry also pauses a lot and then I seem to feel the need to fill the space and keep going on about myself. He asks very simple follow-up questions like “Really?” And then the oddest thing is that, even though this is an interview, he doesn’t go on and on about himself. He doesn’t always even respond to my comments on his stories.
Jerry does realize that he’s using his talent during this interview and we laugh about it. It’s not something that’s awkward, it feels warm and friendly to chat with Jerry. As for himself, “I’ve found it rewarding because you truly get somebody’s back story,” because it reminds him that we have no idea what trials other people have been going through. “Life is a constant dance. You know what you’ve been through yourself and how that’s probably altered certain things in your own life.” Some people struggle with depression and anxiety, but without telling their stories, no one would know what they are going through because “there’s no cast, there’s no sign of the wound.”
No talent is without its cost. Jerry says that “the 20-questions routine” can sometimes make people want to keep their distance from him, because they aren’t comfortable sharing. I ask if he’s ever regretted using this ability, and he says, maybe only the timing of it. “Sometimes the wound can be a little fresh.”
I ask if he thinks other people might benefit from learning this talent of his, and he says, somewhat darkly, “Depends on your motive,” and then warns me that “People will know, subconsciously at least, if you are not really listening.” But, “if you listen for just a second to somebody that has a story to tell, it might make a difference.”