Legacy of the Rental Crisis

Many thanks to all who expressed support and encouragement after my last post—this community continues to amaze me with its welcoming and generous spirit! Now that I’ve had time to reflect some more on the events of last week, I have clarity that I lacked before. Funny how crises lead to growth.

First, I regret that I resorted to name-calling when describing the previous tenant. ‘Renter from Hell’ and ‘Lucifer’ certainly represent how I felt about him, and still feel, from my judging self. But really, I don’t know him. I can’t say that he is truly evil. I can judge his actions as rude and inconsiderate, to say the least, but making sweeping claims about his character and shaming him publicly, even if anonymously, does not reflect my highest values. It would be fair to say that I was emotionally hijacked for a few days, fuming over how he desecrated my home. And we all know that we should not hit ‘Send,’ or ‘Publish,’ in that state of mind. Lesson learned.

If you have not watched Simon Sinek’s TED talks on leadership, or read his books, Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, I highly recommend them. He is my new author-hero, sharing the golden bookshelf with Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander, authors of my first favorite book, The Art of Possibility. Briefly, Sinek posits that leaders attract followers, and companies attract customers, when they are clear about their ‘why.’ In other words, they discern and exude their central purpose, their raison d’etre. When this is the case, the things they do, their whats, extend directly from the center where their core values live, and serve as tangible evidence for their why. He uses Apple as an example. We may think of Apple as a computer company, but Sinek asserts Apple’s why as ‘challenging the status quo.’ They revolutionized the computer industry with the graphic user interface, the music industry with ‘1000 songs in your pocket’ on your iPod, and the phone industry by dictating to the mobile phone carriers what the iPhone could do, rather than accepting the conventional, opposite practice. Computers, music devices, and phones, Sinek says, are Apple’s whats. They are the outputs of their why, and though disparate products, all align with Apple’s core values. Making great computers and phones is not an inspiring why. Challenging the status quo is. And people for whom that message resonates are the ones who will camp out overnight to be the first to get the next Apple product. They feel connected to the company and show loyalty.

For years now, I have used the phrase, “Live your best life every day” as a mantra in my work. This is what I aim to help people do, however they define it, and however they can achieve it. It’s my job to support them in their personal journeys. I try hard to apply it to myself, as well—what does my best life look like today? Best workdays in Chicago look very different from best vacation days in Colorado, and each day can be affected by myriad external and internal variables. But I find that when I can approach life in this way, newly open to possibility each morning, I feel liberated. I am free to redefine my best self, best day, best life, over and again. [You should know, however, that it is a constant struggle and I fall miserably short of this potential most days. But it’s a good practice to continue, and I think I’m getting better over time.] I started my career in a conventional primary care office. I spent five years in an integrative medicine practice, and now I do executive physicals and some concierge medicine. For a while I had a hard time reconciling this last step—it feels a little elitist and contrary to my usual liberal sensibilities. After digesting the Start With Why philosophy, though, I can confidently say that what I do now is entirely consistent with my core values.

Today I stand decisively at the intersection of Leadership and Health. My patients are leaders of their organizations, and it is my job to help them take care of themselves. Why? So they can better care for those they lead. By helping them live their best lives every day, they will role model this to their colleagues and staff, and empower those around them to do the same. How do I do this? By taking the time to know each patient as an individual, understanding their personal goals and aspirations. I collect objective data about their health and offer personalized recommendations, based on what I know aligns with their values. Today I happen to do it through executive physicals, but it’s what I have always done. I give presentations to colleagues on physician resilience, and I lead educational initiatives aimed at advancing professionalism and collaboration. This is my why—live my best life every day, and help others do the same, through our relationships.

Now I know how I must approach my rental property. It cannot be just another way to make money. It must be another what to my why. My reasons for keeping it must be consistent with my values and goals as a person, which must be the same as my goals as a physician, friend, spouse, parent, and landlord. Renting my home to a tenant is my contribution to their journey of self-actualization! Go ahead, laugh–it sounds completely whacky! And yet, approaching it this way clarifies all of my decisions and actions. As a landlord with the tenants’ best interests at heart, rather than simply calculating costs versus income, I will move swiftly and easily to repair or replace degenerating appliances and fixtures. I will take an interest in the tenants’ lives and check in with them frequently. I will monitor the upkeep of my property not just for myself, but for them. I will build the kind of trusting relationship that fulfills me in every other aspect of my life. The yield, I hope, will come in the form of respect and appreciation from the tenants, expressed in loving care of my home. You could see it as a manipulation, guilting them into cleaning up after themselves, I suppose. But it doesn’t feel like that. I know now that I want honestly to connect with my renters, to feel good about our relationship. Actions taken out of true caring are very different from mere transactions, and everybody feels it.

Before this last tenant, I never experienced this kind of drama and anguish over the apartment. But looking back, something about my relationships with renters felt distant and awkward, not like my other relationships. Now I know why, and it has to change. I have to be me in everything I do, including this. Some people will not want it. They will feel uncomfortable and see me as nosy and prying. Some patients don’t want a personal relationship with their doctor, either—they just want to have their cholesterol tested and their medications prescribed on time. I would not be a good fit for either of these groups, and the good news is they are free to not rent my home or choose me as their doctor. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” Simon Sinek says over and over. “The goal is to do business with the people who believe what you believe, not just the people who need what you have.” This sounds familiar: Seek the fellow lone nuts, the early adopters, the ones with whom my why resonates. If I can do that, no matter what happens, I can make a positive difference in the world, and attain peace for myself.