Family First. Lessons Learned From The Hardest Month of My Life

In this week's episode, Jennifer shares an emotional experience that has changed her life forever. She hopes that sharing this message will help prevent someone else from making the same mistakes she has.

Hello hello Jen Percival here, thanks so much for tuning in. Some of you may have noticed that I went completely MIA recently and I’m going to be sharing why in this episode. I’ve just gone through the hardest month of my entire life and under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t be publicly sharing what’s been going on, but I learned so many life-changing lessons, that if I can help even one person not make some of the mistakes that I’ve made, that I really regret now, then I need to share this experience.

So this episode is for anyone that is like me and struggles with overworking and finding time for your family, or for those of you that are burning the candle at both ends and are feeling like you don’t have control over your time or your life or those of you who love working but know you need more balance in your life….but don’t really know how to get it.

It’s also for those of you that easily get caught up in the stress of real estate and allow it to come home with you and affect your family life. Now that list is certainly not going to be everyone that’s listening, but you still may relate to some of what I’m going to be talking about or learn from in the future. I’m also going to warn you that this may be a very emotional episode for me, because I’m still really raw and processing what the future holds, but I wanted to record this while it’s all still fresh, because we as humans tend to forget painful experiences we endure. It’s our brain’s way of protecting us. Well I don’t ever want to forget the pain I’ve felt over the last month, because it will propel me to change moving forward. It is my catalyst to change, it is my new why. There are so many things I’ve learned, about trusting your intuition, about perspective, about patience, about faith and about always focusing and prioritizing on what’s most important in life and that is health, family and love. 

So I’m first going to share what happened and then I’ll get into the lessons and the learnings. It’s a bit of a long story so bear with me…. Just before Christmas, my youngest son Lochlan who is 8 woke up in the middle of the night crying that his arm really hurt. We had been walking the dog earlier that night and my son was holding the leash when the dog ran after a squirrel and it pulled his arm pretty hard, so we assumed that was probably why, but noticed there was kind of a hard swollen area that was different from his other arm. The next morning we booked an appointment with his pediatrician to get it checked out and she thought it just felt a little swollen but she ordered an ultrasound to check it out. Well the ultrasound came back that there was a small tear in the muscle and to get it re-evaluated in 3 months. 

Logical explanation, so no need to worry. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t shake this feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew I was being irrational. He’s the youngest of 4 kids so we’ve had our fair share of bumps and bruises. Anyway his pediatrician wanted the follow up ultrasound to be done at sick kids, just to be thorough and we got a call that it was scheduled for the end of January. It was of course on a Friday which is the worst, because I had been anxious about it for over a month and just wanted it confirmed that it was nothing. So we have the ultrasound, it was super quick, the tech didn’t even take any measurements of anything and we asked if she could see anything and she said she wasn’t supposed to say but that she saw nothing. So we left thinking everything’s fine. Well Monday morning the Pediatrician calls first thing and says that they noticed in the ultrasound that the underlying bone had an irregular contour to it and that we needed to go down to sick kids right away for an x-ray and that night she calls and tells us that there is a lesion in his bone that looks suspicious and that he needs an MRI. It was the first moment where I let myself go there and let that terrifying c-word come into my thoughts. I could also tell that the pediatrician was starting to get worried too, even though she was great about it, I could just sense she was worried. Well the next morning she called me and said that it had been a resident radiologist that looked at the X-ray and when another doctor had looked at it, he actually thought it looked like a condition called Fibrous Dysplasia and that was now the working diagnosis, but that we still needed an MRI to confirm it. So obviously I was extremely relieved to hear this, but just wanted the MRI done to confirm it. Well that was scheduled for a week later and that’s when everything went downhill. I was able to go in with him and knew after about 15 minutes something wasn’t right. They changed technicians, they had to put in an IV to do contrast and they were constantly on the phone with the radiologists taking new pictures. My poor baby was strapped to this table unable to move a muscle for 2 hours. 

He was so brave. Well the next day the pediatrician called to share devastating news that it looked like a type of cancer called Ewing Sarcoma and that he needed an emergency biopsy and that we were being referred to an orthopedic oncologist at sick kids. Anyone who has kids can just imagine how awful that phone call was. My husband wasn’t even home and I just walked around in circles alternating between hyperventilating and dry heaving. I came completely undone and unravelled in a way that I have never experienced in my life. 

Everything just all the sudden slowed down around me and It was like one of those movies where your life starts flashing before your eyes and all I could see was all the times I missed in my kids lives, all the times I said no that I was too busy, all the times I wasn’t present in the moment with them. I didn’t sleep for like three days, but I had more clarity than I’ve ever had. It’s like a curtain had been pulled back and I could see me and my life from the outside and all of the sudden nothing mattered. Every resentment, anger, frustration, irritation - it all just melted away. It’s all so stupid. The things I would get myself worked up over, for what? And that’s when I realized this was a gift. I’m not kidding it was a transcending gift of clarity. 

I know that sounds so melodramatic, but it was really like that. I believe that we all come into our lives with lessons we need to learn and grow. Sometimes we learn the lessons easily and sometimes the universe has to get more aggressive and rip the rug out from underneath us, to get through. Well I believe that’s what this was. It had been giving me some subtle and other not so subtle clues that I had it all backwards. But I just wasn’t getting it. The irony is that I thought I’d made real progress when I started transitioning out of real estate and shut my brokerage down so I could focus on what I really wanted to do, which is coaching. But the hard truth is that I just traded one business for another. I poured all my time and energy into building this new business. I was just as absent as I always was, just doing something else. 

Anyway in the days while we were waiting for the biopsy I tried to make deals with the universe. Let it be me, not him, take away everything we have, as long as he’s ok. I promised the universe that I got the message this time and that I was going to have more patience and presence in life and that I would be the best version of myself that I could ever be. The best mom, the best wife, the best friend, the best sister, the best daughter and then I did something I never do…..I asked for help. And that’s when things really opened up and showed me more love and support than I could ever have imagined from friends, neighbours, family, strangers and this community. And then the universe decided to test me, to see just how serious I really was about changing. On the morning of his biopsy, the surgeon called me unexpectedly to drop another bomb. The surgery was cancelled because Lochlan had tested positive for Covid in his pre-screening. You can’t make this stuff up. Like seriously how do you begin to process that? The waiting had already been torturous and you’re telling me that not only am I going to need to wait even longer, but now we probably all have Covid on top of everything? The old me would have lost my mind. The new me was calm as a cucumber and I didn’t even have to try to be. I knew this was all part of the lesson around patience and decided to just choose to be patient and wait our turn. And I passed the test. 

It turned out that he didn’t actually have Covid afterall, it was just an indeterminate result, but they cancel surgeries with those too, so that was a small win but it was the Friday of the family day long weekend, so we couldn’t even let the surgeon know that he was negative until the following Tuesday, so the surgery ended up being delayed by a week. But again, perspective. We could have all had Covid and it could have been 3 weeks before they would have rescheduled it. So that was another win. The surgery was rough for him, it wasn’t just a regular needle biopsy, but an open biopsy where they actually took a piece of the bone out. We were told it could take 2-3 weeks to get the results, which felt like an eternity. 

Well a week later my phone rang and I saw the surgeon’s name and thought why is he calling me so soon? I started shaking and could barely even hear what he was saying, but I did hear that it wasn’t cancer. I had to tell him to stop talking for a minute so I could gather myself together. It’s not cancer. I just kept repeating that and didn’t hear much of what he was saying that it was. So the miraculous ending to this story is that he doesn’t have cancer. Now it’s not a happy ever after ending, because He does have a rare disease called CRMO that affects less than 1 in a million kids and we are now on a new journey to find out how pervasive it is. I don’t know what’s going to happen….is he going to have a mild form of it, or a debilitating form? We don’t know. But again it’s all about perspective. If we’d been given this diagnosis without the cancer scare, it would probably have been very upsetting. But it’s not life-threatening, so it feels like a huge win. We are so privileged, in so many ways, that so many people aren’t. We can handle this. We live a 20 minute drive from arguably the best children’s hospital in the world. We have the resources and the financial means to get him the best care we can, so you will never hear us feeling sorry for ourselves. Of course I don’t want my child to have to suffer, but someone has to be that one in a million, so let it be us. This brings me back to the lessons of this experience and the things I wish I had learned earlier on in my career. 

If I could go back and change things, I absolutely would, but I can’t. I can only use this experience to change who I am moving forward and to change how I choose to spend my time. But my hope is that maybe this will strike a chord for someone listening and that you’ll decide today to change, before you miss out on years that you can’t get back. So Lesson number 1 is around being more intentional with your time and honouring the hours we have on this earth. You can’t get it back, so choose how you spend it consciously and with intention. I made working a habit. Like all habits, they get automated in your subconscious so that you do it without having to think about it. When I was bored, I would work. 

When I got anxious or worried about something, I would work to distract myself. It was my default. The more ingrained it became, the more it formed my identity and I didn’t really know how to occupy myself other than working. I was also primed for lack of a better word, to be a workaholic. Every human on this planet usually has one core belief that dictates a lot of their decisions, behaviours and results. The most common ones are feeling not worthy, not valuable, not lovable or not safe. I fall into the last bucket. I grew up feeling like the world was not safe and I was not secure, through no fault of anyone. These core beliefs can form from repeated small experiences. There are hundreds of thousands of people who grew up in legitimately unsafe and unsecure environments, who won’t have that core belief for a multitude of reasons. Core beliefs aren’t always logical. My core belief was that I have to take care of myself. That I can’t ever rely on anyone but me to take care of me. That I could lose everything that matters to me and that I love, in an instant. I had that core belief and then I had life experiences that reinforced it. I was in a bad car accident when I was 15, I almost died from toxic shock syndrome when I was 20, 1 had an ex stalk me for 2 years when I was 21, my boyfriend died unexpectedly when I was 25. All of these experiences led me to believe that the world is just not a safe place and I could lose it all at any given moment. So what did I do - I worked to try and find that safety and security. Making money made me feel safe. I am controlling, because being in control makes me feel safe. 

As time went on, it just becomes who you are and you don’t know any different. My work started defining my worth. If I wasn’t successful, I didn’t feel worthy and the vicious cycle would start again. Even before i got into real estate I worked a lot, but the very nature of this business wreaks havoc on trying to have some work life balance. It’s almost impossible. There’s no set hours - it’s weekdays, it’s evenings and it’s weekends. Clients EXPECT us to be responsive and available and I've always said that I attribute a lot of my success to being that way. I was the quintessential pop-tart agent. When clients would call, I’d drop everything I was doing and pop-up to be there for them. My phone was always with me, I checked it incessantly for messages and I was always the first to respond. 

I was always reachable, it didn’t matter when you needed me, I’d be there and I prided myself on that. The problem obviously, is that you lose your life. It’s not sustainable. Now you can make a decent income selling real estate and lead a pretty balanced life, but there is a threshold and for some people when they get the success bug, they start a never ending chase of outperforming their prior year in the business. Real estate is seasonal and it’s cyclical. It’s not consistent and so when we hit those low periods, where business seems to be drying up, we panic. We take on deals (like leases) we might normally not and we start getting a bit desperate to get the momentum back. So we work harder, and we become even more fixated on the business trying to generate leads, trying to get referrals and then, like it always does, things start turning around and all of the sudden you can’t handle the business you’ve got. The pendulum has swung the other way and you’ve got no time for anything other than work. You’re out at appointments all the time, you’re not present with your family even when you are around and you’re back on the brink of burnout. And then there’s the sweet spot, things start to slow down and you find you have a bit of time to breathe again, but you’re so exhausted and don’t have any energy or you fill that space up by redirecting all your time and energy to places you’ve been neglecting like your kids or your house or your health. And then slowly that panic starts to seep in again and the vicious cycle starts all over again. Now you might be newer in your career and listening to this thinking “Oh my god I’d love to be that busy and have this problem.” Trust me, no you don’t. You do not want to get on this circular train and wake up one day looking back, filled with regret. 

Regret that you didn’t spend the time you could have with your kids while they were young. Regret that you didn’t have time for your partner and you lost them. Regret that you didn’t make time to build a life outside of real estate and missed out on prime years of enjoying life. When we don’t get clear about what we want from life and what our true priorities are and when we aren’t INTENTIONAL about how we spend our time, we risk falling into this circular trap by accident. And once these behaviours become habitual and form part of our identity, it becomes extremely difficult to get off the circular train. Usually the only way you get off, is because the train gets derailed by an outside force. You get divorced or you get sick or have an accident or something happens to someone you love and it forces you off the train. When we aren’t intentional about the life we want to live and when we don’t consciously make choices about how we want to spend our time, we’re on autopilot and we make it a habit of not being present in our lives. When we’re not intentional about turning our business OFF, we stay perpetually in ON mode and when we do that, we’re robbing ourselves of enjoying the life we’re working so hard to build. Why are we working so hard? It’s to build a life, but if we don’t get to enjoy it and if our families are paying the price, what’s the point? You have to decide where to draw the line and then to put your family and yourself first. When you’re working toward a goal, obviously you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices to get there. That’s normal, that’s to be expected. The problem happens when we reach that goal and then pick up the goal line up and move it somewhere further. It becomes a real problem when you do this on repeat….especially when you don’t make critical changes in how you structure your business, so that it doesn’t keep requiring more of you to keep reaching those new goals. 

Outperforming is addictive, especially for high-performing people who have subconscious limiting beliefs around their security. So how do we prevent this from happening, if it hasn’t already or how do we get out of the vicious cycle, if we’re already in it? 1. Decide The first step is to decide and to make a commitment to yourself and to your family that you either won’t let it happen or that you’re going to do something, starting today to change. Everytime we grow and make changes in our lives, it always starts with a decision. We have to decide first, before we can take action. 2. Prioritize Step two is to prioritize your life. 

What and who are your priorities? Write them out. 3. Structure Step 3 is to structure your life and your business around your priorities. How can you leverage people, systems and processes so that you can keep your priorities a priority in your life? When it comes to people, have you ever considered getting a partner? Yes it comes with some challenges, but it can be an incredibly effective way of keeping balance in your life. I did record an entire episode about partnering up, so if you haven’t listened to that episode you should check it out. I’ll link to it in the show notes. If you’ve decided against partnering up, then you need to leverage people in other ways. As soon as you can afford to do so, hire a VA to start taking over all of the tasks that don’t require you to be the one doing them. One of the things that happens easily in our business when we do them over and over again, is that we lose an awareness that we even spend the time doing it and we don’t question whether we should or not. It’s really effective to spend about 2 weeks going about your regular business and recording how you’re spending your time, minute by minute. 

You can use an app called Toggl to keep track and it’s an eye-opening exercise. It’s also a really good idea to plot all of the tasks you do on a regular basis into a task matrix where you have a love / hate axis and a good at / bad at axis. Then you take every single task you do and put it in the appropriate quadrant. You either love it and are good at it or love it and are bad at it or hate it and are good at it or hate it and are bad at it. Fairly obvious I’m sure, but every task that you hate and are bad it, needs to be outsourced first, hate it but are good at it second, love it but are bad at it third. The goal is to try and just spend most of your time doing tasks that you love and are good at and to either delegate, eliminate or automate the rest. When it comes to VAs, one they don’t have to be full time and two, they don’t have to be expensive. You can hire one part-time at first and then grow to full time as your business grows. The biggest roadblock that often holds people back from hiring a VA is the overwhelm and time required to train them. So if this is one of the things that comes up for you when thinking about hiring a VA, that’s a sign that you need to create a business process manual. It includes all of the details, steps, processes and repetitive tasks in your business. When I ran my brokerage, I turned that manual into an online course that every new agent and every new administrator took. Did it take some time to build it? Yes of course, but once it was done it was a game changer in my business. It took care of 90% of the training I had to do. 

They would go through the program and it would teach them everything they needed to know about how my business was run and then They could reference back to it anytime they needed. The next way you can leverage people in your business, is to recognize when it’s time to add someone beyond a VA. In my opinion, that first hire should be a licensed assistant that can help you with anything in the business that requires a license to do. If you hire the right person and train them well on not only your systems and process, but HOW you treat clients, deal with problems, etc. it can mean the difference between burnout and balance. I also recommend you structure their compensation in a way that rewards them beyond a fixed salary. 

Think about what motivates you and apply the same principles to them. Adding a VA and a licensed assistant to your business, may be all that you need to manage your business and still have enough time to enjoy your life and be present for those that matter. If you still have the growth bug, building a team would be your next step. But recognize that doing so creates a whole different set of problems that can actually create more challenges finding balance. So beyond leveraging people and delegating tasks, the next way that you can leverage is through systems and automation. Another great exercise is to look at all of the tasks that you’re doing regularly and to explore whether there is a faster, more streamlined way to do it. Is there software available that could automate the process more efficiently? Are there steps that you’re doing manually that could be automated? Are there templates that you could create that you could use regularly so that you’re not creating the same thing over and over again? Are there workflows that you repeat that take up mental real estate thinking about the tasks, that could be digitized so that you’re reminded of them automatically. Having a project management system that manages your tasks and turns them into automated workflows is a game changer when it comes to freeing up your time. 

What about systems outside of work in your personal life? Go through the same exercise and look at all of the tasks you're doing at home to see if you can outsource any to free up more time. For us, we outsource everything we don’t enjoy - cleaning, meal planning, grocery shopping, grass cutting. Etc. Lastly, you need to leverage your processes. This category includes everything like your routines, how you structure your days and manage your time and how you manage your business processes. If there is a way to do something more efficiently, recognize it and implement a fix. For example, I use and recommend batching for content creation. Whether that be creating social media posts, writing blogs or creating videos. 

Batching a month's worth of content in one day is much more efficient than doing it piecemeal throughout the month. It ends up taking way more time than it should because you’re constantly task switching vs being focused on completing one thing at a time and staying in that zone. When it comes to managing your time, it’s really easy to take a victim mentality in this business. That we are at the beck and call of clients but that can’t control when we work. It’s not sustainable. While there are always going to be times when you don’t control your hours, make it the exception and not the rule. The problem is that most agents make it the rule and they inadvertently train their clients to follow that rule. Instead of always letting clients dictate when appointments will be, train them to pick a time that works for them in your calendar and then get really intentional every week around managing your calendar. Block off all of your family time first, block off some evenings and block off one day on the weekend. If you are available 24/7, you will end up working 24/7 and then clients will expect you to be available 24/7. When you use a calendar management system it also takes away the awkward back and forth conversations where you have to say no to a requested appointment time. They just find a time that works for them. Now once again, there will be times when you’ll have to adjust things to accommodate an appointment, but again, make this the exception and not the rule. When it comes to other processes you can implement in your business to make more time, a lot has been researched and written about time blocking. I’m a big fan of blocking time in your mornings every single day to focus on working ON your business. This is blocked off in my calendar and along with my morning routines, it allows me to have a predictable & consistent schedule. When you do something consistently you form a habit around it. With time blocking you form a habit around being productive and taking action in your business. It’s those actions that compound over time that you get the results you’re looking for. Reaching your goals does not take big actions, it takes consistent small actions every single day. The message I’m really trying to get across in this episode is to be more conscious around the choices you make related to your time. And to choose to be more intentional around those choices. Set your business up in a way that’s going to protect your time and allow you to put your family first. 

If they are your priority, you’re going to need to set some boundaries to protect them. You will need to learn to say no to some deals and to some people and accept that you might make a little less money and that’s ok. Once your needs are met, everything after that is a choice. Choose wisely. If your basic needs are not being met yet, be careful about the habits you form. Start as you wish to go on and do it with intention. Form good habits and stick with them, regardless of what the business is doing. To do this you have to become really aware and conscious of your reactions and how you respond to the feast or famine nature of real estate. Once you reach that point where your needs are being met, be really careful that you don’t live to your new means. 

When people spend everything they make, you need to continually outperform to stay afloat and that is a recipe for disaster. Put most of that money aside instead and be very careful and again intentional around how you spend it. My rule when I buy anything is that it either has to be an investment of some sort that will make me money back or it has to create an experience that we can enjoy for years to come or make special memories. That’s why I only own one designer handbag. They don’t fall into any of those 3 categories. I am so grateful that I have taken this approach over my career, because when I thought my son had cancer, I planned to quit working. I didn’t have to think twice about that, because I knew I had enough money saved that we’d be totally fine and that was so reassuring. As I said at the beginning of this episode, I thought I had made so much progress in finding more balance in my life when I closed up my brokerage and I don’t want to undermine the work that I have done, but this experience was such an eye opener that I’m not quite where I was convincing myself that I was. I had just traded in one business for another and tried to disguise it as something different. So now I have to undo this habit. I have to erase that neural network in my brain and form new work habits that are more healthy and more balanced. I am intentionally choosing to make time for things OTHER than work. And my kids and my husband are at the top of the list. They come first. 

I’m also learning to play the piano with my little guy. I don’t have a musical bone in my body but man is it rewarding to challenge myself and I am loving learning and playing with him. I’m also trying to make a habit of saying yes more. Oh my god I’m constantly saying no to my kids. Last night we came upstairs to go to bed and as I was walking by my 14 year old daughter’s bedroom she asked if I could come in to chat. I was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed and I said that and then as soon as I got in our room, I was like NO I am going to make time so I went into her room and crawled into bed with her and she started crying and said she couldn’t believe I came back. Such a little thing and it meant so much to her. Of course I’m not going to always be able to say yes, but I’m catching myself when I just default to no and choose to say yes or no with intention instead. Anyway I hope that this experience has resonated with someone, with anyone that can relate to any part of it and that you’ll decide today to start working towards a more balanced happy life, where you focus on what’s important and put your family first, where you don’t sweat the small stuff and where you make more time for saying yes to the little things. I sincerely hope I never forget this life lesson and that I take this gift and change to be the best version of myself I can be. 

Thank you again to everyone that was thinking of my family and praying that Lochlan was ok. Those prayers meant the world to us and they worked. I’ve recently learned that they call children with rare diseases Warriors. We named our son Lochlan because we just liked the name and we never looked up what it meant…..but guess what it means? Warrior.

Show links:

  • Toggl -  An online application or tool for time tracking, project planning, and hiring.

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