The last couple of years has been challenging to say the least. But they’ve also been a time of change, growth, and renewal for many of us. People quit their jobs, moved away, got divorced, or were forced to make changes they never imagined they would have to.
Are you thinking of making a change in 2022?
Los Angeles Realtors Sean McMillan and Jae Wu have overcome many challenges over the years and they have a wealth of knowledge so we decided to ask them for tips on how to start something new.
Heyler Realty’s Jae Wu and Sean McMillan
You two started your real estate business during the subprime mortgage crisis when many people lost everything and were fleeing the market. What advice do you have for someone starting over or starting a business during difficult times?
Sean: “A game fish swims upstream” and “Fortune favors the bold/brave” are two of my favorite idioms. I appreciate them because they illuminate the potential reward for making courageous decisions and actions in uncertain conditions and times. There are so many examples of successes born of found opportunity in adversity. The little improvement to this and or that from “the post it” the paper clip, to Starbucks on to Iphone..Innovation and improvement often find their genesis in identifying one’s needs and improving existing circumstances.
From our own personal journey in launching the latest iteration of Heyler Realty at the tail end of the 2008-2010 Global mortgage meltdown..the downturn caused both Jae and I to reevaluate what we were doing with our careers and prompted us to make bold changes…and we have been way better for it!! I say GO FOR IT!
Jae: It takes a bit of gumption to rise up from the ashes of complete destruction and pick yourself up and I’ve found that the best way to conquer overwhelming feelings is to take it one step at a time. For me, I would say to myself, with complete self-belief, that I am capable of succeeding and I know I work harder, care more, and have a passion for making an impact in what I’m doing to make the lives of my clients’ better.
Being a small business owner does take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make it work but the rewards of being able to build Heyler the way we wanted to and provide the level of care and the culture we wanted to provide were totally worth it.
Sean McMillan, Board Chairman and CEO of West LA Homeless, with WLAH/TPC outreach team members Sydney and Damien
Many of us started to notice the inequities and hardships people in Los Angeles were facing, but few actually tried to do something about it. Sean, can you tell us about starting (co-founding?) West LA Homeless?
Sean: I could write volumes on the subject as it is sooo complex and so controversial, however, I will endeavor to be succinct and to the point. My interest on the subject spans actual decades as many of my friends in the mid 80’s to late 90’s were homeless and unhoused. I mostly knew the culture based on spending countless hours at the beach playing chess with the unhoused population and I came to the awareness that people – housed and unhoused – are just that…people. People with stories that are often filled with suffering, trauma and hopelessness. So often the unhoused population becomes stigmatized by judgment and ostracization.
It was in this mindset that I took on the role of the committee chair on homelessness issues in my neighborhood council. After multiple community meetings, I came to the conclusion that governance, our politicians, law enforcement, etc..weren’t able to really solve the problem(s) of homelessness and the unhoused, in fact, I found them to be rather anemic. Add to that the radically opposing perspectives and opinions of stakeholders, and getting positive equitable solutions into place had proved to be nearly impossible. After reviewing what other communities had been doing to address this humanitarian crisis, it became apparent that private enterprise in partnership with City, State and Federal resources was a relatively successful approach. So, understanding the limitations and protocols of the government resources, it became apparent that if we, the stakeholder subcommittee members, formed a non-profit organization, that we could fundraise and distribute those funds directly to the outreach services and housing providers for the homeless. I am VERY proud to state that 93% of our funds go directly to service outreach providers, with only the 7% to cover normal corporate costs. Learn more at westlahomeless.com.
Emerson Community Charter Middle School Principal Dimone Watson gives volunteer parent Jae Wu an award of recognition for her many years of service to the school including parent group president
So, not all of us can start a nonprofit. How can we get involved in the community in other ways?
Jae: Just give what you can and you will be amazed at how good it feels to help other people. For me, I knew when I had my children, I did not want them to grow up the way I did with absentee parents (not their fault, of course; my immigrant parents had to work to provide for us and frankly, back in the 70’s and 80’s, I don’t think the level of parental involvement is what it is today), but I wanted to be there for my kids and be involved. And as a mom, to not feel so alone. I have such great memories of my own teachers and how they were there for me knowing I made it through school because of their involvement in my growth. I find by being involved in the classroom and helping out by going on field trips, being a room parent, and being a board member of the parent organizations all helped to improve the experience my kids were having at school and everyone benefitted. The time they were in grade school felt so fleeting and now they are teenagers and so self-sufficient, I am grateful I gave up any extra time for me to give to them and to the school and to their awesome teachers. My life and theirs are better for it.
My kids and the school community weren’t the only ones that benefitted from my volunteering. I have the most incredible group of friends and life due to the relationships I was able to build by volunteering. Frankly, the more you give, the more the universe just seems to give back to you. I gave to give, not to expect anything in return but by wholeheartedly giving and making a positive impact and caring just made my whole world that much better.
Serving on the neighborhood council was the same way. Since I did not grow up with civic engagement or politics as something our family ever had time to get involved with, I learned by living on the Westside and this community the history and about serving on the neighborhood council. It is only fitting as a homeowner and business owner raising a family here that I use the voice that I have to serve and make a positive impact by donating my time to causes that directly affect the betterment of the area where I live, work and play.
Volunteering goes along with our mission at Heyler Realty. We knew when we took over the legacy of Heyler that we wanted to continue the smalltown “Mayberry” feel of what was started almost 100 years ago when the company was founded. So by creating and providing community events to bring our neighbors together – resulting in everyone feeling like they knew each other and felt like they were part of something fun – we were able to benefit our neighbors as well as have a great opportunity to make it easy for our past clients to visit us and stay in touch.
Jae Wu and Sean McMillan with neighbor Jeremy Bollinger at Heyler Harvest Festival in 2019
We can’t start a new year and not talk about health and fitness. You both are in excellent shape and work hard to be mentally and physically at the top of your game. How can someone start and stick with a healthy living plan?
Sean: Exercise and fitness have been a lifelong passion for me, and I am very fortunate to have tremendous resources to maintain regular fitness exercises and routines. Where I struggle is with the food choices I make..However, I have noted that when eating cleaner with more efficiently digested and utilized foods, my thought processes, physical recovery and overall energy improve, even as I age!
With the advent of the pandemic and knowing that the virus was particularly virulent within the cardiorespiratory systems, it made it much easier to crank out that hour-long exercise to maintain and improve oxygen uptake and circulation. For me, there is no acceptable margin to slack on the exercise. As one of my trusted and extremely qualified doctors taught me, our physical fitness is never static, we are either restoring our bodies or they are in decay..So, in order to keep in game shape for the grind of life’s demands, I make it a non-negotiable..and I am grateful for that mindset, now if I could only do something about that damn bread.
Jae: I grew up not being allowed to play sports. It just wasn’t what girls did, according to my father. I was pushed to take violin and piano lessons and play instruments and get straight A’s in school but sports and physical fitness were not encouraged at all growing up. I did not have anyone in my family that was a role model for this but I was always a tomboy and loved climbing trees and since I had manual labor chores such as chopping wood for the winter fire or mowing the lawn in the summer, I was pretty strong and enjoyed physical challenges. In elementary school, I learned how to jump rope and even double dutch and I was fortunate to find sports in middle school staying after school to learn how to play volleyball and softball that carried over to making the high school teams.
As an adult moving to Los Angeles from the East Coast, I discovered and fell in love with beach volleyball. I am grateful I still play doubles beach volleyball and that I can still play for 3 hours and get a great workout in. Sticking with staying physical is a daily choice I make and it is a priority as it is the key to my thinking better, being happier and being able to indulge once in a while in what I can eat. Enjoying things in moderation has been my key to feeling good even as I am aging and exercise daily.
My goal each day is a minimal 30 minutes of physical activity, even if it is only walking 3 miles, or yoga, it counts for me but by getting that in makes me feel I have won the day. I used to think if I didn’t have an hour, that I was not working out, I’ve learned these days to be grateful to just keep moving and to stretch and have my non-negotiables. That means, I can’t negotiate myself out of doing a physical activity. It is just a must in my mind and if your mind believes it, your body will achieve it as they say.