Grit. It takes a lot of passion, energy, focus, courage and determination to fulfill a long-term vision and to achieve the “baby step goals” along the way. It also takes loads of confidence and engaging in activities that scare you every damn day. It is the only way to grow, and most certainly the only way to build a successful business.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Werner Costa.
Sara is a badass, award-winning real estate maven. In her career, she has sold well over half a billion dollars in luxury Real Estate.
As CEO of The Costa Group — with teams in the San Francisco Bay Area and Nashville, Tennessee, as well as national and global Agent and Broker partners — Sara is able to successfully serve her clients’ needs for all things real estate.
Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Sara had no idea that someday she would be representing jet-setting billionaire tech moguls on home purchases as high as $20M, both in her beloved home region and around the globe. Her dedication to her clients, combined with her sales record, has earned her the honor of being named one of the ‘Leading 100’ agents by the Luxury Marketing Council.
At the ripe age of 24, Sara began her team and quickly became a mogul in the industry with her infinite zest for life and her “go big or go home” philosophy (which she credits to her time as a former NCAA Division 1 athlete). Aside from that, she also: became fluent in German in just a matter of months when she went to Germany to play professional basketball, hiked Half Dome in Yosemite in one day, birthed her baby at home with a midwife and no pain meds (while writing emails to clients in between contractions), and ran a full marathon. Sara is hard core, through and through, and her smile and kindness are unparalleled.
Her background and degree in psychology, and experience in working as a suicide and crisis hotline counselor, makes her well-equipped to lead her team and her clients through personal and professional transitions that all relate to “coming home”.
Sara is now launching a podcast, writing two books (one an inspirational children’s book), and has visions of her future screenplay/film. She also aspires to open retreat centers in California and Tennessee. All of these projects are being undertaken with the purpose of helping people come “home” to themselves internally, so that their external world and sense of “home” can align accordingly.
Sara’s secret is that there are no secrets: gratitude, faith and loads of self-work are how she created a dreamy life full of balance, space, joy, inner peace and abundance. Sara now resides part-time in the SF Bay Area and part-time in Nashville, Tennessee. She is living the life of her dreams, and loves helping fellow real estate professionals and entrepreneurs do the same.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Serendipity. I had just graduated with my degree in psychology and was applying for my doctorate in psychology. I was 23 years old and went out to dinner with an older friend in his thirties to celebrate the close of escrow of his new home in San Francisco with his real estate broker. His broker and I hit it off, and I was offered a job to work on his team on the spot. I quickly realized that I could help people navigate massive life transitions through real estate (marriage, death, divorce, new babies, etc.) and would make a whole lot more money than having to go to school to become a psychologist. One thing led to another, and soon enough I was licensed to sell and sold my first property at the age of 24. I quickly started my own business, and went on to sell $50M-$100M+ per year after a handful of years of 80–120 hour work weeks!
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
When I first started, I found it challenging to figure out what to delegate to others and what to keep for myself, when I am actually pretty darn good at a lot of things. So, unfortunately I kept most everything on my plate. I was the queen of 50–100+ item to-do lists every day. It was gnarly, and I do not recommend it. It created a successful business, but it exhausted me and was soul-sucking. As a CEO, it is best to stick to the higher-level, bigger-picture thinking and activities. So for me, that now means: mentoring, marketing, recruiting, networking and rain making. The rest is the responsibility of my beloved team members. Burnout SUCKS and is the result of chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. I am nearly certain that overwork can lead to heart attacks and all sorts of preventable ailments. I feel fortunate to be alive and well after a decade of burning the candle at both ends.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
- Planting a ton of seeds. ALL THE SEEDS…early on. While I know I could have done this with a lot more balance and self-care, I basically did everything that I could and whatever it took — all day, every day — most days of the week in order to serve my clients and grow the business.
- Grit. It takes a lot of passion, energy, focus, courage and determination to fulfill a long-term vision and to achieve the “baby step goals” along the way. It also takes loads of confidence and engaging in activities that scare you every damn day. It is the only way to grow, and most certainly the only way to build a successful business.
- Kindness. Kindness is magic. People don’t remember what you said, but they surely remember how you made them feel.
- Balance. Ultimately finding balance and learning how to take care of myself has turned my business into a longer-term, more-sustainable model.
- Loving and caring about my clients beyond measure. Taking the time every day to tune into each client, as if they are my own family. Thinking about where they are in their process, what they might be in need of (but not asking for), anticipating their fears, worries, doubts, and gripes. Communicating. Checking in. Advising them from our hearts, versus being “sales people”, which often means talking them OUT of purchasing or selling a home.
- Letting go and delegating. This was one of the toughest things to ultimately do. It took me having a baby and purchasing a home in a different geographic region to force me to finally get out of the day-to-day, on-the-ground part of my business so that I could really operate like the CEO and visionary that I am. Finding the right people and doing all of the things I mentioned above helped me get to this space of letting go, surrendering and trusting. Bringing in key team members, more administrative support and true business partners (with aligned values and visions) has been so incredibly important. People who are fiercely loyal, supportive, and protective of you as the leader as well as the brand, and those who really believe in themselves and the service or product being offered, are indispensable.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Self-Work and Care. Put your own oxygen mask on first, darn it! As a people pleaser, workhorse, and someone with a lot of drive and determination, this was something I had to learn the hard way. Kind of like in Driver’s Ed back in the day when they would show that “Red Pavement” video of gory car accidents. I wish someone had shown me a documentary on what can happen if you work too many hours, don’t manage and ration your energy properly, and spin into burnout. Maybe I will make this documentary someday and show it to people. What this documentary would show is: sleep deprivation, waking up in the middle of the night with near panic attacks, being so exhausted on my days off that I could barely get out of bed to eat. It was BAD! Now I know how to delegate, so that I have the time and space to — first and foremost — take care of myself by allowing space and cushion in my schedule to dream big, lead my team and tune into their needs.
- Go with “good enough”. Perfection is such a bottleneck. If you haven’t heard the story about Google Maps, it is an important lesson. During the MapQuest days (remember when we used to PRINT out directions to bring along with us in the car?), Google Maps did not yet exist. They were hesitant to launch, as it was not exactly what they had envisioned. But, one day they just went for it, and it became what felt like an overnight success. Everyone loved it and nearly abandoned MapQuest. Pretty magical! I make an effort to apply this story on a near-weekly basis in order to overcome any sort of residual perfectionism.
- Solitude and space. CEOs are creative visionaries. In order to lead from your heart and soul, and allow visions to come in, one must create AMPLE space in one’s daily, weekly, monthly and annual schedule to allow for inspiration, relaxation, meditation, creativity and spontaneity. I wish someone had told me that, from this space, you actually can create a whole lot more financial abundance. You just have to trust this, have faith, delegate and let go.
- Trust your intuition. Discernment. Listen to your gut. It never lies. Red flags on the first call with a client or potential business partner? NOPE! Just don’t even go there. Even if it is a massive potential revenue, it will hog your energy and bandwidth and prevent you from making room for much more lucrative energies and financial prosperity to enter into your world and professional life.
- Be yourself. Use your authentic voice. Don’t hold back or worry about what others will think. STOP PEOPLE-PLEASING! If you serve your team and clients from a space of joy and with your heart, you cannot go wrong. Trying to be someone you are not is exhausting and takes up too much energy. Just be yourself! Everyone else is taken. You are magical. You are amazing. If you just let go, and let yourself be raw, you will be amazed at what sort of alignment shows up.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Go with your gut.
- Always have something in your personal life to look forward to. Always have time off that is planned and blocked off, even if it is a simple “staycation”.
- Make goals and have visions that are not only financial, but also physical, mental and spiritual.
- Make room for creative projects and/or businesses that are related to (or go beyond) your current business. Go deeper here on all levels, and you will succeed!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes! There are too many to name them all, but they know who they are. You know who was most instrumental in helping me? The psychologist out of Stanford whom I worked one-on-one with during my near-death burnout. She specialized in working with tech executives and SF Bay Area/Silicon Valley executives in general to help us find more purpose, balance, and meaning in life. I will never forget my first appointment with her. She said my voice and energy was so high, so amped, that we needed to spend the entire first hour-long session laying down and learning how to breathe from the depths of my diaphragm. I literally laid there with one hand on my chest and one on my belly and she taught me how to breathe again. Chronic stress is nasty! I was living in fight or flight mode, which I definitely do not recommend.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Do you have an hour or two? I have so many! It is exciting. I am moving into a new phase of my career and life, where real estate will serve as the foundation as I also launch a podcast, write a book, publish my first children’s book, and then convert my book into a screenplay and produce the film. Ultimately, I hope to open several retreat centers in Tennessee and California, and wherever I organically end up, in order to help people come back “home” to themselves, so that their external world and sense of “home” in all facets of life can align.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
My partner, Franck, and I have a precious 5.5 year old angel of a boy, who is now in kindergarten. I hope to help others find their sense of home within themselves, within their home towns, their communities, their abodes, and in the world and in life, so that they can help others do the same. I hope that I can carry on the biggest lesson that I just learned from a 46-year-old friend who passed from colon cancer, which was this: “Sara, I am so proud of your success. But I hope you will go out and live your fu**king life! Look at me! LOOK AT ME! It can all be over in an instant! I want you to regret nothing on your deathbed, Sara. Just live your fu**king life.” Sharing his story and my own personal story of courage, thinking outside of the box, living a bi-coastal life, and launching creative projects — I hope that it helps free others to live their truth, too. We all have the power to take responsibility for our own lives and write the book however we choose. It is powerful. And living like this has a massive ripple effect. At the end of the day, I just hope to leave the world a better, kinder, happier, more awake and aware place than I found it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I wholeheartedly feel inspired to start a movement to help people wake up to themselves and the deeper meaning of life. To follow their souls and move into their purpose and destinies.To play big. To live life with joy. To dare to be different. To be weird, raw and unique. To shine on and never dim their light.
I also hope that this movement can prevent people from pain and suffering, help people prevent burnout and divorce, and help give people permission to live out their wildest dreams. To live a meaningful life with depth and connection. From this space is where the abundance is created — financially, spiritually and emotionally. It is the only way to live a truly rich and wealthy life! A life filled with joy and gratitude.
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