Today, 40 percent of the workforce is independent contractors, freelancers, and solo entrepreneurs, and that shift came from people losing their jobs or not being able to get one during the Great Recession. Now we have our own gigs. This is a time to refine and strengthen your business, to experience personal growth. Yes, it will take work, and it’s a substantially important effort. In evolution, you either adapt to the specific environment you find yourself in … or you become a dinosaur. Don’t become a dinosaur.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gene Kansas.
Representing the cultural and creative side of commercial real estate, Gene Kansas is an award-winning cultural developer in Atlanta, GA, focused on community building and difference-making. Projects include historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and operating businesses such as the company’s civic, social, and culturally-based shared workspace, Constellations, located in Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood, birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to their work in the built environment, Gene Kansas | Commercial Real Estate also brings cultural experiences like art exhibits, jazz nights, literature clubs, murals, and oral history projects to neighborhoods for communities to enjoy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
First and foremost, this is a very difficult time for so many, and I’m quite concerned about the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of all. This article and interview touch on topics such as hope, optimism, and inspiration, and I’m happy to be a voice for those important aspects to life and life in a crisis. However, I want to make sure you, the reader, know my awareness and thoughts are not being offered from the beach on a dream vacation; I’m on the battlefield like you and with you. I’ve been in business for 25 years and have been beaten up, and left for dead. I’ve had incredibly long and lonely days as an entrepreneur. I’ve faced millions of dollars in debt, angry bankers, threatening lawyers, and the general doom and gloom feelings that come with financial meltdowns. The “Light at the End of the Tunnel” insights I’ll offer did not come to me this morning. Instead, I’ve experienced tough times, and learned lessons, and survived to then move ahead with confidence, happiness, and hope. It’s the personal turmoil, trials and tribulations and triumphs that shaped me, and those same experiences leading to these brighter-day-inspirations I’ll share with you today. I hope you’ll find them helpful during this tough time, and know we’re all in this together. Now, onto the inspiration!
I grew up in New Orleans listening to Grammy award-winning music (live), eating incredible seafood (lots of shrimp), enjoying oak-lined streets (St. Charles Avenue), and breathing in character, culture, architecture, history, sport, festival, and the “gumbo” that is the Big Easy. Aware and interested from a young age, I noticed things and learned things and expressed things in ways others might not have. For example, at 8, I wrote a short essay about a house painter named Moon who never showed up on time. I wasn’t wild about Legos, preferring to take toys apart rather than build them. I wrote menus for my mom when she didn’t know what to make for dinner. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a writer, and I remain a writer today, only now I share stories through an atypical medium.
The skills developed through this head-cocked trade and practice — observation, research, asking questions, sharing back, working on deadlines, comparative analysis — have been instrumental in my career as a real estate broker and developer. Early days as a freelance writer evolved into a marketing and advertising firm centered on real estate. From there, I began buying, selling, leasing, and developing properties on my own behalf and on behalf of others, always putting culture, history, and community first and through a writer’s lens. Today, the business vehicle for my writing is entrepreneurship. And instead of newspapers, magazines, and online publications, my medium for sharing stories is cities — our built environment, and the history and culture surrounding it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Paradoxically, as a writer, I don’t read as much as you’d imagine nor as much as I would like. However, there are many books that have made a significant impact on me. The Diary of Anne Frank struck me at a young age, as it did a lot of us, for its unsparing, inspiring account of perspective, care, and inspiration. In Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas teaches us a lesson about how much you can learn when looking back. In Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino’s poetic prose highlights the power of communication. And, Sapiens, Yuval Harari’s history of mankind, is a humorous and scientific look at hubris, among many other things. These books all resonate because they take a single subject — WWII, Manhattan, the empire of Kublai Khan, mankind — and expand upon it with incredible and intimate detail. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems, and nothing happens in a vacuum. In cultural development, it’s vitally important to realize and recognize the many factors impacting a project, and the many people your project may have an impact upon.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
The global and hyper-local crisis we find ourselves in today is what I call “my 5th rodeo.” I’ve weathered great storms and thrived later as a result. As a professional in commercial real estate, these rodeos include: the dot-com bust, 9–11, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, and now Coronavirus.
Each of these “rodeos” started rather abruptly, shifting evolution into high speed and doing so in a remarkably visible manner. My “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful” are derived from lessons learned and silver lining outcomes realized from the “5 rodeos”.
5 Reasons To Be Hopeful
- Increased Focus — learned via Dot-com bust: Tech firms were spending money like crazy, pioneering a new landscape, with many operating with reckless abandon and without the customer truly in mind, sending the stock market into a prolonged fall and wiping out companies not intently focused. Coronavirus will focus companies on what’s most important: us. We want a business world that’s more concerned with our health, and that’s what they’re going to deliver.
- Greater Solidarity — experienced during 9–11: The tragedy of 9–11 served as a galvanizing force in America and in many places around the world. With Coronavirus, the crisis is both global and hyper-local, and it is bringing the world and our country closer together — a nice change from the vitriol of recent years.
- Culture of Preparedness — reminded by Hurricane Katrina: I heard recently, “If you stay ready, then you’ll be ready.” If we’re learning anything right now, it’s to “be prepared!” We’ll have less fear moving forward in the future knowing we’re better prepared, so put in the effort now.
- Personal Growth — an outcome of The Great Recession: Today, 40 percent of the workforce is independent contractors, freelancers, and solo entrepreneurs, and that shift came from people losing their jobs or not being able to get one during the Great Recession. Now we have our own gigs. This is a time to refine and strengthen your business, to experience personal growth. Yes, it will take work, and it’s a substantially important effort. In evolution, you either adapt to the specific environment you find yourself in … or you become a dinosaur. Don’t become a dinosaur.
- Nothing is more important than our health — We’ll learn this lesson with Coronavirus, and it will be a great one to remember.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I have a Masters in Digital Media from Georgia Tech, and it was a phenomenal experience. I learned much in grad school — perhaps most importantly, how to research. So, a few years ago when I was going through a particularly anxious time, it dawned on me I could learn more about stress and anxiety through research. It turns out the number one way to reduce stress and anxiety is talking to other people. So, talk to people.
Here are the 5 steps, including talking, I hope will help you during this stressful time:
- Talk. Talk to family, friends, peers and share your feelings, hear theirs. Also, it’s okay to simply talk about the weather, so to speak. Just talk. With social distancing, a walk is a nice way to enjoy a talk.
- Think rationally. Our emotions are almost exclusively impacted by the way we think. Anxiety and fear come from thinking something bad is going to happen. You’re smart, but you’re not a fortune teller. Learn the facts and think rationally.
- Get going. A productive day leaves little time to worry.
- Mix your media. Watching the “bad news” will undoubtedly have you worrying. Try reading, watching, listening to content that’s upbeat and positive … like this!
- Exercise. Our minds and our bodies depend on each other. Take good care of each.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns is an excellent and inexpensive tool to manage the full range of emotions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“When you get to water, build the bridge up.” — Lieutenant General Russel Honoré.
General Honoré is the leader who brought hope, direction, purpose, and a plan to New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It’s going to flood sometimes, so be prepared by constructing your own way around it — by having a plan, by putting that plan into action, and by letting others know why you’re doing the things you’re doing so they too can join in realizing success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The “Make It Simple” Movement. Take care of yourself, don’t overcomplicate things. Right now, practice social distancing and in-place measures to be safe. Once we’re all happy, healthy and safe, remember to talk, remember to walk, remember to read happy articles, remember to stay focused, think rationally, be prepared, and show people you care about that you do care. It’s simple, really.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Visit www.genekansas.com to read Good Stories, www.constellations.community to see community at work. Pop over to Instagram @gene_kansas for a guy who loves his family and the community of which they’re a part.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!