Gracen Gantt sold her first house as a real estate agent in college. But it was almost by accident. Because of her learning differences and ADHD, she couldn’t meet college math and foreign language requirements. So she switched her major to retail management and sales.
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Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou, and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host.
Today, we’re talking to Gracen Gantt, a real estate agent and inspiring actor who has dyslexia, ADHD, and challenges with math.
So, you're from the South, and now you live in Los Angeles. Just give us a little bit of an overview of your career journey, what you're hoping to achieve, and where you've landed now.
Gracen: I am originally from Greenwood, South Carolina. It is an extremely small town. It is 40 minutes from an interstate, so definitely way off of the grid. And I currently live in Los Angeles. I absolutely love it. And so I moved out here for the acting portion, but I definitely still do the real estate to keep myself financially afloat. I went to the University of South Carolina, and I graduated with a real estate license and my first internship in real estate done.
So, I had a little bit of experience already. And then I had already sold my first property before I even graduated college. So it was definitely, like, insane to see my career taking off so quickly. And so, yeah, now I am out here, real estate, acting, and just living my best life.
Eleni: So, Gracen, you mentioned that you sold your first house when you were in college. I want to hear more about that.
Gracen: So, I actually sold my first house to my great-aunt. I love her to death and I thank her so much for giving me the opportunity to make my first sale. It was really funny because the first day of my senior year of college, I went in and the professor was, "Oh, what's everyone done this summer?" and yada, yada, yada. And it was a professor that I already knew. And I was like, "Oh, you know, I have three houses under contract, and I've done this and that." And he's like, "What? You what?" And I said, "Yeah, I got my real estate license over the summer. I did an internship; I've done this and that." And while I was also maintaining a full schedule of just regular college classes.
So, he's just, like, "What in the world?" And it was really cool to, like, have professors ask me about real estate. It's a lot of getting people in your pipeline. Like it's not necessarily, you know, you're going to make a sale or anything that day, but having these people know what you're doing and to be interested and want your business card, it's a big part of the business. So, to have professors ask me for a business card was very weird and cool at the same time. And also to be able to explain to one of my retailing professors why I thought that real estate belonged under retail and to have her agree with me was a very cool moment also.
Eleni: That is really cool. It's, like, who's teaching who? I love that. So, it sounds like you were doing a lot, you were studying a degree and getting a license simultaneously. So do you want to talk a little bit about, firstly, what influenced you to decide to study retail management and what inspired you to also be getting your real estate certificate at the same time?
Gracen: It was kind of a self-discovery process, "one door closes, four more open" type situation. I initially wanted to be a sports agent. I love football. So, the NFL was what I thought my calling was. I initially picked my school because it had an insanely good sport and entertainment management program. However, the math requirements for the program were a lot more than what I had already.
And so that was a stretch. And, also, the foreign language requirements were a lot more. So the requirements for the degree I wanted were just not realistic for me. And it was just going to be a very, very, very big challenge. Really, initially I changed my major to retailing just to get in the same school as the program that I wanted to be in.
So, initially, I had no interest whatsoever. And then it just kind of hit me: "OK. Everything in business is about sales, basically. This is a business degree. This might make more sense. So, I was actually studying retail management, which, if you think about it, real estate kind of still is retail because — it's retail, it's just the items are big purchases instead of T-shirts and things like that.
Eleni: So I know you have learning differences, including dyslexia and ADHD. Do you want to talk a little bit about your learning differences?
Gracen: So, I was not formally diagnosed with dyslexia until I was in college. So I went all through traditional schooling without any accommodations, and I always struggled, but I just never really thought that it was anything more than I just needed to try harder. Testing was always really hard for me. And it's something about multiple choice. I have no clue what it is, but I am one of those people that can justify anything. And I can tell you why all of the answers are correct. So, that was actually something one of my professors picked up on in college.
He said, "You know, I notice you in class, you're a very active listener. You raise your hand all the time. You know this material. Why in the world did you make a 50 on the exam?" And so he picked up on — there was something just not connecting. He took the time to pull me aside and talk to me through it. And he suggested, you know, that I get tested or that I seek out accommodations because, he said, "Something just isn't right here; your testing isn't showing what you're capable of." I know this material. But when it came to multiple choice and having to know it and make those decisions, absolutely not. Obviously I was not good at testing, and I also knew that anything that involved extremely high levels of math were probably not going to be the easiest for me. So, I learned my strengths and my weaknesses very early in college, so I was able to cater what I was more focused on towards what I was good at.
Eleni: So you found out you had dyslexia in college, but did you also struggle with learning as a kid?
Gracen: I for the longest time could not read, and could not read at a level that I was supposed to. I remember being in the first grade, second grade — my mom would basically have to sit me down and sit on me to get me to try to read a book. And I would cry; I would do anything to get out of it because it was so difficult, and I never understood why it was so easy for everyone else. There was just a disconnect there. So I did the Hooked on Phonics, literally everything that was like a supplement back then I was trying, but it was still just brutal, like tears all the time. I just did not get it. And so finally, as I kept reading more and kept on it and would do things that helped me, like games and things. I still to this day on my phone have games that will help me keep brushing up on my spelling. And I just think there's little tricks like that and just keeping with stuff, and if the progress isn't exactly with your classmates, that's OK. Because I really think that we need to normalize everyone has a different level, and as long as you're moving forward and not backward, that's great. And I don't think that anyone should get discouraged. And that was something that it took a really long time for me to understand, that I didn't have to compare myself to my classmates, that they were on their own journey and I was on mine.
Eleni: And you mentioned you were on a little bit of a journey of discovering what your strengths were and then trying to figure out what to do based on those strengths. Can you talk a little bit about how, you know, real estate and pursuing acting really works for your brain and your differences and why you think that might be a good fit for you?
Gracen: So I grew up with my family in the business world. I've always loved business. And so I definitely wanted to pursue something in that realm. So for me, real estate would allow me to do the business aspect, but it also allowed me to be extremely social. It allowed me to talk to people all day long and also, as far as ADHD, I thought it was a great fit because you were never in the same office all day. Your surroundings were always changing, and no day was the same. I really don't like routines where every day is the same. And so I was interested every day because every day was different. That was really important to me to realize that maybe a traditional office job wasn't the best for me for those reasons. It was very easy for me to get sidetracked, to get bored. It just, it didn't stimulate me like real estate does.
Eleni: And you mentioned you like variety, not really interesting for you to, like, sit at a desk all day, and that's partly because of your ADHD. How did you figure out that you needed a job with a little bit more movement or that perhaps sitting at a desk would be a challenge?
Gracen: I have always wanted to have a job. Actually, I would make up businesses when I was younger and try to pawn them off on all my family members. I always wanted to be working. I wanted to have my own money. I wanted to just do my own thing. So I actually was a consultant for an off-campus student housing when I was 17. That was, like, my first adult job while I was off at college. That job was a lot of sitting at a desk because there wasn't much to really do. And so every day was very repetitive, and there wasn't much variety in that. That didn't interest me that much. So, I kind of figured out through process of elimination.
I had that job. I also worked at a clothing store, which was a big mistake because that was one of my favorite clothing stores. And I promise you, I spent way more money than I ever made, just because I loved it. There would be different customers every shift and getting to talk to people and walking around the floor. It was a little bit repetitive, but at the same time it showed me variety. And I was like, “OK, I like this. Let's go more towards this.” And so it really was a process of elimination for me.
Eleni: Yeah, definitely. And you know, that's partly because you have two jobs, but also just thinking about real estate itself and how that brings variety for you. So I'd love to hear more about what a typical day looks like. You know, are you primarily doing, like, rentals or selling or, like, a bit of both?
Gracen: So, when I first started out, it was a lot of leasing. And then that turned into an internship that quickly evolved into purchasing, working with customers and sellers. So I did that for a while when I wasn't pursuing acting at all, but now that I am pursuing acting and need my days freed up a little bit more, I do more of what they call referral work. So someone will come to me and I will be able to send them to someone in their area, or they'll be able to go through me to be able to purchase, sell, lease, whatever they may need. And it's just been a great thing for me to be able to do with a lot of flexibility, because I'm not actively out there showing and things like that, but that change has also been kind of recent. So up until not too long ago, I was every day driving around and having signs in the back of my car all the time. And it was always on the go and I loved that, but I definitely feel like as far as me moving forward and having time and being able to pursue my dreams that the referral route is definitely better for me.
Eleni: You also talked a little bit about being more of a verbal communicator than a written communicator. So I would love to hear, like, how you discovered that the verbal communication is more so your strength, and then what you do day to day when written communication challenge has come up and, you know, what you do to, like, cope with that and manage that day to day.
Gracen: Spelling has always been my downfall. And I guess part of it is, like, me being self-conscious and not wanting to mess up too much when it comes to writing and that type of thing. So I've always loved to talk. I love communicating with people. I love being social. And so whenever it comes to writing and things like that, it just was a challenge, but I know that I have to do it, to a degree. So one of the things that I forced upon myself is keeping a calendar that's written. So that way I'm making sure, like, I'm still getting that written stuff in. And I also keep a checklist and a to-do list at all times because that way I'm able to make sure, you know, I have a moment I'm like, "Oh yeah, I need to do this today."
Eleni: You know, you talked a little bit about some of your strengths and some of the challenges you have that might relate to ADHD or dyslexia. Before you started working and in this job in particular, did you have any idea how it might impact your work or when it would come up?
Gracen: One thing, and this is actually a very embarrassing story, I was out showing houses and, you know, dyslexia, you get numbers confused sometimes. And so I'm always extremely careful of looking at something four times or more to make sure that I'm putting it in my GPS correctly. And there was a very big difference in the numbers I put in and where we were supposed to be and ended up on the absolute wrong side of town, and at someone's house that did not have a for sale sign in the yard. So I was like, "This is weird. Maybe it's just unlisted." Yeah, that house definitely wasn't for sale. And then I realized it way after the fact, and I was like, “Oh.” So that's definitely one of the ways that I knew would be a challenge that randomly would come up that would be a challenge, but I had to be extreme — and I'm still careful to this day when putting stuff in my GPS. I would much rather copy and paste on my phone than I would someone tell me over the phone, like, "OK, we're going to 3300 [street name]." I would much rather you text it to me and let me copy and paste it. That way I know we're on the same page, because if you trust me to put it in, there's no telling.
Eleni: That's hilarious. So we chatted about some of your challenges with math in school. I imagine those challenges impacted you in real estate, too, right? The size of a room or something like that.
Gracen: So as far as measuring rooms and square footage and that kind of thing, there is a tool you can purchase. It looks like a cat toy, if I'm being honest, and it will measure the room for you. It will say, like, from this point you're 8 feet from the wall and whatnot. So you could use that tool very easily. And that was something that was a game changer for me. And also looking at floor plans. That to me, was on the harder side.
Eleni: Did you worry about getting those kinds of measurement and math questions wrong in your real estate exam?
Gracen: So one way that — obviously you can get some things wrong on the test; you don't have to get a 100. And that was kind of a mentality that I had to realize growing up also is you're not going to get a 100 on everything, and it's OK to get some stuff wrong. But you have to also know your strengths and weaknesses and, like, where it's worth putting the effort kind of thing.
So for me, I knew I was really good at papers and presentations. So for those I knew I had to do good because I knew I could do good. So when the measuring questions came up on the test, I really wasn't too fazed by it because I knew there were only a few of them. And as long as I did good on the definitions and the fair housing and that type of thing, that I could miss those and it would be OK. And that in real life, I could just use the little laser pointer thingy and all would be well and no one would know. So I'm kind of majorly telling on myself right now, but it's fine.
Eleni: Yeah. I mean, I think it's really useful, like the tools out there exist for a reason, right?
Eleni: So, you might as well utilize them when you can. And I know that for both of your jobs, you're not necessarily, like, on a salary. Do you think that working for commission, does it work well for you and the way that your brain works?
Gracen: Yes. So that's how real estate works. You work for commission, and then acting jobs, you know, whenever you work, you get paid. I have to be very careful because it's not a traditional job. I don't know that I'm going to get a paycheck every week. I know so many horror stories of people getting paid and they're like, "Oh, this is great. You know, I'm making big money." Then they go out and blow all of it, and then they're in a pickle. So you have to be very careful. Working for commission for me is a really great system because it is rewarding. And I know if I do a good job, I'm going to be rewarded at the end, which is great. And that is a very good motivator for me of knowing, "OK, this is what I have to do." And it's very clear to see what you have to do in order to earn said paycheck. Whereas another job you aren't exactly told, oh, you're doing a good job; here's your paycheck. You don't get those same feelings. And I guess what you were saying, it goes back to that, I think. I see the end in sight and I know what I have to do to get there.
Eleni: Can you relate that to ADHD in any way?
Gracen: Probably, I haven't really ever thought about that, but I can definitely see where that can be a thing that can go together because I think that seeing an end in sight and knowing that's coming and knowing that it varies also is really good because obviously you sell a more expensive house, you're going to make more money. So knowing those kinds of things and, like, with every day being a different variable, it's very good for someone's brain who is highly stimulated.
Eleni: So, one thing people with ADHD that I've interviewed say is that often there needs to be more of an immediate or obvious reward for them to do something. For some people, maybe money is a motivator. Other people, it might be forming relationships or being accountable to people. So that's why I was interested to hear if you moved in the direction of a commission-based job because that is what motivated you to perform. You know, rather than an ongoing salary where it isn't as clear what you're getting compensated for.
Eleni: So, another thing that we talk about with people with ADHD, they often like thrive in chaos or uncertainty and, you know, like —
Gracen: Oh my gosh, that's me.
Eleni: Yeah, like really being able to like think on the spot and like work in the moment. I would love to hear, how does that show up in real estate? Do you have any horror stories or any, like, interesting things that have happened where you've had to think on your feet a little bit more? How do you think that potentially relates to your ADHD or dyslexia or in any way?
Gracen: Definitely with the whole instant gratification and all that with your brain. I definitely think that kind of goes with the chaos and that goes with you wanting to be a problem solver and wanting to fix everything in the split of a second. And so I would say with real estate stuff that when you're out showing houses and things of that nature, that you have to be on the fly because your office isn't at your disposal sometimes. So you might be on the opposite side of town and you have to do this and that. And you have to be very resourceful.
So, I have used my phone as a hotspot sitting in my car, hooked up to my laptop, trying to get a contract sent in, or a UPS Store, sending an email to the printer and just being very resourceful in that way. As far as client situations, I have gotten a call — this unfortunately was a family member of mine — she had fallen, and she ended up breaking her hip while looking at a house. Obviously, I was like, "Oh my gosh, like, I'm on the way. Let me help." But you just have to know anything's going to happen. And so that is one thing I will say that keeps me interested every day is because you do know anything can happen.
Walking into every day and just expecting the unexpected definitely makes you want to do it every day, because you just want to know what's going to happen next.
Eleni: Totally. Yeah, it's really interesting because we spoke to a teacher that has a similar description for what their day is like and why that works for their brains. So, it's just interesting to hear how two jobs that you wouldn't necessarily associate as similar can have these parallels. That parallel here is not knowing what you're walking into and that being really interesting and stimulating for the ADHD brain to not know what's going to come up and how you're going to respond to it.
Gracen: And it's actually funny that you brought up teaching because in college that's something that I did also. I was a tutor. So I really loved working with kids with learning differences because I kind of wanted to give them hope and help them realize that they weren't alone, that there were people who have the same struggles that they did that were successful, and that the sky was the limit for them. And it was just figuring out where their strengths and weaknesses were.
Eleni: That's great; I love that. I know that we've talked a little bit about some of the challenges that come up with ADHD and dyslexia, but it also sounds like you are coming from a place of confidence and you definitely are really, like, aware of what your strengths are. You know, one thing we talk about is like thriving not in spite of your difference but because of your difference. So I would love to hear, like, how did you build that confidence?
Gracen: Being on a self-discovery journey in many ways like I have been, it's taken time, but I'm just at a point where I'm comfortable looking in the mirror every day and just saying, "This is me, and this is what I've been given, and I'm going to make the best of it." So whether it be body image, whether it be dyslexia, ADHD, or anything that I might not like about myself, I'm just at a point where I feel comfortable letting everyone know that this is who I am and I'm going to embrace it instead of run from it.
Eleni: Do you think that you have landed the right fit for you, and if acting doesn't necessarily work out, do you think real estate is something that you will continue to pursue forever?
Gracen: As far as the future, I definitely want to continue to evolve. I feel like I learn things about myself daily, as far as strengths, weaknesses, ways to do things, ways to get around things. And I definitely feel like every day I'm getting closer to my purpose. I do think that real estate is great because there are so many ways you can do real estate. You can be a landlord, you can do the leasing portion. You can just work with buyers. You can just work with sellers. I feel like it's always going to be of interest to me, and as I do grow in my career, you know, maybe there will be some specialties that I take on that I realize, oh, I'm really good at this. Or maybe there'll be some added things to my career because obviously I love to keep busy. So whether that be going back and maybe doing some teaching at some point, or maybe it's not acting, maybe I teach acting, maybe something like that. I just definitely feel like the world is an oyster and I'm just ready to see what this journey's like. And I think that every day, just keep working on the things that challenge me, and anything's possible.
Eleni: Well, thanks so much for being here, Gracen.
Gracen: Thank you so much for having me and for allowing me to tell this story, because I haven't really talked about this much before, but I'm so glad to be able to share my journey with everyone.
Eleni: This has been "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a part of the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about it. "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Go to u.org/thatjob to share your thoughts and to find resources from every episode. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash that job.
Do you have a learning difference and a job you're passionate about? Email us at email@example.com. If you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job, we'd love to hear from you. As a nonprofit and social impact organization, Understood relies on the help of listeners like you to create podcasts like this one, to reach and support more people in more places. We have an ambitious mission to shape the world for difference, and we welcome you to join us in achieving our goals. Learn more at understood.org/mission. "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Andrew Lee and Justin D. Wright, who also wrote our theme song. Laura Key is our editorial director at Understood. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Thanks again for listening.
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