A 'Million Dollar Listing' star was so broke his card was declined buying tofu at the grocery store and he cried on the subway — and he says that's the moment that set him up for success

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderThe Serhant Team, the top New York real-estate team by sales volume, closed deals worth more than $US838.2 million in 2017.

  • “Million Dollar Listing” star Ryan Serhant acted off-Broadway and hand modelled before he became a top-performing New York City real-estate broker.
  • Serhant hit a career wall after his debit card was declined at a grocery store and in 2008 decided to get a real-estate licence.
  • Serhant has learned that success is born from a balance of fear and motivation.

Real-estate mogul and “Million Dollar Listing” star Ryan Serhant had a slew of odd jobs before he became a top-performing New York City real-estate broker.

Before getting his real-estate licence in 2008, Serhant lived in New York City trying to be an actor, he said on an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This is Success.” When acting didn’t work out – although he played a clock in a free, Edgar Allen Poe off-Broadway show – he hand modelled.

Serhant said he didn’t want to hand model for the rest of his life, but didn’t want to pick up a side job because he thought he would get stuck.

“I didn’t want to do that, so I literally pushed myself to the point where I just ran out of money and had my debit card declined at Food Emporium on 59th Street trying to buy a pack of tofu, and then cried on the subway,” said Serhant, whose book “Sell It Like Serhant” comes out in September.

Serhant said that experience motivated him to change career paths. “And that was my wall, right? That was, like, that moment for the rest of my life that I wanted to run away from as hard as possible, and I had to be shameless about it.”

Serhant said a friend told him to get his real-estate licence in 2008, so he did – on the same day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.

Serhant said he had nothing to lose at that point because he was already broke in the midst of a financial crisis and started approaching strangers on the street to ask if they wanted to invest in real-estate.

“Like, I would go up to people coming out of Saks Fifth Avenue, because our office was right there, and if they had more than two shopping bags I’d go up to them and ask them if they wanted to invest in real estate, just because I had nothing to lose. And if I completely failed in New York City, it meant I had to move home to Colorado and paint fences for the rest of my life, and that was hell to me,” Serhant said.

He said he eventually found a balance of fear and motivation and that led him to success.

“I think everyone rides this seesaw every day of fear on one side and confidence on the other. And you can’t sit and just hold the seesaw down on one end,” Serhant said. “Because if you’re just afraid all the time, you’re never going to do anything. And the flip side, if you’re just totally confident all the time, you’re going to be an a–hole, and no one’s going to ever want to work with you.”

Serhant said: “So you have to find that balance of where the fear in you to succeed pushes you enough to find a confidence to do what you need to do every single day – to, over time, become successful.”

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