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Childhood lessons make impressions for life

Steve O'DellI grew up in the insurance business and have a dad who’s been an agent with another company for 30 years. I started in the business when I was 22 and joined American Family last year. My dad taught me the true role of an insurance professional.

As a kid, I would watch him interact with customers after school, and I even tagged along with him to funerals. At the time, I was often bored, but as I got older I started to see and understand things differently. He was, and remains, a trusted adviser in the community.

I grew up in a small town, so my sister and I would walk to his office after school and do our homework in his conference room. I was about 10 or 11 years old at the time – old enough to have a very basic understanding of what insurance is (mostly auto insurance -- when there’s a car accident, an insurance company pays to fix it).

One day, I got a very real and emotional understanding of what my dad did for a living. My sister and I walked down the hall to his conference room and passed his office on the way. The office door was closed, but I could hear voices of adults and small children. My sister and I could hear muffled sounds coming from his office. It sounded like a woman crying and little kids whimpering. 

When his office door opened, I peeked down the hallway to see who was in there with him. It was a woman and her two children (3 and 5 years old). The woman was very emotional and you could tell she was crying. Her kids were holding onto her pant leg, while my dad gave the woman a big hug.

After they left, I went into dad’s office and asked him why the woman was crying. My dad had his back to me in his chair and as he turned around I realized he was pretty upset as well. He looked at me (I’ll never forget the emotion in his face) and said, “Son, that woman and her children lost their husband and dad in a car accident last week. I just told them that the mortgage was paid off, the cars were paid off, the kids’ college was paid for and mom could stay home and raise the children.”

Dad later told me the man who died hadn’t told his wife he had purchased such a large life insurance policy. Apparently, Dad greeted the woman at the funeral and told her she needed to come by his office when she was ready. She thought her husband had enough life insurance for the burial and maybe a little more. She had no idea there would be enough to pay off the mortgage, cover the kids’ college educations and supplement her income.

That experience has always stayed with me. It’s not only a reminder of how precious life is, but how important life insurance is. I believe it’s my job to bring up the subject with all my customers, educate them about life and provide life insurance options to meet their needs.

I still get a little emotional telling this story – even though I’ve told it a thousand times!  

30 Days of Thanks: Who Inspires You?

30 Days of Thanks Everyone should have a Lynn in their life.

I’ve known Lynn for 20 years, from the time I was a green college graduate, moving to a small town in northern Wisconsin to work as a reporter. Lynn was a few years older than me, established as a career woman, confident, and a ton of fun. 

Recognizing I didn’t know anybody in my new town, she swept me up in her circle of friends. She encouraged me to join a bowling team. She invited to join the group for the annual apple festival in Bayfield, Wis., where we dressed as apple slices and paraded around town. (NO ONE ELSE was wearing costumes, by the way.)

This is one of the things that inspires me most about Lynn: She sees people who need a friend, and she becomes one. She puts others first, always. People are drawn to her because of her positive, sunny nature. 

In 20 years, I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone. It’s just not in her DNA.

Lynn taught me to be playful and not take myself too seriously. She showed me how to cross-country ski. We had winter picnics in the middle of the frozen Wisconsin River, waving to snowmobilers. She hosted garden parties where crazy hats were mandatory.

Quickly, our friendship deepened. We became a support system for each other, rooted in a shared faith and similar values. She’s always cheered me on as I’ve worked to grow my career, encouraging me to go bigger and singing my praises to anyone who’ll listen. 

She inspires confidence. 

During a particularly rough patch for me, she took note, telling me, "you’ve lost your drive." I explained why. Her response? "That makes sense. You'll get through this and be back on track in six months." 

Lynn was right – I found my drive again and started graduate school.

When I see her, which isn’t nearly enough, I'm energized. I'm inspired to think bigger, act bigger and set bigger goals. She's inspired me to be that mentor and friend to younger women, to help them forge their paths. I hope I've been one-tenth as impactful for them as Lynn has been for me.

So when someone asks me, "who inspires you?", sure, I’m inspired by Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and other successful women. But it’s my friend, Lynn, whom I turn to for energy and motivation.

So who's the Lynn in your life, and what inspires you most?

30 Days of Thanks: 'Me Time'

30 Days of Thanks Me TimeI’m grateful for me time – time to relax, reflect and do things I enjoy on my own. Time to reconnect with my inner spirit and remind myself to breathe again, which I sometimes find I don’t do enough at my desk during the day.

It can be as simple as a nap on a Sunday afternoon snuggling with a kitty or two. Sometimes it’s more artistic: Listening to music, playing my violin, making handmade Valentines or designing photo books. Other times it’s more athletic: Going for a run, doing yoga or dancing in my living room.

Me time helps me recharge those batteries so I can be attentive, focused and strong – at work and at home.

No matter what I’m doing during me time, it often elevates me to a place where I can reflect on and appreciate my life. I think about how grateful I am for my family, my friends, my job and my co-workers. Me time also allows me to slow down and notice things that pass me by in daily life. Like how beautiful the colors of the changing leaves are this fall.

It’s really easy to allow others to influence how we spend our time and what we do. And that’s OK sometimes. It’s fun to spend time with others. And we all have responsibilities to our jobs and our families to get things done. But time to ourselves is good for our health and helps us be better people – it allows us to nourish our souls, explore interests and reflect on what we’re most thankful for.

30 Days of Thanks on FacebookEditor's note: Give yourself permission to practice gratitude! Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude. Visit us on Facebook this month for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks. 

30 Days of Thanks: 8 Creative Ways to Show Gratitude

Show gratitude with these creative ideas.Mom always told you to write thank-you notes. But how about these creative ideas to show your gratitude instead?

Say it sweetly. Few things say thank you like homemade treats. Even if you slept through 7th grade home ec class, there are plenty of easy recipes to help you show your heartfelt gratitude.

Extend an invitation. Remember how good it feels to be invited? Say thank you to someone special by asking them to join you in something they enjoy – a long walk, a movie marathon at home, an afternoon at the driving range.

Make a phone call. It’s simple, but in our world of texts and tweets, a phone call can be a truly genuine way to remind someone how much they mean to you.

Use your talents. Showing gratitude becomes easier – not to mention more personal – when you utilize what you do best! If you have a way with words, write a heartfelt poem. If you’re musical, send a short video clip of yourself singing a message of thanks (they’ll love it!) Draw a picture, wash their car, cook them breakfast in bed – the possibilities are endless.

Bragging rights. Let’s face it – who doesn’t enjoy basking in praise delivered in front of others? Show your gratitude by giving a friend a shout-out on Facebook, or writing your colleague a five-star review on their LinkedIn profile. Who knows – your public display of gratitude may help them get that promotion they’ve been dreaming of!

Unleash your inner artist. Chalk a message on the driveway, hang a homemade banner over the front door, or write your thanks in a yard of freshly fallen snow.

Step up. From everyday tasks like walking the dog to bigger gestures such as housesitting for a friend while they go on vacation –  offering a helping hand is a powerful way to show your gratitude.

Picture this. No need for a lengthy letter when you can show your gratitude with a photo! If you’re thanking someone for a gift, be sure to send them a picture of you using it. Grateful for a great friendship? Make a photo collage of your favorite memories together, and give it to your bestie to show them how much he/she means to you.

In what creative ways do you say thank you?

30 Days of Thanks: Gratitude for Madeline

Miri McDonald and MadelineI’m one of those people who transforms into what I call a “crazy dog lady” when I pick up my dog Madeline’s leash and we head out for a walk.

You know the type. You’ll probably hear me talking to my dog. I’m more likely to know your dog’s name than yours. I’ve been known to kiss stranger’s dogs, too.

The other day, my son said to me, “Mom, you can never get enough of dogs.”

And he’s right. I really can’t. I point them out constantly to my kids and my husband. I’m grateful they know this part of who I am. I’m also grateful I’ve given them a love for animals, too.

As a child, I longed for a dog of my own, but my parents didn’t really want the responsibility of a pet. So, I had to wait until I was an adult. I think it’s interesting how expectations build up over time. I had this idea of what an ideal pet would be, and let’s just say it didn’t really turn out that way.

Our dog, Madeline, is probably not what you would call Kennel Club-approved black Labrador Retriever. When we first adopted her, she made a very loud, high-pitched noise that caused people to cross the street. She pulled the leash so hard, I cried because my arm was so sore.

I fell down a man hole once because of Madeline.

She also ate a dead squirrel, caught a live rabbit, a duck, many birds and more rodents than I care to remember. Several trainers told me she was the hardest dog they had ever worked with.

On the flip side, she’s also the reason I know many of my neighbors. She’s helped me train for several running races and is the reason I am so disciplined about walking every morning.

I never thought I would be someone who would laugh while getting drenched in the rain or falling in the snow, but I do with Madeline. I also find myself stopping to revel in my surroundings during our walks, looking at the shockingly red and orange leaves on the trees and marveling at snow we typically need to climb over on our sidewalks in the winter.

I laugh out loud as Madeline buries her snout – and sometimes entire head – in the snowbanks, looking for an animal or a piece of sandwich a child left behind.

Madeline and the doggie dipI’m grateful for many of the pet-specific experiences I’ve had because of Madeline. There’s one that stands out called the doggie dip. Imagine about a hundred dogs and their humans frantically running around a swimming pool, trying not to get trampled on or step in anything gross. I loved watching the dogs swim and play.

Madeline, being a Labrador, was in heaven. She loves to swim. And she doesn’t really understand what it means to take it easy. So, she jumped in hundreds of times until we had to drag her out of there. And she couldn't figure out how to get out of the pool by herself. So I had to pull her out by the scruff of her neck. So there I was, bracing myself at the edge of the pool, pulling her out, laughing so hard I’m crying. All of this, mind you, while I’m getting completely drenched. Then, I watch her dive exuberantly into the pool so many times that her nails bleed.

I’d love to have that kind of passion for something.

When my dad died recently, I found myself grieving the most honestly when I was with Madeline. I’m grateful she doesn’t need me to fill the silence with words. And then, there’s her fur – the tears just seem to melt right in there. Those Labradors are meant to be wet.

The other day my son said, “Madeline is magical. Whenever you feel bad, you just have to hug her and you feel better.”

I’ll take magical over ideal any day.

And for that, I feel so much gratitude.

30 Days of Thanks American Family InsuranceEditor's note: What makes you thankful this time of year? Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.  

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