At American Family, we talk about pursuing your dreams. It’s an amazing and rewarding experience when you can actually see someone achieve their dreams right in front of your eyes.
For many people, dreams mean having a family, landing a dream job, getting a new car or maybe success in owning a business. For our country’s high school athletes, their dreams often take the shape of achieving excellence, going to the next level and the one after that, with the ultimate dream of turning pro.
I recently had the chance to witness more than 100 dreamers showcase their athletic abilities at the 8th annual Under Armour All-America High School Football Skills Challenge and game. These dreamers – some of the top high school football players in the country – were well on their way to achieving their dreams.
Their dreams, whether in a helmet and shoulder pads – or through books and grades – are about the same thing: Be all you can be, be the best you can be, and do the hard work it takes to achieve those dreams.
For this event, only the best high school seniors from across the country are invited to participate. After a series of skills challenges including passing, kicking and receiving, these athletes are divided into two teams to play live on ESPN and show the world what they can do.
American Family Insurance is a proud co-sponsor of this event that lets these athletes prove how their hard work has paid off. During the event, I had many athletes, their parents and coaches tell me how much they appreciate American Family co-sponsoring this event. The common comment was that we are helping their kids achieve their dreams.
American Family has been a part of this amazing event showcasing dreams since 2012. The players from that game in 2012 are just now becoming eligible for the NFL draft and it looks like a lot of dreams are going to come true. So far, there’s the potential for 10 kids from that game to be selected in the upcoming 2015 NFL draft.
In life, we all have those “ah-ha” moments. Some of them even shape our future. Mine was the day I left a corporate job to became an American Family agent. That decision set me on a path to realizing a dream I’d had for a long time and let me carve my own destiny and create my own future.
Let me back up.
After finishing graduate school, I worked for a major accounting company. I later moved to a position with one of my clients. I was happy and had a good job. As my pay continued to increase, and with the birth of our second child, my wife, Andrea, decided to leave her position as a first-grade teacher and be a stay-at-home mom. We were living the suburban dream. We even had the picket fence! Dinner was at 6 p.m. and life was good.
Then, we decided to start a business.
Owning a business had always been a goal of ours but our tolerance for risk is low. I explored all kinds of business opportunities until I was referred by a family member to American Family. After several meetings with sales managers, I knew American Family was the perfect partner for my business goals.
The problem was, I had never sold anything before and I didn’t know if I could sell insurance.
At the time, I had two small children, a mortgage, and my wife was a stay-at-home mom. In order for our family to be secure financially, I had no option – I had to make it work. I was putting in 70-plus hours every week for the first year, and loved every minute of it. This opportunity epitomized the American dream for me and changed my life. I was feeling a sense of self-confidence I hadn’t felt before.
The first year of business was a whirlwind. I made mistakes, I stumbled my way through selling insurance and I learned how to run a business. But, with the help of great mentors and friends along the way, I managed.
Eight years have passed since I opened my own agent office, and while I have moved into sales management, I view those years as defining ones in my life.
The defining moment of choosing to become my own boss taught me:
- You’ll accomplish what you believe is possible.
- Surrounding yourself with positive people and influences is essential to success.
- Happiness is a decision.
- You can’t get anywhere alone.
No matter where we life or what we do, I’ve learned that everyone gets those “Ah-ha” moments in life. Are you going to listen to yours?
At a time when many are contemplating retirement, I decided to open a new chapter in my life. Inspiration, like dreams, comes in many forms and from many sources.
I was attending an American Family class in early 2010 called “Career Engagement and Agility” and the ice-breaker question, the instructor’s tool to allow the group to share and get comfortable with one another, was this: “What is the greatest regret of your adult life?”
Seriously? I wasn’t expecting something like that so early in the morning. I was wracking my brain, but the same answer kept popping into my head: “You really messed up when you were younger – you never finished college.”
I went with that answer for the ice breaker and the thought stuck with me for the next year: “You should look into going back to college, You never finished.” When WHA-TV, the local PBS channel, was constantly promoting online education through the University of Wisconsin Extension that summer, it seemed as if the cosmos were aligning to tell me something. My wife likes to say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”
I guess I was ready at that point.
I contacted the University of Wisconsin-Stout, in Menomonie, Wis. late in the summer of 2010 to see if my previous credits would count toward a degree. I was also trying to get a handle on what I would need to do to complete my degree.
You see I started at UW- Stout in 1976 and left after the fall term in 1980, with lessthan- stellar grades. You could say I failed not only school, but also myself back then; switching majors and giving up when I realized how much work it would take to finish my degree. Thankfully, we live in a society that believes in redemption. I was admitted back into UW-Stout on probation in Fall 2011, needing 49 credits to graduate, mostly in my degree concentration of management.
This was it. I was going to accomplish this; I was ready to dream fearlessly. Four years and many long afternoons and evenings working on classes via distance learning, I walked across the stage at UW-Stout on Dec.13, 2014. I received my diploma with a bachelor of science – management degree, with a minor in business administration.
The kid who left school with his tail between his legs and failing grades in 1980, finished with a 3.85 grade point average and Magna Cum Laude recognition.
I could not have achieved my dream without the support of my wife of 22 years, Colleen, and my sons, Matt and Pat. American Family also helped me achieve my dream through the support of tuition reimbursement and people who mentored me through projects during my four years of school.
What’s your dream? It’s out there (or still out there)! Go get it! I did – because there’s no time limit on dreams.
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The first official day of winter falls on Sunday, Dec. 21. Depending on where you live, winter can have many different meanings. For some, it means snow, ice, subzero temperatures and lousy driving conditions. For others, it means it’s only going to get up to 65 degrees.
No matter where you live or what your winter activities are, your smartphone can become your best friend to help you make it through the winter season. Here are six fun – and free – apps for either iPhone or Android to make this winter a little easier.
AccuWeather – Winter weather can be unpredictable. A simple snow or rain storm can quickly turn into a blizzard or downpour. With this app you can stay up to date on changing weather conditions in your area and plan accordingly in terms of driving, getting to work or school, or even what to wear. You can also program it to give you severe weather alerts. Forecasts update every 15 minutes with information for the next 15 days – all in 27 different languages.
Winter Survival Kit – Like the name suggests, this app can be a key component in your cars “winter survival kit.” If you’re unfortunate enough to have car trouble, this app will help you find your current location, call 911, notify your friends and family and calculate how long you can run your engine to keep warm and stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. You can use the app to store important phone and policy numbers for insurance or roadside assistance. You can even designate emergency contacts you want to alert if you become stranded.
Virtual Fireplace – “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, And since we've no place to go, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!!” When winter weather brings snow and cold, nothing beats a fire in the fireplace to warm even the coldest moods. Unfortunately, not everyone has a fireplace to curl up in front of. If you don’t have a fireplace, this handy app gives you the ambience (albeit on a small screen) of a fireplace less the ashes and smoky smell.
OnTheSnow Ski & Snow Report – If you’re a skier or snowboarder, this app is for you! Get snow depths and conditions from your favorite ski resorts along with powder alerts, localized weather forecasts, firsthand condition reports and resort reviews from other users.
Food Network In the Kitchen – If you’re hosting a house full of people and don’t have a clue what to serve – or if you’re the kind of cook who can’t heat a frozen pizza – this is perfect for you. This app is filled with recipes, tips and techniques from Food Network personalities and lets you look for dishes by chef or ingredient.
OpenTable – So if the above app didn’t help and the dinner you cooked turned out to be a disaster, OpenTable will help you locate nearby restaurants and even let you make reservations! All you need to do is specify the time you want to be there and how many people in your party. OpenTable will check to see what’s available in your area and even sort out restaurants based on cuisine and price. Bon Appetit!
While there’s nothing you can do to stop winter’s arrival, these apps can help you get more out of the winter season.
Have an ‘appy winter!
Every year, the approach of fall brings excitement and hope for me as I begin to wonder if I will be selected as a volunteer for American Family’s sponsored event with Very Special Arts (VSA) Wisconsin. If you haven’t heard of this event, it’s held every year at a UW Badger football game and features some very special participants from across the state.
VSA Wisconsin was founded in 1985 to encourage and support people with special needs and different abilities to use and develop their talents in the arts. They have programs in dance, drama, creative writing, music and visual art for young adults.
VSA Wisconsin hosts this game every fall for several high school bands and choirs from around the state. The participants come to share their talents with the fans, watch a great football game and enjoy the day with all the volunteers.
As a volunteer, we arrive early to get the stadium ready for the participants. We have VSA Wisconsin sweatshirts to hand out, tickets to count, buses of participants to welcome, lunches to distribute, practices to run through on the field and of course, cleaning up the stands as the day progresses.
Before the game begins, the choirs and some volunteers enter the field to perform the National Anthem. At halftime, the bands from VSA march onto the field to play a song they’ve prepared along with the UW Marching Band. This is a high honor indeed and one that build memories to last a lifetime! Then, everyone returns to their seats to watch the game, making their exits at the end of the third quarter to head home.
This is my favorite volunteer opportunity for several reasons. I meet co-workers from all different areas of American Family who share the same passion for helping people. Sharing the day with the VSA Wisconsin staff and all of the participants is a gift beyond measure. Some of the participants get on their buses as early as four in the morning to arrive at the stadium. Their energy, excitement and willingness to open up and meet all of us is nothing short of fantastic. I am humbled by the immediate acceptance by all the participants. They smile, give high-five’s, laugh, cheer and even sometimes give us hugs. I feel an immense pride in them when they perform, even though we’ve all only just met. This event reinforces to me, the other volunteers and the fans in the stands simplicity and power of kindness with no expectations.
Editor’s note: More information about VSA Wisconsin can be found at: http://www.vsawis.org/