Pursue Your Dreams
I’ve been fortunate to work in a variety of roles during my time with American Family.
I started in AmPlan, our company’s billing department at one time. I remember trying to reconcile complex commercial billing accounts. I was just out of college and working with people who had 20, 30, even 40 years of experience. I admired how dedicated these people were and how efficiently they answered questions asked by customers and agents.
I wondered if I would ever do my job as well as they did.
I marveled at what they knew.
A few years later, I joined the Claim Division as a property adjuster. I worked with agents and adjusters who, for years, made it their business to help customers through some of the most trying times of their lives.
I wondered if I would ever do my job as well as they did.
I marveled at what they knew.
Here I am, more than 20 years later. Many of my expert friends are retired or no longer with the company. I’ll always appreciate the patience and willingness they showed when sharing with me their knowledge and, more important, their experience.
I think the spirit of sharing is alive and well at American Family. We just do it differently now. Technology helps us share information more efficiently, and it gives us more ways to interact with each other. That’s a good thing, but it also takes some of the human element out of the equation — and that human element is invaluable and difficult to replicate.
I sometimes wonder what my expert friends would think about today’s American Family. I know they’d be proud of our agent and employee accomplishments, and of our commitment to our customers.
And if I had to guess, I think they’d offer this advice:
What your co-workers know is your company’s greatest asset. When people don’t personally interact, the transfer of knowledge is compromised. Through your day-to-day work, strike the right balance between technology and each other to keep the art of personal interaction alive and well.
In the process, you’ll all marvel at what you know.
Two hours, 27 minutes and 52 seconds is a long time to spend swimming. It also was the start to my first attempt at an Ironman Triathlon race on Nov. 17, 2013, in Arizona.
Unfortunately, that extra seven minutes, 52 seconds doomed the rest of my race. To continue the triathlon, I had to finish the 2.4-mile swim in two hours and 20 minutes or less.
Ever since my grandmother and I watched Julie Moss crawl across the finish line in 1982 at the Ironman World Championships, I’ve been intrigued by the race. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. There are races held around the world, and the one in Arizona was the day after my birthday, so, in my mind, it was the logical one to train for.
I started slowly by swimming a bit and riding a trainer in my basement. I also broke three treadmills. Just bad luck, I hoped. I bought all the right equipment, read the books and prepared as well as I could. I enlisted a trainer and a swim coach for a while, but later did it on my own.
My training went well. But I could have done more. There were opportunities I missed and I thought I had done enough. That, and a vacation just three weeks before the race kept me preoccupied. But I still believed I was ready. I believed I would finish right before the midnight cutoff.
On the day of the race I felt pretty good. The water was about 65 degrees and 2,500 strangers were in it with me. The gun sounded, and suddenly I felt like I was in a high-powered washing machine. I was kicked, swam over and jostled by every one of those other swimmers. I lost focus, rhythm and some confidence. But I was determined. I couldn’t get my stroke back, so I swam breaststroke instead of freestyle. It was tough. I was behind, but had a volunteer in a kayak encouraging me the entire way.
I swam farther than I ever had in my life, but still just missed the cutoff. The extra seven minutes and 52 seconds was my undoing.
At the time, I was upset. I was even more upset the next morning, when I saw a finisher hobbling around the hotel lobby.
Then, my anger turned into determination and resolve.
If he could do it, so could I. I had the knowledge, I had the training, I had the support – all I needed was the speed. I could fix that.
Training for the Ironman is like the obstacles we face every day. We can try, and we can fail, but most important, we can overcome our challenges. It’s in each of us to make the effort if we so choose.
I know I’ll sign up for another Ironman, and I will finish. To me, it’s about the challenge and the effort and when it is done, the finish line.
My next Ironman, I expect to hear at the finish line, “Mark Romney, “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
Oh, and I’ll get the tattoo.
Ever get that nagging feeling that you’re not living life to the fullest? I know I do from time to time – especially in the doldrums of wintertime. Here are some ideas that have helped me live life more vibrantly. I hope they inspire you to do the same!
Taste – Nothing awakens the soul more than new flavors – and the transition from winter to spring is the perfect time to revitalize your senses with fresh ingredients or a stroll through the farmer’s market! Pick a theme and organize a potluck with friends for a fun way to taste new dishes and exchange recipes, or take a cooking class to learn the savory secrets of a new cuisine.
Ask – In the age of search engines and instantaneous answers, we often rely on technology to answer our questions. I’ve recently come to realize our incessant Googling can cause us to miss out on the gratifying gifts of human connection and storytelling that naturally occur when people ask one another questions. Whether it’s chatting with your barista about your café’s new coffee blend, or having a family member tell you what it was like growing up in a different era - you’ll enjoy a much richer life experience by taking the time to ask.
Stretch – Take a class. Volunteer. Borrow a book from the library on a topic you’re curious about. Watch online tutorials to teach yourself something new, or improve on a skill you already have. By stepping outside your comfort zone you can gain curiosity, confidence and a better understanding of what makes you, well - YOU.
Remember – “Don’t dwell in the past.” We’ve all been cautioned to look forward – not back, however I’ve found some of my most fulfilling moments have been flipping through old photo albums or watching embarrassing family videos– especially in the company of loved ones. Few things compare to reminiscing over old stories, or sharing a laugh over a dog-eared snap shot – and sometimes a little trip down memory lane is all it takes to inject fresh perspective and energy into your day.
Improvise – Let’s face it – we’re not all comfortable being spontaneous (I know I’m not!) But the fact remains that diverging from your normal schedule and responsibilities can be the ticket to experiencing that heart-pumping, soul-stirring feeling of being truly alive. The best place to start is by setting aside a weekend in which you pledge not to make any plans. Wake up and see where the day takes you. Hungry for a certain food? Follow your stomach to a restaurant that serves it. Try not to look any further than an hour ahead – and practice enjoying the incredible things that are happening in the moment.
More than a year ago, I made the decision to change my hairdo. I never expected that this decision would have impacted my life. I mean, it’s not uncommon that a girl wants to change her look, right? For me, I wanted a change every two years or so. I would go to the salon and say, "I need a change," which meant that I wanted a NEW hair style that would make me look younger, jazzier, or (I'm embarrassed to say) like one of the celebrities.
So what was different with this decision? This decision would force me to embrace a part of me that I had altered for over 30 years… my natural curls. I was faced with this life-changing decision when my five-year-old daughter was learning to swim and she wanted me to practice with her. I couldn't. I would mess up my hair (shallow, right?). Well, I felt silly after a while and took the plunge, starting a journey that would challenge me to confront other areas in my life where I was not being "real" or authentic.
After taking that initial step, I decided to dig deeper and discovered that my life was centered around preserving an "image" on the surface and denying the essence of what made me special. The image of an iceberg is the perfect metaphor for this because all you can see is 10 percent of it (what’s above the water surface or "above the line"). That’s where I was focusing ALL of my attention. The reality is that 90 percent of the iceberg is hidden ("below the line"). Unconsciously, I was also hiding 90 percent of ME because I thought that sharing that part of me would cause people to think less of me at work and in my personal life.
In my career, it was crucial that I managed how others perceived me. Success was about being the best. From my personal appearance to my work – my goal was to be flawless. Failure was not an option.
But life happened! Life has a way of throwing you a curve to help you grow. How you react determines if you grow. For me, it was the premature birth of my daughter, Briana, who was born at 1lb and 10ozs. Welcoming a new baby is a special, life-changing event. Briana’s immediate medical needs meant more than adjusting to a new schedule. The challenges we faced together helped me focus on the 90 percent – the part of me below the line.
I learned to be present, take risks and embrace who I am!
I also thought how these lessons will impact the future pursuit of my dreams. I can say that my life is richer now that I have changed my focus from myself to others. I now focus on the impact that I make each and every day. Every interaction that I have with another person will have a positive or negative impact; there is no such thing as a "neutral" impact.
So, I challenge you to be present in each moment. Next time you interact with someone — whether it’s in a hall or a meeting — ask yourself if this will result in a positive impact. Are you really listening to the other person, or are you distracted by other noise such as the next item on your to-do list? When you are present in the moment, your listening skills improve, your relationships blossom, and your life is enriched.
Today, I embrace and share who I am — all 100 percent.
American Family Insurance inspires, protects and rebuilds our customers’ dreams, as illustrated in the stories featured our 2013 annual report.
Perhaps you have had similar experiences.
Our customer focus starts with you and your relationship with our American Family agents, trusted advisers who care about knowing and meeting your needs. It continues with our employees, who are thoughtful, innovative and dedicated to serving you.
Our financial strength improved in 2013, with policyholder equity increasing to $6.6 billion. Policyholder equity is what we have available to protect you when the unexpected occurs. We anticipate paying more than $3.4 billion for claims incurred in 2013.
But we do more than pay claims. We provide in-car technology to help teens and adults become safer drivers. Our DreamBank in Madison, Wis., continues to inspire visitors by helping them identify and pursue their individual dreams. And, we support communities nationally through sustainability and charitable efforts.
Our dream is to protect more people across the country. A major part of this effort is our strong investment in products, systems and services for customers of our American Family agents.
We are also expanding our reach to consumers who prefer to conduct business using the Internet or call centers. In 2013, we acquired Homesite Group, a direct property insurance company, and helped create AssureStart, a startup direct small-business insurance distributor. They join The General®, a direct auto insurance company we acquired in 2012.
Together, the companies in our American Family group provide options to meet consumers’ varied preference.
Thank you for inspiring us with your dreams ... and for allowing American Family to serve you.
Editor’s note: Read and share the stories from your fellow American Family Insurance customers in our 2013 annual report. Tell us what inspires you about their dreams.