Pursue Your Dreams

Be part of someone else's dream

Women in focus"No person has the right to rain on your dreams."

This is one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It because it reminds me although the rain will come, by doing for others, you help to protect their dreams and fulfill yours.

I am so lucky, because as a claims care center manager, I work in the dream department. Really, you say? Yep. I get to help protect my customer’s dream every day, along with the other claim care center folks. We are fortunate to be in the position to help others at a time when they are most worried about the deferment of their dreams.

As a "dream protector," if you will, I truly find satisfaction walking through the doors at American Family Insurance knowing today, just like every day, my job is to help my customers protect their dreams. We all know life surely will bring the rain, but if I am doing my job right, I will be a little sunshine, keeping life’s rain from pouring down on you.


Just as I get satisfaction in my professional life from being part of the dream-protecting fabric at AmFam, I try to apply the same principles in serving my community through Women in Focus, Inc. (WIF), a Madison, Wis., organization serving others with gratitude.

Dr. King said, "Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" Others have helped me through my journeys and "rain" of life. This inspired me to join Women in Focus, an organization whose charge since 1983 is to help young men and women of color to fulfill their dreams. It helps them pursue education opportunities beyond high school. This is a dream of many, I’d say.

Each year, through fundraising efforts of this extraordinary bunch, of which I am proud to say American Family faithfully supports, these educators, business owners, doctors, lawyers and moms get together and volunteer at the YWCA as part of a literacy program. We also plan the group's largest fundraising effort, which is the annual "I have a Dream Scholarship Ball" honoring Dr. King.

Over the years, Women in Focus has awarded 240 scholarships to Madison-area youth -- to help fund their dreams of education. I like to think we are truly women, in focus.

"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." This quote, also by Dr. King, reminds me the efforts flowing from organizations like Women in Focus, and the contributions from companies like American Family Insurance, or simply doing my job with the goal of being a dream protector, do become a small but meaningful part of people's life fabric -- woven into a dream realized and protected.

The gracious part is when you realize in doing things for others, in small but significant ways, whether in your professional or personal life, you are blessed with the opportunity to become, momentarily, part of someone else’s dream.These dream-building moments become the protective fabrics that are then continuously rewoven into another’s, and then yet another.

So as we celebrate Dr. King, who had so many dreams -- for all of us -- I am going to celebrate in the spirit of continuing to do what I can to be a small but great part of someone else’s dream.

Dream with me?

Posted by Treater Prestine on Fri, Jan 17 2014 2:24 pmTreater Prestine is a claims care center manager for American Family Insurance.

What are your New Year's resolutions?

New Year's ResolutionsEvery year, millions of American’s make New Year’s resolutions. They range from the personal (lose weight, hit the gym or learn to dance) to the professional (start my own business, get a different job or be nicer to co-workers) and often involve family, friends and colleagues.

The problem is, by the end of the first month, many resolutions tend to get broken, or at best, severely bent.

For years I diligently made resolutions like everyone else. Some of them I’ve been able to keep while others fell by the wayside. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep the resolution about quitting smoking and have been smoke-free for more than three years.

I have to admit, though, I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. When a resolution gets broken, the person who made it tends to get angry with themselves that they couldn’t make it work. They beat themselves up and get depressed that they broke one of the resolutions they made hoping to make themselves a better person. I’ve even heard people say they are a failure because they couldn’t keep a simple New Year’s resolution.

Who needs that kind of aggravation?

To me, resolutions shouldn’t be something to stress about. Rather, they should be a way to practice a little self-reflection and identify ways we can be a better person, friend, family member or co-worker. I look at them as guidelines, not commandments.

So this year, my resolution for 2014 is to not make resolutions. Instead, I’m going to make “I’d like to” statements. As in, “I’d like to be more helpful to others.”

“I’d like to take on new projects at work.”

“I’d like to lose weight.”

Or, “I’d like to have more date nights with my wife.”

By looking at things as an “I’d like to,” I give myself a little wiggle room. If I have some junk food watching a movie with my wife, I won’t think of myself as a failure and feel guilty about it.

What about you? What would you like to do this year?

Posted by Eric Wolf on Fri, Jan 10 2014 12:50 pm

Focus on the positive

Jeremy JoWhat is the one thing you want more than anything in life? Chances are, that “one thing” is the same thing for everyone – happiness. We want to be happy at work, at home, in our relationships, and so on.

But ever wonder why so many of us are sad or just not genuinely happy?

During a break from a sales class, I suggested to the trainer the company should really look into having personal development workshops for everyone. They can boost morale and ignite productivity. This is a question of how much the company wants to invest in the well-being of its lifeblood – its workforce.

Instead, we get refresher classes we’ve taken many times over, or contests with cash incentives only to produce very little good results. Worse yet, job security fears get instilled in people’s minds because of subpar performance.

These systems are flawed. The method of dangling the carrot may produce better results than instilling fear, but both can only produce superficial results.

These aren’t things we do just in the business world. The same is true in academics and home life – "get A's in school, find that right person, work hard, become successful, and you will be happy.” We have all learned and been taught this way. It’s time we did the reverse.

Be happy by being thankful. We can choose to be miserable at our jobs or because of our pay, or we can choose to be grateful for the privilege of working. There is so much power in realizing how fortunate we are for having jobs.

Be happy by looking for the good; don’t focus on the bad. How much we want to invest in the company? Are we with the company only when times are good, or are we willing to work through the bad and become part of the solution?

Be happy by getting good hormones flowing by starting your day with meditation and exercise – even if only for five minutes.

These are just some of the simple steps I take daily to reach my goal to be happy. It is only when I’m happy I think clearly and enhance my productivity.

Happiness fosters success in life, and not the other way around.

Life is too short to be unhappy. Happiness is a choice, and so is misery. Which one will you pick?

Posted by Jeremy Jo on Tue, Dec 10 2013 6:43 pm

We are the ones we have been waiting for

Beth ChurchillThis affirming and joyful statement resonates with me.

This period in my life has been a time of great change and even greater reflection. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about this statement.

As many know, I lost my sister three months ago after her four-year journey with brain cancer. This experience has left me feeling raw and vulnerable. But as many of you who've faced similar, dramatic life changes know, vulnerability creates openings for learning and growth.

What can we learn from a life well-lived? What do we carry with us?

My sister was an educator in Sun Prairie for her entire career. She taught children to learn. Perhaps more amazing than helping children grow, she built community. She understood that helping children learn and prepare for future successes does not happen in isolation.

The saying “it takes a village” affirms the notion that we are all interconnected, never truly independent, and we all benefit when the relations where we exist are engaging, healthy and in balance. That interdependency, that interconnectedness was primary to Carol's life, and —maybe it's genetic — it drives my engagement at work and in my community.

Having worked my entire career in one way or another in the areas of sustainable strategy, sustainable development, landscape architecture and resource conservation management, I have had the incredible opportunity to live out my passions through my career.  

Not all of us are so lucky.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, less than 30 percent of Americans are engaged in their jobs. I am humbled that my entire career path has been from one of engagement.

At an early age I knew I wanted to grow up to serve in “a purpose-driven life”. It all started with the Iron Eyes Cody commercial, the 1970 Keep America Beautiful public service announcement with the crying chief shedding a tear after seeing trash thrown from a car window. Every time I experienced his tear, I shed one, as well.

I was 9 years old. I felt our interconnection with nature so viscerally, and it's one of the reasons I am passionate about my role as sustainability specialist for American Family and my role as a sustainability strategist out in the community. Passion, purpose and a lot of self-determination have served me well during my 30-year career.

All of us have had the opportunity to witness the growth of information and evidence surrounding the environment. But it's not simply the information about the environmental challenges facing our planet that is most obvious to me. Rather, it is the interdependency of all aspects of our biosphere, from animals to plants to humans to local ecosystems to the global climate.

Change the balance of some plant life and that has impacts on animals, trickling to humans, the ecosystem and beyond. Change the balance of a social structure and it has the same impact. The loss of clean water directly impacts regional, national, and global health. Changes in ocean temperature influence weather patterns globally. While none of this information is new, what is becoming more obvious is the interconnectedness of all these pieces.

For me, my focus is to work hard on the changes I can make as an engaged person, family member, professional, community member and world citizen. I have always invested a good portion of my time volunteering in the community. I am also working on developing more mentoring opportunities. Ways to learn from others. Ways to collaborate. Ways to help others. I meet with a new person in the American Family community every month. I meet with a person in the regional community every month as well. I treasure every opportunity.

Keeping our connections engaged, healthy and in balance is often easier said than done, whether professionally, interpersonally or environmentally. It is, however, a challenge we all face and one that we all face together.

None of us are free-floating and independent islands. We are fundamentally interdependent on each other, our community, and our planet. The lesson is the same: we are in this together. Each and every one of us represents an aspect of the change we want to see in the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for – there is no other way.

Posted by Beth Churchill on Tue, Oct 15 2013 10:00 amBeth Churchill is a workplace sustainability specialist with American Family Insurance.

A Food Blogger’s Journey: Celebrating the Family Dinner Table with Hmong Cuisine

Annie Vang and her family.My family and I came to the United States as refugees following the Vietnam War. I am Hmong and I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Four generations of my family lived in Laos, and before that my ancestors lived in China.

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mom and dad prepared countless home-cooked meals that we shared around the table. Having experienced hunger during the war, they always reminded us it was a privilege to dine together. Many Hmong relied on the generosity of others to survive, and my parents never forgot this – emphasizing the importance of family and sharing meals with others.

As a Hmong American woman, I embrace my culture and celebrate with my family every chance I get. When we have family gatherings or special events, women come together to learn cooking techniques from the elders. Most of our family recipes are handed down by word of mouth, so the only way to learn how to make a dish is to watch someone else prepare it!

Two years ago, I realized I wanted to share my passion for Hmong cuisine with other families – not just my own. I started my own food blog, and began shooting cooking video tutorials that I posted on my Hmong Food YouTube channel.

To my amazement, I was welcomed with open arms by the online food community. To date, my videos have been viewed more than 2.3 million times, and I have more than 12,500 YouTube subscribers. My Facebook page has over 13,600 likes and is growing. I also authored and developed an iPhone app, called Yumaholic, featuring my personal collection of Southeast Asian recipes.

What I have learned on this journey has tremendously impacted my life in a positive way. I was a girl who came from poverty, overcame obstacles, and beat the odds.

Every day I am amazed by the powerful love and support from both friends and strangers who have written to tell me my recipes have rekindled family memories and reawakened their passion for home cooking. I am so happy I am able to help others prepare meals for their family to enjoy at the dinner table.

I am living my dream -- inspiring others -- one delicious video at a time.

Back to the Family Dinner TableEditor’s note: We want all of you to celebrate the family dinner table.  American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to create an e-cookbook to inspire families to come back to the table, and we need your help! Share your recipes for your chance to be featured in the cookbook by submitting a family favorite recipe here.  You will be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards. One lucky entry will win one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.

Posted by on Fri, Oct 11 2013 6:53 am
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