Pursue Your Dreams
In the Midwest, we look forward to the first weekend during the winter when the high temperature reaches 60 degrees. After a cold winter, it’s the first taste of spring.
Feb. 1, 2003, was one of those days. I was 17 years old, the starting quarterback for the football team, my school’s No. 1 golfer and a bench warmer on the varsity basketball team. Life couldn’t get any better. That warm February day, was also the beginning of a long journey for me. That morning I was in a tree-trimming accident that left me paralyzed from the t-9 vertebrate (belly button area) down to my feet.
Lucky for me, that was the only complication I had from the fall. Yes, I was left paralyzed, but it could have been much worse.
As time went on, I got back into my usual routine. I graduated from high school, started college and was hired by American Family as a temporary employee. After graduating from college, I was fortunate enough to get a Personal Lines underwriter position.
For the most part, I lived like I did before I was paralyzed. I had enough energy for two people and nothing could hurt me or slow me down. Eventually, the long days caught up with me and I developed a bed sore from sitting in my wheelchair.
I ended up having two surgeries and had to lie in bed for 106 days before the doctor would let me resume a normal life. From the beginning of April through August of 2010, I was in my parent’s basement in a special bed and thought about all the ways I was going to prevent this setback from happening again.
After six months of being back to work, I needed something different. I was tired of going home and lying down for hours when I spent all day at my desk working at my computer. There had to be a way for me to be pressure-free or close to pressure-free while working.
I talked to my manager, Lee O’Brien, about the possibility of getting a stand-up workstation. I know … you may be thinking, “Tyler, you’re paralyzed. How are you going to stand at work when you haven’t moved your legs in almost nine years?”
The answer is a standing frame. Environment and Safety Analyst Dan Coleman, thought it was a great idea and found one. The frame and workstation work great! The standing frame helps prevent the pressure sores. It also increases blood flow to my legs, reduces back pain and makes the bones in my legs stronger. I went from sitting eight hours a day to standing for six.
Now that I stand most of the day, I am able to do fun recreational activities after work such as hunting, fishing and exercising, activities I had to cut back on drastically while always sitting down at work.
I can’t thank American Family enough for what they have done. The standing frame is truly a life saver and has given me my life back.
Editor’s note: American Family Insurance received an award in October 2012 from Midland Empire Resources for Independent Living in St. Joseph, Mo., for finding a solution that helps Tyler Rohr work in a more comfortable workstation.
All my life, I've been a dreamer.
Childhood was a time of questions, quandaries and dreams. As one of three daughters, our parents taught us, "no dream is impossible."
Those four words are so simple, so powerful and so true.
In today's world, most of us dream. However, too many of us are afraid to pursue our dreams. The greatest dream destroyers? Fear and inactivity. How can a dream come true, without taking continual actions?
Throughout my life, I've been blessed to meet and learn from people, whose dreams have shaped the world. Elizabeth Taylor dreamed of a world without discrimination, a world free of HIV/AIDS. And Elizabeth went to work. In her lifetime, HIV/AIDS became a manageable health issue, instead of a death sentence. Today, many in the science community believe Elizabeth's dream will happen in our lifetime. The advances in treatment are affecting people all over the globe.
Steve Jobs. Walt Disney. Rosa Parks. People with powerful visions of the future changed the way we live today. Without dreamers taking action, what would happen to our world?
What are your dreams? How will you make them happen? How will you protect them?
People who dream without a plan are hopeful and filled with imagination. Sadly, imagination without implementation is a hallucination. We must grasp our dreams and meld them with passion and focused activity.
One of my first dreams was to be self-employed. At nine, my first design job was selling painted rocks from a wagon. My sister, Mary, is a gifted artist, who sold her rocks for a dime. My rocks were just a nickel. At that affordable price, customers were buying and business was successful.
Design work kept me self-employed while waiting for my next dream to come true. I wanted my own paper route. The newspaper in our community required you to be at least 11 for such responsibility. How would the dream of a paper route enhance the dream of becoming a designer? The goal was to design and market clothing accessories at craft shows on the beach, while selling newspapers to save for college. Having a design degree was an early dream.
Just after turning 11, my dad saw an ad in the newspaper that read, "newspaper carrier wanted... are you the boy for the job?." Dad knew what kind of reaction the ad would have on his daughter's dream. After writing a letter to the editor explaining how a girl could do the job as well as any boy, it worked.
The first delivery was New Year's Day. The papers were extra thick. The young girl wondered, where was her dream amidst piles of newspapers? The dream did not include grumpy customers who wouldn't pay, a sexist customer who said girls should never deliver newspapers, and a girl, doing that job, would never last.
I didn't let that man see me cry. Dad said, "If you believe in your dream, you'll under-promise and over-deliver. If your customer expects the newspaper on their driveway, put it on the front porch."
It was great advice for newspapers and great advice for making a dream come true.
Our city had its first female newspaper carrier, and she became carrier of the year for each of the years she held the route. Whenever Warren Buffet and I speak, we always share stories about our paper routes and early customers.
My college dream of a design degree was deferred by an unexpected adventure in the fashion industry. The gawky, awkward paper carrier accidentally became a model. In a way, that modeling career offered a terrific education and tremendous doses of daily rejection. "Too tall." "Terrible hair." "Too fat." "Bad skin." "One eyebrow?"
It was endless and very helpful. Rejection made me stronger, and it can do the same thing for you.
What happened to college? Well, I'm still dreaming. And while I've been dreaming, two wonderful institutions of higher education have honored me with degrees.
Today, when people tell me "no," my reaction is - at least we're talking. As CEO and Chief Designer of our design and marketing firm, kathy ireland Worldwide, we hear the word "no" every day.
Every dreamer will be told their dreams are not possible. Please don't believe that. If you think you can do something, you're probably right. If you think you can't do something, you're probably right.
So many dreamers know what needs to be done, and procrastinate about doing the very thing that will make their dreams come true. When we lack a certain skill, what are we doing to acquire it? In this internet age, social media, our laptops and cell phones are miraculous fountains of knowledge, leveling the playing field for dreamers all around the world.
Your dreams are out there. Please, go and get them.
Editor's note: American Family has teamed up with kathy ireland World Wide to inspire people to dream and help provide them with the tools to pursue and protect their dreams at the 2013 Dream Camp. The contest encourages anyone with a dream to fulfill in 2013 to share it online with fellow dreamers, add a photo or video, and drum up votes via social media and email to get nominated as one of America's top 100 dreamers.
A panel of judges, including Kathy Ireland, will select the top three dreamers from the 100 highest vote totals. Prizes include an all-expense-paid trip to Madison, Wis., March 13-16 to attend 2013 Dream Camp. The three winners will also receive $10,000 each toward their dreams.
Enter the 2013 Dream Camp contest - or vote for your favorite entries - on the American Family Insurance YouTube channel.
I have always liked helping people.
That's one of the main reasons I've enjoyed working for the past 12 years in American Family’s claims area, where we help customers at times when they need it most.
It also has been a big motivating factor in my 14 years of service in the U.S. Army. I've been deployed in Iraq, which was a very dangerous and trying experience, to say the least. I’ve also served in Kuwait. Whether abroad or in the states, I've always made sure I did a good job taking care of my fellow soldiers.
In short, I like the fact that people rely on me, and that I can be there for them.
So, it has meant a lot to me that American Family has been there for me, too, especially in connection with my military service. The company and my colleagues have been very supportive when I’ve gone on military leave, and have welcomed me with open arms when I returned.
But one of the biggest honors came recently, when the company invited me and Alex Barajas, a senior research analyst at American Family (who appears to the left of me in the accompanying picture), to attend the U.S. Army All-American Bowl game, sponsored by American Family. For me, the experience was amazing and eye-opening. We were among thousands of military personnel who watched the nation’s elite high school football players compete in an exciting east-west matchup. American Family also recognized our service in many different ways throughout a warm and welcoming weekend that culminated with on-field recognition during a very moving pre-game ceremony.
Additionally, American Family Executive Vice President Peter Gunder presented a special award to an outstanding defensive player, and another award honoring a family for strongly supporting one of its family members who is a top musician in a high school marching band.
During the past several years, I have had more than a couple people thank me for my service and wish me the best. I smiled and thanked them for their kind words because I didn’t really know how to handle it. I have come to see that what I have done through my service is not just unique and rare, but appreciated and honored.
I am grateful for this incredible opportunity and experience, and proud to work for a company that protects dreams of customers, high school students and other community members, and people like me.
Editors Note: For a closer look at American Family’s support of John Neppl, Alex Barajas and other employees who serve in the military, watch this video from our YouTube channel.
American Family is a past recipient of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserves.
From the moment I heard about American Family's Dreams Protected advertising campaign, I loved it. I thought the messaging was powerful, and really represents what we do as a mutual insurance company. Your dream is out there. Go get it. We’ll protect it.
Personally though, I had a kind of mental “argh?!?” moment when we asked employees to think about their own dreams. I came up with “I want to raise my children to be happy, successful adults.” It’s true, and rather noble. But it’s not really about me.
I went into this existential mini-crisis – liberal arts majors do these things. Do I still have dreams? I had them in my 20s and early 30s. I wanted to go to graduate school and advance my career (check). I wanted to buy a house (check). I wanted to complete a sprint triathlon (check – four times!).
When Dreams Protected launched, it amplified that question for me – Do I have dreams? I’ve never been content to rest on my laurels, so what’s next?
With some introspection and the help of Google, I realized the answer is a resounding YES.
“Goals are dreams with deadlines,” is a quote widely repurposed and attributed to author Diana Scharf Hunt. I came across it many times when I did a Google search on “what’s the difference between dreams and goals.”
And when I read that, everything clicked. My mind raced like a set of falling Dominos. I realized everything I’m doing in the present, all the big and little goals – decisions and actions – are setting me up to reach my dreams.
Some of my dreams are silly and sporty. I want to sing the national anthem at Miller Park (before a game, not just standing by myself in the walkway). I want to attend a Wisconsin football game at every Big 10 stadium (six down, six to go). I want to visit every state park in Wisconsin (13 down, 46 to go).
Some of my dreams are long-term. I want to be young and healthy when I retire, so I can travel with my husband. So I make contributing to my 401K a priority, forgoing some immediate rewards with an eye on that long-term dream.
And even though I’m refocusing on dreams for myself, I do dream big for my children, focused on seeing them become happy, successful adults. So along the way, I talk to them about loving, healthy relationships. I teach them to cook. I praise their schoolwork. I talk to them about setting a budget and shopping during sales.
As we ring in a new year, I hope you’re thinking about your dreams, whether silly and small or big and audacious, and the goals you’ll set along the way to reach them.
The last thing I want to do is lecture anyone on wellness, especially a week before Christmas. When I was at my heaviest, the thing I hated the most was having some skinny person tell me that it would be a good idea to lose weight.
Really? I had no idea. So none of that from me.
But I do like to share my observations as I wage this daily battle with diet and exercise. And I’ll start by violating my promise to not state the obvious: This time of year is a real killer if you’re trying to maintain even a somewhat healthy lifestyle.
Treat days, family gatherings, cookie exchanges, parties and everything else conspire against the stoutest of our will powers. It can be maddening. It almost makes you want to go live in a cave at the top of a mountain until it’s all over.
But you don’t have to be Mr. Grinch. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful to get through the holiday food season:
- Plan ahead. Constant denial is no way to live, so allow yourself the indulgence of a nice holiday meal. Just plan for it. Decide what you’re going to have, and account for it in your food planning and exercise schedule for that week. Cut back a little the days before a party or big meal and make time for extra exercise.
- Control portions. OK. You planned ahead and hit the gym a few extra times. Excellent! But this does not absolve you from helping yourself to a mound of mashed potatoes and gravy the size of a basketball. Remember, you’re enjoying Christmas dinner, not laying-in provisions for a trek across Siberia.
- Avoid delusion. No matter what Aunt Martha says, pie DOES have calories on a holiday. In fact, your average slice of pumpkin pie has about 325 calories. Oh, and a ping-pong-ball-sized dollop of whipped cream adds another 100. Go easy. (But be nice to Aunt Martha, even if her nutritional expertise is extremely suspect.)
- Resist grazing. If your department is having a treat day, decide in advance what you’ll allow yourself and stick to it. And make just one trip to the treat table. Twenty M&Ms are still 20 M&Ms, even if you take them out of the bowl one at a time. And don’t get me started on the evils of cheese puffs!
- Finally, don’t worry. Yes, these are great tips for a healthy December. But I know I’ll violate some, if not all of these rules during the next couple of weeks. You will, too. We’re human. But a few mistakes over the holidays shouldn’t take your eyes off the prize. Don’t worry about it, and just get back up and do your best the next day. My hope in sharing this with you is to at least give you something to think about. As a disclaimer, I’m by no means a nutrition expert, so feel free to take my observations with a grain of salt. (Wait. Should that be a grain of low-sodium salt substitute?)
The daily battle never really gets any easier, at least not for me.