Monday, December 19, 2016

Service, No Matter What.

This story happened a little while ago but as I was reading through my ideas for blogs, it still rang a note of import to me. In my life and my business, I realize that others are necessary for anyone to succeed. Sometimes that may mean a paycheck and at other times it doesn't. It's at the times where it doesn't when you can really decide what matters to you and to others you watch. Here is the story:

I was part of a group benefits meeting. I was offering my usual bevy of voluntary and supplemental coverage as I was working with a colleague. The group wanted to take some moments for their employees to understand how their health insurance had changed, so they scheduled a group meeting for all of us to present what we had to offer and how the policies worked.

The main health carrier came out to do their part. Before the meeting even started, we noted that this representative did not want to be there. That was understandable as it was indeed early in the morning. To also understand this attitude, you have to know that this representative was getting paid a salary no matter what so he obviously felt his presence was more than enough (which shone through his attitude as well). Confiding in fellow insurance agents was one thing, but then he went on to speak to this group of blue collar, hard working, clock-punching men who just knew they had health insurance. As he spoke, it was obvious that he did not know the plan he was presenting. He hesitated and verbally stalled his way through a very rough 20 minutes of reading to a group of grown men. He even went so far as to state things that were not even true. It was a trainwreck.

My colleague and I were dumbfounded. We stated how we could have saved everyone this embarrassment and done the presentation ourselves. We were embarrassed for the rep and we were upset for the employees. The rep didn't care. He was getting paid. But the people he was speaking to needed him to be the expert. His company needed him to show some pride and knowledge. None of that happened because he showed he could have cared less.

So, as we serve others in whatever capacity we find ourselves, we can instill some ways of serving no matter what. Here are my top 3:

1 - Give without a return. When you do what you do or are asked for help, try and do whatever you can without expectation of the favor or help being returned. It's not easy to do. It never has been. Many people get into "agreements" where they will do one thing for another in return. Sometimes you need to scratch and back without a scratch in return. You need to be OK with that and you may be surprised how truly appreciative those you do this to will be.

2 - Give more than necessary. Giving is a nice thing to do. People may request your time or experience or whatever and you may give it freely. Next time, try and find a way to give just a little bit more than asked. I feel it's a matter of asking yourself, "What could I do to take this from being nice to being unexpected?" I often think, "This is great, but what could I do to make it better?" That's a concept of always bettering yourself and what you do. It's called growth.

3- Giving is a gift from you and to you. Do you ever notice how when you do something for others how good you feel afterward? Who gets more joy at Christmas...the gift giver or the receiver? Many times it's the gifts we give that make us feel the best. It should be that in every way we give. Whether we give our time or our talents or a listening ear, we get a ton from giving. Giving is like a boomerang. Get ready for it to come back simply by sending your gift out there.

While I certainly hope that insurance representative has found success doing something else, it will be a constant reminder to me to be glad I can get up each day and offer what I do to others and their families. Every client matters. Every company I serve in is a blessing filled with people who need what I do and I am grateful to give.

Look for ways to give...and give your best. You'll be better and so will the world around you.

The video below was a JCPenney initiative from a few years ago where random people got selected to give and were told to go find a stranger and give to them what they wanted for the holidays. Yes, it's a touching video and something that shows in a material way what I was saying above. Enjoy and have asuper holiday season:

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Big Wheels Turned. I Rode Along. I Was Glad I Did.

The 2016 AAHU (Alabama Association of Health Underwriters) conference, entitled, "Big Wheels Keep on Turning" was a great success. Great speakers and vendors and supporters throughout. We could not have asked for a better day.

In the aftermath, I was struck with a few things. One major thing was I was personally sworn in as the Alabama State Vice President serving with our new President, Robert Goodman. I was honored when he asked me to be a part and then after I was hit with what that least to me. I am humbled, to say the least. During the conference I was struck with a few other things. The support we have from companies and people from all over the state of Alabama, the past of this organization and where we may be going, and where I can fit in and do my part.

We can't and don't do it alone. As you looked around the ballroom where we had our one day meeting, I was keenly aware of the vendors and people who agreed to support the cause of the conference and what AAHU means. Each table represented invested time and money to be a part of the event that led to meeting new brokers, their competition, and the people in their state who care about being a member of a great organization like AAHU and NAHU (National Association of Health Underwriters). I don't think everyone realizes that all of its members PAY to be a part of our group. We pay a monthly due and for those monthly meetings and this annual state conference, we also pay a fee. These vendors pay to have a space to set up and shake hands and make connections that may or may not build their business throughout the year. The key thing is we all see the value in what we are doing and who we are as a collective. While there may competitors right next to each other all over the ballroom, when this conference happens we are all one collective supporting what it means to be a professional in a profession that is as personal as any out there. Benefits are not just a quick decision process, and all this work we do together stresses that and for those moments we are all on the same page.

The past can and should be repeated and honored. We all want to talk about the future. We feel we have to change this or that or we are not growing. In many ways, this is more than a true statement. There is no greater harm to the future than a hum drum attitude and a process that gets stale and uneventful. However, in this industry. In my industry, I am keenly aware of what good business and good people are all about. That became crystal clear as we honored Bill Miller in 2016. Bill and I were not what you would call "buddies". I knew of Bill. I had seen him at various events and the annual conference each and every year. We were always cordial and polite as we shook hands when we saw each other. Bill was involved in an accident that confined him to a wheelchair back a bit ago. We would get updates on his progress and would take the time, as a group, to pray for him and his recovery and all the things you do for those who are hurting. Come to find out, Bill didn't let this situation mess him up for any longer than he had to to heal. His colleagues and family and friends say he couldn't wait to get back to his business and serving his clients. I was inspired by that. I learned this year that he was an integral part of the continuing education those in my industry in Alabama have to go through to stay current and properly licensed to do what we do for our clients. I was touched when AAHU honored Bill with an honorary lifetime membership into AAHU, even if his years of service had not quite been met. His example and influence is, and will be, felt throughout the state of Alabama and I am proud to know him even more than casual "hello friends". My point is that the past is important because some of those good old values are still the same and still very much needed. The attitude and drive of those who have paved a way for us should be honored and replicated for those coming after us. This industry doesn't end with me. It will go on and I hope I can leave a legacy that is anywhere close to what others have done in their lives and careers.

Who am I? As I was sworn in to be Vice President of AAHU, I can't describe what I felt other than a combination of responsibility, a little fear, a sense of expectation, and a drive to be the best VP I could be in the next two years. I've been honored in different positions before, but the sudden weight of the state brought me to a place of hope in myself that I could do the service to the level I expected of myself, regardless of what others thought or felt. I can't thank Robert Goodman enough for asking me to serve with him. It's one thing when your clients and your friends and family appreciate you. It's a totally different feeling when it's a colleague. It says they see something in you that they want to partner with and utilize to help them in their journey and I am all too happy to do just that. We are not even a week in to our new roles and Robert and I are working on a game plan for the rest of the year and into our two-year service in our planning. That is exciting. We are on the same page. We want to make a difference and we want to serve the state of Alabama and those in our industry to the best of our abilities and "leave it all on the field". That's an exciting feeling to be a part of. 

Only time will dictate where this road leads me, but I am certain the road will stay under my feet because it has been paved long ago and by many more people than me. My part will be to travel it and maybe pave some new places our day and time will allow us to do now. My wheels will keep on turning. I'm along for the ride and I can't wait to see what we see and do all we can.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lessons From Kylo Ren

The following post contains basic information from the movie "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" with regard to the labeled villain Kylo Ren. The following should not be considered "spoilers" but I want to be sure you know I will be referencing the movie in my examples.

If we are honest and open with ourselves, we can learn anything from any source. Many times our best inspiration comes from things and entities one might consider "negative". That is the case here with a few points I would like to make about the newest villain in the Star Wars saga, Kylo Ren. Kylo has some great traits we can all consider and add to our "light or dark side". Use this information carefully.

1 - Focused purpose. Most of the characters we see in movies that are villains have an uncanny knack of being single-minded and focused on their grand plan, no matter what it is. Kylo Ren is no different. When we first meet him in the movie he is looking for something to help him find someone (I still want you to see the movie...LOL). He comes off his ship with the single purpose. He is so intent on finding what he needs that he even resorts to some extreme violence to get his hands on it.
Now, I don't want anyone feeling like their focus should be so intent that they would harm anyone to get what they want. We have enough trouble in the world without someone else causing pain. But, the concept of having a goal and doing our best to make every act we take to move us one step closer to that goal a reality is a great way to live. Kylo Ren has a single mission...for now. Once he gets to that point he will most likely have another single focused mission that leads to bigger and better things.

We can become so distracted with so many things around us. Social media. Games. Basic issues of life. They are everywhere. We can all take a lesson from Kylo Ren and stay as focused on our goals and missions so that every morning we rise and search the galaxy of our lives until we find it and move forward. What are you searching for? What do you want so badly you'd go to any length to achieve/acquire it? Find it and get focused like Kylo Ren.

2 - Passion. Anyone who has seen this Star Wars episode sees Kylo have, what many would call, a couple of "hissy fits". He gets a step in the right direction and due to circumstances things don't go as planned and he loses it. That lightsaber comes on and he trashes everything in the area where he is. Now, we can look at this intense villain and see that and think he is just showing an extreme amount of immaturity. I will argue, for the sake of this blog post, that what he is showing is a byproduct of his commitment and passion.

We've all seen things in life that lead us to believe we are one step closer to something amazing. All the pieces are in place. We've done the best job we could do. We're looking ahead to the next phase of the plan and BOOM! Something happens that upends us and our grand plan. Maybe we break down and cry. Maybe we punch a wall. Maybe we press the situation even harder to force the issue to happen our way. No matter what the action, it all points to a reaction and the passion we have for the outcome and the goals we have. Right? We don't see it right away, but when we calm ourselves we realize that our "rocket fuel explosion" is a byproduct of us seeing the end in our sights and outside forces we did not count on upend it and leave us grasping at air.

We all need that kind of fire and passion in what we want and we need to show that. It needs to consume us. Maybe not to the point of slashing a lightsaber into a star destroyer console, but a passion the world can see and know that we are headed in a direction.

3 - Prayer/meditation. Whether Sith or Jedi, a theme resonates through the movies of Star Wars that there is a higher power to help guide direction and purpose. We often see that these characters have quiet moments of reflection. They move away from others and find a place of seclusion where they can commune with something bigger than they are. Kylo Ren may feel like he is the ultimate power, but he purposefully takes time out to commune with his own thoughts and feelings as he gives himself time to reconnect with his true calling and purpose.

We have all felt the pull of things outside of our goals and ideals. Some of us can throw it off and deal with it. However, the strength in those moments of doubt can come from time in quiet reflection. Whether our method is focused breathing, or prayer, or a solitary walk, we can get the relief from the chaos this life can throw at us with those moments where we reconnect with ourselves, our mission, and the things that truly matter to us.

4 - Unrelenting. I know we have already mentioned Kylo's passion and focus, but his relentlessness is insane. In every instance in the movie, he shows up with a stride and attitude of power. He does his thing and then hits a roadblock. He has his "come apart" and then the next thing you know he's found another way to get what he wants and here he comes again. Think Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.

What moments in our life do we drive and drive and keep hammering away and then we have a roadblock and we have that moment of wanting to throw our hands up and say, "Well, I guess it's over"? It's the easy way. Just walk away and work on something else or hide and wait until the loss doesn't sting as much any more. I find that people who do that don't really have the conviction in their cause and goals and giving up under an explosion of excuses is the ripcord they use when hit with adversity. Maybe the right answer is to keep going. Many times it's the fact that we keep "showing up" that makes the difference. Be unrelenting and keep after it like Kylo Ren.

5 - Battling when injured. When you see Kylo for the first few times he looks very imposing in his long and flowing robes and mask. He speaks and his mask makes him sound very ominous. He takes that mask off and suddenly he looks normal. Nothing fabulous. No scars. He's rather ordinary. That mixed with the occasional tantrum he has and you feel like this guy will go down at the first fight he actually gets in with anyone of any consequence. At a point in the movie he is shot by a blaster. It stings. It hurts. He bleeds. Our heroes try and escape through the woods and guess who is waiting for them. That's right, Kylo Ren. No mask. Hurt. Angry. Determined. He could have easily sent a trooper team to go after them, but he went and faced them himself. Before and during the lightsaber battle, we see him grit his teeth and punch the injured spot over and over until blood comes out of it. He goes from ordinary to extraordinary and you are suddenly worried for the heroes that they may not make it out of this alive.

We hear about athletes all the time "playing hurt". Some football players have even claimed to play with broken bones that happened during the game because they refused to be sidelined. We may not face physical injury and have to pull ourselves up and fight, but life has a way of hurting us. Have you ever had a client leave you? That stings. Have you ever had a family member pass away unexpectedly? That's a game changer. Every job and life out there has moments that feel about as good as a blaster fire to the body. You go down. You look inside and you're reeling. You're thinking, "I'll just lay here until help arrives." Most people would understand if you did. You got shot for goodness sake. You're hurting. They comfort you with all the cliches they can throw at you. They mean to be comforting and tell you it's ok to sit and wait until the pain subsides. Unfortunately, that's not what is always needed. Sometimes we have to play hurt. Sometimes we have to dig down deep to do what we know we should do after countless shots that are meant to take us down. Kylo Ren basically said, "I will not let a blaster hole in my body stop me from my end game." There are times where we have to be more like Kylo Ren and be willing to keep battling when injured.

6 - Practiced power. Kylo Ren didn't merely wake up one day with his abilities in the Force or his lightsaber skills. This power he possesses comes at a price. The price of dedication and correction and learning that, if he wants to be a powerful leader, he must endure and even look forward to.

I am not going to lie. I want to wake up some mornings and have it all right there. Full bank account. Every thing in my home perfect and fixed. My car washed and shiny and working like I just drove it for the first time. I want my relationships to all be happy and conflict free and I want to do it all because I deserve it (so I think in those moments). Reality checks come often in real life and if that day did come where everything was handed to me perfect and in order, I'm pretty sure I'd be in a state that doesn't care much about the things of life because I would (most likely) be dead.

We all have a power within us to do what we do and be who we are to be in this world. We did not just fall into that person. If we are honest with ourselves, we don't really believe that we will have everything we need handed to us. We also know how much work it took to get us to where we are now. Just like Kylo, we have to work on our power.  We have to practice...daily. No matter the things in our lives, hitting the pause button is not an option and we better be taking our moments to practice to master the power within ourselves so we can constantly be growing and getting better at who we are.

7 - Conflict. Kylo Ren may be labeled as the "bad guy", but we find out throughout the movie that he struggles with who he is. He struggles with his plan and his goals and all the inner "stuff" we all have. He comes to a point where he flat out admits that his torn up inside. He knows what he has to do and he can't find the strength to make the next move.

We've all been there. Pick your situation where you made a checklist of pros and cons and that's the moment in life much like what we are addressing here. We may not be working to conquer a galaxy, but it can seem that big when it's in our face and we are the one having to choose what we do next. Conflict is a part of life as well. We have choices. We can do one thing or another. We can examine consequences or not. The moment of truth is coming and it's up to us and we have to make the move. We have to "pull the trigger" and we want someone else to swoop in and make this moment disappear or to just do it for us. The key is we can't run from conflict. We have to be set in our mind and allow the conflict to either change our thinking or we can stay on course and continue. We all have our moments of conflict, just like Kylo Ren. Work through it and it may not change a universe, but it can rock your own world pretty well.

8 - Listening to people. Kylo Ren has a lot of moments in the movie where he interacts with others. He has very few that he genuinely listens to and that is both part of his strength and his weakness. He listens to his leader. He doesn't listen to the commander of the battleship. He listens to Rey (the female "hero"). He doesn't listen to Han. It's all part of what makes him who he is. It's part of what we are as well.

The first thing we have to realize is that we need others. Opinions. Thoughts. Advice. It comes at us when we ask and many times when we don't ask. The point to take is that we have an opportunity to listen to everyone or no one. The lesson from Kylo is for us to be careful who we listen to and the conclusions we make from that. Not everyone on our lives have our best interests at heart and some have only the best we may not even be able to see yet. The choice to listen or not is ours. The choice who we choose to listen to or not is also ours. Be mindful. While I may not personally agree with who Kylo chose to listen to, he listened to those who were on point with his goals and drive. Find those people in your life and keep listening. I'll take it one step further. Listen to everyone. You never know when that nugget of verbiage makes an impact on your life you...and no one else...saw coming.

I hope there is something you can take from this article. I did quite a bit of inner inventory as I worked on it and I am certain I will keep doing that as the years go by. Kylo Ren may be considered a villain or a monster (as Rey calls him), but as with many things in life we can learn from him and take some valuable things with us that will make us better versions of ourselves. So, be well. Have a super day and week and May the Force Be With You.

The YouTube video below is an edited clip of the final battle where we see Kylo Ren showing his ability to "play hurt" and keep coming.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Your Life. Your Standards.

I have been juggling this first of the year post in my head for some time. I am going through a process of a new planning session and some great ideas for an exciting 2016 that involves my current clients and (hopefully) a new crew of people to help. In that time, something happened that really hit me to the point where I have thought about little else and felt it was important enough to mention.

I was visiting a men's clothing store the other day and I noted a gentleman who I have seen there quite awhile. He was working and helping customers, but I noticed he was not wearing his usual suit and tie. He sported a look that said (to me) that it must be his off day or he came in to get his check and decided to stop and help someone in need or a client he usually helped.

When he was finished, I asked him about his new casual look. I expected to get the response similar to what I was assuming. Instead I got a response that made me cringe. He proceeded to tell me that the company told them that at the first of the year suits were no longer required. He said they told him to do this because the clientele would most likely not be wearing a suit when they came in and that they should have a more relaxed atmosphere and feel in how they dressed. He then told me he has worn a suit every day for the many years he has been there and to be dressed this way didn't feel like he was at work. He didn't like it one bit. I would have taken it as a "old dog, new tricks" kind of thing but to be honest...I didn't like it either.

I go into this store that has nice suits and good men's wear and I want to see people who wear what I'm looking at and know what they are talking about. I don't want to see a person who looks like they are ready to hit the links in a few minutes. I wondered why this bugged me so much and then it hit me...

They were lowering their standards to suit other people.

Now, I understand this is a retail store and they want to attract clients, but to what end and at what sacrifice? I then mentally transferred this to you and me. So many times we may feel that we need to be someone for someone else. In certain cases that is true but more often than not that is seen in our actions toward others and as long as we remain true to our selves and our standards we are OK.

Think about it this way: You find a person you want to get to know. Dating, friends...whatever. You come to them as yourself. You have a set of values and ideals and they do too and the connection begins. While there may be adjustments to one another, we do have standards that make us who we are and these are those things we don't compromise on. Integrity, honesty, etc. We don't lower those standards for anything.

Unfortunately, the world around us keeps lowering the standards. Whether it's in schools or in expectations of winning and losing, to even how we dress. It's a slippery slope when we start lowering a higher standard and level of thinking. Some people allow themselves to be effected to the point of lowering their standards just to "get the deal" or be accepted or whatever. I control one I am responsible for one If I compromise on me, then am I not a lesser me?

My main point is clear...don't lower your standards. Don't compromise those things that matter to you. Others may make fun of what matters to you or whatever, but these are your standards. Don't change them for others. If you compromise in any area, compromise up (if you get my meaning) to a better level of yourself. Never compromise down.

My mentor and friend Brendon states it best in his 12 minute video. Take the time to listen and maybe learn something new to better you in 2016: