Riding the train from Lucerne to Zurich as I write this, I am reflective of my journey to this point in life and what I had to go through to get here. Traveling Europe this month with my beautiful wife who with me through it all from the beginning, we often take the time to reflect back on the twisted and mangled path that led us, finally, to where we call ourselves “successful”.
Growing up, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a police officer, the guy who helped everyone by getting the “bad guys” and putting them in jail. My world view changed somewhere between 19 and 35 years old, after chasing as many of them as I could and doing my best to rid humanity of the evil-doers.
In my role now as an insurance agent, trainer, and sometimes role model for others entering this profession, I have heard hundreds of agents from around the country tell me that I was somehow inspirational in their quest from living a possibly exciting, yet for the wrong reasons, life to one of fulfillment, non-excitement, and financial rewards. Sometimes, pursuing the non-exciting life is a reward all in itself.
Not having to respond to everyone's emergency, and being able to build financial freedom slowly and methodically, has its perks. The knowledge that this profession has now given me the opportunity to build a true residual income that builds and builds, versus the old salary days of having to count how long it would be, in days, until the next paycheck where we could buy what we really needed for our young family – truly a blessing. I can clearly recount the horrors of a car problem that would leave us sidelined and having to rely on friends or family to shuttle the family around as we checked the credit card balances to see how we would pay for our one minivan's repair to get us back into some state of “normal.”
It's not all about money, not in the least. As I am now passing through the beautiful countryside of Switzerland, I am reflecting back to my start in insurance. I was in the City of Deltona, Florida, where the majority of the population appeared to be at or below the poverty line. Or, maybe that's just the side I got to see every day in my profession, as we would respond to all of the most horrific of human tragedies on a daily basis. Murders, suicides, car crashes and human-on-human suffering created for no reason other than that folks felt like they had nothing to look forward to and nothing to live for. This is what I saw all day, every day. Unfortunately, it had a very negative impact that grew over time.
Here, in Switzerland, we have been experiencing not only the majesty of the snow-capped mountains and the beautiful lakes and crisp, clean air, but we are alongside other tourists from around the world who are here celebrating where their life has brought them to this point where they can experience the world and take it all in. We have enjoyed tram rides up to the peak of Mount Pilatus with folks from China. We rode a train in Amsterdam with to the tulip fields with folks from Japan. Each of these experiences reinforced to me that there is a much bigger world that has been going on during my whole lifetime, that I have been 'til now, missing out on because of where I chose to spend my first career trying to get the bad guys and suffering, right along with the rest, in daily human suffering.
It is true that being a first responder and seeing it every day does not make you so much a participant in the tragedy you witness, but after a number of years the toll it takes on you and the paradigm through which you see the world becomes grossly desensitized and numb. It creates the apathy we have seen many times in the news, whether truly reported or not, where police officers seem now callous to the plight of victims. It is not that the officers are somehow sub-human or incapable of human empathy. Rather, it is that they have been exposed so often and so long to the absolute worst of humanity that they come to expect the worst from everyone – everyone not in a uniform, that is. That self-created isolation gets very lonely. Shedding the uniform and entering life as a regular person was probably the biggest transition I ever made.
It is by a true miracle that I landed in a profession where communication and effectiveness are rewarded with monetary gains. Countless times we have encountered super impressive people who instantly built rapport with us and made us feel at home and welcome. Whether it was the front desk staff at the Art Deco hotel in Amsterdam or the Food Fresh stand at the Lucerne train station, these effective human communicators are all around us. Their chosen profession, however happy they are to occupy them, will never give them the rewards that my chosen profession can give, simply by having a small percentage of their communicative abilities and genuine care for others.
While many jobs reward positive interactions with the public and effectiveness in the position with increases in hourly wage and bonuses from time to time, it is only by being self-employed where these positive attributes are truly judged by the ultimate rewarder of human performance – the marketplace. If you are good, and you put yourself out there to the marketplace using a vehicle that increases your compensation based on effectiveness, you cannot help but win. The vehicle that I chose, insurance, is just one of those that bring limitless rewards for this kind of effectiveness.
Countless times I have mentioned to my wife that we had just experienced a person with super ability, both with communication style and passion for their role. It is very simply these same traits, I'm certain, that are the only ones needed for success in my field. The complexity of product design, the insurance landscape, and myriad of benefit options available are all far less important than a genuine feeling of empathy for someone else's plight and the ability to latch on to a personal connection with them.
The age-old question, “Are good salespeople born that way or are they taught to be that way?” has, in my humble opinion, two answers.
Yes, there are people who have naturally evolved into excellent communicators. Those people are certain to be a “natural” when selling any product or service and a sales/delivery career is definitely where they should be. However, I have been through enough sales training courses in my life, from my metamorphosis from a police officer to an insurance professional, to know that the there is training that, when fully applied, definitely results in an individual possessing enough skill to make a very successful salesperson, no matter what “natural” ability they brought to the transformation process from the beginning.
In other words, I truly believe that anyone can be successful in this profession. Sure, there are those who prefer to drive a taxi and they leave 50% of their mental capacity at home when they go to their job every day. There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to live a simple life and, for many, that is exactly where they want to be.
But, for those who decide to live a different kind of lifestyle or those frankly who are sick and tired of the lifestyle they have chosen up to this point in their lives, I know that there is a path to success in this or any other profession where results are significantly rewarded. Whether it is by merely pointing an already-effective communicator into another profession or by a non-communicator making an affirmative decision to seek the training necessary to become one, both paths work if chosen.
From the age of 5, I wanted to change the world. For now, I am content to leave the adrenaline chase to those half my age while I am happy to watch the world go by and to explore it, one country and one experience at a time.
All the best… from Switzerland,
Christopher Westfall, Sr.
What a great career, where we are rewarded handsomely by helping people.