Career Crossroads

About twenty years ago I was presented with a career crossroads decision. I was with a fine company, working with people I respected and liked and had a fair understanding where my career was going. But this comfortable existence was interrupted by the opportunity to lead the entrance of a company into the state where I had lived and worked for the past twelve years. I was to be given a huge amount of latitude to do this the way I saw fit and it involved leading many disciplines in our business that I had not directly been involved with to that point and perhaps never would be with my current employer.

This required me to do some deep introspection about what made me tick. Did I value certainty and long-standing relationships, or was I motivated by learning new things and a challenge with no certain outcome? As with many of us, the big mortgage and the toddler running around the house didn’t make the decision any easier.

After many sleepless nights and much soul-searching I decided to step up to the challenge and change my career direction, almost to my own surprise. To this point I had taken the “safe” road in life. This was a change.

For the next several years I built a business from scratch. I found office space, hired a staff, developed products and appointed agents to sell our wares. I put together short and long-term business plans with my team that we were expected to achieve. There were lots of long days and many road miles devoted to the cause.

I was eventually presented with an even better opportunity that initially brought me and my family to Wisconsin. In time I have had the great fortune to find my final career home at Society Insurance and was given the honor to be the sixth leader of this nearly hundred-year-old company.

As I look back on a 35 year insurance career, that includes being named CEO of a well-respected company, it’s interesting to consider what made the most impact on my career and development. Was it the early years, where I was first exposed to the insurance industry? Perhaps the recent years where I stepped up to an expanded set of responsibilities as CEO of a company? Did the safe path pave the way?

In my mind the clear answer to this question is none of those phases or parts of my career made the most impact. Without a doubt the part of my career that made the biggest impact in my development were the years I spent where I took a chance and stretched myself to take on a challenge. Those years were not easy. I received my first unsatisfactory performance appraisal. I was royally “chewed out” by my bosses on more than one occasion. In some ways you could say it was the least successful time in my professional career.

But the lessons I learned from all of this made the second half of my career possible. I was able to broaden my knowledge of the insurance business greatly, and people with knowledge across multiple disciplines are rare in our industry. I learned how to build a team and work with them to make long-term plans. Frankly I learned a lot about how to take criticism and grow from it.

I’m not at all suggesting the key to success is to find a difficult role with another company and move away from where you’re at in your career now. What I am saying is the best way to grow is to move out of your comfort zone. Be willing to take on something that can help you develop to the next level in your profession, but also has the chance of failure as part of the mix. More often than not new challenges and opportunities to grow are right in front of us, sometimes as part of the job we have right now.

I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes. While any of us would be foolhardy to take on something that we knew would result in failure we should never be afraid to push ourselves. If you’ve never failed you’ve never pushed yourself to the edge of your capabilities.

-Rick Parks

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