Anywhere but here

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Most times we take a job because we need the money.  I got into insurance because I was tired of retail pay and wanted to make more money.  I was living on my own before I graduated high school, complete with a brand new car payment and rent to pay.  I walked into my insurance agency to make my payment.  While making small talk with my agent, I told her that I needed to earn more money.  She told me that they were hiring for a customer service representative. I started that next week.

Within a year, I had taken the insurance course and passed the state exam to get my sales license. After proving myself as a top sales agent, I was transferred to the largest grossing and busiest office in the county. I bought my first house and was already on my second new car.

In the insurance world, you either work for a non standard or standard agency. I wanted to be at a standard agency, so I interviewed at State Farm. In the panel interviews with the regional managers, I was thrown a pen and told to sell it to them. I am great speaking off the cuff. I brought up the features and benefits of this pen. Why the ink was revolutionary and how smooth it wrote. I sold the hell out of this pen, stating that although the price was higher, the quality and duration of the ink would be worth it, as a result. I started with State Farm after two weeks.

I always enjoyed selling auto insurance (said no one ever), but home owners insurance was a new thing for me. I enjoyed learning the rating factors and underwriting. It wasn’t until they started pressuring me to sell life insurance to parents of brand new babies, that my interest in selling for State Farm waned. I began to look elsewhere. Working in insurance became the butt of my friends’ jokes, because it was boring and people often equated it to being Ned Ryerson from Ground Hog Day.

Progressive Insurance was looking for direct sales agents at their call center. That was something different for me, as my insurance sales experience was always in person. I did well when I spoke to clients in person, building that trust. I was called for an interview. They say you should always wear a black, grey or brown suit when interviewing for a professional job, so naturally I chose bright red.

It was a good thing that I didn’t have any idea what my face looked like during the interview, because I would have been self conscious during and more than likely blown it. I must’ve had an allergic reaction of sorts because my lip was swollen to three times its size on the right side, making me look like Rocky with elephantitus of the lip. I got the job anyways.My first year at Progressive, I excelled in sales, becoming their first Million Dollar direct sales agent at the age of 23 (and all I got was an embroidered shirt). I encountered several instances of catty females in leadership roles back then. After I lost a significant amount of weight, I was treated differently. When I was heavier and considered the nice girl, suddenly translated to flirty when I became fit and in shape. I was the same exact person. I was constantly being dragged into Human Resources for skirt length checks and I consistently passed the finger tip rule. I eventually threatened harassment allegations for it to stop.

I started dating a co-worker, who apparently had quite the reputation for being a ladies man. When my boss at the time asked me who I was attending the holiday party with and I replied with his name, I got the “You know M*** and all his women.” (As she cocked her head looking at me). Later that week, I joked with him about having some reputation at the company, since even our boss said something at the time. That following week, I was called into Human Resources and asked what had transpired during the conversation with my boss.

I recounted the conversation verbatim. Apparently my boyfriend (later fiancee) at the time, had gone to complain alleging slander and defamation of character and didn’t even warn me. My boss, of course denied it. I countered, stating that I was not stupid enough to commit career suicide by making that up. Up until that point, I was my boss’ golden child. As a result, my boyfriend and I were both transferred to work for another supervisor. I was later told by a friend who was privy to upper level management meeting conversations, where my name was specifically brought up as someone who would never be promoted in Tampa. It was then, that I knew I had to relocate in order to advance.

I was asked to interview for a Business Development Supervisor position in Colorado Springs. I flew out in my powder blue retro mid calf length Jackie O suit and nailed my interview. I was offered the position and needed to move within two weeks.I was the youngest supervisor on the sales floor at 25. My birthday was my second night in Colorado Springs, where I had spent it alone in my hotel room eating Chinese take out food because I had yet to find a permanent residence and I didn’t know anyone there yet.

Because I still had my house in Florida and it was frowned upon to fraternize with direct reports, I got a part time job working at the Toni and Guy Salon in Colorado Springs. I was the receptionist. I would come into work with different updos and makeup styles every shift, until eventually they asked me to teach an updo class to the stylists. They kept encouraging me to go to cosmetology school. I chuckled, stating that this was just fun for me, because I already made great money in my corporate career. I couldn’t take time to complete a one year full time cosmetology curriculum.

Two years later, I applied for a dream job traveling the country handling motorcycle marketing for the company. I was up against hundred of applicants. The final interview was at the corporate headquarters in Cleveland. I interviewed with a four person panel, nailing it. I answered every question confidently and appeared professional, finally wearing the recommended grey suit. I was offered the job, traveling the country representing Progressive onsite at all motorcycle events. I was Flo, before there was even a thought of Flo.Unfortunately for me, my boss at the time allegedly became involved with one of the retired racers and then decided to come to every race. In order to justify it to her boss, she stated that I was incompetent at my job. I was far from incompetent. I absorbed every piece of knowledge of motorcycles, because I wanted to speak intelligently at functions. I learned how to ride, got my motorcycle endorsement, learned how to adjust motorcycle claims and was licensed to quote motorcycle insurance in almost every state. I lived and breathed motorcycles. I walked the walk and talked the talk. I was a credible motorcycle chick with brains to boot. Eventually they realized they were paying me to have fun, so they dissolved my position. Years later, I was told to look up my old boss for a good laugh. I found a current picture and she had copied my hair color from back then, in addition to purchasing her set of aftermarket chesticles. I guess she had found out the racers had all called her 1-800-flatrack behind her back.I came back to Florida because Progressive’s customer service division was the first to offer me a job as a Call Center Manager and it was getting down to the wire. I didn’t want to come back to Florida, but I didn’t want to be stuck in Ohio either. I specifically applied in the division that my old Tampa boss was not in charge of. Shortly after starting my new position, she transferred to manage my division. That was the beginning of the end.

She obviously still held resentment for what had happened so long ago. She wrote an inaccurate negative yearly evaluation for me, but I fought it and I won. Numbers do not lie and statistics are not subjective. It was revised. I was managing hundreds of employees (including supervisors, leads and administrative staff). I was great at what I did. I had one of the highest manager survey results, as I was great at developing people. I was fair and consistent, yet all signs pointed to me being forced out. I tried to escape and apply for positions elsewhere to get out from under her, but my transfer requests went unsigned. I eventually took a hard look at my life and realized it was time to make that leap. I was never going to be happy staying in the corporate world, where women in power were so evil to each other. I needed to follow my passion and I wasn’t getting any younger.

I packed up my desk and left my comfort zone to enroll in cosmetology school at the age of 30. I was one of the oldest there. Shortly after, I heard my old Progressive manager finally retired. She waited until she forced me out and left the company herself.

After all of my trials and tribulations in my early career, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change any of it. There are so many more stories that I didn’t include in this blog post, in an effort to keep it relatively short. It’s made me who I am today. A strong, determined and ambitious woman who didn’t take crap from anyone. I didn’t want to not take the chance and waste more time. I was creating my own destiny. “A successful woman is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at her.” David Brinkley

This is part one of a two part series. The next blog post titled The Pursuit of Happiness details my career rebirth and how I got to where I’m at today with makeup and hair artistry.

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