I was convinced I was a great salesman. My dad was a General Electric executive and he was a company man and loved his career. I wanted that business success as well and had decided life insurance sales paid great commissions to good salesmen. Being a very analytical fellow, two years prior to separation from the Navy, I wrote 60 letters to leading insurance companies searching for the very best company and that resulted in no less than 30 in-person interviews. One thing I learned about insurance salesmen, if you throw twenty applicants against the wall, perhaps two will stick. I learned how to be a good interviewee. After a brief introduction, I gushed about my passion for selling and providing security to widows and children. I had managers crawling across their desks to hire me.
I chose the New England Life Insurance Company and continued to work and live in Maine. Its general agent, Jim Longley—an incredibly impressive and ethical man—later to become Governor of the state of Maine, was my mentor. Alas, I discovered, potential clients were not interested in talking about life insurance and their impending death. “Life Insurance selling” led to doors being slammed in my face and was a struggle. “Boo hoo, why don’t you want to buy my policy.” I felt like a huckster, and it became an embarrassing job acknowledgement.
Life insurance sales, like other sales solicitations, whether it be selling used cars or cemetery plots, required a selling opportunity. The insurance industry provided those statistics; make 30- phone cold-calls, get five interested conversations, and hopefully land two appointments. So, every evening from 7:00 until 9:00 I returned to my office making those painfully solicitous calls hoping for a couple appointments.
There were a number of successes. I was named the agency’s Star Producer of the Month and recognized by the home office as the year’s successful rooky, but I was not a happy camper. I was too thin-skinned. Rejection of my proposals was a rejection of me. I could not handle the refusals and rejections. It was too depressing. After four years, I left the insurance industry to join a family business in the Midwest.
I had a few good clients and satisfactions, however. Vinnie and Franny were our next-door neighbors. They were very good friends. Franny, a nurse, saved the life of our toddler son who had passed out choking on a hotdog. But I couldn’t humble myself to ask Vinnie about his life insurance coverage … and then Vinnie asked me. “Jim take a look at our policies and see what you think.” Vinnie ended up buying a rather large whole life policy … and then died of a heart attack two years later. Franny now has the means to carry on, educate her children, and live comfortably. Thank God I had that job long enough to be a help to Franny.
All that being said, I cherished my years in Maine. We had a lovely, although modest, first paid-for home with wonderful neighbors. Two of my sons were born in Maine. I loved the geography. Even on the grayest and most bitter winter’s day, the drive along that rocky, wave battered coast was a sight to behold. I loved the state and even though I had 36 permanent addresses over the years, I list the “Pine Tree State” as one of my favorites.
I have no regrets.