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How Did You Get Started?

I was an ambitious high school junior when I came across something that I like to call the magic key.

It was from an anecdote told by TV interview queen Barbara Walters in her book How To Talk With Practically Anybody About Practically Anything.

Walters spent decades getting famous folks to tell her their deepest secrets on national TV. But she was absolutely tongue-tied the first time she met Aristotle Onassis. Onassis was the world’s richest man, presiding over a shipping empire, married to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and the subject of countless gossip magazine articles. How did Walters get the conversation started with Onassis? By asking him this question: How did you get started in business? Bingo! Onassis began reciting every detail of his early life and described the driving force behind his success. Ultimately, he told Walters what inspired him.

That question — How did you get started in business? — was the magic key for me whenever I was assigned to interview someone during my years as a newspaper reporter. It also was a great icebreaker during the years I worked for an insurance trade association and found myself sitting in a meeting or networking at a luncheon with a group of members I did not know.

People who are reluctant to talk about themselves almost always light up when you ask them to recall their early days in their chosen profession. Why? Because what they really are telling you is what inspires them.

These are the stories we want to share with our readers in our upcoming “Inspiration” issue in August. But we can’t share these inspiring stories with our readers unless you share them with us first. How did you get started in the business? Who or what inspires you to keep on going? What obstacles have you overcome? How has this inspiration impacted your practice?

I’ve been privileged to hear many stories from insurance and financial professionals recalling the paths that led them to where they are today. I have my own “how I got started” story, and it’s a bit unusual.

I won my first job in a contest.

I was a high school senior, writing features for my school newspaper, when one of my classmates told me that a group of students from our school was planning a fundraising effort to acquire an old building and convert it into a community center that my hometown badly needed.

I interviewed the girl who was heading this effort, and wrote the story. My journalism teacher thought it was a well-written article, so she entered it in a contest that our local newspaper, the Johnstown (Pa.) Tribune-Democrat, conducted each year among the high schools in our area. As my senior year became filled with more activities, I barely thought about the contest. But I was accepted into college as a journalism major, and I did think once or twice that winning the contest might give me some validation that it was the right path for me.

And then I found out I was the winner. The prize? Twenty-five dollars in cash and a paid internship at the Tribune-Democrat for the summer. That’s right — I was going to spend my summer working in journalism, getting paid for it, and all before I had even started college. How cool was that?

Two weeks after I received my high school diploma, I rode the bus to work to begin my first day as a working journalist. I remember that as I climbed the steps to the second-floor newsroom on that first day, I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.

That summer internship turned into five consecutive summers spent working at the Tribune-Democrat. Most of it was grunt work, but I learned far more there than I ever did by sitting in a college classroom. And I did manage to put together a decent portfolio of articles that I had published before I had even graduated from college.

Eventually, I left the Tribune-Democrat for another newspaper. And then I left that newspaper for still another newspaper. Work had its ups and downs, but when things were down, I would think about the prize that I had won so long ago, and it inspired me to try to be worthy of getting that lucky break.

So now you’ve read a story of inspiration. And now I want to read one as well. And I want to share it with our readers. Take a moment to send us your inspiring story at [email protected] We would love to take that inspiration and spread it around.

Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan. Contact her at [email protected].

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