Selling Insurance

Not much of a “ring” to insurance salesman. Writer is more romantic and sounds better. The latter doesn’t always deliver and leave you flush with ka-ching—or with any cash at all, for that matter.

The fall has been a blur. Readying a house for sale and then closing on the domicile that was your home for half of your life is a big change. So is acclimating to a new town. Of course that’s just part of the story. I also decided in August to become a volleyball ref, followed by enrolling in an online course designed to prepare me to pass the state exam leading to getting licensed to sell insurance. Yes, the cares of this world have been right there in my face each and every day for the past three months. Sorry if I haven’t returned an email or your phone call.

Can I be totally honest here? There were many mornings during the past three months when I just wanted to stay in bed, rather than get up and turn off the alarm clock when it went off at 4:00 am so I could shoehorn studying into what was my usual get-out-of-bed and brew some coffee period of the morning before shuffling of to work time. But as they say, sometimes perseverance pays off.

Driving into Westbrook yesterday prior to my scheduled Maine Life, Accident & Health Producers exam set for 8:00 a.m., I tried to steer my mind clear of any craters of negativity or sinkholes filled with anxiety. WMPG playing some vintage John Coltrane kept me focused on the road and task looming ahead.

Whole life, or term?

I spent three months slogging my way through 25 units of content via Kaplan’s self-directed, online insurance portal, and memorizing a host of Maine insurance laws and statutes. I commenced all of this back in early October around the time my old well went dry and I also had to find places to fill water cans so Mary and I could maintain some semblance of civilized living. Studying dry material is one thing—passing a state insurance exam is something entirely different.

I tried to remain positive in that I had once passed an insurance exam back in 1995 when I knew nothing about sales. Instead, I pissed on what could have been a lucrative ticket to a safe retirement. But then, if I’d initially glommed onto insurance, I might never have found my way to starving artist status, and the fame that goes with becoming a semi-obscure writer of regional nonfiction.

I’m happy to deliver the news that I passed. I thought I might when I got the requisite score of 80 or above during last Friday’s practice test, set-up to simulate the State of Maine exam. Still, these kinds of tests aren’t slam dunks.

I was in a celebratory mood Wednesday afternoon. For the first time in months, I spent time listening to old “friend” Irene Trudel, and her archived program on freeform WFMU. Her guest was American primitive guitarist, Don Bikoff. If you enjoy guitar players like the Reverend Gary Davis (a huge influence on Jorma Kaukonen’s playing), Mississippi John Hurt, John Fahey, Leo Kottke, etc., then you know what I mean when I use “primitive” as a descriptor, a mainly finger-picking or flat-picking style, derived from country blues and string band music rooted in the 1920s and 1930s.

Trudel and Bikoff set their playlist full of all sorts of other guitar players, swapping stories and anecdotes, too. What was ironic after passing my insurance test in the morning was Bikoff mentioning that one of the artists they played, Dave “Snaker” Ray, was an insurance salesman. So was American modernist composer, Charles Ives, btw. Maybe there’s some special mojo in selling whole life policies.

So here I sit at the end of another pass through the calendar, making my way around laps that likely constitute my career homestretch, a patch of experience that is certainly checkered (I meant diverse). I’ve been considering when (and how) to make my final kick—and about the best way to maximize my time, talent, and tolerance for what passes for meaningful work these days. There’s less and less of the latter, as we transition into a world where there won’t be adequate employment for many. Or better, all our app-based employment schemes seem incapable of delivering much value for the worker, instead, sending most of the profit up the ladder to a select few at the top.

So, I’m wondering a bit; maybe if you can play guitar and influence others through music while writing insurance business, perhaps there’s hope that I can still write, possibly publish another few books, and do my part to keep capitalism clunking along in the 21st century. Possibly this is a topic worth ruminating on and possibly coming back to—the idea of someone’s avocation, versus their vocation, i.e. work not being something that has to fuel and feed our lives and whether we need the latter to feel good about ourselves.