September 2002. 90lb backpack on. A fresh pair of kicks. An unnecessary amount of anxiety. There I was – standing in the doorway to my first official lunch as a high school student. I just wanted to get in, get a seat and not get in anyone’s way.

Fast forward.

October 2015. 90lb purse in hand. A fresh pair of heels. And again, an unnecessary amount of anxiety. I walked into the ballroom of a hotel at a conference that I probably had no business being at that point in my career. It was like the first day of lunch all over again. I walked into the room, sat down and kept quiet. For those of you reading this who know me, it’s very rare that I don’t know what to say.

And then it happened. It was like the cool senior in the cafeteria gave me the nod of approval.

The ice was broken and the awkwardness relieved by one simple comment. One simple statement that created a connection that now has me here, writing for you about my experiences as a millennial in the insurance industry. Jeff Teschke, Forge3 Founder and CEO, opens up his presentation with some background about himself – where he’s from and what he likes to do. And then he says the magic words…

“I went to the University of Scranton. Anyone here go to the U?”

That’s all it took. Something as simple as having the same college in common created a connection that has been cultivated the last two years and turned into something great.

This first conference was such an important event to me for two big reasons:

It got me out of my comfort zone.

I’m a pretty social person. I can normally walk up to just about anyone and start a conversation. But I was nervous here. The new kid in town. The young girl in an industry that’s affectionately known to be pale, stale and male. And that’s when I realized that needs to change. We need to make insurance fun again. Bring it back to life. So I embraced the time that was left there, took a deep breath and started working the room. (Disclaimer: The Malibu bay breezes helped just a little.)

It gave me a confidence boost and reassured me insurance was exactly where I wanted to be.

You know more than you think. When I came into the industry, I was afraid to speak up. I didn’t want to come off as arrogant or even worse, sound completely clueless. But I’m telling you now – you need to speak up. Voice your ideas. Talk about your successes and your struggles. A simple compliment such as ‘that’s a great point’ goes a long way. Some incredible people attend these conferences and you need to use that to your advantage. Bounce your ideas off them. Get their feedback. Get excited about going back to the office and doing what you love. Build your network of people that love what they do just as much as you do. Those relationships are the ones that will keep you motivated.

And that’s what it’s all about. Cultivating relationships. It takes two seconds to connect with someone on LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram. A minute to type up a message to them and simply say ‘hey, great job today’. You don’t need to follow up every day. Maybe you reach out once a month. But that initial connection is there and every little point of contact from there on helps develop the relationship.

And this is exactly why I’m writing to you now. My relationship with Forge3 started at the conference two years ago and has continued to build ever since. LinkedIn, emails and messaging are powerful tools – but only if you use them!

So my challenge to you: reach out to someone today. Comment on one of their posts. Send them a message saying you hope all is well. Just simply reach out. You never know what opportunities can come from it!

In the month’s ahead, I’m looking forward to sharing my perspective as being part of the next generation. We all know the insurance industry is changing, and I have something to say about it!

Author Ashley Fitzsimmons

Ashley Fitzsimmons is a millennial. An insurance nerd. And a self-proclaimed expert on dirty martinis. Living in Forest City, PA and having been in the insurance industry since graduating college in 2010, she's excited to have an outlet to express her enthusiasm about the insurance world!

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