At 16 years old, I moved 800 miles from home to live with a family I’d never met before. I left friends, family and the only house I’d ever known in pursuit of a dream. From a young age, all I ever wanted was to attend Stanford University. In addition to the academic excellence, I was drawn to Stanford because of its national champion synchronized swimming team. To compete with them, I needed to prove I was elite both in the classroom and the swimming pool.
At the end of my junior year of high school, I earned a spot on the U.S. national synchronized swimming team. We trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then competed at the Pan American Games. Going into my senior year of high school with straight As and a national team appointment on my resume, I applied to Stanford. To my surprise and relief, I received an acceptance letter from the university that fall. I was overjoyed! I had achieved everything I wanted—or so I thought.
After making the trip to visit Stanford’s campus, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the right place for me. To the surprise and disappointment of many, I turned down the opportunity and chose to continue my swimming career and studies at The Ohio State University.
Fast-forward a few years, and I was at a crossroads yet again. I had a successful athletic career, having won several national titles at Ohio State. I then had to decide whether to keep training after graduation in hopes of making the Olympics. I had just finished an actuarial internship with a consulting firm and received a full-time offer. If I chose to end my synchronized swimming career, at least I had an exciting corporate role lined up.
After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to turn down the job offer and end my swimming career. Again, not exactly the “safe” choice or one that made sense to those on the outside looking in. Ultimately, I knew that neither of these opportunities was right for me at the time.
Fortunately, a short time later, I interviewed with State Farm and chose to accept a full-time role as an actuarial analyst. During my time at State Farm, I had amazing leaders to look up to and learn from. I was supported in my exam studies and given exciting opportunities to grow in my role as an actuary. Everything was perfect. I truly believed that I would work for State Farm my entire career.
Then, everything changed. My husband was pursuing a job with another company, and we were moving to Columbus, Ohio. Because State Farm didn’t have opportunities for fully remote work at the time, I was forced to look for employment elsewhere.
After a lot of research, I found a unique opportunity with a new company called Root Insurance. I was fascinated by its business model and inspired by the company’s passion to revolutionize insurance. From everything I read, it seemed like if anyone could disrupt the archaic insurance industry, this company was well-positioned to do so.
October 2021 marks my two-year anniversary with Root Insurance. It’s been a crazy ride joining a startup during a global pandemic, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve grown so much personally and professionally from this season. I’m surrounded by some of the most talented and inspiring individuals I’ve ever met. I have no idea what the future holds, but I couldn’t be more excited.
Throughout my life, I’ve had many dreams. Often things panned out differently than I expected. But I truly believe there is purpose in every season, and there is so much to learn from the adversity we inevitably face. I hope that by sharing my story and some of the lessons I’ve learned, you will be inspired to pursue your ambitions and find joy in the journey.
Be bold and confident—believe you are capable of great things
You know better than anyone what makes you come alive. If you have a dream that you’re excited about, go for it! You don’t need permission. Each one of us is uniquely gifted with talents, resources, connections, perspectives and more. Take full advantage of those at your disposal and unapologetically pursue your passions.
If a dream is worth pursuing, expect that it’ll be hard. Don’t lose heart when the going gets tough. Put plans in place for how you’ll regroup when you get knocked down. Show yourself grace. No one is perfect, and the path to achieving goals is rarely linear. Take time to remember why you started, and then get back out there.
Cast a wide net. There are often many ways to accomplish the same objective. Boldly put yourself out there and ask for what you want. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard “no” over the years—and I don’t try to count. I focus on the doors that do open.
Invite others to join in. When friends and family see your passion and excitement for what you’re doing, they will naturally want to help. I certainly would not be where I am today without the encouragement and support of so many. In the end, achieving your goals will be much more meaningful when you have others to celebrate with you.
Never give up—but allow space for your dreams to play out in different ways
At its core, my dream to attend Stanford was driven by a desire to one day get a job that I love and be able to support my family. At first, others could not see why I would give up attending this prestigious university. However, I knew to achieve my goals I needed a community that would push me to be my best and lift me up when I failed. Through numerous conversations, I found the greatest potential for this support system at Ohio State.
Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Whether we like it or not, we are heavily influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. Seek out relationships that are positive and genuine. You’ll be better positioned to achieve your dreams if you have the right people on your team.
Taking a different path isn’t giving up. Often it is a necessary action to take, but discerning when to do so can be tough. Working at Root during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many days when I wanted to quit. In these moments, I found encouragement and wisdom in a quote from Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin: “Never give up on a bad day.” When she would come home exhausted, frustrated and burnt out while training for the Olympics, her mom would tell her she could quit, but not today. She had to return to the gym until she had at least one good day. Then, if she still didn’t love it, she could walk away.
This resonated so deeply with me. Sometimes when you are working hard and adversity strikes, it’s easy to want to give up. The true test of whether you should persevere or take a new route is whether you still feel joy and purpose on the good days. If you’re no longer growing or enjoying what you do in those moments, then that’s a good sign it’s time to move on.
Make the most of every opportunity—and never stop learning
In all that you do, be the best you can be every day. You never know who is watching. If you can demonstrate excellence in the little things, then you will be trusted with more. Be ready when new opportunities present themselves.
Don’t let yourself get comfortable and stop growing. There is always something new to learn. Seek out opportunities that will broaden your horizons. While I never expected to leave State Farm, it may have been the best thing I could have done for my career and personal growth in the long run.
Whether in a peak or valley, it’s important to practice gratitude and focus on the positives. There is always something to be thankful for, including the lessons we learn during the hard times. Life moves quickly, and achieving your goals will not bring ultimate satisfaction and joy. The happiest people in life are those who live with purpose. Don’t fixate on a particular goal or achievement. Take time to reflect, count your blessings and enjoy the journey.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.
Copyright © 2021 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.