Super-Agent Reveals Secrets to Thriving in Tough Times


Chris Clausen, President and Founder of The Clausen Agency on the Connected Insurance Podcast presented by Agency Revolution

Chris Clausen, President, CPCU, The Clausen Agency, Inc.

Forty years ago Chris Clausen started his agency by knocking on doors. Now he sits on top of the dominant agency in his marketplace. But he’s not resting on his laurels. The Founder and President of The Clausen Agency sees the pace of change as faster than ever, and declares ‘agents who don’t figure it out, will be left out.’ And, he knows that alone will make a lot of agents unnerved, uncomfortable, and uncertain.

Chris shared his personal mind-set and performance secrets for pushing through the toughest times, regardless of the challenges the world has in store: 

  • His four point system to help you achieve goal after goal against the odds
  • Chris’ inspiring story about why he embraces the pain when it’s almost too much to bear
  • The ‘three little words’ that inspired one of his most rewarding personal victories

Many agents feel that now—and the coming few years—will be the most challenging they’ve ever faced. Chris gives deeply personal insight that will make you hunger for challenge and fight through difficulty. Be prepared to be inspired!

Presented by Agency Revolution, the Connected Insurance Podcast provides weekly opportunities for listeners to dive deep into the trends affecting insurance agents and brokers today and to gain proven strategies and tactics for agency growth. Our hosts facilitate thoughtful panels and 1:1 conversations with a variety of prominent thought leaders, with a focus on how to streamline and drive operational efficiency for your independent agency through the intelligent use of technology.

Transcript

Michael Jans: Chris Clausen, how are you?

Chris Clausen: Michael Jans, I’m great. Thanks. How are you doing?

Michael: Well, I’m doing very, very good. We’re taking a slightly different tack in this conversation. I think our listeners probably know that there are a couple of things that I normally really, really like to do. One, big-picture trends. What are the forces that are affecting the retail insurance agent today? That’s not really the nature of this conversation. The other one that we commonly do is practical, tactical.

What can I put in place to grow my agency by Tuesday? In other words, really down in the weeds. This time, because I know your story, I really wanted to zero in on another aspect of being an insurer-preneur and it really is the Chris Clausen story. You know the direction that we’re going. That being said, [chuckles] Chris–

Chris: Okay. Michael, I got to tell you something. You are one of, if not, the best in the business at delivering strategies and tactics to the independent agent community. What I found in running an agency over the last 40 years and also running ultramarathon races is that success, however you define it, is a combination of strategy and psychology or strategy and mindset.

Michael: Indeed.

Chris: Hey, listen, you have to have an effective strategy, right? If you don’t, the best mindset in the world is not going to help you. You can have the best strategy. If you don’t have your mind or your head in the right place, it’s just not going to work. Those are some of the lessons I found out hard in doing ultramarathons. I started out this thing. I had run more than 50 full-on marathons before I even thought about doing a hundred-mile run.

In fact, I even didn’t know anybody could run those kind of distances.

Michael: [chuckles]

Chris: I met a guy by the name of Stu Mittleman. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, but Stu at one time held the world record. He ran a thousand miles in 11 days. He averaged more than 90 miles a day for 11 days and finished feeling great. When I first heard that, I said, “This guy’s nuts.”

Michael: It does seem that way and some people may say the same thing about Chris Clausen. [laughs]

Chris: Maybe. I’m probably guilty as charged, but the thing about it is he’s got a PhD in exercise physiology. I just wanted to get a little closer to this guy and see what his mindset was about. When I did, when I met him, he had just finished running from San Diego to New York. He averaged 53 miles a day for 55 consecutive days and on an average of three hours of sleep a night, Michael. He said to me, “Chris, that was a good night. I got three hours of sleep.”

Michael: Okay.

Chris: I was just like, “Wow,” just blew my mind. Within a month or so after that, I met a guy by the name of Dean Karnazes. Dean. You might have seen him on 60 Minutes. He wrote a book called the Ultramarathon Man. When I met him, he had just finished running 350 consecutive miles. Michael, he ran for three days to do that.

Michael: How long does that take? How long did it take?

Chris: Three days and three nights, he ran. He said to me not because he was at his limit, but because his support crew giving him food and water got tired and they wanted to go home.

[laughter]

Chris: He thought he could go even farther.

Michael: All right. Before our listeners might think that I’m running a podcast on exercise physiology, as you mentioned a moment ago, you’ve been a retail insurance agent for 40 years. I think you started that agency from scratch?

Chris: I did, 1979.

Michael: Let’s do some agency business here for a second. Tell us a little bit about the agency.

Chris: I started as a one-man show. I was 21 years old and just got into the business by accident like a lot of us do, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: Just knocking on doors literally, literally knocking on doors, canvassing door-to-door residences and canvassing businesses and just got started the old-fashioned way and then built it to– I had one part-timer, two part-timers, a full-timer. Today, they’re about 40 people who come and go in our operation every day. We’ve achieved a degree of success in that area.

Michael: Quite a degree of success. I think of you as certainly one of the most successful retail agents on Long Island.

Chris: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. We’re proud of the team that we have. I have to tell you. I said to some people if we’ve succeeded more than some, Michael, it’s because we failed more than most. What I mean by that is we’re willing to take some chances in marketing. We’re willing to take some chances in strategy and just figure out what works by figuring out what doesn’t work.

Michael: Well, I know enough about your agency. Let’s go full disclosure here. You’re a client of mine. You’re a member of our mastermind group. I think you’ve made the pilgrimage to the casita perhaps four times this year. We’ve spent a lot of time together both individually, me and leaders of your agency in the mastermind group. We’ve had a lot of opportunity to get to know each other really just over the past year.

One of the things that strikes me there, Chris, there are a few things that strike me about you. One is that certainly at this stage in your career, you could say, “I’m letting this sailboat drift off quietly in calm waters.” Again, you’re testing the limits on a new strategy. You don’t give up on that notion of pushing forward and pushing the margins.

Chris: Yes. I think, Michael, you’re either getting ahead or you’re falling behind, right? I don’t like losing at checkers. I don’t like losing at anything. I don’t like the idea of the agency falling behind. Certainly, you’ve come up with some challenges for us as an agency. We talk about the 10x strategy, growing your business in scale. We’re excited that it’s fun. The business is still fun after 40 years and I guess that’s what keeps me going.

Michael: Here’s another thing that strikes me about you. Clearly, when I met you, Chris, I knew that you had attitude in spades. You’ve got a sense of personal confidence that I think is obvious, but not rubbing it in anybody’s face. No arrogance. Those of us who have known you now, the members of the mastermind group, for a year, we didn’t really know about your athletic prowess until last week’s meeting. At that point, I said, “Oh, people need to hear about this because there’s real value in the lesson of mental discipline.”

Chris: Absolutely. It’s not even just mental discipline, Michael. It’s about mental beliefs. What you believe impacts what you do and what you do, obviously, impacts the results that you get. If I could just relate back to the running for a minute because there are definite parallels with this. Again, I had run more than 50 marathons before I even thought about doing anything more.

After I met Dean and Stu Mittleman, I entered my first 50-mile race. I have to tell you. It wasn’t easy, but it really wasn’t that hard. I finished it in just 10 hours or something and took my time with conservative of– I went back, took a shower, went out to dinner. I was back exercising within a day or two. Here’s the interesting thing is that I inadvertently signed up for a hundred-mile race that had a 50-mile option for people who didn’t want to do the full monty.

When I looked at the people doing the hundred-mile race, they didn’t look any different for me or for that matter for you, Michael. They didn’t have a red S on the front and a cape on their back. It was ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The reason this relates to the agency business is that be careful who you hang with. Be careful who you spend time with because they’ll impact your beliefs. A lot of it could be just not knowing it.

Some people could have a deleterious effect on your mindset, but the absence of people challenging you to take you to another level really, I think, could be a challenge in of itself on you taking it to the whole another level because I didn’t know Stu Mittleman. I didn’t know Dean Karnazes.Just spending a little bit of time with these guys, I look at the world a whole different way.

That’s one of the things I love about– I’m sorry to put a plug in here for him, Michael, but that’s one thing I love about the mastermind group or any mastermind group, for that matter, is that you surround yourself with people who are better than you are in certain areas of the operation. You all learn from each other and you get one plus one is three. Surrounding yourself with people who can challenge you is so important. When people hear the fact that I did a hundred-mile race, maybe it’s hard to relate to.

It’s just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I was talking to a group not long ago. There was a woman who raised her hand up, a middle-aged woman, and she said, “Chris, there’s just no way I could cover a hundred miles on foot.” I said, “Well, let me ask you something. I think you could. In fact, I’m going to prove it to you in the next 60 seconds. How many children do you have?” She looked at me and said, “Two.” I said, “Okay. Imagine one of your kids is a hundred miles away and by some corking reality, the only way you can save that child’s life is by getting there on foot. Could you do it?” She looked at me, tilted her head, paused, and said, “Which child?”

[laughter]

Chris: “Which child?” Obviously, if it was the right child, she could get there to save this child’s life.

Michael: She’d do it.

Chris: Thankfully, we don’t live in that world, but the point is that the mindset was, “Yes. If my kid is 100 miles away and need to save him, I can do it.” When it comes to the independent agency business, sometimes it gets hard. Sometimes it gets really hard. If I can say this on your podcast, sometimes it sucks. What you have to do is expect the suck, embrace the suck, and just take it one step at a time because you’re going to have bad days. When you’re running a hundred miles, you have ups and downs.

Sometimes you don’t know when they’re coming. When you’re doing a 30, 40, 50-year career, you’re going to have ups and downs. Sometimes you don’t know when they’re coming. In a marathon or ultramarathon, you take it one step at a time. In the office, maybe we take it one day at a time when it gets to the point where it’s really hard. By the way, don’t be surprised. You’re not uniquely flawed. I say this all the time. We’re not uniquely flawed because we struggle. The fact that we struggle means that we’re engaged, that we’re plugged in. We’re in the process of figuring it out.

Michael: All right. I want to circle back to the athletic part because I have a question or two and I know a story or two that’s going to come out. I want to circle back to its application in business. You did a 50-miler and you looked around at the 100-milers and you saw people who look like you.

Chris: Exactly and I signed up.

Michael: You signed up for a 100-miler?

Chris: I did. The next year, I went down there. It’s the very same race. It’s the Umstead 100. It’s one of the best races in the country. It’s right next to the Raleigh-Durham Airport at the Umstead State Park and I signed up for my first 100.

Michael: That’s a lap race as I recall, right?

Chris: Yes. There’s eight 12-and-a-half mile loops.

Michael: Eight laps. [laughs]

Chris: Eight 12-and-a-half mile loops through a forest and we got 8,000-foot of elevation up–

Michael: Oh really?

Chris: Hills are your friend.

Michael: Yes. [laughs]

Chris: I get down there for my first attempt at a hundred. I had 15 people fly with me from Long Island, New York down to Raleigh-Durham.

Michael: These were family, friends?

Chris: Family, friends, and people who are going to support me by being what we call pacers.

Michael: What do they do? In that loop situation, what do the pacers do?

Chris: First 50 miles, you can’t have a pacer. After 50 miles, the pacers would accompany you on the run and they’d carry my water bottle. Maybe carry food and basically just make it a little bit more enjoyable because you’re out there a long time. I had 15 people fly down from New York to visit me and support me there. I only made it to the 75-mile mark. I say this is where my strategy was flawed.

As it turned out because you’re running through the woods, there aren’t water stations at every mile mark like there would be in a traditional marathon, so I got dehydrated. In fact, I had trained in the winter and this race is last weekend in March, first weekend in April. I did winter training. When I went down, it was almost 90 degrees.

Michael: [laughs]

Chris: Yes, I got dehydrated.

Michael: Right. You were training in the winter in New York and you went down to Carolina to do a hundred-mile race. Okay.

Chris: I got dehydrated, but then what happened was I overdid it and I got overhydrated. I suffered from hyponatremia, which in itself is a very serious condition. I only made it to the 75-mile mark. I say “only” because my goal was a hundred. That was my standard. If I’m being honest, I felt like I let my family and friends down. They went so far out of their way to come down and support me and we didn’t come back victorious.

Michael: Is that how you felt? More like the 25 miles of defeat rather than 75 miles of success?

Chris: I didn’t consider the 75 miles a success.

Michael: [laughs]

Chris: It wasn’t a part of me. I’m being honest.

Michael: I get it.

Chris: It wasn’t a part of me because it hurts so much that I didn’t get the chance to finish.

Michael: When you stopped, what were you experiencing? I’m sure there was tremendous pain.

Chris: Let’s just say I was not feeling well.

Michael: Okay. I’ve been dehydrated and I know that that is–

Chris: It’s the opposite of that. I got overhydrated.

[crosstalk]

Michael: I’ve never done that. Okay.

Chris: Your hands swell. I got full-on body shakes and my joints got locked up. Other than that, there was no problem. I went back. I didn’t feel good about that, but I did sign up. A year later, I went back down to Umstead State Park to have another go at the hundred-mile race. As luck would have it, it rained for the first 24 hours. Michael, I’m not talking about it just drizzled. I mean it full-on monsoon rained for 24 hours.

I was running on my feet for 24 hours in the rain. You can imagine among other things, just the rain being a distraction. The course gets muddy. Your feet, your sneakers get wet and heavy, so that makes it harder. Your socks get wet. Ultimately, your feet get wet, the skin. You suffer from blisters. Yes, that was difficult. Here’s the interesting thing. I will bring it back to business in just a second.

I want you to picture this. This time, I got to the 87-and-a-half mile mark. I come back into base camp. I’m going to change my shoes and socks. I’m sitting on a bench and I wind up tossing my cookies. You know, the contents of my stomach, if you will. My head is in between my knees. I have 15 of my people again around me. The mood is gone. It’s about six o’clock in the morning. I’ve been on my feet for 24 hours and it’s not going to happen. I had the assistant race director.

Michael: You’d been up 24 hours, no sleep, just running?

Chris: Right, exactly. My feet was so blistered that I had to have duct tape wrapped around my feet to keep the skin in place because the pads on the bottom of both feet and heels had loosened to the point where– Anyway, I’m struggling, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: I have this 65-year-old grey-haired woman by the name of Sally comes in. She gets down on one knee in front of me and she said, “What’s going on here?” All my friends and family looked at her and they’re like, “Ohh.” They’re all feeling a bit sorry for me. She looks and she doesn’t find any blood. No open wounds, no bone sticking out. She says right to my face with her fingers, “Listen, it’s going to be a long 12 months until next year’s race if you don’t finish this one.”

Michael: [laughs] Over the 15 people, she may have been the best friend you have there.

Chris: Right. She gave me some tough love, but this is the best line. She says, “You got to suck it up and get out the door.” What?

Michael: What? Yes. [laughs]

Chris: I got to suck it up and get out the door.

[crosstalk]

Michael: “Easy for you to say, Sally.” [laughs]

Chris: Exactly. Let me tell you something. A footnote. I’ll digress just for a minute. Sally, six months later, ran her first 100-mile run and was out in the desert. She’s struggling at mile-80. Her words she told me later came back to bite her because she said, “Sally, you got to suck it up.” She told me to suck it up, so you got to suck it up.

Michael: [laughs]

Chris: Getting back to the race now, what Sally did in that moment was she connected me emotionally to the price of failure. You see, the thought for me of having to let my friends and family down again was more painful than any physical discomfort I was going to feel if I get back on my feet, so I did get back on my feet right then. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a blister. You’ve had a blister.

Michael: Blisters, yes. I’ve never had the bottom of my both feet coming off-

Chris: Right, exactly.

Michael: – and holding it on with duct tape. [laughs]

Chris: Right. I don’t want to overstate it, but let me just say it was extremely uncomfortable when I stood up. I took a step that was about six inches and then another step and then another step. Yes, it took me like four and a half hours, but I walked the last 12 and a half miles in that race.

Michael: Right on.

Chris: I finished my first hundred-mile run because I got emotionally connected to the price of failure. I think that’s the lesson that we bring it back to business. What’s the success formula that I figured out? Well, number one, know exactly what you want. As far as the agency, what’s your business plan? Is it to grow by 10, 15, 25%? You’ve got to know where the finish line is. The second thing is, what’s your why? Why is it that you want to grow the business on that level?

Michael: Let me circle on that one for a moment. Do you think that if you went down to, what was it, North Carolina, and did the race just you, nobody else, just Chris and is quiet, no audience, no fans, what do you think would have happened?

Chris: Not a chance. I just want to tell you that. Part of this, we talked about know what you want to know, why you want it. Surround yourself with some good people. It really does take a village. Look, my wife and I just celebrated 41 years of marriage. She’s my number one fan. When I said I wanted to run a hundred miles, she really didn’t understand it, but she said, “I’m there for you.” She has been every step of the way. I think that’s really important.

Just think for a minute. If I had my life partner was saying, “You are F’ing nut. What are you thinking about?” it would put doubt in my own mind and crack my confidence. Having that spousal support was huge. In addition to that, having the other people go down there, run with me, and give me encouragement when I really did struggle, that helped for sure. I got to tell you. Without that kind of support, it would have been tough. Getting back to what I was saying, know what you want.

Michael: Know what you want.

Chris: Know what your why. Why is it that you want to achieve the growth in the business that you want to achieve? Get emotionally connected to the price of failure. I mean, really, think about it. What would happen if you didn’t achieve these goals? Now, listen, to some people, maybe baby boomers. They’re riding the crest of the ways that they built up and they could write it out and there is no cost of failure. They don’t have to grow. I think what happens to most people is they don’t make the amount of money they want to make because they’re making the amount of money they need to make.

If you needed that, what the hell? Why should I knock myself out? I’m going to go play golf. If you’re emotionally connected to the price of failure, and in my case, it was going to be letting my friends and family down again, that was so much more difficult, so much more painful than the idea of the physical discomfort. I have to. I don’t want to underestimate how discomfort it was. It sucked, but I would even embrace the suck and get through it.

Michael: All right. Now, let’s circle back to the business part of this. You’ve been an achiever in business and in life. You’ve been an athlete all your life. From what I can tell, you got a great life. You got a great family. I know your son. I know your wife.

Chris: We’re blessed.

Michael: It’s a good life. How do you think your business has gained from what you’ve learned as an ultra runner?

Chris: I think we’re at a unique point in our industry, Michael, for being an independent agent. We’re facing an inflection point. There are going to be some agencies that are going to figure it out and there are some agencies that are going to be left out. With the pace of change accelerating the way it is, what drives me today, what my why is in business is that if we don’t as an organization figure it out, we’re going to be out. We just have to be plugged in. We have to be getting ahead. Otherwise, we’re falling behind. To me, in the business side of it, that’s what’s driving me is because I do stay connected to that price of failure.

Michael: Well, let me ask you another. I’m going to dig into this one. This is a little bit personal. I’ve got clients that fall into two buckets. Insurtechs and retail agents. The retail agents are clearly facing, as you said, some kind of inflection point. The pace of change is faster than it’s ever been. I agree strongly with you and I love the way you put it. Some will figure it out, some will be left out.

Nonetheless, compared to the insurtech world, the pace of change, even though it’s 10 times faster than it used to be, it’s still relatively modest compared to the insurtechs. A lot of the insurtechs are swimming where there’s no foundation below them. It’s an entirely new tech category. There’s no best practice that they can fall on. They’re not 40,000 appears and associations and educational programs guiding them. They’re really almost building their own wings as they’re flying.

When I compare the pain between the two, there’s a tremendous amount of discomfort for a lot of retail agents as they experienced the change where they look around the world. With the insurtechs, almost all of them successful, struggling with money, without money. Clearly, they all have some element of pain. In your 40-plus years running a retail insurance agent, have you had situations or the darkness, the challenge, the doubt where it was like those ultramarathon moments where the pain is all-consuming, but you still had to push through?

Chris: Absolutely. I have to tell you, so much more than I would care to admit. In fact, if you could have given me a crystal ball 40 years ago and I could look where we are now, I would be absolutely thrilled with the position we are as far as the business goes.

Michael: Indeed.

Chris: If you could also in that crystal ball shed light on the amount of hard work, sweat, anguish, tears, joy, the amount of just absolute struggle that was involved in it, if I’m just being candid, I don’t know that I would have gone down.

Michael: I get it. Now, I understand that, but I’ve been through more than one of those myself.

Chris: People say, “Chris, look at you. You’re 40 years in the business. You got a big boat. You got whatever.”

Michael: [chuckles] Little house on the water. I know, I know. It looks good.

Chris: Great. Look at you. You have life. We’re doing, “Gosh, sometimes I want to pinch myself with that.” What many people don’t see is the cost associated to get there and the emotional cost is more than anything. Michael, I want to circle back for a minute where you said to me that independent agents are feeling a tremendous amount of pain. I would propose to you that the problem most agents have is that they haven’t experienced the pain yet.

Michael: Oh, well, there is that. The complacency or–

Chris: Exactly, exactly. If I was coaching those agents, I would try to get them emotionally connected to the price of failure here. Right over the horizon is some real change going on and then you either deal with the pain now or you’re going to deal with it in a big way in three, five, 10 years from now if you’re still here.

Michael: This conversation, [chuckles] it does remind me of something ironically. Not uncommon at one of our mastermind meetings here at the casita. I may do a book giveaway, not every time. I realized in the last year, I think two of the books that I gave away were by Navy Seals. Jocko Willink’s book on freedom and discipline and David Goggins’ book. Both incredible achievers.

I would say the theme of both books is exactly what you’re talking about. Freedom through discipline. Moving through the pain and not– In fact, one of my favorite lines is when he gets– Probably at the end of one of his ultramarathoners, right? It’s like, “That’s my pain and I’m going to enjoy it.” Somebody wants to comfort him and he says, “It’s my pain. Nobody’s going to take that away from me.”

[clears throat] What would you say? In listening to this story, I want to make sure we’re sussing out the right lessons. I think you would agree. The lesson is not, “Hey, do what Chris did and run a hundred miles.” Everybody needs to approach their own life and their own challenges, difficulty, and pain in their life. What would you say to the listeners? Because I don’t want anybody to think, “I’m no Chris Clausen. I’m not going to run like you. You’ve run over 50 marathons,” and yadda yadda.

Ironman? I thought of you again this morning. We’ll talk about that later. Three Ironmans. It seems like, “Oh, he’s unstoppable.” “I’m not unstoppable.” What would you say?

Chris: I can answer that because I think what it’s really about is the success I talked about earlier. Number one, know exactly what you want. Know what you want specifically. Again, know what the standard is, so you know whether or not you’ve achieved it. Even more than that, know why you want it. What’s the purpose of you achieving this?

Michael: I would assume you would say, “Be as specific as possible.”

Chris: On the why, yes. Bring it down to your kids.

Michael: Bring it to the kids, bring it to the spouse. You’re right.

Chris: Make it emotionally charged and don’t try to make it perfect. Listen, now is better than perfect, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: Just write down the why, whatever comes to you. As long as it touches your emotions, that’s great. Get connected to the price of failure. If you don’t figure this the heck out, that is the business of being an independent agent. What’s the cost associated? Not just to you, but your family. You see, I would have given up at 87 and a half miles in a heartbeat had Sally not reminded me that I’d be letting down my friends and family.

Michael: We all need Sally, right? That is part of it. That’s another part of what you were talking about. I actually shoehorn that into step number three is your village that you need to surround yourself with people who are really going to support you.

Chris: I will say two things to that. Absolutely, I agree with that. Again, my wife and my number one fan, I’ve got a family. Like I said, I hit the friends and family lotto or jackpot, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: It’s not just the support system which, by the way, is absolutely necessary, but it is also another set of people perhaps that could challenge you to take it to a whole another level, in places where you’ve never run. That’s one of the things again, Michael, I love about the mastermind group. I’m not plugging that any mastermind group is better than no mastermind group. Certain ones have magic to them where one plus one is three and that you’re helping them, they’re helping you. I would’ve never seen that, but it was right in front of me.

Michael: As I mentioned, I thought of you this morning because you had told me the story of the Ironman that you did in Idaho. The swimming was in Lake Coeur d’Alene and it was 57 degrees. You’re in for like a couple of hours. Well, when I get in my pool this morning, this may be a bit of a shock. It was 48 degrees here.

Chris: What?

Michael: Yes. It was 48 degrees, though the water was 59. Okay. 48 is a month away, right? [chuckles]

Chris: This is not as warm, Michael.

Michael: Yes. [laughs] Well, my body did not say that to me. [laughs]

Chris: Suck it up, suck it up.

Michael: I did a few laps this morning of 59 degrees and I thought, “Wow, Chris did this for two hours.” Yes, the body adjusted to it. My arms were like cold and I thought, “Wow, imagine what this would be like.” I think you said that at some point, the system does adjust.

Chris: It does. Listen, you bring up a really good point and that’s something else that we haven’t even touched on yet. It is that four-letter word that begins with F, fear, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: Because we all have fear, fear of failure, fear that somehow I’m not enough, fear you’re not going to be loved, but we don’t have fear. It’s about to be successful in business, you need to absolutely face those fears to overcome them. 99% of the things that you worry about are just BS and they’re never going to happen. You need to be able to program yourself to move, take action in spite of fear. Now, we all feel fear. Getting back to Coeur d’Alene for a minute, again, it was an Ironman. It was a 2.4-mile swim. The water, I think, was 57 degrees. I can’t tell you. For a day and a half, I was just like really nervous about– [chuckles]

Michael: I think you said that the Ironmanners tend to fear swimming the most.

Chris: Yes, but this Ironman did.

Michael: At least that guy did. Okay.

Chris: This guy did. Yes, for sure. It turned out to be absolutely the easiest part of the whole race. Maybe easy is not the least part. The hardest part of the pre-race was the anxiety and the fear. In business, so often, we have to deal with fear and either we deal with it or we don’t. The extent to which we can deal with it will determine how successful perhaps or not we are. Fear shows up in different ways. One of them in the office that shows up is, “Listen, I have this uncomfortable conversation I need to have with Sally.”

Michael: Oh yes. Okay.

Chris: We can shy away from it because we’re just, “Aah.”

Michael: This is an interesting observation that I’ve had with myself and with my clients. It’s that we’re really quite aware. We’re really acutely aware of those things that make us uncomfortable. Certainly, we can guide our ways through Monday and Tuesday without having to engage. Monday and Tuesday turn into the end of the week and the end of the week turns into the end of the month and the end of the month turns into the end of the year. We can float through 20-plus years of our career successfully avoiding things that make us uncomfortable because we’re acutely aware of what they are.

Chris: Absolutely. Let me just tell you the way I deal with fear, if you will, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: If I’m afraid of it, I must go there. One of the reasons that if I’m afraid of it, I’ve got to do it, right? Now, listen, it doesn’t mean I’m going to jump off 50–

Michael: I think you made the distinction. You made the distinction that 99% of the stuff that we fear, it really is not going to kill us and it probably is not really going to hurt us. It’s going to make us uncomfortable.

Chris: Exactly. This is just, again, lifting the hood on my brain for a minute. If I was going to hold myself out as a positive role model, how can I teach the people I work with how to be successful and take on those hard conversations if I wouldn’t myself step in the water and do it myself? I think you need as a leader, as an independent agency owner, you got to lead from the front. You got to be the role model. That doesn’t mean I only screw up. I do it all the time. I guess that the difference is that I’m not afraid of failing because it happens so often, but I failed my way to success. I’m not patting myself on the back. That is my mentality and my mindset.

Michael: I think we’re so like those things like the uncomfortable conversations. With a staff of 40 people, they’re probably uncomfortable conversations that are going to arise just about every day. Whatever they are, whatever those things are that make us uncomfortable, it seems that we have a little monitor that tells us they are there. For most people, there’s an unconscious programming, “Don’t go there.” I suspect that in your world, Chris, you hear that signal or feel that signal and then you assess, “Should I go there or should I not go there,” and then make the decision, not just automatically avoid it.

Chris: Absolutely. By the way, just because there’s an uncomfortable situation, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing, right?

Michael: Yes.

Chris: Sometimes. As long as it’s a conscious decision to do nothing and it’s not you’re copping out to do nothing because I’m afraid of the consequences, I’m afraid of facing her. Yes, that’s what works for me.

Michael: All right. If you had a message that you want to be delivered to your peers who run independent insurance agencies around the United States and Canada and, well, frankly, a few other countries, people that listened to this podcast, what’s the Chris Clausen message to the independent insurance agency community today?

Chris: We’re on the precipice of change. For those of you who are comfortable, I feel sorry for you because if you either get emotionally connected to the pain of not taking action or you’re going to be left out. I get uncomfortable because it’s changing. We got to have that sense of urgency in order to keep up with the changes. Yes, I think that’s where I’m at.

Michael: By the way, there might be a part two to this podcast at some point in the future, either with you or perhaps with David, because I know that your agency– so we’re not just mindset people. You’re actually get-it-done people. You’re doing some extraordinary things with direct response marketing, with pay-per-click advertising, with niche marketing, and then also with, really, a fairly radical breakthrough in your business model. At some point, we may circle back because people are probably wondering, “Hey, I’m inspired by the mindset. What’s the guy actually doing?” Maybe we’ll circle back on part two on this in the future.

Chris: I would look forward to that.

Michael: Well, Chris, as always, it was a pleasure to see you here last week in the casita. As always like most of my clients, you’re one that I learned from. I’m grateful for that. As always, thank you for sharing your wisdom and your generosity.

Chris: Well, thank you, Michael. It was a pleasure and an honor to be on.

Michael: You bet.


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