“..and it occurs to me how fragile our lives are, how at any moment the sky can open and drown us, the earth can open and swallow us. I think of all the intricate ways our bodies can betray us, the accidents and the atrocities, the missteps and the misunderstandings.”
This quote comes from author A. Manette Ansay’s book, Sister, the story of a woman who is faced with a lifelong emotional journey after her younger brother vanishes. Abigail (the main character of the literature) must work through many truths throughout the narrative, but the one she comes to discover in the quote above is quite profound and beautifully written by Ansay. The reality is, we all have our stories; however, we simply cannot, with certainty, know what is coming our way in tomorrow’s chapter of our story. What can we do to accept the fact that the unknown is part of life; do we even want to admit that? Today, we’re going to be talking with someone whose daily work consists of helping people navigate through the “what ifs” of life because, for some of us, the theoretical came very quickly become our reality.
Our featured guest this go-around is Shabonya Dutton of State Farm. Before meeting and spending time with Shabonya, my (Anthony Crosby) limited knowledge of what insurance agents do was of them sitting behind a computer, asking me a bunch of different questions, and spitting out a number that I needed to pay every month to have coverage for all the various aspects of life. That was pretty much it. I just never gave an insurance agent’s job much thought to be perfectly honest. However, I was quite illuminated after my conversation with Shaboyna. Sure, there probably are agents out there who only care about punching in numbers and selling policies, but that is not the heart of today’s guest. I’m excited to share a little bit about what goes into how she serves our community, but let’s get to know her story a little bit first. Shabonya , please tell us about yourself!
“I’m a native Nevadan; I was born and raised in a place called McGill, Nevada. It’s a tiny town twelve miles before you would get to Ely; if you blink, you’ll miss it. I’m very outdoorsy, and I think I’m so outdoorsy because of where I grew up. We had nothing else to do but ride motorcycles and swim in the mud pond pool! When it was time to go to college, I was actually going to be a radiological technician at Weaver State University in Utah. Long story short, I had just moved to Elko because I decided I wanted to live closer to my family; I had my son and was a single mom. I finished up my schooling and only needed to do my clinical hours at the “old hospital.” I met with the hospital’s director and got everything approved, but the day I was supposed to start my clinicals, he came out and told me he had some bad news. The insurance from Weaver State wouldn’t cover me while I was doing my clinicals in the state of Nevada; it was the one thing everyone overlooked. I had already moved, and, at the time, they didn’t have a program for it at the college (Great Basin College).”
“However, I’m a positive thinker, so I told myself that it was all just a setback. I got a job at Great Basin Bank as a merchant teller and met a lot of people. I met a gentleman who was the local State Farm agent at the time; he told me he thought I would be good at insurance, so I needed to go in and talk with him. I went in, interviewed and really liked what he had to say. I accepted the job and got my insurance license. I worked for him for about five years while getting as many licenses under my belt as I could; he was about to retire so I went through the program and now I’m self-employed! It’s kind of ironic that insurance kept me from going down one career path to where now I get to do something that I love every day! It all works out!”
It certainly seems like it all has worked out for you, Shabonya! Now, for those out there, like myself, whose only real relationship with insurance companies come from the commercials with a talking gecko running around, can you give us a little behind the scenes perspective into what the life of an insurance agent looks like on a daily basis?
“Number one, you’re always building relationships with and getting to know people because we try to spend a lot of time educating people on a nontangible item. It’s hard to get the education through to people when the “what if” hasn’t happened or may never happen. However, if it does happen, how is your family going to be impacted by that? This is why we always tell people that we’re preparing them for the unexpected. Whether it’s by selling life insurance, disability insurance, home insurance, or coverage for if you hit someone with your car on your way home, we want people to have peace in their hearts, especially if you love someone and care about other people. The people who love somebody are usually the ones who listen to what we have to say. Number two, you’re constantly learning; there’s no humanly possible way someone could ever know everything there is to know about insurance. There’s a lot of laws, information, and guidelines that you have to know in order to be an insurance agent. It’s not as simple as just plugging in information; my job is to educate my customers.”
What is it like working with the people of Elko every day as an insurance agent, Shabonya? I ask because, when you think about it, you and your team are on the front lines when it comes to serving people in our community who have been through/are going through some rough and unexpected events.
“I tell my girls here at the office not to take it personally when people are angry. They’re lashing out because of the car accident they just got into or because they’re getting fined by the DMV if their car insurance has lapsed. There’s a lot of emotion and psychology that goes into our jobs because nobody likes to pay for insurance… until they need it. Two years ago, we had a family whose house burned down five days before Christmas. Their dogs died, and they lost everything. This would be where I want to try to use my influence in a good manner, so I went out there and rallied people to help them out. I’m in a position where I know about the tragic events in our community, so in addition to the insurance side, I try to help in some way because…my sister died two years ago; she was murdered, and I’m raising her son.” Shabonya explained through her tears. “I’ve sold life insurance my whole life, and I bought a policy for my sister, and she was only thirty-three years old. Yes, my nephew has a tough road ahead; his mom died, and the money isn’t going to bring her back by any means, but now he can go to college, buy a house, and it did make a difference in his life. In the last two or three years, we have probably paid out more death claims on young people (forty and younger) than we have older people. I cry with my customers. This is why we should always be kind to others; you never know what they’re going through.”
Gosh, thank you for sharing all of that with us, Shabonya. Our town is blessed to have someone like you who is willing to enter into the emotions of your customers. It seems like you genuinely do care about the people of this community.
“Let’s face it; we wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for our community; I love our community, and we have to take care of our people! We always try to help in any way we can. Probably the biggest way we help out is through the annual coat drive for our local kids we’ve been doing for seven years with the Elko Fire Department and Communities in Schools; it gets bigger every year! I’m very grateful for everyone in our community.”
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See you around, Elko!