While I haven’t written it, I suspect my life’s first chapter could be titled, “Unexpected gifts from shrimp, men’s clothing, and other unusual sources.” My grandfathers died young, forcing my grandmothers to earn livings for our families. One started a catering business. The other took over my grandfather’s men’s clothing store. As a result, I cleaned a lot of shrimp and altered a lot of clothes … and boy, can I hem a mean pair of pants! Strong role models showed me you must be able to adapt and learn at every stage of life. Since then, I’ve learned other lessons that have served me well:

  • Reach out. Use your skills and talents to help others. I look for opportunities to give people hope, because I could have used that same help. It’s easier when people can see what’s possible.
  • REALLY understand your business. Sit in more than one chair and be accountable—you will learn things a lot differently than if you studied them in a book.
  • Remember that feedback is a gift. Conversations with the people you work for areimportant. Without dialogue, even the best results may not speak loudly enough to get you the next job.
  • Make sure people know you’re interested in new responsibilities. Realize you won’t be successful at everything, but that’s the chance you take to move ahead. Don’t cling to what’s easy or comfortable.
  • Focus on your customers—in any role you have. As CIO of Allstate, I focus on building technologies and processes that add value for our customers so they walk away feeling, “This is a company that cares about me.”
  • Bring your passion for others. Have a risk-taking mentality, but care more about people other than yourself. You’ll have the courage to make difficult decisions.
  • Think beyond the paycheck. The money’s important, but ask, “Whom did I impact today?” I think about my children—what I contribute helps give them better lives. If you let the job run you, it will. If you don’t have balance in your own life, you can’t have it for your people.

Whether cleaning shrimp or managing a billion dollar budget, there’s no way you can be successful without applying yourself and looking for opportunities to learn. You have to start somewhere—but there’s no end to where you can go.