My Spectacular Odd Job: Insurance Clerk
In the spring of 1980, I was managing the impossible feat of flunking out of Introduction to Human Sexuality, the most interesting class at the local community college. In the two semesters I'd been in school, I'd successfully completed only six units, my transcript reading like a psychological assessment: withdrawn, withdrawn, withdrawn.
A history of failure
That night, a good friend extolled the virtues of her current job at an insurance company, telling me they were hiring. She described it as an administrative position, but later I realized the opening was for a file clerk. The job entailed opening the mail and then filing the claims for a section of claims processors. My friend seemed to love it, though, and I thought I would, too. After all, she'd been flunking out right along with me until the semester before. After cutting my final class the next day, I called the human resources office, arranged an interview, took the typing test (thank you high school typing!) and started the very next week.
You may feel very sorry for me right now, and I know back then my mother surely did. Looking at the situation now, my progression seems a dangerous, downward spiral. First I was college-going student living with her ne'er-do-well boyfriend, and now I was a filer of files living with the same. It seemed to her that there was no hope left. I'd barely made it out of high school, flunked out of community college, and now I was stuck pushing paper -- third-hand paper pushing at that. I opened, I delivered, I filed ... all day long.
"Oh, Lord," she said. "Is that what you want to do for the rest of your life?"
But here's the deal. I had been failing at everything until the day I was hired. My high school transcript was an eyesore and my six units (a straight C average) pathetic. But the moment I set foot in the insurance company office and was given my file cart, I didn't fail. I clocked in at 8 and clocked out at 4.15. I had things to do and people depending on me. I filed what I was supposed to.
The insurance claims processors liked me because I didn't misfile and they could later easily find the clients' files when needed. After only six months, I took an aptitude test and was promoted to the position of Insurance Claim Processor. I couldn't believe it. I was doing something right and well and was being rewarded. I was breathless when I was shown my own desk with computer terminal, drawers, waste paper basket, and stapler.
On the right path
Over the next year and a half, I was slowly given my own group of clients to work with. I made important phone calls to doctors, hospitals, and practitioners. I uncovered certain cases of over-charging (things that were not reasonable and customary) and a couple of cases of fraud (that billing chiropractor was actually related to the client!). I made my daily quota of files and was even given a small raise.
I didn't flunk out or get fired. I didn't cut and walk out. I stayed and did my job.
The satisfaction of taking something unknown, and learning to do it right and well, led me to a desire to follow my passion for reading and writing. I applied for, and was accepted at a four year college, leaving the company the fall of 1981. Every vacation and summer for six years, I have gone back, worked for a few days, a week, or a couple of months, knowing now that my mother was right.
This was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But learning how to succeed showed me that one day, I could succeed elsewhere. I would eventually be a college professor and writer. If I -- flunker of classes, successful at nothing -- could go from a worse-than-bad student to a useful member of a business, I could do anything.