The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive
 

Hartford is the Insurance Capital Of The World, you know.

I remember when our third grade teacher told our class that, and it was the first time I had an inkling about what I wanted to do with my life.

I want to be part of that, I thought. I want to be part of something bigger than me.

I wanted to do a job in the city that is known for that job. It would be like making cars in Detroit. Or making movies in Hollywood.

I did not know what insurance was, and I still wanted to be a part of it. Imagine that. Imagine there was a time when I did not know the definition of what would become my lifetime profession.

I asked my teacher after class what insurance was. "Well, Josh," she explained, "Insurance is when you give your money to somebody, a little every month, and if something bad happens to you, they give you your money back, and then some."

I do not like to use words like "magic," because there is no such thing, but what she described could only be summed up with that word. From that point on, I was locked into my career path.

I was not terribly social, growing up. I just wanted to study, preparing for my all but spoken-for future. My mom tried to get me to come out of my shell. She even suggested that I audition for a local theater program for children. I just stared at her.

I have never understood the concept of "make-believe." The world we are given is the world we get, to want more would be greedy. I never wanted to play. Playing did not accomplish anything. Playing did not fix problems. I wanted to work.

My grandfather, rest his soul, worked. He owned a diner in the Travelers building, and worked there for most of his life. As soon as I was old enough, I helped out as best I could. I wanted to be the cashier, but everyone was pretty uneasy with the idea of a 10 year old handling money.

I have no doubt I would have been very good at it. I have always had a head for figures.

So I worked behind the lunch counter, pouring sodas and coffees. But my heart was not in it. Sure, I was happy to be contributing to society, but I felt like I was not living up to my potential.

I would stare at the men and women who would come in from Travelers, The Hartford, Aetna, and all of those other insurance companies that made their homes in our city. They all looked smart and strong. They dressed in suits, they wore glasses, and they carried leather briefcases, filled, I just knew, with important documents.

Once, a childhood friend of mine saw those briefcases and wondered aloud if they contained a dossier belonging to a spy, or futuristic weapons, or maybe some kind of disguise. I felt bad for him at the time, and I still do.

I knew the documents in there were much more exciting, much more vital than anything his "imagination" could dream up. In reality those documents could help a family rebuild their house, destroyed in a fire. They could help sick people pay for medicine. They might even take 1% of the sting away from losing a loved one.

A ray-gun could not do that. James Bond could not do that. But they could. And so could I.

By the time I got to high school, I was already interning at The Hartford. By sophomore year, I decided I wanted to pursue a job as an Actuary. Again, it was a job where I gravitated towards the name before I even knew what it meant. I liked that it sounded like the word "Actual." This was something real, something tangible.

An Actuary, by the way, assesses risk. We mathematically evaluate what events the future may hold. We develop ways to reduce the chance of unfortunate events. And when unfortunate events transpire, as they always do, we look to how we can diminish their impact. The insurance industry could not function without us.

It is an tremendous job, and an tremendous responsibility. One that, even in high school, I knew I was ready to take head on.

Senior year of high school, I participated in some extra-curricular activities to make my transcript more appealing to UConn, and it was in Yearbook that I met the woman who would become my wife.

We had a lot in common. We were both quiet, we both focused on the task at hand, and did not have any time for silliness. While the other kids joked around, it was the two of us who made sure the pages were done on time.

Neither of us believe in "love at first sight," but I distinctly remember the first time I noticed the way she would crinkle her nose and purse her lips whenever she heard the other students laughing. Like it almost caused her discomfort.

For a split second, it was like looking in the mirror.

We were engaged by the end of high school, and married by the time we graduated college. Me with a degree in Actuarial Science, her with a degree in something else. English, I think. Maybe Education.

After college, I took and passed the first of many actuarial examination as administered by the Society Of Actuaries, or SOA. If you are the sort who uses acronyms. I do not, personally. I take pride in what I do, and I do not want to short-shrift it by reducing it to a muttered jumble of letters.

After I passed my second of many examinations, I got a job at The Hartford, utilizing relationships I had forged during my intern days, as an actuarial assistant. Seven years later, I had passed all of my many examinations, moved from Associate to a Fellow in the Society Of Actuaries, and my current position at The Hartford reflects that.

I could not have hoped for a better life. I know a lot of people say that. For me and my family, however, it is the truth. My wife is very active in the community, and of course, the kids keep her busy as well. It is nice to see them all on weekday evenings and the weekends, when we do things together.

It was on one of these weekends that I had a humorous encounter, which I will attempt to relate to you.

Gwen and Ben Joseph, my 13 and 10 year old, respectively, wanted to attend some kind of cartoon and comic book convention in Downtown Hartford. Because I had an extra day of work to tend to at the office, I dropped them off, along with their mother, at the absolutely stunning new Hartford Convention Center. And then I went about my business.

By five in the evening or so, I had finished, and found myself at the hotel bar next to the convention center, waiting for my kids to finish up whatever it is one does at these sort of things.

Whatever this sort of thing was. As far as I could tell, it was an opportunity for extroverts to out-shout each other while wearing outlandish outfits. For the life of me, I had no idea why my children wanted to attend, but it is not my job to understand them.

As I was finishing my Amstel, I heard a voice say, "Joshua? Joshua Cagan?" I turned. And there, dressed like what I would charitably refer to as a beach bum at a rock concert, was my childhood friend. The one who thought all briefcases held laser beams and state secrets.

He proceeded to talk my ear off at top volume about his life, and his line of "work." Only, it did not make much sense to me. Something about writing, something about the internet, he was in from Los Angeles, he was here to do a panel about something or another.

He went on to mention a wife, but no children. A two-bedroom apartment he did not own. Keep in mind, this "man" was the same age as me. Honestly, if he had wrapped up his spiel by asking me for $200 and a place to sleep, I would not have been surprised.

He asked me what business I was in now, and I told him I was an Actuary at The Hartford. He looked at me blankly. I smiled, and tried to explain it to him in the simplest terms possible. "An Actuary assesses risk."

He smiled back, and gave me a pat on the shoulder. "Well, of course, Cagan. You always did live on the edge." Before I could explain to him that I preferred to go by my first name, he slapped a $20 down on the bar, and disappeared into the crowd of mid-summer trick-or-treaters.

As I watched him walk away, I thought to myself, "There but for the grace of God go I."

To think, if I had done one thing in my entire life differently. If I had spent my Saturday mornings watching cartoons instead of doing chores. If I had attended that youth theater program. If I had balked at the knowledge that I was lucky enough to be born in the Insurance Capital Of The World...

I could have ended up like him. Like my childhood friend. Rudderless. Childless. Practically homeless.

I may not "live on the edge." But I am living. I am living in a beautiful five bedroom home on South Quaker Lane, with my wife and our children. I work at my dream job, the job I have wanted since third grade.

As far as my childhood friend went, I felt bad for him at the time. I still do. And maybe he felt bad for me.

But I know I am making a difference. I know I am making the world better.

And I know this for a fact.

Because I am an Actuary.