People make choices every day, some consciously, many automatic, as we respond to our daily challenges. Most such choices have little impact beyond getting us through the day. Even others that we agonize over, in the long run, have very little to do with who we are or where life will take us. We worry about picking the right color car or model, whether to buy a new suit or not, what color to paint the living room and a host of other choices. But in the end, they don’t really change our lives very much.

On the other hand, life-changing choices happen sometimes when we don’t even realize it. This can come about as a result of little or no forethought or even be forced upon us by events beyond our control.

One of the great examples of this is the story of a 9-year-old Jewish immigrant who came to this country from Russia in 1900. At age 15, he had to go to work to help support the family because his father had become disabled. With little or no experience or education, he answered an ad for a job as an office boy for a New York City bank. When he arrived at the bank, he was intimidated by its imposing front entrance, so went around the corner where he found a side entrance which he felt more comfortable entering.

He was interviewed and hired. However, after being hired, he learned the door he entered was not to the bank, but a small company called Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. Too embarrassed to admit he made a mistake, he decided to stay. General Electric soon purchased the Marconi Company and changed the name to Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

And thus the career of General David Sarnoff was launched. For 60 years he was the dominant figure in radio and television communications. An accidental choice gave the world an industry giant. Sarnoff would no doubt have done well at the bank, but the person he became at RCA would have been hard to top.

I sometimes think back over my own life at how many times my life has changed because of a choice that seemed insignificant at the time. When I joined the Army Air Corps in 1941, the recruiting sergeant said to me, “Where do you want to go–Tampa, Florida or Tucson, Arizona?” Without a moment’s hesitation I said, “Tucson.” What would my life have been or what would I have become if I had chosen Tampa? There have been hundreds of such choices since that one that have had a similar effect on who I am.

Not the least of these choices was my venture into the life insurance business. I was secure in a job I had held for 11 years and was the heir-apparent to my boss. But out of the blue, the boss hired his son-in-law to work in the company and suddenly my whole future was in doubt. It wasn’t easy, but the choice I made was not to wait around to see how things would play out, but rather to start a new career in life insurance. I know many other successful life insurance people who found their way into our business by a similar set of circumstances.

But that choice made a different person out of me. I cannot think of a more satisfying career that I might have had than the one that has been afforded me by this great business. I am thankful every day for the choice I made in 1956 that transformed my life.

The reason that I write about this today is that I know that there are thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by the current economic downturn and will be facing difficult choices. The important question will be whether the choices are a temporary expedient, hoping their old job will come back, or if a new career might be a better choice. As so often is the case–when other doors are slammed shut, the door to a life insurance career opens.

I believe that if I were recruiting new people to our business today, I would emphasize what a transforming event selling life insurance can be, not only in their own lives, but in the lives of others. There are few businesses where the rewards to the customer are greater than those that flow to the salesperson. Now, more than ever, people are seeking guidance in ways to protect their families, their businesses and their estates from the uncertainties of the future. In uncertain times, our business is a beacon of light and we need dedicated salespeople to keep that light shining. Or, as Metropolitan Life used to say in its ads (before Snoopy), “The light that never fails.”

In recent times, it has been fashionable to eschew the label life insurance agent or life underwriter in favor of names that imply a broader knowledge of finance. I understand clearly the reasons for such action, most notably the expansion of company product lines. Well, today good old-fashioned whole life is starting to look pretty good again, along with fixed annuities. The stock market is acting like a “yo-yo,” up one day, down the next–but the string is getting a bit long for comfort. Not many people have the stomach for such gyrations.

The banks sought deregulation and expanded their reach into other areas and look what it has gotten them. With life insurance, we have a franchise that has stood the test of time, including depressions. It is a great time to bring new life to our sales force and help them become the new person such a choice can create.