Wired for Optimism

Bruce White, Johnson Kendall Johnson

January 21, 2019

When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote a report in biology titled, “The Positives of Positive Thinking.” I’d chosen the subject because I was, to put it mildly, not science-minded. I remember that the research and writing was an agonizing process, but I found myself intrigued by the data around the impact of optimism. From my earliest memories, people had always noted my positive nature and ready smile. While I certainly have moments of sadness and anger, I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said I have a smile on my face most of the time. I’m just wired that way.

I got an A on that biology paper, and I still remember the comment that my teacher wrote on the top of the first page: “I don’t know if this is BS, but if you can keep this thought process, it will serve you well.”As I reflect on the power that positive thinking has played in my life since—personally and professionally—I can say unequivocally that she was right.

I always look at the positive side of life; it’s what drives me. Even when people bring me negative thoughts or experiences that are difficult to discuss, I really try, in my response, to reflect my affection for that person and to show them that there is a positive side to all experiences. I see my outlook reflected in the way my own children view the world and their responsibility to effect positive change, and I see it in the culture of the Evergreen insurance brokerage firm, Johnson Kendall Johnson, where I serve as managing partner.

All of this is not to say I have not encountered challenge and personal heartbreak in my life. My father passed away when he was only 61, and I lost my older brother when he was 52. Both were significant losses that deeply affected our close-knit family. Several years ago, when my eldest son and his wife suffered a miscarriage, I felt the pain of an early, unexpected loss again. During a conversation with my business partner and dear friend at that time, I said to him, “I don’t know how to manage this; bad things don’t happen to our family.” His response offered meaningful perspective; he said, “Bruce, of course bad things happen to you—it’s just that your outlook on life means you always look to see the upside.” I realized that he was right: I live through challenge like anyone else, but my natural inclination is to move forward from a place of hope and with an expectation of good.

This deeply ingrained sense of optimism likely makes me uniquely suited for the insurance business, where our work every day revolves around helping our clients build, sustain, and grow their business—often in the face of significant challenge. Our mission is to deliver strategy and solution, and we often do that in the midst of emotionally-charged situations that create stress and uncertainty. Being able to respond in an optimistic, forward-thinking way serves our clients well.

I recently witnessed the essential role of optimism in our work when a client suffered a significant fire. The fire broke out in the night, and our claims group and I were on the scene by 7 a.m. We remained on site all day—and many days thereafter. We came to realize that after the first responders departed, we were the most stable presence for our clients during the months that followed as they worked through the damage assessment, healing, and reorganization and planning that the situation required. And we weren’t just there to write checks; we were there to offer the expertise and assurance that they desperately needed. We were there to offer hope—and to deliver on that promise of a brighter day. We are honored to offer clients the experience and stability, the peace of mind, that sees them through difficult times. And, in this case, we were thrilled to be on hand for the groundbreaking of their new facility; they are rebuilding and anticipate opening a new facility in the months ahead.

This specific situation displayed how critical a positive outlook is in our business, but it’s certainly not a unique scenario. Optimism is essential across every part of our business, and we intentionally recruit for positive, solution-oriented people. Each time we encounter a challenge or face a tough decision as a group, I frame the conversation by saying, “I understand the problem; now let’s determine the best way to solve it.” Led by a positive outlook, we move forward together on behalf of our clients.

That strong desire to serve our clients not only motivates us to find positive solutions for every day, it also compels us to stay Private. In an industry landscape rife with mergers and acquisitions, we are committed to remaining independent so that we can continue to serve the client and the community in the best way possible. That’s what makes our glass half-full.

I didn’t know when I wrote that paper for my high school biology class just what a central role “positive thinking” would play in my professional life. I only knew that I had a distinct outlook in life. I saw the good in people and in the world around me. I’m happy to know, now, that my personal outlook has helped me provide solutions and lead others to navigate their way to the bright side.

Bruce White is Managing Partner at Johnson Kendall Johnson, a full-service insurance brokerage and risk management firm.

If you enjoyed this article or talk, please share with your friends, colleagues and family.