A Hand Up

Some call it rags to riches. Shawn Yecina says that’s not exactly it. It’s more about struggle, faith and to never, ever give up.
“I think that’s what people do, they go through life and think this is too much, I can’t handle it, it’s impossible,” says Shawn. “But it’s not. It’s not if you never stop trying. Anything is possible as long as you never stop trying.”

Shawn is a Division Sales Leader for USHEALTH Advisors, and he has been here nearly a decade now, from the beginning. Shawn was there during the infancy of this organization, when all you had was belief, faith and the inner strength to muster the will to keep going. Those are the times when you literally have to see it in your mind, before you can hold it in your hands.

“I remember opening up the office in Chicago,” Shawn says. “All I had was an office chair and the paint bucket they had used to paint the office before we moved in. I put my laptop on top of the bucket and started working. It was a leap of faith and you had to have the tenacity to stick with it.”

Flash forward to today, with a thriving, growing division, as part the soon-to-be billion dollar enterprise which is USHEALTH Advisors. Hard work pays dividends. The will to never stop trying is the definition of success. Shawn recently moved his wife Agnes and daughter Angelina, from their small townhouse to a beautiful 35-hundred square foot home. The family is doing well. They are celebrating the fruits of their labor. But the struggle to get here has been very real.

Yet as tough as its been – Shawn knows it’s a gift – because for him, life nearly ceased to exist.

It was the day after the family reunion. Shawn, who was 26 at the time, decided to take a ride on his recently modified 4-wheeler ATV and check out some of his old stomping grounds. He was riding without his helmet. He had left it behind at his aunt’s house because it was too wet to use after being hosed down following his recent run-in with some thick, waist-deep mud. Who needed the helmet anyway? The ride back home, under the slowly darkening, late-afternoon sky was mostly a straight, flat terrain. So Shawn gunned it, the 4-wheeler could reach nearly 80-mph on a flat straightaway, and Shawn was flying, until he hit the ditch. The ditch dug there strategically to stop people from doing exactly what Shawn was doing, riding his ATV up-and-down the landscape.

“Once I hit the ditch I don’t remember anything else,” says Shawn. “Luckily someone found me there. If I had laid there another half-hour the doctors said I would have bled out. Instead, Shawn lapsed into a coma.
His next memory was 2-1/2 months later.

“When you wake up from a coma, you can’t really hear anyone. Someone tells you to talk to them, hold their hand. I couldn’t really feel it though. I had a fractured skull, ankle and broken chest. I had a piece of paper there and tried to write what I wanted to say to my mom and my aunt. It was horrible. I was 5’9” and weighed 125 pounds. I’ll never forget the physical therapist coming into my room and saying, ‘we are going to get you down to the gym and teach you to walk again.’ I said, ‘come on, I know how to walk.’ “The therapist takes me down to the gym and tells me to lean forward, grab the arms of my wheelchair and stand up. I got four inches off the chair and then sat back down. It was then I realized this was going to be a hard fight.”

It was a month-and-a-half of intense rehab, where Shawn had to basically rebuild every muscle in his body, while still nursing a broken ankle, broken chest – and an empty bank account. “When you go through something like this it’s not just physical, it’s financial too,” he says. “No one had power of attorney while I was in the coma, so my car got repossessed, everything I had was gone, cause no one could touch my money. The last thing anyone really thinks about is paying your bills. It’s not the first thing you worry about, it’s about life and death, but the creditors don’t care.”

“Needless to say it was a rough year,” says Shawn. “I ended up moving back in with my mom in her mobile home trailer out in the woods of Centre County, Pennsylvania, the same place where I grew up. Back at home, Shawn recovered and his mom helped him move back to New York State, find an apartment, get his things in order and get back to work. Unfortunately, not long after, his mom passed away from cervical cancer at the age of only 54. But Shawn was there for her, just like she had been there for him. He was the last person to see her alive. “I got to say I love you to my mom and she told me the same,” says Shawn.

It was time to move forward. At the time of the accident, Shawn was working as an assistant store manager for Home Depot. Once he got back to business he was told he would be eased back into his job. But Shawn had other ideas.

“Within six months I had taken over half the store,” he says. “The manager said I don’t understand this, you are doing so much. I said you don’t really understand what I just went through. I saw people at the rehab center who were sitting there like a bag of bones, with little hope. I got a second chance and I am sure as hell not going to take it lightly.”

Shawn is no stranger to hard work, it’s how he’s wired. “My mom and I never had much,” says Shawn. My dad wasn’t there. I have worked since I was 11-years-old, because there was no money. If I wanted something I had to get a job. There were times in my life I was working three jobs. There was no way I was going to let myself or let my family down, it’s just a way of life for me. Growing up I could walk out into the woods out of our trailer and go hunting and fishing. Even though we didn’t have money, it didn’t cost a lot, plus it helped put food on the table. There were many Thanksgivings where I was the one who went out in the woods and brought home the turkey.”

Shawn’s will to survive helped him to thrive with Home Depot, eventually moving he and his fiance’ to the Midwest, to help open new stores in that part of the country. 70-to-80 hour work-weeks were the norm and Shawn was in the thick of it, working hard, creating success, and believing “this is what you do” when called upon to manage and lead. Except one piece was lacking and life has a way of reminding you of the concept of awareness in all areas of life.

“I had proposed to my girlfriend before we moved out to Illinois, but once we got there, I was working so much and it was really hard on her. I just thought, this is what you do. I think if you are pushing that hard and working that hard, it will all work. We had two beautiful cars, and a new townhouse I purchased. I was all in at work.”

But not all in at home. In fact, he was rarely home and one day when he came home – he found it empty. Shawn still remembers the day life taught him a dramatic lesson: “She, (my fiance’), had met someone else she was working with, packed up her stuff and left. When you are working that hard you almost can’t even pay attention to your personal life. You can’t blur the line and think that the work is all that’s important. If you’re not there someone else will be, period.”

Burned out, Shawn left Home Depot, and got into the cell phone business, working with T-Mobile. One day one of his reps called to tell Shawn he met a woman Shawn definitely needed to hire. “I asked him, can she sell? He said yes, I assume so, but she’s really hot, you’ve got to hire her. I told him to send me her resume. I did a phone call with her and picked a location to meet and talk about things. Long story short, Agnes and I have now been together for 14 years. We dated for about a year and then got married. It doesn’t take long when you know she’s the one. Agnes has since told me the day she saw me walk through the door, she said, ‘I’m going to get him’ and when I saw her I thought, ‘holy crap, she’s beautiful.'”

The pairing turned out to be prophetic, since Shawn married just the right woman to stand by his side and have faith, as he traveled the hard road which eventually led him to the doorway of the insurance sales group which has now become the very successful USHEALTH Advisors. In fact, after a few years of constant struggling to build, Agnes finally convinced Shawn to let her join him in the business. She now serves as a Satellite Division Leader for the company. And Shawn has learned it’s the company you keep that makes all the difference.

“I sure couldn’t have done this without Agnes,” says Shawn. “I mean who can you trust more than the one you love the most? I was always telling Agnes and Angie to hang with me, we’ll make it. I’m not stopping until we do. I find myself wiping away the tears sometimes as I remember all of the hard times. We felt the struggle, it wasn’t easy. I was signing leases for offices, hundreds of thousands in contracts, not really knowing what would happen. I had to reinvent my division three-or-four times, swallow my pride a lot. But I’ve learned not to look at what’s hard about things, but instead to make things work no matter what. For me remembering what it’s like with all the struggles I went through in childhood and in adult life, that drives me even more. There’s no way I’m going to slide back into that life.”

There’s the tenacity. It’s OK to reflect, to remember, but not to retreat. No retreat, no surrender.

Now, there’s success. Together, Shawn and Agnes have produced nearly $60 million in issued premium for USHEALTH Advisors. “The company’s motto this year is Pursuing Excellence,” says Shawn. “I add to that. Mine is I will do whatever it takes to make sure that we get bigger – and this year we are growing – again. We show people what we can do, what we have done and people at the office see that. There are a ton of leads and recruiting resources, it’s so much easier to come in now and have a really good shot at success. I see the new people coming in, cranking it out and producing a million-dollars-a-year in business.”

The systems and processes, the belief, the culture, and the mission of helping and serving built within the company, have paved the way for others to experience success. In a company of second chances, Shawn has made this happen for himself and his family. “I stay humble,” says Shawn. “We have the beautiful new home and invited the new agents to come over and see it all, see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s worth it, it’s definitely worth it.”

Success leaves clues and Shawn’s purpose to share his story is to make sure others know it can be done, it can happen. “The successful folks never stop. Once you get a taste of it, you just keep going and it becomes fun to see it all work. Do successful people struggle? Sure they do. But they are the ones who never stop going after it. Life is going to challenge you, it will challenge you every day. The goal is to stay positive, get through the challenges and you’ll learn from them. I believe the things that happened in my life happened for a reason and they happened in order, so I would be able to handle what was ahead and help others as well.”
It’s lessons learned, hard work and never stop trying. Now it’s all about paying it forward. Shawn says it’s the reason he does so many recruiting sessions each week, to bring others into the opportunity and show them the way. “The most important thing now is to see others have success and see them able to do the things we have done. I don’t want to give the new people a handout, I want to give them a hand up.”

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.


Your Storyteller,
Mark Brodinsky