Bigger Than Myself – Daniel Benz

“To me, real growth can happen when you’re honest with yourself and you can make a commitment to say, “Hey, I need to make something happen and I need to change. And you do it because you need to do it, not because someone else got you to do it.” – Daniel Benz

Change is hard. Sometimes very hard, which is why so few put in the effort to make it happen. But change is necessary and on the other side of it can be a breathtaking, sometimes soulfully-rewarding experience, perhaps even a brand new life.

Daniel Benz, one of the most successful leaders at USHEALTH Advisors, in all his honesty and vulnerability, is ready to share his story… and for all those reading this, reflecting on 2022 and looking with hope toward 2023, Daniel’s story may put life in perspective for you. It’s not what happens, it’s how we overcome.

Turn your setback into a setup for a comeback.

It was 2015 when Daniel, at the advice of his brother, first joined USHA. At the time, Daniel was working as a server and  as a bartender at a local restaurant… but when he first walked into the USHA office in Nashville, his perspective on work, life and what’s possible, shifted a bit.

“I remember coming in and feeling just a different type of way where people were smiling,” says Daniel. “People were laughing, and people were really happy to see each other. People were actually celebrating each other. Coming from the restaurant business, that’s not a business where people are happy to necessarily be there. You work in a restaurant, like I was, to keep whatever lifestyle you have going. There’s nothing deeper than that. There’s not a big why that you want to help people or anything else. So at the time, I didn’t understand why these people at USHA were happy, but I was like, oh my gosh, this seems like something special. The problem for me was, I was living this life of sobriety that I didn’t choose for myself. I got licensed, I got into the business, and I started working and within about four months of working here, I relapsed.”

To put this all in perspective, we have to journey back to the beginning of Daniel’s story, where happiness was but a facade, fabricated and fueled each day by alcohol and more.

“I grew up in a very traditional Southern Baptist home,” says Daniel. “We always went to church on Wednesdays and Sundays, my mom was on staff at what would be considered to be a megachurch down here in Nashville, and so not only was I in church every single Wednesday and Sunday, but I was at church in between those days too. And when I saw an opening at probably 14 or 15 years old to start drinking, which is something that was, of course, in a southern Baptist home just a no-go, I decided to dive in.”

“I guess there was just that feeling of acceptance and that identity that I was starting to create at a young age where it’s like when I drink, I feel different, and I have fun, and the relationships with the people that I’m around when I’m doing it, seem to grow in that experience. I know my parents hated it and I got caught a few times growing up, but for the most part, as bad as this sounds, I was able to really put on a mask and they didn’t really know how extensive my use of alcohol and even drugs was back then.”

“I would find myself as I got older, going to friends’ houses and doing those things, and I found a lot of  my identity in it, where I would be the life of the party. That feeling was something that was so important and special to me that later on in life that it became who I was as a person. But that’s where it all started, you make a lot of friends when you go out and you drink. That’s how I thought that relationships were built, and that’s where I rooted everything. By the time I got into high school and into college, that was who I was – I’m going to be the best partier, and I’m going to make all these friends, and this is going to be great. Obviously, it didn’t end well.”

Despite the addiction, though he wasn’t able to finish college, Daniel still managed to pull himself together every day and hold down a job, though the job he was doing was bringing him down, farther down the rabbit hole he was digging himself.

“I got out of school and went into serving and bartending in restaurants, which is not a good thing. In recovery, one of the phrases or sayings that they have is if you spend time at a barbershop, eventually you’re going to get your hair cut. Alcoholism and bartending don’t mix.”

The addiction, which continued on for nearly a decade, eventually became a family focus in August of 2015, just a few months before Daniel found USHEALTH Advisors.  It was Daniel’s parents and his girlfriend at the time, who staged an intervention.

“This was more of an ultimatum,” says Daniel. “Where it wasn’t my innermost me being honest with myself saying I need help, this is really bad. I knew that I was in a bad spot because I was already experiencing some significant physical symptoms and withdrawals of alcoholism, whether it was shakes and things like that, it was really, really bad. But the girl that I was with and my parents got together and said, “Hey, you’re either going to go to treatment or you’re going to be homeless.” Yet I still took advantage of that proposal and I said, “Give me one day and I’ll let you guys know,” and that night I just went nuts and partied. And then the next day I said, “Okay, take me to rehab.” So they took me to rehab, but it didn’t stick.”

“And the reason it didn’t stick is because I was doing it for other people, I was doing it for the girl, I was doing it for my parents.  Deep down I wasn’t ready to get sober and to live a sober life, I still felt like that there was more to experience before I really made a commitment to all of it.”

In November of 2015, Daniel took his shot at joining USHEALTH Advisors. But his shot at sobriety and being an insurance agent was short-lived, the challenges of life got in the way, and soon enough Daniel’s addiction was stronger than his conviction.

“I was living this life of sobriety that I didn’t choose for myself,” says Daniel. “Then one of my best friends died, my girl broke up with me, my parents after that, because at that point I had relapsed and was drinking, kicked me out of the house. I sold my car because I didn’t have any money and I needed more money for alcohol. That was 2016, and that was when by far, the depths of my addiction was as bad as it could be.”

“At one point, one of the Field Training Agents in my office had an old truck and he let me borrow it. It was a 1984 Dodge Ram, four speed, with a big bench seat, and I slept in it. I lived in his truck for a little bit and I would couch surf. The summer of 2016, that’s all I did. I would barely come into the office and then it got to the point during open enrollment in 2016, I made a little bit of money, so I basically stayed in a motel, and I realized that if I keep going like this, I’m going to die. That’s when it was really, really eye-opening to me. It was deep down, I had finally surrendered to that truth that if I continue like this, I don’t get to live anymore.”

There’s not a human being alive who hasn’t faced, or is going to face significant challenges in life, either by your own hand or by circumstance. In Daniel’s case, his awareness that if he didn’t change, life might simply push him out of the way – was an awareness which was the turning point in his life.

“The decision was made on January 22nd, 2017,” says Daniel, “when I called my parents and I said, “I need you guys to come pick me up.” I was at a bar, of course, and I was like, “You need to come pick me up and I need to find a rehab facility. I have to get in immediately.”

This time there would be no going back.

This time because it was Daniel’s internal decision and not an ultimatum from others, his stint in rehab took hold, it made a difference because Daniel wanted to get better. The rehab and recovery was actually extended from 30 to 60 days… and included  extensive monitoring and counseling. Daniel Benz was finally going to break free.

At the time Daniel was still working at USHEALTH Advisors, barely making ends meet since he had been using his earnings to feed his addiction. But reflecting back, Daniel says he remembers the other phone call he made on the way to rehab that night… to Andy Montague, who was Daniel’s Division Sales Leader, and is now one of the top Regional Sales Leaders in the country.

“Andy Montague, I love him to death,” says Daniel. “I was still absolutely so drunk on the way to rehab, but I remember calling Andy and I explained my situation to him because there was always a connection with him and I, where it almost felt like he was a second father. And I still remember this… when I got out of treatment, it was a Thursday, that Friday we have our big divisional sales meeting with Andy, and it became a big welcome back party for me. Now, mind you, I’m an agent, I’d only been there for like a year and two months. I’d barely issued over $100,000 in business in 12 months, so it’s not like I’m this massive producer… and Andy literally has cupcakes for me to share with the team and welcome me back.”

It was this display of heart and of caring that Daniel found so endearing, not just from Andy, but from all those on his team at USHEALTH Advisors, and as he slowly got back into a groove, Daniel knew one day he’d pay it forward… but not just yet, there was still work to be done on the inside, to attract what he wanted on the outside. He was literally only “halfway” there.

Coming out of rehab, Daniel took up residence in a halfway house, or sober living as he calls it, and after only a few months, he ended up managing the house. But his increased responsibility for others, wasn’t met with a better way of handling life’s basic necessities for himself. Years of addiction had stunted Daniel’s emotional growth.

“Just because the alcohol and drugs were gone didn’t mean that there was not still chaos,” admits Daniel. “I had issues with understanding how to manage any money or manage my life. And I would not come into work for days after I’d make a $1,000 paycheck – I’d be gone for two weeks because I’m spreading that $1,000 out – and I’m playing golf, I’m doing just the dumbest stuff that has nothing to do with anything. It’s like you stuck a 13-year-old boy into an adult situation and you said, “Hey, here’s $1,000.” What would that 13-year-old do? It would probably be pretty similar to what I did. So that struggle continued from March until October of  2017.”

But around that time, Daniel got some sage advice from one of his leaders.

“Daniel, I don’t know why you’re not good at this job,” his leader said. “You should be one of the best agents in the entire country, but you’re not.” And he was very straightforward and direct. He was like, “I don’t know if it’s that you’re just lazy, or you just don’t understand what you’re doing, as far as you don’t know how to work properly.”

The conversation triggered something inside Daniel. Now that he was clean and sober, he could focus on a few things we all need to focus on to move the needle forward in life… vision and clarity.

“I told that leader I was going to make a commitment,” says Daniel. “That I was going to show up at the office at 7:00 AM, which is something I would never do before because that’s just way too early. When you get into treatment, after treatment is over, you get a sponsor to help keep you on the right track. And I would complain to my sponsor, Paul. I was like, “Paul, I can never wake up on time.” I would get to the office anywhere from 8 am to 11 am, never at 7:00. But I committed to this leader who had confronted me, that I was going to get there at 7:00 am and I told him, I’m going to work as hard as I physically can. I’m going to call, text and e-mail as many people as possible.”

The sage advice was simple: put in the work. And to do it harder than Daniel had ever worked before. The advice worked… as did Daniel… and before too long he was into a rhythm that changed his whole life. He was writing a ton of individual health insurance policies and becoming one of the top agents at USHEALTH Advisors.

“Leading up to open enrollment I had a run of successful weeks and people were noticing, and this one agent comes up to me and says, “Daniel, your story for 2017 is pretty remarkable, especially from where you were in January. “This is the same guy that let me sleep in his truck, so he had seen everything that I had gone through. And he’s like, “Your story’s pretty incredible.”

“Your story will be your gift that the world will fall in love with.” – Unknown

When you change your inner world, the outer world starts to take notice as well. So it wasn’t just work that was getting better, another person also came along…someone who was attracted to Daniel, who had become this new man, emerging from the fog which had formerly enveloped his whole life, but who was now shining much brighter.

That person was Shelby.

“We had a regional leadership meeting in July of 2018,” says Daniel, “and the Knoxville office came to visit our Nashville office. At the time, myself and Alec Hellein were the top two agents in our region every single week. And so the Satellite leader in the Knoxville office tells this agent Shelby, “Hey, you need to go talk to Daniel and Alec and get some pointers.”

“Shelby comes up to me, but at this point I had made a commitment to myself that I wasn’t going to talk to girls, that was not a priority. I was also deathly afraid to talk to them because I had such a buffer with the alcohol and the drugs, I would talk to any girl at any time for whatever reason when I was drunk. But take those away, and I didn’t have confidence in myself at all anymore, so I just was like I’m not going to pursue women, I’m going to pursue business, and that’s it. But Shelby comes in, comes over to my desk and says, “Daniel, can you text me whatever your intro text is when you reach out to clients?” Apparently that was her way of getting my number,” laughs Daniel. “I didn’t know it, I’m just naive, I said, “Yeah, I would love to help out.”

“So Shelby got my number. I’m just trying to be helpful, just be a good leader, and a good agent. But fate stepped in because Andy Montague kept scheduling these leadership meetings on consecutive weekends, and the Knoxville office was coming into town frequently for about, I think it was four or five weeks. It was wild. And in those four or five weeks, our relationship went from helping to something quite a bit more serious, and to the point where there was a big company leaders meeting in New Orleans, and that’s where things really got going. By the last week of 2018, Shelby had moved here to Nashville.”

The move proved to be a life-changer and from where Daniel had been before… maybe a life-saver. The two married in September of 2020 and now have one daughter, Murphy and another one on the way in just a few weeks. Shelby works as Daniel’s Field Sales Leader, but the couple works hard to keep personal life and business in the proper perspective, respecting each other’s responsibilities at work and reconnecting at home to raise and care for the family.

It’s the same mindset of HOPE Daniel says he brings to his role as a Satellite Sales Leader each day. Daniel says you have to focus on and be there for those agents entrusted to your care as well. And Daniel has done just that, leading by example by issuing more than $5 million in personal production and even more impressive, leading his teams to more than $70 million in business in his USHA career. He’s climbing the ladder as one of the most successful leaders in the company… one day at a time.

“It’s all about how do I create a different mindset for someone where they understand that this is their business,” says Daniel. “It’s up to them to succeed, and if they really want this, there’s going to be sacrifice. But ultimately, this is a platform where life change can happen if people are willing to put in the work. And of course I use my own experience. I share it from a “Hey, I’ve been there, I’ve been the guy that shows up and just goes through the motions, to a commitment of how did I go from an agent that had, in two years, issued maybe $250,000 worth of business to submitting three quarters of a million dollars worth of business in one open enrollment, almost overnight? How did that transition happen? It was because I realized I had to work for what I wanted. And I think especially in our day and age, it’s really hard to find people that those two things can connect in their head and they can really make it happen.”

“I’m the example of someone that went from being homeless, using drugs, and drinking, and just the worst life that anyone could ever imagine ,while still working in this business, but getting sober. And then being able to understand that as a person, if I’m real with me, then the decisions that I make and the commitments that I make to myself – then you get to a point of vulnerability that I get to say okay, I’m going to have to get outside of this box that I’ve been so comfortable in. Once I came to that decision and I was willing to work inside that decision, then my life changed.

And so with all he’s been through, what advice can Daniel give to a new agent trying to get their career off the ground?

“To me, to sum everything up… don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Outward vulnerability, of course, is huge and very important with other folks, but inward vulnerability to me is way more important. And that ability to control that inner monologue that you have with yourself, where you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, and to be able to say, “Hey, I’m going to make a change and I’m going to commit to this. I’m going to put the pen to paper, I’m going to put the boots to the ground, and I’m going to do it.” I think that, to me, is the biggest part of my entire story – life change can happen with just a single decision of I’m going to do it. I’m going to make sure it is something bigger than myself.”

_____________________________________________________________

Daniel’s story is a powerful one, one that should be shared since he is not alone in suffering from the debilitating and sometimes fatal path of addiction. Alcohol and Drug addiction is a very real challenge for many people across this country. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a National Helpline which is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

If you need help, or just someone to talk to, there are plenty of resources available. Visit https://www.samhsa.gov/
Or reach out to a family member, friend, or co-worker and share what’s going on. Your life is too valuable. Get the help you need.
You Matter.

Your Storyteller,
Mark Brodinsky

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