Back A blog post from awards finalist Claire Russell- part 1
Have you ever responded to one of those posts on Facebook or Linkedin in where the OP asks “what are your three best qualities?” ? Well, I have. Recently actually. Maybe I was procrastinating about something else I should have been doing, but I spent a good while thinking about it and I was pretty happy with my response in the end:
I learned about resilience at quite a young age and it has been the bedrock of my journey in life and in business so far.
At the start of the school summer holidays in my thirteenth year, I woke up one morning in excruciating pain. I had somehow contracted sepsis - we never discovered how – one doctor told me the infection could even have entered my body via a little paper cut. Hours later, I was having surgery and then unconscious in ICU and my parents were told I might die.
The sepsis could have gone to my heart or my brain - instead it made its’ way to my right hip. I survived, of course, but my hip and top of my femur were destroyed. I couldn’t walk unaided from that day and I spent the next five years in constant, terrible pain.
I had the option of surgery to fuse my hip which would have taken away the pain but put me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I decided at 13 to live with the pain and wait for surgery when I was fully grown, to replace my hip & rebuild my pelvis. I lost my teens really - it’s a blur of pain & hospital visits- but I was determined not to lose myself.
During that awful time, I started out in my career in insurance, as an office junior in a general brokerage in Accrington, at just 16. I’d love to say that this was all part of some grand plan for my life and career. The reality is that, because of my health issues, and a strong desire to get out there and make my own way in the world; I had given up on my a-levels after just 6 weeks and had been instructed by my Dad to (in his words):
“Get my arse in to town and find a job”.
I set out to do just that and spotted a sign in the window of a high street broker in Accrington town centre, advertising a vacancy for an office junior. I thought “that’ll do until I figure out what I want to do”. It turned out this IS what I wanted to do.
I threw myself in to my job – I was the first in the office in the morning and the last to leave at the end the day. I wanted to learn everything. In time I graduated from filing and spent many many hours standing at the counter, with rating guides all around me, doing manual quotes for motorbikes and taxis.
I loved it. I knew really quickly that I wanted to learn about commercial insurance and was over the moon when our Commercial Director offered to mentor me.
I had my hip surgery when I was 18 – it was a massive operation and a long recovery process but I was back at work in 3 months and felt like I could start living the life I wanted. Around this time, my director told me in an appraisal that he thought I should gain some more experience and then plan to set up my own business. His incredibly honest perspective was, that as a young woman in a very male dominated world, I wouldn’t get as far as I deserved and was capable of, unless I ran the show. I never forgot that advice.
3 months later I was sat in a pub enjoying Sunday lunch with my friends when life dealt me a staggering blow. One minute I was deliberating over my dessert choice and the next moment I felt like someone had thrown a bucket of ice over my head. I still don’t know how, but I immediately knew that I was having a stroke. I was in and out of consciousness for the next few hours and I don’t remember much, except for hearing a doctor tell my parents that I was having some kind of bleed on the brain, and the situation was critical. Learn about my recovery and journey into running my own insurance broking business in my next article.