Has it only been a year? When I think back to what life was like when I was named Broker of the Year in April 2015, it feels like I was in a completely different industry. So what’s changed? In a word: everything.

First, I have taken more responsibility for the role I have previously played in contributing to the worsening quality of our health care and increasing costs of our health insurance. In retrospect, it seems silly to think that continuing to flip carriers, raise deductibles, lessen benefits, narrow networks, and toss in more poorly designed wellness programs — all while employees and employers still pay more year after year — would fix the problem. Doesn’t more of the same just produce the same result? I vowed to change this, and the results have been dramatic.

Second, I moved out of a world where my income level and my sales success were dictated by carriers. Why should I depend on them to 1) give me the rates I need to close the sale, and 2) pay me an ever decreasing commission for an ever increasing amount of work? No more! With increasing frequency, employers pay me directly. They know how much they pay me, what they get in return, and I therefore have a clear set of criteria any of my competition must meet to even have a conversation with them. We are earning more business mid-year, and becoming the sole consultant trusted to go to market. After all, do they take two lawyers to court and pay one after the verdict, or have two accountants complete their tax returns and pay the one with the better refund? I think not.

Third, I realized the more I think outside-the-box, the more success I have. I was terrified to bring non-traditional solutions to my clients and their employees. I had nightmares about talking fees with the CFO. Rolling out technology that I barely understood at the time gave me the sweats. And the chutzpah it took to tell a prospect I wouldn’t quote their plan if they weren’t willing to operate under these new rules of engagement was huge. But I knew it was better for me and, more importantly, for them.

So what is my world like today? Well I write fewer groups. But many of the ones I do close generate high five or six figures. And I’m no longer rushing to win the business against a renewal date. I now offer solutions to real HR problems, increase efficiencies, education, and overall satisfaction with the benefits their employer spends big bucks on. Increasingly, we are expanding networks (or even getting rid of them completely!) and still offering lower cost and better access to care, lower out of pockets, and more transparency (which allows people to see how backwards our system is and work on fixing it).

And I have become more willing to share all my successful strategies (and not-so-successful ones, too). I hope this will help raise the bar of what’s expected from a benefits professional, and not only make all of us better but increase the positive impact we have on the system and the lives of those we touch. I have been in this business since I was 17, and have never been more optimistic about the impact we can make and success we can achieve.

Finally, I have met some really amazing and like-minded people. The small island I was on a year ago has a few other inhabitants now — and I’m grateful for the company.