Listen Up!

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Did you think your career path would go one direction, only to now be on an entirely different path altogether? Charisse McCumber thought she knew exactly where her professional journey was going to take her, until God laid out a different plan.

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4word: How did you first start working at your job? Was insurance a field you'd always wanted to work in?

Charisse: At the start of my senior year at Texas A&M University, my plan was to secure gainful employment by December to allow me to relish my last semester of college life before entering the “real world.” My love for people and summer internships in Human Resources had convinced me I wanted to start my career as a recruiter. I interviewed with a few companies and had received a verbal job offer that I had verbally accepted. All was going as I had planned!

Then the Enron scandal broke…and reality hit that the promise of the offer letter from Arthur Anderson in Houston was never coming. The economic downturn caused campus interviews to slow to a crawl and many of my friends were extending time in college by changing their graduation plans or immediately enrolling in Masters programs. My business school advisor suggested I work full-time in Human Resources to ensure I actually liked it before getting a Masters in HR (great advice!). My “back-up” plan was to get an emergency certification to teach elementary school.

South SudanThe perfect career plan I had made was not panning out, which was not acceptable to this perfectionist Magna Cum Laude graduate. The real world was already getting hard and I wasn’t even officially in it yet! I had previously committed to spend spring break on a mission trip through a group at A&M. So in March 2002, I decided to put the “What in the world will I do with my life?” quandary on hold and head to Juarez, Mexico, to build houses with a team.

Perspective shift! Camping in the desert and helping those living in cardboard boxes made my problems seem trivial. I was reminded the God we serve is faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it. On the last day of the trip, my house-team leader asked me to come to Dallas to visit him. I had no idea what he did for a living or why he wanted me to come visit his company…but I did know I did not want to move to Dallas.

One week later, I found myself in Dallas meeting with said house-team leader (a.k.a. the CEO of Holmes Murphy Texas) and received a job offer as he sped to the airport to drop me off. I had to quickly exit the car to catch the flight so I thanked him responding that I needed to pray about it. The disappointment was written all over his face as I hesitated to accept his gracious offer. But if I stayed in Texas, I wanted to be in Houston near my family or to move out of state. And the company was an insurance brokerage – who wants to work with insurance? Boring! He gave me a week to respond.

After internal debate, discussing with my parents and prayers that I genuinely hoped would receive an audible response from the Lord, I accepted the job. My father pointed out that I did not have any other offers for employment and received this one from being on a mission trip, so perhaps that meant the Lord had already spoken and I just wasn’t listening (great advice!). Fourteen years later, as a Shareholder at that same not-so-boring insurance brokerage, I know the truth was God had spoken and I just didn’t know then to listen for His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12 KJV).

ACAP Team Halloween4word: You got the opportunity to be on a unique start-up team within your company. Tell us about what you were able to help launch.

Charisse: I am fortunate to work for a secular business that has strong Christian leadership which creates a very unique culture. Employees are encouraged to best leverage our individual giftedness to maximize our strengths and serve our customers (Rom 12:6). This, coupled with an entrepreneurial environment, allowed me to be part of a start-up division in 2007 without quitting my day job. From 2007 to 2015, I served as Chief Operations Officer of ACAP Health Consulting (ACAP), in addition to maintaining my full-time job as an insurance broker/consultant with ACAP’s parent company, Holmes Murphy & Associates.

4word: You're now facing a transition at work. Was it a difficult decision to make, leaving your current division?

40Under40 AwardCharisse: At the beginning of this year, I transitioned into the role of Executive Advisor for ACAP to pursue an enterprise leadership position with Holmes Murphy. The President of Holmes Murphy approached me about this transition in the Fall of 2014 and my initial response was that it was like asking me to pick which child I loved more and I couldn’t choose. I love aspects of both my Holmes Murphy and ACAP positions, so it took me over a year to process that I could leave one of the roles behind.

Through intense prayer, several meetings, discussions with my family and friends, and hiring new resources, fourteen months later I was ready to make my decision. With a little more practice at listening to the Lord’s still, small voice, He made it very clear through various interactions and circumstances that I was to return to fully focusing on Holmes Murphy. Fortunately the Lord is patient with me…and so was the President of Holmes Murphy.

As one of the four founding members of ACAP, it is still difficult at times to let go. I will miss working closely with the team I was part of building the most. Thankfully, I am energized by seeing others rise to the challenge of the new opportunities created by my transition. I also am motivated by tackling the responsibilities of my new role.

4word: During your time at Holmes Murphy, you've had sponsors within your company invest in your professional journey. Do you advocate sponsorship? Who can benefit from it?

Charisse: I have been blessed by several sponsors in my career at Holmes Murphy. From the very beginning of my career, a dear woman invested time to help me adjust from college into a professional setting. She trained me on the technical aspects of my job but was more than a mentor or training resource. She helped me realize my “face was out loud” when I was overly expressive in a meeting, guided me in how to prioritize, and helped me be sensitive to the work I was creating for others in a project. I am a better professional and person for the time she spent with me and the wisdom she shared.

SponsorsTwo of the executives I have been fortunate to work closely with over the last decade are other sponsors integral to my development. On multiple occasions they challenge me to do more than I think is possible by daring me to take risks and providing a safety net for failure. These two men are the reason I had a successful stint in a sales career inside of the company while maintaining my operational responsibilities. They helped build confidence in my abilities and encouraged me to share my strong personality and opinions in an industry dominated by men. 

I use the word sponsor to indicate more than a mentor that provides career advice but, in addition, is an advocate. I’ve been fortunate to have longstanding relationships with my mentors that made them sponsors. They identified talents in me before I realized them, challenged me to deliver beyond what I thought possible and provided honest feedback to help in my growth and advancement. I would not be in a leadership position today without the support, belief and backing these sponsors have provided through the years.

While not all of my sponsors are Christians, I believe biblically we are called to live in community as a body of believers, which translates easily into being sponsors of one another, and can also develop into discipleship.  “You therefore, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful (wo)men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:1-2 NASB). To advocate for each other, share in joys and successes, help bear each other’s burdens... these are all things sponsors have done for me in my career.

Since sponsorship was provided to me very early in my career, it has been very natural for me to pay it forward through my own sponsorship of peers, direct reports, colleagues and new hires. Development is one of my top strengths so I find great joy in spotting potential in others and guiding them to progress. I think sponsorship is particularly valuable to women as we are less likely to advocate for ourselves. I still have my own sponsor!

4word: Why were you worried that your personal decision to use your vacation time to go on mission trips to South Sudan would not be received well by clients and coworkers? Has your boss been supportive of your decision to go on these trips?

Charisse: Three of the last four years I have gone on a mission trip to South Sudan. The first time I decided to go, I received overwhelming support from the leadership of my company, clients, family, and friends. Explaining I would be serving orphans and widows in a war-torn country helped garner that support. To my surprise, when I decided to return one year later it was less welcomed. I then learned some of my co-workers, clients, family and friends thought South Sudan - Celinathe 11-day trip was a one-time thing. “You’re going back?!” was a common reaction which puzzled me. From my vantage point, my returning was assumed. I wanted to respond with “Wait, what happened to the overwhelming support for those orphans and widows who captured my heart just a short twelve months ago?”

While I did garner the approval and support to allow me to return the second-year in a row, it came with the realization that not everyone was as invested as I personally have become in the world’s newest country. Before leaving for the trip, I conceded that I would take a year off before considering returning again. Balancing the short-term mission trip and my newly discovered love for the South Sudanese with the expectations of my co-workers, clients, family and friends was new for me to reconcile.

I was able to return last December to South Sudan, after taking a year off, due to the support of my boss.  I questioned if I should return and, thankfully, he encouraged me to pursue my passion for the trip and the people of South Sudan. When I told him the last time I announced I was going some colleagues and clients were not as understanding, he simply shrugged his shoulders and asked me who I reported to – I wasn’t sure if he meant him or God but either way, I felt empowered to go back on the trip!

4word: Have you been able to see God's hand in your professional journey? How can young professionals keep themselves open and receptive to God's will for their lives?   

Charisse: On those days that work feels like a job and not the career I relish, I am reminded that the Lord brought me to work at this company. When I am anxious about a meeting, a new project, a promotion or a conflict at work, again I am reminded that God has uniquely gifted me to handle what is ahead (Eph 2:10). I continually try to create a habit out of listening to His still, small voice. And when I fail to hear Him, I ask the Godly counsel I have surrounded myself with for their input to see if they heard something I missed!

When I first started working, my long-term career goal was to be a stay-at-home mom (a job I now believe would be much more challenging for me than my current career). I did not have aspirations to be more than an Account Manager and I certainly never saw myself in a leadership position.  As a 35-year old, single woman with no children, my life has not turned out according to the plan I set at 22. While I still hope my future will hold a husband and children, I trust God has designed me to be where I am, and I do my best to enjoy the present. Don’t get me wrong, more times than I would like to admit not getting “my way” is still a struggle, and my pouting rivals the best toddler’s tantrum. Thank God for His patience with me and His grace.

After less than two years in the role, I stepped down from my first position with direct reports to focus on new business acquisition, but my true motivation was to get out of managing people. It is both the best and most difficult part of my job. After another two years, I requested to be back in a position to manage team members and my boss was reluctant to return me to the role. I convinced him I was ready when I explained that I saw managing people as my personal ministry at work. In our company, the compensation for management is not commensurate with the additional workload, particularly if you want to manage and develop others well. The Lord gave me more than I could handle in my prior stint of managing others but used my failures to draw me near to Him and prepare me for the leadership role I am now performing. Through the process, I gained more compassion, patience and wisdom that I am not sure would have otherwise been possible.

It is easy to segment our professional life from our spiritual relationship with the Lord. Our God is gracious and often does not force His way in but, rather, desires us to invite Him in. He has always shown up… often not how I had expected or planned, but God still shows up. I have learned to hold my plans loosely and to listen to His still, small voice. His plans are more than I can imagine or comprehend, and after all, He’s the boss! When those toddler tantrums break out, I admit “I know, I know, you Potter, me clay.”  “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand,”  (Isaiah 64:8 emphasis mine).

The key to being open and receptive to God’s will is one seemingly simple word that is a struggle for the rest of our days this side of eternity… surrender.  Truly acting this out requires trust. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my eyes were opened to the fact that my lack of surrender to God was an outcome of not trusting Him. Until that point, I did not realize I had a trust issue with God. However, every time I take action without seeking His word, or when I am tired of waiting, or when I don’t like His answer, I demonstrate I truly do not trust that His ways are better than my own as we are promised in Isaiah 55:9. Increasing trust in my relationship with God works the same way as any other relationship…get to know Him well by spending time together. Just like any other relationship, I have to continue to tend to it to maintain the intimacy. It takes work, but when I take the time, it’s always worth it to be sweetly reminded I am a daughter of the King.

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Do you struggle to hear the “still small voice” in the chaos of your life? We hope that Charisse’s story has given you hope that God has a plan for you and He’s telling you what it is. You just have to take the time to pause and listen.

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As Vice President, Charisse is a member of the Dallas management team, Executive Advisor of subsidiary company, ACAP Health, and serves as a lead strategist for several key customers. Charisse provides clients with support in creating their benefits strategy, leads the team that produces the analytical, actuarial and financial works, as well as, directs the account operations.  Charisse has been with Holmes Murphy for thirteen years and brings a wealth of knowledge in strategy and design work with large, complex organizations. Her clients include Atmos Energy, Austin Industries, Dallas Habitat for Humanity, G6 Hospitality/Motel 6, Le Duff America/la Madeleine and Sabre.

In 2013, Charisse was named one of Business Insurance magazine’s 40 under 40. The prestigious award recognizes individuals for their exceptional client service, leadership and industry expertise.

Charisse earned her Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resource Management from Texas A&M University in College Station. She is actively involved in the community, serves as a member of the Outreach Committee at Northwest Bible Church and has participated in several missionary efforts abroad.