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Becoming Undeniable with Efen Thao


Join us on the latest episode of Lead. Empower. Grow. as we sit down with Efen Thao, a former law enforcement officer from Alaska who made a dramatic career pivot to become a successful business builder in financial services.

Efen shares his unique journey and the common thread of protection that runs through both of his careers. From sharing the challenges he faced in law enforcement to explaining how he helps secure the financial futures of families, Efen’s story is one of resilience, learning and empowerment.

Tune in to discover how Efen found his path to becoming someone's superhero in unexpected ways.


Jeff Lehman  0:02  

You're listening to Lead. Empower. Grow., a podcast featuring entrepreneurs who lead productive teams, empower their communities and grow successful businesses of their own.

Jeff Lehman  0:10  

Today's episode features another young business builder, Efen Thao, who has an incredible story of going from law enforcement in Alaska of all places, flying around to different townships, to finding his way to First Financial Security as a life insurance agent. And we talked about the connective tissue, the through line, that runs from protecting people as a law enforcement agent to protecting people's future and families as an insurance agent — something that may not seem as glamorous in a Hollywood sense, but essentially does the exact same job.

He also had some great moments of wisdom: We talked about learning to love to fail — and how that will lead you to success — and how the market doesn't discriminate, and how to make yourself undeniable, in his words. It's a great talk, I can't wait for you to hear it, so let's just dive right in.

Thank you so much, Efen, for coming on the podcast. I like to start with my agents: What did you do before FFS? How did you find First Financial Security? Were you in the business, the industry or what were you... what were you up to before you found us?

Efen Thao  1:14  

Again, Jeffrey, thank you for having me on here. I appreciate you guys giving the time for us. You know, before joining First Financial Security, I worked as a law enforcement officer in the state of Alaska. 

Jeff Lehman  1:31  

Whoa! Whoa, okay. That's a cool story. Well, yeah, you're my first Alaskan, first one who's ever touched way up there.

Efen Thao  1:39  

So what I did was, actually, I had the privilege to work with different agencies up there, up in Alaska. There are small little villages around Alaska that you can fly to. And, you know, everything up there, the law enforcement officers, they're more... as the whole state, in different areas, a lot of the law enforcement officers, they're really — they're basically a really big family up there.

Jeff Lehman  2:03  

Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah.

Efen Thao  2:04  


Jeff Lehman  2:05  

Are there a lot? I mean, it's a big state, obviously, but not a lot of people, so I wonder how big the force is, or... Yeah, it sounds like you're flying around to those tiny places, so what's that like? 

Efen Thao  2:15  

No, you're you're definitely correct. So, I know in Anchorage, you know, there's the Anchorage Police Department, there's the University of Alaska Police Department, and I mean, if you think about it, there's probably about 300,000 people just in Anchorage. But covering about 300,000 people, there may be about 30 people covering that much. They are 30 law enforcement officers that cover that much. So, you think about it, there's not a lot. But people up there are very, very nice, and they're very law-enforcement oriented.

Jeff Lehman  2:53  

Yeah, that's what I figured. It seems like they're pretty chill — No pun intended. It seems like they'd be relaxed. I don't know. Yeah, to live up there, you probably have to have your own vibe. Take care of yourself.

Efen Thao  3:06  

Oh, yeah. And then, I mean, everybody goes up there and they talk about the nature, and the salmon.

Jeff Lehman  3:13  

Oh yeah.

Efen Thao  3:13  

The moose, and —

Jeff Lehman  3:14  

The moose!

Efen Thao  3:14  

You know, and the caribou... and, you know, the terrain. And it is exactly what people talk about. Alaska's just... it's a whole new world. And you know, you can be walking, and you can look maybe about 30–40 miles away. And it's a whole new world over there, because maybe it's raining on that side over there.

Jeff Lehman  3:35  

[Laughs]. Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, it's so big. Yeah. Is it... And aren't, like, days longer and nights longer up there? Are you that far north? Like, how does it affect the sunlight?

Efen Thao  3:46  

Yeah, so anchorage isn't as far north, but I mean, going up to Fairbanks, that's a little bit farther north up there than Anchorage itself. It's... you know, even though you're not all the way up north, you still get more night. You know, when I first went up there, it was more like... Let's see here, it'd be 11:00 PM, and the sun would still be up, and you'd know that you got school the next day, but you don't realize that it's 11:00 PM. [Laughs].

Jeff Lehman  3:46  

That's crazy! Yeah, wow. [Laughs]. Almost closing down a bar, and it's still like the sun's out. You're like, "Whoa, it's almost midnight!" [Laughs].

Efen Thao  4:15  

Oh, yeah, no.

Jeff Lehman  4:20  

That's crazy. [Laughs].

I've had plenty of those days.

Efen Thao  4:33  

Yeah, but I was a law enforcement up there, and, you know, I loved it up there. But...

Jeff Lehman  4:37  


Efen Thao  4:38  

But really — you know, law enforcement has always been my dream job, I'll tell you that. I grew up in Los Angeles, and I always thought law enforcement officers were superheroes when I was young. And when I got into the field, I thought — you know, I knew that I couldn't save everyone, but I knew that one day I could be somebody's superhero. And that's why I did it.

Jeff Lehman  5:07  


Efen Thao  5:08  

But, you know, getting into that and then looking into... I actually got introduced to First Financial Security through my mom.

Jeff Lehman  5:17  


Efen Thao  5:17  

And growing up, my mom was... she was a single mom for a long time. And everything, she'd say, she was doing for us. And we knew that. And even at the age of 21, 22... Sometimes we think that we know more than our parents at that age.

Jeff Lehman  5:43  

[Laughs]. Oh yeah. I was there.

Efen Thao  5:46  

And I was the same. I mean, I got right into law enforcement in 2015, and in 2016, I joined First Financial Security just to help her out.

Jeff Lehman  5:57  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. On the side, like a starting-part-time kind of thing.

Efen Thao  6:00  

Yeah, I mean, I wasn't even doing part time. I was just like, "Hey — you know what — why not?"

Jeff Lehman  6:05  

Yeah, yeah.

Efen Thao  6:06  

Just to help you out.

Jeff Lehman  6:07  

Be part of the team, yeah, definitely.

Efen Thao  6:08  

Yeah. And so I started with her in 2015. For 2015, 2016, 2017, I did the law enforcement thing. And I really, really look back at how much I'd done in such a short time in the law enforcement field. I mean, I was very successful in there. And it was at that point of my life where I said, "There's probably more out there than this." And so I kind of dug into, in 2018, more into First Financial Security, and came to love the company and learn more and see the world a little differently, you know?

Jeff Lehman  6:56  

Yeah, when you describe superheroes — law enforcement — that is kind of what everyone I interview feels about First Financial Security. Even though it sounds absolutely crazy to say insurance agents would be superheroes — at least I would've seemed crazy before I got onto the mic. But after interviewing so many people... I mean, that is just as effective of a way to save people. It isn't glamorous like the movies, but it absolutely is saving families.

Efen Thao  7:22  

Oh, definitely.

Jeff Lehman  6:56  

Just not in the same way. It seems like it translates in a way that I never would have thought it would.

Did your mom stay in Los Angeles, or did you all move to Alaska?

Efen Thao  7:33  

So we were in Los Angeles in 2010. And we actually moved out of Los Angeles because of the recession.

Jeff Lehman  7:44  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. 

Efen Thao  7:47  

Yeah, it was in 2008. I mean, 2007, 2008 really hit hard, and it became very difficult to live in a place where you don't have family, where there's no other family except for your mom.

Jeff Lehman  8:01  

Yeah, and already a pretty expensive city, very expensive.

Efen Thao  8:03  

Yeah, it's already expensive, and I mean, it's not getting any cheaper.

Jeff Lehman  8:05  

No. [Laughs].

Efen Thao  8:10  

During that time, people were being laid off left and right. And so, that was a big move for us to go somewhere else. Especially Alaska, we didn't know anything about it.

Jeff Lehman  8:23  

One of the farthest, year.

Efen Thao  8:25  

All we knew was that family was up there.

Jeff Lehman  8:27  

Good. Okay, good. Yes. Yeah, that's important, you're right: Following the people who can support you and support each other.

Efen Thao  8:35  


Jeff Lehman  8:35  

That's awesome. Yeah. Did you... You said you wanted to kind of broaden your horizons — Was it just that natural? Or was it that, with law enforcement, did it tire you out? Was it too hard? Or was it more just like, "I'm just starting to want to explore other things?" The way you talk about it sounds like it was a very calm transition, but when did you step into doing First Financial Security full time? I know you gave us a year, but what was that like? Was it kind of like a one-day, drop-it-all thing, or...?

Efen Thao  9:10  

[Laughs]. You know, if it was a one-day, drop-it-all thing, then I probably would have done a lot faster.

Jeff Lehman  9:15  

[Laughs]. Yeah.

Efen Thao  9:17  

But you know, the transition from law enforcement to the First Financial side... It was... difficult, but it was an easy decision as well. 

Jeff Lehman  9:36  


Efen Thao  9:36  

And the reason why I say that is because I've always been that person. I love the adrenaline. I've always been that person to be a little bit more risky, and see what you I do and how far I can take it.

Jeff Lehman  9:57  


Efen Thao  9:57  

And to me, law enforcement, it's a hard job. It's a difficult job to do. And to be in that kind of position. You have to know how to talk, communicate,and understand everybody in a little different way.

Jeff Lehman  10:14  

Yeah. Yeah.

Efen Thao  10:15  

And the only thing that I came up with was business. Business is right around the same alley. I mean, of course, it's a lot safer, physically. 

Jeff Lehman  10:30  

Yeah. [Laughs].

Efen Thao  10:30  

But you know, financially, it's a whole different ballpark there.

Jeff Lehman  10:36  

Yeah, yeah, the adrenaline comes from going out on your own. Building your own business. Entrepreneurship has been a high stakes game, always. Oh yeah.

Efen Thao  10:42  

Yeah, and so like they say, you basically have a good paying job that's paying you maybe $80,000–$90,000 a year, and you just leave it and go to a place, a different position, that is not paying you anything, but you still have to work 24/7.

Jeff Lehman  10:46  

Yeah, exactly. Like the ceiling's higher, but the the floor is also way lower — down to like, "Well, we could make nothing if we're not doing it right, if we're not doing anything." [Laughs].

Efen Thao  11:12  

Yeah, and so that's what really caught me. I've always been a person to take on challenges that are very... almost impossible or difficult tasks to do. And I want to hopefully achieve it in a different way, or a better way than most people that have came through before me.

Jeff Lehman  11:34  

Yeah, yeah, that's awesome. So you saw the challenges, and that was almost the motivation. The challenge was what spurred you on, it sounds like. Like, "I can conquer that."

And you had, well, your mom. She was in it. So you had a model. To see something is to kind of know how to start it, in a way. Versus if you had absolutely nobody in the family who had done it before.

Efen Thao  11:54  

Yeah. Well, that was the biggest motivation, I think, for me, was seeing that.

So, my mom is an immigrant from Laos. And seeing somebody coming from Laos, not going to middle school, high school, no other education, and us being born and raised in America, and taking things for granted. It's like, "Okay, well, somebody right next to me — my own parents — can make a crazy amount of money that people in this world rarely see.

Jeff Lehman  12:30  


Efen Thao  12:30  

You know? And for us to go get our bachelor's or master's degrees? And I'm not saying that school is not good. I think if you're going for a career where you're going to need those degrees, definitely do. But I'm just saying that you never think that all you have to do is do the work, in those kinds of field, and you can be successful, let alone more successful than most people in this world.

Jeff Lehman  13:01  

Yeah. Yeah, we talk about that kind of stuff a lot in the podcast, and it's not like we're talking down to school. It's more about the way it's sold here. In the past generations, it's been sold as if it's for everyone, when in reality, nothing in the world is for every single person. We all should decide our own way. Yeah. School itself, ideally, would be for the people who really want to learn — but it's been sold to the people want to get rich, too. And it's like, "Well, not necessarily... There are other ways to do that."

Efen Thao  13:35  

Yeah. I mean, I tell you this: I went to school for law enforcement and criminal justice, and I paid for college loans and student loans and things like that. And after being able to do that and making what I thought was great money? Compare that with or against even my own mom... It's like I'm just a little cub still.

Jeff Lehman  14:11  


Efen Thao  14:11  

You have to learn the process. Because when we're not humble and we think that we know more than you because we went to school, things like that bring you back down to reality and say, "Hey, you know what? You have to stay humble and you have to learn from other people still."

Jeff Lehman  14:33  

Yeah, particularly immigrant stories like her own and yours, where it's complete, absolute adventure, but also scary and struggling change, to be across an ocean with no education or anything. But to achieve true success, just by completely your own will... That's impressive, to say the least. [Laughs].

Efen Thao  14:58  

You know, when we talk about challenges in the business — or just challenges in life — one of the one of the biggest, I tell you, is... When I first started First Financial Security.

Jeff Lehman  15:18  


Efen Thao  15:19  

I worried about other people's perspective of me and their opinions so much that I built this fear in the back of my head. I was thinking that they were thinking of me somehow, in some way, even when they don't see me.

That's probably one of the biggest things that affects the individual when they first start — but it's, again, part of it. It's part of it. You need that. You need to feel that.

Jeff Lehman  15:58  

Yeah. Yeah. I know what you mean. It's a big part of, like... It's hard to train people, or help them overcome fear, but it is half the battle. Just so much of the business is learning to bounce back from rejection — the resilience — because it's hard. You're out there selling, but you're also delivering a message that people may have the wrong idea about or not know anything at all about. So you're facing rejection. Yeah, every single person, deep down, has something whispering, "What are they thinking about me?"

Efen Thao  16:33  

I think when you're first starting, that's one of the biggest challenges. Because, like I said, you were part of a very successful career in your old job, but the transition is where everybody in your old job says, "So why are you going to leave a $90,000–$100,000 paying job to go chase after something that is only hope? It's only a dream. And it's still very far away from you." Or something like that. But I feel like when you are born different — and different as in good, and you know that you can take the challenges, you can take the hits — you want to go out there and either prove them wrong or prove to yourself that you can do it. And just knowing that you've proven so many people that doubted you wrong and fought those challenges.

What I learned to do was love to fail. I love to fail. Because it just makes me a better person — and not just that, but be a better student and a better teacher.

Jeff Lehman  17:57  

Yeah. It puts into words something that we hit often, which is: You have to love to fail because it's going to happen. If you go too long without failing — unless you really keep your wits about you — if you've just never failed, then the first time you do, it's going to be a completely new thing and you're it's going to pop the balloon. You won't know how to deal with it at all. But loving to fail... It's the Law of Averages. Because being good at failing means you're going to try just as much and get just as many successes, you know?

Efen Thao  18:26  

Oh, yeah. Say for instance, somebody is going to pinch you. Typically, what we'd like to do is pull back. Go away from them. But what if I told you that if you let that person pinch you — and you let that person continuously pinch you — eventually, you won't feel anything anymore? You wouldn't even feel. It would be a part of you. So that's why if you can learn fast about the challenges that you're facing and the fears that are coming, and play them in your mind like it's already happening to you 1000 times, then it becomes easier for you in life. And easier for you in your business, because you basically have skin in the game.

Jeff Lehman  19:20  

That's great. It makes me think... So you're out in the world. Everyone's pinching you — even if it's not just the same person — and if you learn to not be afraid of the pinch, then eventually, one person comes along who doesn't pinch, and in their hand is a $100 bill. Every once in a while, there's that guy. [Laughs].

Efen Thao  19:41  

[Laughs]. Every once in a while, there's somebody there — maybe they might have been paid to pinch you.

Jeff Lehman  19:49  

Yeah, exactly. [Laughs]. I know.

Do you have a story like that? Do you remember when it first did click? Like the first person who did have that $100 bill — but in this case, it would be like your first big sale or maybe the first person you really helped. Do you remember any huge success? It sounds like you learned to love to fail early, but do you remember the first success? Or one of the first big bright spots? Are there any?

Efen Thao  20:12  

Oh, yeah, I can never forget my first big success. And it's a story that I love to tell people. Because, in your whole entire life, you never know what's going to happen tomorrow, the next day or the next day — but what you can do is a lot of preparation and preparing.

So I had a client. He'd been working at a job for about 34 years. He had a good retirement plan. He still had to work for a couple more years before he could fully retire and get all his Social Security money, but he had a huge lump sum of money somewhere. I decided to present something that might be a very good value for him, especially during this time. And so we were able to move a lump sum of his money into an account where he couldn't lose money inside. So we did a rollover into a different account.

And — I want to say 2020 or 2021 — when COVID really hit and a lot of people really lost money, he actually gained money. He didn't lose any money in there, and he became so thankful for helping him rollover his money. And, I mean, the commission was great, but one of the best things was that he introduced me to a lot of his family, his friends, and we started becoming very close friends. He wanted to learn more. He'd say, "Efen, how did you know that this stuff happens? When people lose money, why aren't people do this more?" and those kinds of questions. So I said, "It's a history thing. Because it's happened before, and people have written books explaining how this stuff happens and how to prepare for it — but all you have to do is read. Because the more you know, the more you'll have an advantage over a lot of things." 

So I gave him a couple of the books that I've read that I love. You know Shirley Luu, right?

Jeff Lehman  23:07  

Yeah, you gave him that.

Efen Thao  23:08  

Right, IUL ASAP. I've given him that book. The Power of Zero, I've given him that book. I gave him a couple of different books for him and his wife and his family to read. And so, it's been about three years now, and he's been continuously asking, "Hey, what's the next book I should read?" So I do that with some of my clients, and they love it so much that we've become families. That's one of the biggest successes that I ever had.

Jeff Lehman  23:36  

You're a little life-changing library. But you're right — I mean, that's part of our mission. With financial literacy, how it is in America and in the world, where it's not necessarily in schools in a lot of places, the answer to his question — "How do you know?" — is, well, someone has to tell you, or you have to find it, or... It's almost a little miracle, but we want to make sure it's isn't left up to chance. We want to spread the wealth, spread the knowledge — and, in turn, that does spread the wealth. And, you know, the referrals come from just helping. The commission, like you said, is good, but when you do put help first and feed good into the world, it'll come back to you. That kind of thing.

And I like that story because a lot of people talk about the death benefit, which is absolutely so life saving, but we never really want to have to encounter — even though we will — someone who had found death in their family before we deliver them the check. Yeah, I like the rollover story, because it's a nice, different side, and also something that happens a lot: Helping people with their retirement money too. It's a big part of what we do.

Efen Thao  24:44  

Oh, oh, definitely. Now, I think, more than ever — especially if you're at that age, a baby boomer — you definitely need to consider that. I mean, you can't add any more debt on top of that, and you need to retire. Are you going to continuously work until you're 70 or 80 to fill that gap?

That's one of the biggest things. And when I see that, I say, "What are we doing?" We should be out there providing these different kinds of benefits to the individuals that affected by them right now. Because, as we're still young, at the age of 30, I can still go out there and work like crazy and be okay. But when you are at the age of retirement and looking to settle down, but somebody outside of your circle says you cannot do it, you cannot settle down because of inflation, then it becomes so difficult for a person to retire.

Jeff Lehman  25:58  

Yeah, I know. And that's some of the worst news. Even for those out there who love their job, who want to keep working forever, there's still the unknown, the illness, the injuries, God forbid. 

Efen Thao  26:13  

Yeah, oh man.

Jeff Lehman  26:13  

Even if you want to, sometimes, you can't work forever. Everyone needs this. Everyone needs retirement planning.

Efen Thao  26:20  

Yeah, this vehicle, this body that we have, only goes for so long. [Laughs].

Jeff Lehman  26:25  

Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]. I feel like that's something you might have learned early with law enforcement — or at least encountered. Even if it's not dangerous, whether or not you ran into that, there's still just being so active. I remember when I started running, I was like, "Ugh, this meat bag..." [Laughs].

Efen Thao  26:42  

[Laughs]. Right after Dream Destination, I'm right there with you.

Jeff Lehman  26:45  

Oh, yeah.

Efen Thao  26:47  

Too much food. [Laughs].

A lot of agents come into this field not really fully understanding what it is. But we come into this field because there's an interesting thing that happened to somebody, or something intrigued them, or we met somebody that made us say "Wow, they are very, very successful." But I think one of the biggest things is that... Being a young person, when I first started — let me see here, I was 24 or 25, around there — at that age, we question ourselves, saying, "Are we too young to know these things? Or are we too young for those people that actually do have money to see the young generations as knowledgable?" 

Jeff Lehman  27:48  


Efen Thao  27:48  

But one thing I did? I learned, and I read, and I learned from different people within the company. Within First Financial, but not even just First Financial. Within other companies. I learned from them. And once I became knowledgeable, and could compete, I became one of those people that other people cannot deny when I talked to them. They cannot deny me anymore.

Jeff Lehman  28:15  

There we go. Yeah.

Efen Thao  28:19  

Because the market doesn't discriminate, but the market cannot deny you either. Because when you become undeniable, then you become one of the players in the game.

Jeff Lehman  28:34  

Yeah. You were talking earlier about how we go through a young age where we... Maybe we don't think we know everything, but we have the confidence of youth. But then I feel like around 24 or 25, or once you get out in the world and you run into people who don't trust you or don't think you know what you're talking about, then you think, "Hmm. Well, what do I what do I know?" But then you double down. You learn, like you said. And then the knowledge gives you the confidence. It gives you that foundation. And then, like you said, it's undeniable. You can go in and you know you know what so they can't counter anything. It's like, "Test me. Shoot it." [Laughs].

Efen Thao  29:15  

And, like we said, even if the next person knows more than you, you have to fail because that person is teaching you something.

Jeff Lehman  29:16  

Yeah. That goes right back to the love of failure. You're right. If you go in there and they do present something you don't know, then that's something you learn. You dig in.

Efen Thao  29:29  

Yep. That's something you learn.

Jeff Lehman  29:33  

Yeah, you pick it up. That's great.

Well, one of my last questions is: What goals do you have over the next year? What are you shooting at? It looks like you have two DDCS under your belt, if not more? If I'm not mistaken.

Efen Thao  29:47  

Yeah, I do have two DDC's under my belt. 

You know, I recently moved to North Carolina — which I'm loving because the weather's nice. Well, I think the weather's nice.

Jeff Lehman  30:04  

I like it up there, yeah.

Efen Thao  30:07  

I'll tell youi: I feel better in North Carolina, but I think for the for my next goal... of course, there's always to make more than what I made last year.

Jeff Lehman  30:22  

Definitely. But it's important to say! Even if it's everyone's goal.

Efen Thao  30:26  

The money is good. [Laughs]. But I think my next goal is to reach more people who are needing the help and building a bigger community around the area in North Carolina.

Jeff Lehman  30:47  

Yeah, yep. That's great. A great goal. Extending your reach and putting down roots in the new place. Just building. Impacting your new community, really, that's what it is. That's good.

Well, I can't wait to see what kind of team you grow there, or if you brought your team or just what kind of protection you're gonna bring there.

Efen Thao  31:07  

I think it'll grow.

Jeff Lehman  31:09  

It's beautiful too. It's a big state, but a lot of it is mountains. But yeah, I can't wait to see where you're gonna go. And thank you, Efen, for being on the podcast.

And thank you all for listening. To hear more stories from entrepreneurs and business builders like Efen, you can listen to our past episodes on our feed or at And of course, subscribe or follow wherever you get your podcasts to listen to new Lead. Empower. Grow. episodes the moment they air.

We look forward to bringing you more stories from entrepreneurs that inspire you to lead, empower and grow.

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