Dillon Buck – First Summer in a Nutshell

Dillon Buck reflects on his first year with Southwestern Advantage

Dillon Buck reflects on his first year with Southwestern Advantage

It’s hard to imagine the life of a Southwestern Advantage sales person if you have never sold books, but there is a huge focus on our attitude and actions. Make a decision everyday to do all you can to make it as productive as possible. This decision starts with your schedule.  The time you wake up, the time you go to bed, and the time you knock on your first and last doors. Having a sense of urgency throughout the entire day is essential, but it does not stop there. The productive decisions you make must transcend into habits and be repeated and improved consistently.  The time you have in a given day is limited and every minute has value; every minute has potential. In order to take full advantage of that value, of that potential, you must be focused on learning and gaining everything you can in every situation, improving everyday and at every door. Eventually, making a conscious effort to better yourself even becomes habit. People see your drive, your potential, and your success radiates off your smile. You begin to make a positive influence on people’s days even when they are not letting you in the door.

One of the greatest keys to being successful in life is self-motivation. It is implied throughout life that self-motivation is the way to success, or the American dream (whatever you want to call it).  We are told as children that, “You can accomplish whatever you put your mind to.”  However, before last summer, every time I heard or said that, I only half-way believed it. It seemed cliché. Now, my belief in that has much more validity. It takes self-motivation to put your mind to anything.  You can’t get anywhere in life of any significant value with only one step.  Shortcuts are not the way to success.  The Great Wall of China was not built in one day, and neither will the goals or dreams of a Southwestern Advantage sales person be accomplished with a shortcut mentality. It takes a lot of small steps to accomplish big goals. I’m seeing it essential in my life now to recognize the mini-victories that get me closer to the bigger ones.  In order to accomplish and truly recognize these steps, these victories, I write them down. Doing this helps me to recognize the progress towards my greater purpose, which will multiply my chances of success tenfold.  I know now that I CAN do anything I put my mind to.

Thanks Southwestern Advantage.

Justin Sweeney – Goal Setting & Attitude

Justin Sweeney shares his experience with Southwestern Advantage

Justin Sweeney shares his experience with Southwestern Advantage

My Houston summer of 2013. Where should I start? I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I had no idea or thought about how much of an impact the Southwestern Advantage internship experience was going to have on me. However, if I am going to start somewhere, it might as well be the beginning on campus at Central Michigan. During my recruitment and introduction into the program, my goal was to be as open-minded as possible.

I never set any benchmarks heading into the summer, and I didn’t have any result-oriented goals in relation to sales and hours. I was a first year intern, open-minded, and committed to only one thing: not quitting. I figured having this kind of mindset would allow everything else to fall into place.

That was the first learned lesson that Southwestern Advantage taught me: the importance of goal setting. Having a goal allows you to create a vision. However, this concept wasn’t new to me. Being an athlete my entire life, I knew goals were important. I knew working for something was important, and I understood that goals give you something to work for. What I didn’t realize is that in order to be successful in anything you do, you have to be more than open-minded to an idea or concept. You have to commit your very being to it. You have to set goals that require you to form the necessary habits and make the sacrifices it takes in order to reach those goals. That’s the first lesson the Southwestern Advantage experience taught me — goal setting.

Justin at Sales School in Nashville

Justin at Sales School in Nashville

The second and most important lesson this summer taught me: my attitude. The Southwestern Advantage internship showed me the most simple and yet probably most overlooked power we all have is controlling our attitude. The summer showed me how much people let external factors dictate their feelings, emotions, and attitude. Attitude is an internal controllable, but we choose to let positive and/or negative externalities dictate our attitude. Instead, we need to just dictate attitude. If we focus on the things we can control, and not take ourselves so seriously all the time, we gain more enjoyment out of life.

The Southwestern Advantage internship was more than the average summer internship; it changed me for the better. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, yet. It challenged me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But you know what they say — nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.

- Justin Sweeney


Kate Gray – Selling Books 101

Kate Gray on her experience with Southwestern Advantage

Kate Gray shares her experience with Southwestern Advantage

You mean you SELL BOOKS? Door-to-DOOR? HA. LOL. LMAO. ROFL. Jokes. Right.

Some form of this natural reaction is that of the 95% of those who first hear about Southwestern Advantage. Southwestern is not just a “book-selling company”; it is a company that takes seemingly sharp, inexperienced college students, and molds them into hard-working, committed, smart, hilarious human beings that have a unique intelligence that can only be gained through the program this company offers.

In early February of my sophomore year at UNC, I was in a bathroom on campus when I got a call from a random number. I ran out of the stall to pick it up on the last ring. “Hey, is this Kate? My name’s Charlie, and I’d like to meet with you about an opportunity for an internship this summer.” LOL. “Umm ok? I already have an internship lined up but I’ll hear what you have to say.” And this was true, I was in the running for a competitive internship with a financial advising firm that I was 100% already set on doing. But I am open-minded and agreed to go to an info session. I arrive and meet this Charlie. “Dapper” is probably the first word that came to mind — fratty, smiley, fit, well dressed, a subtle neck beard? As I sit down, he starts explaining the logistics of the internship — door-to-door sales, working long hours for 12 weeks, resume building, moving to another state, blah blah blah. Then, he gets into the good stuff — the feeling of accomplishing goals, defeating a challenge, building relationships, working hard. All of these things appealed and mattered to me. But there was no way on this earth that I was going to actually do this. After the info session, Charlie set up a time to meet up with me the next day. As I leave the building, I’m thinking, sounds kinda cool but definitely not gonna happen. I call my mom and tell her about it, and she says, “Kate, you do not want to sell books.” And I giggle, as if I was actually considering it. Another LOL. The next day I call Charlie and cancel my meeting.

He responds and says, “You know what, Kate, you don’t have to do this. Just meet with me for 5 minutes.” OK, OK, GEEEZ. Long story short, our 5-minute meeting turns into 2 hours and I leave his office on a Friday night, having a tough decision to make over the weekend. The final round of my interview for that other internship was on Tuesday. I had to decide by then. Financial advising job or Southwestern Advantage? When I thought about it though, that really wasn’t the question. The choices were either to be average and comfortable, or to be extraordinary. It instantly became obvious. I chose the latter.

Kate with Charlie, her student leader

Kate with Charlie, her student leader

Charlie taught me everything I needed to know in order to do well. I was committed to this job, and eager to learn how people could possibly succeed at this job. He kept it simple. “Kate, all you will be able to control this summer is your effort and your attitude. If you understand that, you will do well.” See, we all know this. All we can control in our lives is ourselves. When selling books, this is easier said than done. However, what is so incredible about Southwestern is that it gives you countless opportunities to apply this knowledge. You learn it, believe it, master it, commit to it, and live it. This is fantastically difficult, and the hardest times are the biggest opportunities for growth, even though at the time one might not realize it. Southwestern gives you the chance to learn the skills and values of service, perspective, confidence, compassion, persistence, courage, hard work, the list is endless. The best part is that all of these lead to relationships with other like-minded people. And isn’t that what we ultimately want? People that get it? People that hold you accountable, actively listen, have similar morals and values, and have a genuine desire to help you accomplish whatever it is that you want in life? These leaders help you in your own life, but also take it further by steering you to positively influence and lead others. Not to mention the unmatchable humor that stems from a summer on the bookfield. I realized that everyone has this distinct deep-in-your-gut, shaky, make-you-look-scary laugh that can only be stimulated from this experience. And all of these people get it. Hilarious, authentic, extraordinary people: that is the community of Southwestern Advantage.

This job is as raw as it gets, but it helps you discover what you actually want. You learn to believe in the control of creating your own circumstances, as well as peace by the lack of control of what each day brings. Not only does it help with what you want, but more importantly the kind of person that you want to be.

And it all started with a phone call by a trim fellow named Charlie. So, take a lesson from me: Always answer calls from random numbers.

Jeff Hsieh – Mentors Who Genuinely Care

Jeff Hsieh on his Southwestern Advantage experience

Jeff Hsieh on his Southwestern Advantage experience

I am thankful for my experience with the Southwestern Advantage internship program. I am thankful for all of my peers and mentors that have helped me grow into the man I am today.

There is one instance that I remember realizing that my mentors truly cared about me as a human being. In April of 2010, I sat down at a café at UC Berkeley to meet with the President of Southwestern Advantage, Dan Moore.

He knew that I was in a slight predicament because I had suffered from a lung collapse 8 months prior to that meeting, and I was hesitant to go out again to sell books door to door for another summer. I was given doctor’s orders that I couldn’t carry more than 15lbs, and the sample bag we carry from house to house is easily 15 pounds. In addition, I was told that I shouldn’t run, jog, or do any sort of strenuous exercises for about a year, yet I recalled jogging between every house the summer before. Everything seemed to signal to me “NO, don’t go out and sell again.”

I met with Dan anyway, expecting that he was going to try to convince me why I should sell for another summer, and why I should recruit a team to go out with me. I expected that he would tell me that there are many things that they can do to accommodate my physical situation. I could have a car, and a rolling backpack. I expected him to tell me that he had seen others go through the same situation, and how it worked out so well for them.

He didn’t. He didn’t do any of those things. For an hour, we talked about my health, and he explained to me that my health always comes first. A collapsed lung is nothing to joke about; it’s a serious situation. He said that of course he would be happy if I went out for another summer, but that I have my health to consider first and foremost. He understood the value of a long term health because he has completed 9 half marathons and finished his first full marathon on Novermber 6th, 2011.

Meeting after meeting, I found that all of my other mentors cared for me the same way. Ron AlfordOmar IribeJorge PenateAaron HoCalvin Chang and Brandan Tobin shared that same mindset. They didn’t try to talk me into another summer, and that’s when I knew I needed to be around these people more, because they genuinely care about my well-being.

That is one of the reasons why I decided to go back and sell again that summer. All of my mentors, even the President of the company (keep in mind 2500+ college students around the WORLD do this every year) was willing to take the time out of his day to meet with me, only to tell me that he cared about my health and that if I had decided to not pursue this program anymore that it would be okay. Long story short, everything went very well my 2nd summer, I decided to sell again a summer after that.

Thank you, Dan, Ron, Omar, Jorge, Brandan, Calvin and Aaron! I am thankful for you today!

Jeff and friends after completing the summer

Jeff and friends after completing the summer

Kate Marshall – My Reason

Kate Marshall

Kate Marshall – Utah State Univ

Most people who know me know that I spent all four of my undergraduate summers running my own business, selling educational stuff door to door in different states, 80 hours a week, leaving little time for anything else but sleeping. I’m gonna estimate at least 95% of those people have come to the conclusion that I’m just an extraordinarily driven, [probably] masochistic money grubber; a human being akin to the buffalo herds that run into the storm just to prove they can, ignoring the icy rain that sharply jabs at their bodies, knowing it’ll all be worth it when it’s all over. Either that or they just think I’m really good at business/sales so that’s why I keep doing it year after year. Truly, in the course of my last four summers, I’ve made about $85,000, and that’s cool. The money I earned helped me pay my entire way through college and have the freedom to invest early/travel a little. But only the people who have made an attempt at a Southwestern summer know that money is the last thing that motivates a person to keep going when they don’t feel like it. I’ve attempted an explanation of my actions to many of the inquirers, but I thought it was about time that I, now going on my fifth summer in the program as a post-graduate, try to describe the real reason I think my job is amazing and the reason I feel I am amazing at my job for the people who care. It’s not complicated.

     I do have to acknowledge the obvious reason first: Nothing can duplicate or compete with the feeling of winning. People do a lot of things to get at that feeling of validation: sports, music, working to lose weight, business, basically anything that takes challenging work to reap a desired reward. That reward may be something tangible, or it may be money, or recognition, or just feeling great about yourself, but all are just an ambition toward the feeling that you’ve championed something. That’s an absolutely inescapable part of what I do. We work a pretty stringent 80 hour a week schedule, which is hard to get used to at first. You have to get over the awkwardness of establishing yourself in a community that knows nothing about you and talking to randoms all day. The bookfield can be a difficult place to live in, and challenge is part of what makes it beautiful at times. Honestly though, the last thing I want to talk about is why it’s “SO CHALLENGING” but I do it anyway because it’s “worth it in the end.” Eh.
     I also have to mention that if I didn’t work with the social anomalies that I do, I probably wouldn’t still be involved in the program. Any 18-25 year old who can get through a couple summers communicating with over a thousand different families about their lives and their kids and their hopes and their fears, plunder through mounds of rejection and maintain pure confidence, and successfully build their own business without any real supervision every day ends up being a pretty stinking cool human being with a real understanding of other human beings. They’re all a little crazy, but almost all of them are somebody anyone would like to know. I am constantly challenged by these beautiful individuals, who push themselves and the people around them to be better.
     Point is that the program is absolutely challenging at times, and is still, to this day, the hardest thing I have ever participated in (especially my first summer), but that is not my favorite thing about what I do, and the reason I am successful at it is not because I am a buffalo.
     I want to clarify, also, that not everyone that works with Southwestern loves it like I do. Some of the bookkids I know definitely do it because they’re HARDCORE and like to intensely challenge themselves. But I’m not on team hardcore; I’m on team I love my life.
     The real deal is that selling educational stuff door to door basically helped me become more at one with the Tao (that’s the shortest way I’ve found to explain it…). The hardcore people do really well too, obviously, because what we do is a true numbers game, and the more people you see the more customers you have; there’s no fighting that. I still sit down with about 20 families a day in the summer, which is quite a lot, but last summer I wasn’t nearly as focused on the numbers as I used to be. I went into the summer with one character goal, something I have wanted to hone for a very long time: I wanted to give people unconditional love—no matter who they were or what they did or how they reacted to me and what I was doing. Before I went out last summer I took a painful look at my past actions (and inactions) throughout the years and realized how often I had let fear control me. I also realized that when I respond to fear it is because I am worried purely about myself and “what about me me me!!” This caused anxiety, resentment, regret, and more than anything caused me to push people away and separate myself from others (and sometimes even do things that made me feel like I was above them somehow). I also decided I didn’t want to be like that—I wanted to free myself.
     This past summer I came to the beautiful realization that fear and love cannot exist in the same sphere. I had obviously understood this in concept before but decided that selling books is the perfect place to actually see if I could apply it because I am talking to a ton of people every day, and there are infinite opportunities for fear to take over (pretty much every second of the day). I knew that even if I didn’t make any money for myself and my team did terrible and everything else was just a raging sham I would feel okay knowing I had mastered my fear and accepted how small I was in this massive universe.
     So I made a commitment, not just to work harder than I had ever worked, but to do it with full love in my heart. And once again, selling books door to door changed my life. I think of all the things I used to be afraid of on and off the bookfield: afraid of what people will think, afraid of rejection, afraid of working at night/in the morning, afraid to be honest, afraid of having hard conversations, afraid of pushing the people I love to be better, afraid to talk to people I felt were above me, afraid of closing, afraid of being honest about the way I feel, afraid of losing the people I love most, afraid of not being loved, etc… really it all comes down to a fear of inadequacy, and a fear of despair. I wanted all of that to disappear. And it really did for a long time. I wish I could say I mastered it—I definitely didn’t, but my mind is flashing back to the hours, days, weeks, when I truly did know what it was like to have perfect love for somebody from the first second I saw them and how it changed everything.
     I remember this Mom named Brenda telling me about how her husband had died in October and how her daughter hadn’t done as well in school because of it and I saw her and all I could do was cry with her on her porch because I loved her so much. I remember a single Dad, Jake, who was raising an intensely autistic child and three other kids all by himself and feeling such pure love for his family and wanting to do anything I could to help them. I remember a couple who live in a trailer park and each spend 12 hours a day at the factory to pay rent and raise their son and niece and listening to their huge dreams for those kids and being overwhelmed by their love. I remember listening to the richest Mom in town tell me about how her kids and husband are so busy and how alone she felt and I realize that rich or poor, pretty or weird looking, alone or loved, we all have the exact same fear of inadequacy and I can’t help but love people for it, because I know the same pain.
     I know that at one point in my life I would have tried to get something out of these people, and maybe I would have. It seems anti-intuitive, but now I know that I only truly started to succeed at my job and be truly happy when I stopped thinking about myself completely. I spent my summer with the pure focus of giving my love to others. I know people felt it, and I got a pretty good response (when I was applying myself, anyway). I lost all of my attachment to any thing or person out of my control, and really learned true confidence. I had nothing to be afraid of because I had nothing to lose.
     I’m not saying anybody has to sell educational stuff door to door to experience what I did, but I wanted to share the real reason why I love my job so much and the real reason I’m good at it. This is why. It’s freedom at its finest (freedom from fear). I’m intensely grateful for my experience with Southwestern for about a million reasons, and, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had pretty miserable experiences too. The amazing thing about it is that I get to take responsibility for all the bad things and all the good things because it’s something I’ve had the opportunity to completely create for myself.
     Anyway, I dunno if anyone is still even reading this, but listen. If you’ve never tried freedom from fear I dare you to do something that scares you with full love in your heart and I promise you that fear will be extinguished by that love and the world will be at your feet, feeling your love, and you will be right back at the world’s feet, giving and giving and giving because you will realize your capacity for love is completely infinite. I don’t know a lot, but I know that.
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