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 almost didn’t do it.
As corny as it sounds, Southwestern Advantage has been a life-changing experience for me. It has positively shifted the direction in which my life is heading, and I look back and remember how close I was to not doing it. My recruitment was not very typical as I was working in the toll booths on campus at Michigan State University when my recruiter, Kyle Peters, rolled through. His ticket was validated so I was punching him through and he asked me what I was studying at MSU and what I wanted to do eventually. I mentioned that I was a general Management major at the time, was trying to get into the Business School, and really had no idea what kind of career I wanted. He wrote his email address on a piece of paper and handed it to me to get into contact with him. I acted like I would email him ASAP while really I had no intentions to. One week later, he rolls through again and asks “Hey how have you been? I haven’t heard from you yet!” We agreed on a time that he has set up to talk to a small group of students to explain the Southwestern Advantage internship. I went, but quickly disregarded anything he was saying because a) I was not going to move away that summer, I wanted to hang out by the pool and chill and b) There is no chance in hell they were going to get me to go door to door. During this meeting, Kyle gave us students a chance half way through the meeting to walk out if we weren’t interested, I walked out without looking back and thought that would be the last I heard of the internship, besides, I was going to find an internship that is way better and do something much more interesting with my summer. It was already March, though.
A couple weeks later, Kyle rolls through the booths again and asks what I thought about the meeting, and I told him an excuse about taking summer classes and he went on his way. Over the next couple days I reconsidered and realized I really wasn’t doing anything productive with my summer as it stood, and I called him again. This time we set up a one on one meeting and went through the process this way. He called me back for a few more interviews and the last time we met, he mentioned to me “If 30 year old Jacob looks back on this summer, would he have rather done the internship or stayed at home?” That question is what hooked me and I decided to go sell books for the summer. After all, I’ve been above average in most other things I have done in my life so I can’t be all that bad at sales.
I had an alright summer, I did pretty well selling books but didn’t blow it out of the water either. Some weeks went better than others, but that is just how sales is, and I understood that. However, the things you learn about sales and business is part of what makes the internship worth it. I learned that my good weeks I was having much more fun with myself and with other families than the weeks I did poorly. I learned to control my attitude and as long as I went to the next house with a good attitude, whatever happened at the last house didn’t matter. There are also things I learned during my experience that I would not have had the chance to learn anywhere else. The good thing about sales is I’ll be able to apply the skills I’ve developed to an infinite amount of situations.
Yes, selling books does suck from time to time, but at the end of the day its totally worth it. I compare it to doing wind sprints or exercising, while I’m doing it I hate myself and would much rather quit and go home and relax. But afterward I feel much better for doing it and know that I’m in better shape than the next guy (good business metaphor.) I’ve also met some really good friends along the way and have met a ton of really cool students from around the country who also have sold books. I hit the sizzler milestone and got to go to Mexico and will be going to Nashville for a weekend here pretty soon as well. Other internships, no matter how well you perform, there is a set amount to how much you can earn, but not with Southwestern Advantage. Two great things I found and appreciate most that separate this internship from others: there is no ceiling as to how much money you can earn or how much personal growth you can take away from the experience.
Moldova is a long ways from Nashville, but not too far for us to have the opportunity to join the best leaders from around the world. We here in Moldova appreciate the impact Southwestern Advantage is having on our country. The donation program is helping many citizens who are in need of help.
Southwestern Advantage has made a huge impact in my formation as a person over the last 4 years. I’ve learned how to set goals and find ways to achieve them. I have learned how helping others get what they want, in the end, helps me get to where I want to be. I truly believe that Southwestern Advantage offers the best opportunities for a young person on their path to becoming successful. If someone wants to become their own boss by running a business, Southwestern Advantage is the best preparation for it. Not only is there outstanding leadership and training offered, but also the unique chance to apply everything one learns in practice.
Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova
My name is Josiah Fogle. That probably means nothing to you at this point, but I have told a few people about my story and if you wanna listen then read on. Some people at my small Christian college called Calvin have listened and decided to follow suit by joining me in my second summer; so maybe you might find what I say of some value too.
I would say there were 4 things that I really loved about my experience; things I would call my Southwestern Advantage. They are persistence, schedule, intentionality, and spiritual growth.
I’ll get right into the first advantage that I took away: I learned persistence. I grew up playing sports, being involved in many different group activities, and I felt like I was already a very committed person. Little did I know how much of a commitment Southwestern really is. While I was at sales school, I called up my parents and told them that I had really underestimated the commitment that was being asked of me. This was helpful because there were many times during the summer when I was faced with rejection, and many times where I questioned my choice to stay for the entire summer. I learned that it is a choice to be mentally, physically, and emotionally ON, and God rewards those who work hard.
The second advantage I gained: schedule. This was also not a drastically new concept to me, being an organized person in general. Southwestern does not have someone follow you to make sure you are doing what you say you will do, but in regards to schedule, that’s where your integrity is tested. During my summer I learned how important it is to choose to be committed to a schedule, while at the same time not being ruled by it. The difference between starting work at 7:59, and not 8:00, is not just 1 minute. It is a mindset of integrity that says, “I said I would start before 8:00, and I will guard my schedule because I said I would.” I learned what can be achieved by setting a schedule and committing to it.
The third thing that I took away from the summer: I learned to listen, and I mean being present and intentionally listening to people. I learned to genuinely care about what parents and students said and ask better questions because I cared. There are so many times when we do not really listen to one another with interest, and through the Southwestern internship I learned to listen to families, hearing their genuine concerns for education and for their kids. That was a blast. It’s funny how when you start focusing on others, and less on yourself, you begin to have more fun. I received emails from customers saying “Thank you so much for taking the time to knock on our door and explain the books to us,” and I feel like that is a true sign of not just my achievement as a good salesperson, but more a testimony of being focused on filling the needs of others instead my own.
The last and most impactful way I grew: my personal relationship with God. I am a follower of Christ, saved by God’s crazy unconditional love for me. The summer challenged me in so many ways but one thing that helped me stay focused was setting up a consistent time to read my Bible and other spiritually encouraging material. I built the habit of reading as well as the habit of talking to God throughout the day. During a summer with Southwestern, you can choose to have a lot of time alone in silence between houses or you can choose to talk to God in that time. I chose the latter. I felt it was awesome; and God did amazing things last summer. I met a dad who shared the Gospel with me, and after I told him I was a follower of Christ, he became one of my biggest advocates in the community. God used little instances like that to remind me that it’s about others, not about me.
This is an opportunity that will allow you to grow in ways and lengths that you didn’t even think possible; ways and lengths that you will not find in any other opportunity. If that’s the type of experience you’re looking for as a college student, you’re in the right place.
Ever since I was young, I have always been one to push the envelope and explore new challenges. Some of these have included joining the swim team, moving away to Central Michigan University, and joining Greek life. I found success in all of these areas, and realized I was able to coast by on my natural talents to be successful – so the idea of working with Southwestern Advantage for a summer didn’t scare me.
My student manager aided me in the technical skills, sales school in Nashville helped build my motivation, and my parents sent love and support from back home in Michigan. With all of these tools on my side, how challenging could one summer knocking on doors really be?
Spoiler alert: It was super challenging.
My summer selling books in Spotsylvania, Virginia was the most challenging, character-testing, fight-to-the-finish adventure I’ve faced yet. I learned more about myself in those twelve weeks than I could have learned by spending my time in any retail or corporate setting. Thanks to Southwestern Advantage, I’ve started applying what I’ve learned from the Bookfield in order to be the best version of myself every single day.
What we do isn’t normal, and it isn’t easy. We voluntarily work hard through long, hot summer days. We voluntarily face rejection and fear. We voluntarily work hard to help people. The constant ups and downs of my first summer showed me so much about myself. I learned how much family matters. I learned that I struggle with looking for easy ways out. I learned that sometimes I desire the acknowledgment and approval of others when it’s unnecessary.
I also learned I’m not a quitter. I am tougher than I ever knew. I am confident and brave. I am proud of who I am.
I felt such a high as I aided young people in their pursuit of college and made Moms’ days with my cheesy jokes and sincere compliments. I faced scary lows, as rejection sometimes turned into self-doubt. These challenges pushed me in a way that I had never been pushed. The challenges are what made the summer great. Working through new challenges allowed me to gain a more confident control in my personal life and school work. The Southwestern Advantage Program showed me the power of hard work and the capabilities I never knew I had.
As I look to the future, my resume after one summer is enough to make a potential employer’s jaw drop — but the resume and professional development is not the most important thing about this program. I have been blessed with a firm foundation to grow, surrounded by the type of people who bring out the best in me, support me, and push me to my fullest potential.
I am so grateful for my teammates; I have never been surrounded by such hard working and hilarious people who have grown to become my closest friends. I am extremely thankful for the leaders who were patient and consistent, easily the most influential role models of my adult life. I am appreciative of our fantastic company for introducing me to other hard working, driven young adults from all around the world. I am blessed to be a Bookgirl, and don’t you forget it
To the Foundation Organization:
All my life I’ve had baseball, football, basketball, swimming, track, and other coaches give me lessons on how to excel and win in life. In my two years at Southwestern Advantage, Aaron Schafer, Kevin Johnson, The Foundation, and my student manager, Christie Bradley have taught me more about myself; strengths and weaknesses, and how to reach my full potential than any of these coaches.
Most of the students that start their summers with Southwestern Advantage either go in with an open mind or extremely pessimistic and scared. My thought process was, “I don’t have to do this and I don’t really want to, but I’ll just wait till I hear back from a friend of a friend who’s neighbor is a CEO.” Also just coming off a crazy and expensive summer going to Wakarusa music festival and following Phish, Umphreys, and STS9 I wasn’t opposed to just doing that again. So fast forward to January when that promising dream job was non-existent — I weighed my options (none) and decided to sell books.
Before I ever stepped out onto the “bookfield” I would have considered myself as pretty confident, slightly cocky, and maybe a little spoiled. The one person able to help me through all my emotions or doubts throughout the summer was Christie. I admired her honesty more than anything. I knew what to expect, and I knew it would be a huge challenge, but she was the ideal role model and mentor that I needed to succeed. Despite me looking for any excuse to not sell, Christie told me about the arsenal of great management and the rest of The Foundation who strap up their shoes every day, and make the conscious decision to form successful habits that average people avoid. It became fun and competitive instead of just a job.
My first summer went like every other rookie. I had good days and bad days. I’d be unstoppable one minute and the next my car gets stuck on a dirt road. I had people make me dinner, and I heard thousands of “no’s.” Some people loved what I was doing and others didn’t understand how my parents let me drive all the way up to Minnesota to work without a guaranteed hourly-based paycheck. Through the ups and downs the message was clear, “Control the controllables: hours, effort, and attitude; then let the rest take care of itself.”
I was able to hold my head high when I came back to Nashville at the end of my summer. I hit the “I Wanna Win Award” for having my two best weeks in sales during my final two weeks of the summer. I made about $8,000 and won the “Sizzler” trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My message to the person reading this is that you’ll be okay. You’ll meet tons of new people, form amazing friendships, and you’ll come out possessing an uncommon quality of mental toughness that will separate you from your peers.
Thank you Aaron Schafer, Kevin Johnson, and Christie Bradley for recruiting me. My two summers in Minnesota and Virginia/North Carolina have had a huge impact on my life. Also, shout-out to the the Foundation squadron – Julie Lavender (my other amazing intellectual manager during my second summer), Dan “the helicopter-man” Milus, Dillon Barr, Mo, KP, Lomas, Drew, Diana, Chad, Morgan, Mary Lee, Willie da kid, Billy T, Scoot MaGoot, Josh Falco, Ryan, and a special thanks to all the haters.
Roll tide and Rise up Foundation,
University of Alabama
Robbie Kashey – Auburn University
I want to begin this letter thanking for you for being a wonderful mentor in my life through the opportunity I had working with Southwestern Advantage. I am extremely grateful to have worked with you and to have had your expertise while on the Bookfield. I know you remember me being sold from the beginning on the potential earnings that selling books would bring, due to my financial situation, but after our training meetings at Starbucks I began to see all that a summer with Southwestern could truly bring. In just a short twelve-week period I learned some incredible business skills, about what it took to run my own business, but more importantly, I learned about life, about others, and a great deal about myself.
To anyone who is considering working with Southwestern Advantage, I would highly advise it, as it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I can’t count the numerous things that my summer taught me but I can highlight a quick few. It taught me incredible business skills: accounting for inventory, meeting new clients, financing of my business, being goal oriented and meeting my goals, how to have good public relations with the community I was working in, learning how to give skilled presentations, and especially learning how to make quick and effective first impressions. All of these things are extremely helpful in the business world. In addition, I learned a fair amount about people. I learned how to work with and be an effective communicator with others; another invaluable skill in life. I also learned quite a bit about myself, of what I was made of and what I wanted in life. It helped me to be more emotionally consistent and to learn to weather the ups and downs of an unpredictable world. It helped me to be appreciative of the wonderful opportunities that I have, of all the things I have been blessed with, my supportive friends and family, and for my relationship with the Lord. To anyone who is a Christian who is debating on selling, it will infinitely bring you closer to God because of your constant reliance on His guidance.
These have been just a few of the many things I have learned in my short time with Southwestern and they are the reasons I chose to come back for a second summer. I knew that if I had grown this much from one summer, that a second summer could do so much more. Thanks to the growth I’ve experienced I now use many if not all of these skills on a daily basis, whether with friends and family, or with co-workers or at school. These skills have been invaluable, so thank you again Christie for the opportunity you gave me to come work with you for Southwestern, and to Aaron as well for being an incredible mentor. You will never know how much you mean to me both personally and professionally. If you ever need to use this letter for someone considering whether or not to sell, feel free to pass along my contact information if they would like someone else to talk to. I hope this letter finds you well and I hope to see you again soon.
I have worked with Southwestern Advantage since the summer of my freshman year at the University of Northern Iowa. Over the past 4 years I have learned a ton about running a business, making professional presentations, communicating effectively, being a leader, and much more. I have also had the opportunity to be influenced by great role models and have a positive impact on others.
I was recruited to be part of the Southwestern Advantage internship my sophomore year of college at the University of Kentucky. I’ve completed three years of the program now, and I am coming back for a fourth year. As a young and eager Marketing/Creative Advertising major, I had a colorful dream of going into ‘Big League’ advertising. When I first learned about the Southwestern Advantage program, I viewed it as a great stepping stone to get the sales, communication and entrepreneurial experience I wanted. Needless to say, I got all of that and more out of this experience. I have learned so much about myself, realistic life lessons, the power of persistence, determination, dedication and attitude along with being mentored by some of the most caring and inspiring individuals I’ve yet to meet. I could write paragraphs about how much this program has had a positive impact on my life and outlook on life in general. The Southwestern Advantage internship is one the the hardest and most challenging things I’ve ever done. Period. In turn, it has helped me grow immensely as a person and improve my weaknesses. The reason I keep coming back summer after hot summer is not because I love working 6 days a week in Virginia humidity, but because I believe that Southwestern Advantage and its leaders completely and fully embody their mission statement of striving “..to be the best organization in the world at helping young people develop the skills and character they need to achieve their goals in life.” So one day I’ll be in my “Big League” market with the support of the friends and family I’ve made along the way at Southwestern Advantage (but for now, I like it here ).
Southwestern Advantage set me up for success after college, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful. Because of a friend I made who was also part of the internship that summer, I was able to move to San Francisco and immediately get a job that I love working in executive placement downtown in the Financial District — right out of college. Interestingly enough, this was at the height of the job crunch in 2010! If you are a college student, this is the by far the best option for you. You will learn to expand your skill-set, and actually have real-world experience, true substance, to put on your resume. You will meet incredible people who believe what you believe; people who will be lifelong friends. This experience will help you get your foot in the door for your first career job. Guaranteed. I won’t lie – the summers are tough; especially summer #1. But they’re more than worth it!
I am from Prague – Czech Republic where I am attending University of Economics. I passed final master exam in January 2012 and now I am just finishing up with my dissertation to graduate.
I heard about Southwestern Advantage for the first time in 2006/2007 when I was a first year student at university. A girl from South America who was studying in Prague came to our lecture and I filled in a survey. We met the other day to talk about the summer job in USA. I didn’t even come to the initial info session where I was invited; I just came up with the reason why I wanted to spend summer home and not to go to USA and send her a text message with an apology why I am not going to come. My plan spending summer home actually didn’t happen and I went to Croatia as a representative of a travel agency and lived there for 3 months. I have been working on and off part-time and fulltime since I am 14 so that way I became more independent and responsible at the young age then majority of my friends. My summer experience living and working on my own in Croatia when I just turned 20 helped me to mature even more.
Next school year friend of my high school friends Daniel Nikolov brought me over to the info session where was some British guy with weird accent talking about summer job in USA. I clearly remember myself sitting there and thinking: “ Selling books door to door in US? Are you kidding me? You people are crazy!” I left that info session before the end of the presentation. I spent summer of 2008 working as a receptionist in one of the Prague’s hotels working 15 12-hours shifts a month making quite OK money but having nearly no time to spend them not even talking about the fact that this kind of job was incredibly boring after couple of weeks.
The story continues in the semester of 2008/2009 when sometime in November I met Daniel at the friends B-Day party. He talked to me about selling books again and was so persistent that I could hardly say no to his invitation to the info session. He was coming into his 3rd summer with Southwestern by that time. I was 3rd year student and was already feeling the pain of not having any valuable working experience for my CV (resume) and I guess I just had a feeling I should do something different, challenging, exciting and scary at the same time. I came to hear the initial presentation once again – this time until the end, already decided I would go for it.
4 years later I am still working with the Southwestern and getting ready for my fifth summer, bringing team of the most talented and positive people I have ever met, having loads of fun with students not just from Czech Republic but from all over the world I met through the years, travelling, working hard and most of all enjoying the freedom and flexibility which this job gives me. My friends don’t really get how I can work 13 hours a day or even longer but to be honest I am grateful I can work hard at young age.
The main reason I have worked with Southwestern for so long is the desire to grow personally and professionally. It helps me to push my limits further, appreciate more my family and friends back home, value the education I have been given and gain skills I wouldn’t obtain working anywhere else while studying university. My biggest challenge was to learn how to motivate myself. I am learning about working with people every single summer. It is sometimes very challenging to be able to look at a bigger picture and don’t focus on little things happening today.
Being part of other people’s success and having an impact on the people I work with is definitely one of the biggest benefits for me. Also: seeing the output of my hard work and being able to work hard at such a young age. Finally, I learned a lot about myself and about motivation, management, communication and sales. Most importantly, I met so many great people who will be my friends for a lifetime and had chance to visit so many cool places.
Southwestern Advantage taught me many life lessons through the years so thank you Dan for not giving up on me!
What is an engineer?
I’ve come to the conclusion that an engineer is at the most important core, simply a problem solver. I like how Wikipedia writes it: engineers are “concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical, social and economic problems.” The word engineer is derived from the Latin roots ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”).”
So how do we learn to devise with cleverness? I agree that a very large tool box of skills is needed as an engineer and many of those we learn in university. While we may not use everything classes teach us, a basic understanding of calculus, heat transfer, dynamics, physics and such will start us down the right track. Other tools we can learn from various experiences in the engineering field. But I truly believe the core of problem solving capabilities comes from nothing better than solving problems! Solving various types of problems, in many differing situations, where you hold the responsibility and you make the decisions. But this is so hard to come by as an undergrad student. It is a rare chance and incredible opportunity where a company will allow an undergrad student to have such a responsibility—to solve real problems.
This is why I am so thankful I was offered the opportunity to work with Southwestern Advantage while I was a student at Georgia Tech. The Southwestern Advantage summer internship program not only allows–but encourages, motivates, and teaches–college interns to run their own company. While running my own company was never something that interested me, this job forced into independence and responsibility because I was in charge. I was placed in situations away from home, away from family and friends, doing a job I knew little about. But that is exactly what I needed to learn how to solve problems. In this summer job, I was met with so many various problems, daily. By encountering problems in logistics, self motivation, supplies, efficiency, time, money…all while dealing with people of all economic and cultural identities…and I being the person who accepted the responsibility…then I truly understood how to solve problems in all those areas and so many more.
Just the process of learning to solve a problem on your own was such an incredible adventure. I learned how it felt to deal with the pressure of responsibility and decision making. Learned how much I love the feeling of solving my own problems and coming out successful on the other side. Yes, working with Southwestern forced me to deal with many more problems than the normal college student ever should, but that experience is what made me unlike any other college student and lead to me having my dream job at 24 years old.
Southwestern changed the trajectory of my life. My first summer taught me the skills and honed the habits of time management and self-discipline that made university rather easy for me. Suddenly studying and making top grades was achievable. My second summer I learned how to express myself and impact those around me. Upon returning to university, I was given many leadership positions and, because I knew how to manage my time, I could help make huge changes around campus. Three summers inspired me to reach for the stars, to realize that anything was possible and I should never settle for less than my best. So, I found a nine-month internship aboard a ship traveling the world where I discovered my passion for social impact on the poorest communities around the world. After four summers of selling books, I also had plenty of money to pay for trips with Engineers Without Boarders to design water supply systems in Cameroon, and trips with Living Water to drill water wells in Central America. By my 5th summer selling books, I was also running the entire Dynasty organization of about 60 college students.
This intense “non-engineering” experience made me such an intriguing graduate that I never applied for a single job but was approached and offered numerous engineering management jobs. While many of my friends were searching for any engineering job, I got to pick and choose from many exciting offers and finally choose to work for Georgia Tech Research Institute as a research engineer for sustainable technology in third world countries. I implemented and evaluated emergency water treatment systems from around the world. I did consultant work for Yellowstone National Park, living there, analyzing renewable technologies and water conservation for them. And I helped design a way of sanitizing human waste using solar power. This last endeavor led me to receive a grant from the Chilean government to move down to Santiago to implement and test my technology. So at 24 years old, I started my own company, lived abroad in Chile, tested my own technology, all for people without any kind of sanitation who make less than $2 a day. And if that had not fulfilled enough of my dreams, I am now on my way to Kenya to continue the same work on a much larger scale.
Neat, right? And all of my success I can truly trace back to working with Southwestern. There is nothing that has or could have prepared me better for chasing my dreams as an engineer. I use the skills, character and habits I learned with Southwestern every day of my life. Most of my engineering peers who got “engineering” internships or co-ops “in their field” spent most of their summer waiting for their boss to give them more spread sheets to do while living at home and not really making that much money. I wish I could encourage every college student to step out of what is normal, and take on the responsibility, the pressure, the hard work that is required in the Southwestern Advantage Summer Internship because you will be forced to solve problems…a LOT of problems… and THAT is what will make you an engineer.
Chief Engineer/Co-Founder at Sanivation
ME grad 2010 from Georgia Tech
I worked with Southwestern Advantage two summers ago (2011). On a plane ride home for winter break, I came across an article featuring letters that celebrities wrote to their teenage selves. It was a fun and interesting read – seeing how people approached the assignment. I decided that was how I was going to reflect on my Southwestern experience. Below is my written reflection. It is a bit unconventional, but the friends who I have shown it to, including my student manager, really enjoyed it. I hope that what I have written will help and contribute to Southwestern’s achievements.
To the ten-year-old Kimberly:
I know things have been tough lately, but hang in there. There is still a lot for you to learn and plenty of things you don’t understand yet. You may or may not believe me what I am about to tell you, but trust me on this, okay? I am your biggest fan, but also your greatest critic. You’ll understand once you’ve reached the end of this letter.
Right now, you aren’t too confident in yourself, and neither are you proud of your accomplishments because you think you haven’t done much. You cry too much, and you know it. Remember those nights you spent crying when everyone was sleeping because you didn’t want your family to see your tears because you didn’t want to be a bother? Yeah, I know all about it. Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. I can’t say that life gets any easier, but you’ll learn that it isn’t as bad as you make it out to be. The biggest change you will realize in yourself is how you been choosing to perceive the world.
So here’s the story I promised. Nine years from now, yes I know that seems like a long way still, you’re going to do something that will surprise everyone in the family. In your second year at Berkeley, you’re going to be an officer for a small community service club called Tzu Chi. It is there that you’re going to meet some your closest friends you’re ever going to have in your life. Three friends will stand out: Jeff Hsieh, Aaron Ho, and Tammy Dang. Jeff is going to approach you out of the blue one day as you two sit advertising the club on campus. He is going to tell you about an internship opportunity, and that he would like to do a “practice” info session on you. You will think, “Sure? Why not? It wouldn’t hurt to help the guy out.” Little will you know that this is going to evolve into something much greater.
Welcome to Southwestern, no not the airline company. So what is it exactly? You’re going to be selling educational books and software door-to-door for twelve weeks in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. Your town is called Lynnwood and you’re going to love helping the families there. So the little girl who would cry and hide behind her mother before summoning up enough courage to walk into art class, is the same girl that’s going to be working over eighty hours, for six days a week, working outdoors, talking to strangers? Yes, that’s right.
I’m proud to say that because you wanted to change for the better, for the sake of your dreams and family, you decided that the best way was to put yourself in the most uncomfortable situation you can think of, and this was the result. What did mom think? That you’re a bit crazy? Yes, but you know mom would never stop you from doing something you want to do. Thank her for that.
Through this experience, you’re going to cry, doubt, laugh, and learn to trust other people more. There will be times of frustration, lots of frustration, but also times of joy and happiness. That first door you knock on is going to be one of the scariest things ever to occur in your life, but luckily, mom’s lessons didn’t go to waste. Listen to her more. “You never know unless you try,” is what she always told you, right? Helping families and talking about their kids’ education is going to be a lot of fun, and you’re going to learn a lot about all the different educational options out there. Your determination to finish and your willingness to help others is admirable, but you still lack the assertiveness and confidence that you want and need to become an excellent teacher. You’re not doing this just for yourself; you’re doing it for mom who has worked so hard for you to reach your dream and for your future students. Because of Southwestern Advantage, you’re going to amend those faults; you’ll also become a better listener, a more confident leader, and learn to be a person with greater humility and empathy. Most importantly, you’ll learn that with the right attitude, amazing things can happen. After all, “Who you will someday be, you are now becoming,” so I’m proud of you for making such a bold step.
Feel any better? Good. Go out there and reach your potential. You have it in you and it’s always been there. You just need the courage to get you there.
The Twenty-year-old You
P.S. Remember to thank Jeff for giving you a chance at this experience and everyone else who helped you have an amazing summer!
Mike Ford – University of Kentucky, B.S. in International Economics
“My name is Mike Ford, and I’m a District Sales Leader with Southwestern, and I’ve been here going on my 10th year. I’ve gotten a lot of things out of working with Southwestern’s program over the summertime. I would say the biggest thing I got out of my first summer was just the amount of control I had over my situation. You know, a lot of people blame their circumstances for how far they make it in life or how successful they are; whereas after my first summer I realized I was in complete control of my attitude, my circumstances, and everything that went with it.
The advice I would give for someone checking this out for the very first time, is to be the most coachable person they’ve ever been. So think back to sports they play, or learning a new instrument, or whatever; and just taking all of the advice and putting their best work ethic towards that advice.”
I first heard about Southwestern Advantage from a classmate as we walked out of the first English Literature seminar of the year. We hadn’t met before but I had noticed Mel in class because she was almost as opinionated as I was, and she was the only other person in the room who wasn’t British (though she spoke with a perfect English accent). She came to join me as we left and asked where I had gone to school, and it turned out that we had attended different branches of the same international school: the European School – she in Munich, Germany, and I in Brussels, Belgium. Within about five minutes of opening the conversation she was trying to tell me about the job she’d had the previous summer selling books door-to-door in America. I had spent the previous summer on an amazing road trip across the states and couldn’t work out a) why she was telling me about this in such detail when we had only just met, and b) why on earth she was talking with such enthusiasm about a job selling books door-to-door. I brushed off her suggestion to come and find out more about it, and the summer job didn’t cross my mind again.
Then at the beginning of December I got a phone call as I was revising madly for an exam the following day – this guy named Ali said he was recruiting for summer work in America and he had got my number from Mel. It took me a while to remember who Mel was, but I didn’t remember anything about the job at all. In the end I agreed to meet him the next day just to get him off the phone so that I could go back to my last-minute revision. In the end I went to a presentation the next day right after the exam. I walked in late to a packed room in our student union and immediately felt like I had to impress these people. I have an innate goody-two-shoes side that my lateness had offended, so I spent the rest of the presentation paying great attention and volunteering when we were asked why we might be interested in taking part. The answer I gave was unfortunately true. While on my way to graduating at the top of my class I had had next to no work experience and, with a degree in English Literature, was feeling the pressure of not knowing what exactly I was going to do post-graduation. Plus, at a recent Career Services interview I had been told that the class of 2008 was likely to be the least employable graduating year of the past 2 decades. The prospect of improving my CV/resume seemed too good to pass up, especially as these people seemed to be a whole lot more proactive than my Career Services representative, who had advised me to go travelling or remain in education until the job market improved. Had I taken her advice I think I’d still be on the road 4 years later.
I still wasn’t ready to commit though, and I made Mel go through every possible financial outcome of the summer for me – the very minimum I would need to sell in order to cover the cost of my flight ticket and visa. Eventually I was convinced that I really would not need that many customers in order to make that happen, and that if she could have a successful summer, so could I. The real reason I finally agreed to sell books, though, was simply because I didn’t have anything else lined up and, after a recent break-up, the prospect of getting to know an entirely new group of people felt necessary.
The summer came and went really quickly. I went to California just as the sub-prime crisis began and every other house seemed to be going into foreclosure, but all the moms I met were furious about how much money was being removed from the state education budget. I felt like I had the opportunity to make a difference and put control over their children’s education back into parents’ hands. I made about $11,000 in 7 weeks, cried almost every day because I was tired and felt I wasn’t doing well enough (my up and down emotions still bewilder Mel), and met some absolutely incredible people amongst my customers (some of whom I am still in touch with), my teammates, my host mom, and the rest of the people I was lucky to get to know through Southwestern Advantage. I have some very vivid memories of cycling home after 12 and a half hours of work through a Californian sunset, feeling how surreal it was that I ended up as a door-to-door salesperson, and also immensely grateful that all my premonitions of being like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman had not come to be! I came back with some hilarious memories and, although I must have met about 1500 families that summer I could still tell you detailed stories about many of them!
Over the following 3 summers with Southwestern Advantage, these friendships have multiplied. I have now made good friends with customers in Folsom, California; Denver, Colorado (including a family who sent their teenage daughter to stay with me in Europe for 2 weeks); all over North Dakota (including one wonderfully special family who I now consider part of my own); and finally western Colorado, where I met some of the most open-hearted people I have ever had the pleasure to know. I have also been exposed to some tough life lessons and been taught and looked after by some incredible mentors who have helped me not only with my Southwestern Advantage experiences, communication skills and business and management know-how, but who are also helping me get into graduate school. Oh and in 2011 I made about $43,000 during the summer.
The following is a letter that mother Michelle Fouad wrote as a reference for other skeptical or concerned parents / families. Michelle originally objected very strongly to Brandon working with Southwestern Advantage, however as the letter explains in detail, she eventually became supportive and is now one of Southwestern’s biggest fans.
Dear Caring and Concerned Family,
As a parent, we want to protect our children at all costs. When my son Brandon Abernathy told me about a summer internship with Southwestern Advantage selling books, I was very skeptical. I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the idea of allowing my son to go to a different state and stay and work with strangers. My first thoughts were, “what if these people treat my son bad, hurt him, or steal from him?” Not to mention, I was discouraged of helping my son financially nor could I be able to talk to him much. Secondly, I thought “sales?!!” How can this be lucrative? No way was my son going to go “door to door” where I wouldn’t be able to protect or comfort him whenever I felt I needed to. I wasn’t comfortable with him carrying all that money or being out by himself all day long. I was so scared, because anything can happen.
Virgie and Audrey (two of Brandon’s managers) spoke with me about the program and what their expectations were and how well they invested in and monitored each student. This helped me feel a lot better. Signing the parent support letter made me feel even more skeptical, however I soon realized that this was my own fear that I was dealing with. I did a lot of thinking about everything and came to the realization that I couldn’t protect my son from everything. I had to step back and allow him to be an adult. So, I signed the consent form and decided to support my son rather than give him permission.
During the summer, my son’s first few weeks were a little bit rough, but I started to notice significant changes in him. Even though he was struggling at first, his attitude was so positive! I thought, “how can he be so positive even though he wasn’t making TONS of money at first?” My son explained to me that the intense emotional training that Southwestern invested into him was what had helped him. “Never give up”, he would say, “because when one door closes, another one is waiting to be opened.”
Southwestern teaches our children about “life” through selling books. Everyday in everyone’s lives we have good and bad days. It is how we perceive it and what we take from it that ultimately matters. I learned this through watching my son grow into a new person, better than before. Believe in yourself and you can do anything. Southwestern helped me grow and learn how to be better within myself and I thank them for that. My son is completely responsible, and is extremely motivated. He takes on each day with a positive attitude and no matter what happens, he does his best to make anything negative into something positive. Southwestern is like a family, and I am apart of that family now too. Please allow Southwestern to mold and shape your child to be the best “them” they can be. Open yourself up for the growth just as your child is trying to do. You will not regret it. If you have any questions or just want to talk, please contact me.
Josef Dvorak – University of Economics, Prague
My name is Josef Dvorak, I am a graduate of University of Economics in Prague (Czech Republic) and I am getting ready for my seventh summer with Southwestern Advantage. I was recruited in my 3rd year of University wanting to learn English at any cost. The summer before I went to Ireland with the same desire, I ended up in a kitchen washing dishes and the only English words I learned were: “peel the potatoes”, “wash the plates” and “faster”. I came back home and felt ok about my summer, but that was it.
When I saw one of the Southwestern experienced guys talking in front of a lecture with huge confidence and handing out little surveys, I thought to myself: “I want some of this!” I filled out his survey and didnt even care what I was going to do. I just wanted some of his skills. My first summer went alright, by the end of it I was able to converse fluently in English, saw a little bit of California, learned a lot about loads of things and ended up in the TOP 10 in Europe, saving over $10,500 and feeling great!
As I mentioned above I am getting ready for my 7th summer. I could be talking for hours about all the fancy stuff that I have seen and learned, but here are just couple of those that I value the most: I not only learned English, but spending 5 summers in California also tought me Spanish, and nowadays I am able to make sales and converse in Spanish. I learned how to talk with confidence in front of a large group of people, sell ideas, how to stay motivated, set goals, …. and in general got ready for the job market or setting up my own business. Thanks to what I do I already visited places like Mexico, Cayman Islands, Gambia, Cyprus, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, …. and of course loads of places in USA.
In my “minicareer” with Southwestern I was fortunate enough to build a business with a turnover of over $710,000 (13 Million CZK) in 4 months, and ever since the end of my second summer I have been earning more money in my summer job than both of my parents. Most importantly I helped dozens of Czech, Slovak, and Polish students to go to the US, improve English, learn tons of things, have great fun, and that makes me feel like I had positive impact on many young people.
Drew Stapleton – Michigan State University
Last year (early 2011), when I was a sophomore undergrad at Michigan State University, I was sitting at the student union with my girlfriend, Mara, and one of our friends, Wyatt. Wyatt was telling us how he had to tell this guy he was planning on doing a sales internship this summer, but that he could no longer do it because he had found a more suitable internship with a state senator. While we were talking, the guy that Wyatt had to break the news to, Kyle Peters, approached our table and introduced himself. After him and Wyatt left and had their discussion, Kyle came back to the table where Mara and I were sitting and asked us what we were doing this summer. Mara went on a brief, but fairly impressive monologue about this internship she had already secured with a lobbying firm in Michigan. When it was my turn, all I was thinking was, “Her excuse to not talk to this guy Kyle is so much better than mine.” So, sure enough, I responded with my much less-impressive plan for the summer, which was to wait tables at a restaurant in my home town. Even though I was initially resistant to talking to Kyle, what he said about Southwestern Advantage did peak my interest, and given my very weak response to what I had lined up for the summer, I felt obligated to attend one of his informational meetings.
At the meeting, Kyle spoke about the long hours, hard work, and perseverance it takes to do well with Southwestern. He told me that if I worked 80 hours a week and saw 30 people a day then I would definitely make $8,000. This was very intriguing to me, because I needed some money, but being a political science major, I felt the need to question this, along with everything else Kyle said. I talked to my parents after my second or third meeting with Kyle, and they strongly encouraged me to look into other paid internships, reminding me that there was no guarantee I would make any money. Being the procrastinator I am, I put off the decision of whether or not I would sell books for weeks, before finally telling Kyle that I was in. I figured there was no way to know for sure whether or not this internship would be good for me unless I actually did it. It’s a good thing I finally did decide to sell books, because it was without a doubt one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I worked exactly the number of hours, and saw exactly the number of people per day that Kyle told me to, and lo and behold, I made exactly the amount of money that Kyle said I would if I did those things. But that is not the reason you should sell books. Money comes and goes, but the endless amount of skills you learn on the book field last forever. Southwestern will teach you skills that are perfectly relevant to any career path you choose. My communication skills are infinitely better, especially with adults (who are the demographic you will be interviewing with when you apply for jobs), but also with little kids (which is more difficult than I thought, and may help in the long run). My ability to sell went from non-existent to at least above average, which is a crucial skill in any profession, whether you’re selling your case to a jury, you art to a museum, your medical practice to patients, your software design to a superior, or yourself to any interviewer. Southwestern teaches you the ability to stay positive and laugh at yourself, which is a skill that so many people sorely lack. When you are riding an old bike around in the driving rain at 9 pm (I rode a bike because I did not have a car), and knocking on doors asking people to let you in their home so you can show them some really cool books, the only thing you can do is laugh (even if it’s to keep yourself from crying). Selling books makes it easier to overcome challenges, and I am a more confident, more persistent, harder worker for doing it.
There is no better internship in the country that will better prepare you for the professional world and life as a whole than Southwestern. If you struggle with confidence, it will help you. If you are struggling to figure out how to separate yourself from your classmates while searching for a job, selling books is a great way to do it. If you want to improve your communication skills, Southwestern will help you. If you think you are someone that is already a hard, diligent, motivated worker, why not prove it to yourself? There are certainly risks involved with selling books; anything can happen. And you will probably lead a happy, fulfilling life if you do not sell books; I do not mean to overstate its importance, and I would certainly never say that someone who has done the Southwestern program is any better than anyone who hasn’t. But if you never take any risks, you will never gain any rewards. If you only take small risks, you will only gain small rewards. But if you take great risks, your rewards will be great as well. So, if you are considering selling books, I urge you to stop considering, and just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.