Garrek Stemo – The Experience of a Skeptic in the Southwestern Internship

Garrek Stemo – Michigan State University

Southwestern Internship Experience - Garrek Stemo

After receiving a seemingly random phone call from a bubbly personality named Eva I agreed to go to an information session about this company called Southwestern Advantage. There I met a very tall and smiley man with golden curly hair. His name was Aaron. Aaron’s smile was quite big and he was talking about selling books door-to-door far away without a guaranteed income. I was suspicious. I had met these door-to-door salespeople at my own front door for years. They were a well-dressed and cunning bunch, always smiling and they wanted my parents to spend money on some product (magazines, usually). To me, they looked rather sad. In any case, I did not want to be one of those unhappy, smiling suckers filling a quota on the street.

I surveyed the man closely and listened for catches, thinking surely it was a scam. About halfway through there was indeed a catch. This summer would be the most challenging undertaking we could do at this point in our lives. He told of the crushing rejection and of being away from home and of the absence of a floor or ceiling on how much money one could come away with. Well, at least he was straight forward.

All the supplies and the training would be provided to run our own business over the summer (no charge to me), but I was the one who would have to make it happen should I choose to shake this man’s hand and join him on the adventure.

Now, I am not known to turn down a challenge, and if this was to be the greatest challenge of my life, with much to gain and little upfront costs to lose, what was the risk? After much debating and three lengthy one-on-one conversations I took the job. The giggly Eva (the one who invited me to the information session) was to be my mentor, also with golden hair.

After weeks of training in the library of Michigan State University, all the students from MSU were to travel to Nashville for one week of intensive sales training hosted at the Southwestern Advantage headquarters before the start of our selling adventure. I will say that my training was phenomenal and was the most fun I have had learning anything ever. It was probably a semester’s worth of sales training compacted into five or six 12-hour days. It was rigorous, but exhilarating. After training our group from MSU moved out to Maryland.

Aaron was right. The summer of 2008 witnessed some of the toughest events of my life. The rejections were bothersome (to say very little) and the work felt monotonous. I had to find a way to keep going. I wanted to prove I could face up to any challenge. I pictured my roommates with their air-conditioned cars and saw myself on my bicycle with 25 lbs of demo books and thought, ‘Surely I have the greater challenge, and that is why I will prevail.’ And on I pressed.

The greatest hurdles did not include things like the moist heat, ants in my lunchbox, or the worry that my bike might get stolen after walking several neighborhoods without retrieving it (never happened). My greatest adversary was myself.  I knew what I had to do, but I did not always do it. I knew my goals, but that voice that exists in all of us, the one that wants to take the easy path, is ever present and nagging. Being alone for twelve hours of the daytime brought out parts of me that I sort of knew existed, but I had never witnessed their great destructive power.

Enough dreariness. On the best days I was able to conquer my negative thoughts with that side that had tasted victory and appreciated the hard work necessary to repeat it. On these days I forgot those less pleasant stumps in my path and found ways to take those aspects that were good and make them grand. It was on these days that my inner self shined out into those that I talked to and I found the commonness between the people that I met and myself that allowed us to come together to make a positive transaction of emotion and one of the goods that I carried.

The monotony persisted, but on my good days I chose not to focus on it. I chose to make the day the way that I wanted it to be made. I chose to focus on positive emotion.

By the end of the summer I felt I had conquered an insurmountable behemoth. I did not make as much money as my roommates. In fact I was at the low end of the whole group, but I was impressed at myself for advancing head-on toward that inner beast and achieving some measure of success with respect to myself.

I feel the Southwestern internship is a medium through which one can either improve oneself or see only negativity. It is a lens cast upon the ego so that one can make a decision about what he or she sees. The manifestation of the inner me on the “book-field” has resulted in tremendous success in self-cultivation. Among other things, I became more self-aware after my Southwestern Advantage experience. I learned to control my focus in order to magnify my opportunities and to diminish what some might call “bad luck.” Perhaps this has been the greatest benefit. I now have the ability to “see” plainly that I, Garrek, am a result of the decisions that I make in response to my environment and that I am not a product of what might happen to me.

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