Bobby Nicholson – University of Tennessee
“What are you doing this summer?” This is a question I randomly asked my friend Tara Bell that changed my life forever. Her answer was, “I’m selling kids books door to door.” I said to her, “That’s interesting.” She goes, “Yeah, I made $15,000 doing it last summer.” I looked around at my other friends and responded, “Tell me more.” That was the beginning of a sequence of events that changed my life forever. I had never heard of the Southwestern Advantage summer program before, but after Tara brought me over to meet the corporate recruiter on the University of Tennessee’s campus, Wes Clanton, I fell in love with it. I saw the Southwestern experience as an opportunity to truly understand people of all different backgrounds, and to just understand how people think and why they do what they do. What I didn’t understand was how much I was going to learn about myself.
Coming into the Southwestern summer program, I was actually sure that I was going to be number one in the company and teach them a thing or two. I was already the president of my student body, lead student ambassador, tutor, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member, president of the fastest growing and highest ranked student organization on campus, and I was one of a few dozen students in the state of Tennessee to make the All U.S.A. Academic Team. Southwestern was going to be a breeze. Wow, did I ever have it coming. I could not have imagined it being as challenging as it was, and I realized for the first time in my life that I was the excuse king. With everyone doing the exact same thing I was doing, on the exact same schedule, with the exact same books, I finally had to accept that I was not as good as I thought I was when everyone started beating me in the first three weeks. Even beyond sales, I did not even believe that seeing 30 families a day was possible. That is until my weird looking roommate who was socially awkward was beating me every week, and the only thing he was doing differently was seeing ten more people a day then me. I finally had to accept that all of my “reasons” for not being able to see 30 families a day were all just excuses. From that point on till the end of the summer, I overcame my excuses and saw 30 families a day almost every single day for the next eight weeks. Seeing 30 families a day wasn’t what the accomplishment was though, the accomplishment was that for the first time in my life I realized something that had been holding me back in so many areas of my life, my excuses. I was forced in this program to make my choice to sink or swim, and I ended up being number one in my org that summer.
There are so many countless stories and people within Southwestern that have had a huge impact on my life. The single biggest to this point came during my third summer, it truly changed my life and the person that I will forever be. Seven weeks into my third summer, I was failing miserably. I was selling less than I had my first summer, worse than that was that everyone had such high expectations of me, many thought I would be a top contender. At that point during the summer, I wasn’t even near the charts. Everyone just thought I had fallen off the face of the earth. I had first years that I personally recruited beating me. Before this summer, I was hoping to be able to make a career out of Southwestern. I loved it, and I wanted to be involved in it for as long as I could. I had so much of my life planned out with Southwestern, but at this point at week seven of absolute failure, I truly considered quitting for the first time in my Southwestern Career. I also cried for about two hours after a Sunday meeting because I thought my life and my career that I had planned out were over. I was obviously being a little drama queen. That Sunday, however, one of the student managers, Jen Payne, called me out, and told me to stop being such a baby, and she got me recommitted to the goals I had before leaving that summer. She then went out of her way to help me achieve those goals. Two weeks later I had the biggest week I had in my career. Three weeks later I had already doubled my summer. By the end of the summer, I had won the Delta Force competition, become number 14 in the company, and as a result ended up winning the Student Excellence award that year. I will never be able to explain the difference that Jen Payne made in my life, and there is also no amount that someone could pay me to take away the experience that I had that summer. It is the best memory of my life up to this point, and I have an awesome life. It has also forever given me the confidence that no matter how bad things get, they can always instantly turn around and be better than you ever could have imagined them.
The maturity that I have gained over the last four years has made me an unrecognizable person from the boy that I was coming into the program. I will never be able to thank or repay Southwestern Advantage enough for the difference it has made in my life. Thank you.