Jeff Hsieh – UC Berkeley
My story with the Southwestern Advantage Internship starts with a simple Facebook status:
Aaron Ho: If you’re looking for a paid internship this summer, message me! I’ll hook you up! 😀
To which I responded with little enthusiasm:
Jeff Hsieh: I’m interested.
Little did I know, those two words would change my life forever. I was invited to an informational session by my soon-to-be student manager and great friend, Aaron, through a Facebook message. I guess I am just lucky to have met these next few individuals. I had arrived early and was working on some homework near the location of the info session, when Brandan Tobin, a guy who I had met the previous week at social event walked by. I thought to myself “Oh yeah, I remember him, we raced at solving the Rubik’s Cube! Could it be…that he is involved in this internship as well? No way, that would be too coincidental.” (He turned out to be one of the managers for the internship) A few minutes later, Aaron waved at me and led me to a table, where I was introduced to a Mr. Ron Alford. He shook my hand, welcomed me to the info session, and stated that he was going to leave to take care of some other things. I remembered thinking “I don’t really know who he is. He seems like a car salesman. Should I trust him? Oh well, he doesn’t seem that important anyway.” I quickly forgot about him. There I was, sitting at a table with a couple of other kids coming to hear about the internship as well. Jorge Penate, a fellow Berkeley student, introduced himself and told us that he was going to take about an hour to run this info session. The next hour of my life I would never forget, as Jorge eloquently explained how much money one can potentially make in this internship, how we learned to run out own business, and how this would be an opportunity for personal growth.
After the informational session, Aaron pulled me aside and asked me how I felt about how I heard. I replied with great enthusiasm that this would be the perfect internship for me and thanked him for inviting me to hear about it. I told him that I DEFINITELY wanted to apply. He handed me an orientation folder and explained to me the interview process, and scheduled a time with me to meet the next day.
My emotional high was interrupted after first day interview when I remember standing in the hallway of my dorm building thinking to myself “I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I’ve never sold anything before. I have to travel somewhere alone for the summer time? This is scary. I’m not good enough. I don’t have the skills. I don’t trust this. I can’t do it.” I filled my head with worry and negative thoughts that brought my excitement from the first day down to a negative emotional low.
To make a long story short, I brought myself out of the emotional low. I don’t even remember if I shared with my interviewer my fears and doubts. All I knew was that this summer I had to do something other than sit around doing nothing like I had been doing the last 17 summers of my life.
Fast forward: Lynnwood, Washington. Week 2 of the summer. Tuesday morning. 10:30am. I just had 10-15 doors slammed in my face consecutively, with not one single family that seemed to be interested in what I was doing. I was sure that these families still had no idea what I was doing, and that nobody in this cul-de-sac cared about what I was doing. I knocked on one more door at the end of the cul-de-sac, to which I heard “no, we’re not interested (door close).” I could not take it anymore. As I walked away from that house with my head down, I felt my heart shudder and my throat close up. Tears started coming to my eyes. I tried to fight them, but I was unsuccessful. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the side of the curb in the middle of the street bawling and wondering to myself what I was doing. I sat there in a puddle of self-pity and frustration as I tried to get a hold of myself. Then it hit me. Someone at sales school had said: “This summer, you will be tested. You will want to quit. When that moment comes, you will be faced with a choice: To continue on or to go home. This choice that you make will either make or break your summer. If you choose to keep going, then that is when you know you will do amazingly.” When I heard this in sales school, I had not thought too much about it or how it would apply to me. I smiled and said to myself “Okay, Jeff, this is the moment they were talking about. Are you ready to have a great summer?” I had immediately changed my attitude. This may sound weird, but I felt a sense of renewal and rebirth. It was almost as if I knew this moment had to come, and that I would be faced with this choice. I felt a sense of relief at the same time, because I believed that I had successfully made the choice that would grant me a great summer. Before, I was uncertain, scared, and lacked any faith in myself whatsoever, but all of a sudden, I felt like a new person. I finally realized that my personal limits are only limited by the choices that I make. I continued to work the rest of that day to meet nice families that offered me snacks and drinks. Along the way, I also wrote up a couple of sales. I continued to work that rest of the summer to achieve $10,000 profit for the summer and an invaluable sense of pride and confidence.
At the end of that summer, however, I was “lucky” enough to be one of the 900 males in the United States to suffer a Spontaneous Pneumothorax. For those of you who do not know, that is a fancy way of saying “lung collapse that happens spontaneously.” I was also so “lucky” that it happened to me TWICE, with the second one occurring in the following week. After extensive consultation with many surgeons, doctors, and pulmonologists (lung specialists), I was informed that I had suffered that due to something I couldn’t control: the way my body and bone structure is shaped when I was born. They say that it only happens to an average of 900 males a year, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s diet or physical strenuous activities. It simply was a result of my skinny rib structure and my still-developing lungs. This was confirmed when I heard that a good friend of mine suffered the same spontaneous lung collapse while sitting on his couch watching television. As someone who is physically active in sports (soccer, badminton, biking) I gained 20 pounds that school year because was instructed not to exercise. I could not even do a light jog. My doctor also said that since they allowed my lung to heal by itself in the hospital without surgically fixing it (because I wanted to start school on time in the fall), I have a chance of this lung collapse recurring spontaneously again. I will have this risk until I am at least 30 years old. So there it was…a decade of my life…gone. I was faced to face the next ten years in stress and anxiety that I had to always be somewhere close to a hospital. Is that how I was going to live?
I had initially wanted to sell a second summer with the Southwestern Advantage Program, but it seemed to be too risky. I envied those who had the health to be able to do this internship, and I was slightly angry with the situation I am in and mad at myself for having this health condition. Southwestern was no doubt the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life so far, it would be crazy to do it again, especially with this health risk. Call me crazy, but I prepared for my second summer for the entire school year and recruited and trained a friend to sell for his first summer. I prepared for the summer, but had not decided whether or not to go through with it. My realization from my first summer motivated me: “I finally realized that my personal limits are only limited by the choices that I make.”
I discussed this internship with my doctor throughout the school year and wanted to make a careful decision. Everything seemed to be working against me as I found out that I was going to be selling this second summer across the country in New York. This gave me even more fear and doubts that I would be away from my family if I were to suffer another lung collapse. I received a phone call from my doctor in May, a couple of weeks before leaving for my second summer. She told me that she had sat down with the head pulmonologists, examined my entire collection of lung X-rays (I had more then 20) and gave me the green light to, and I quote, “Live your life normally.” She said that since I don’t smoke, my lungs were in very healthy condition and that a recurring lung collapse has a low chance of happening. That was it. I had made my decision. I was going to go live my life.
Fast forward: Summer number 2. Long Island, New York. Why did I choose to come back? Remember the people I mentioned above when I wrote about my first informational session? Those were just a few of the many people in this company that inspires me and pushes me to doing my best all the time. None of them tried to convince me to come back for a second summer. They all were very understanding about my situation and never pushed it. To this day, I still remain great friends with Aaron Ho, Brandan Tobin, Ron Alford, Jorge Penate, and many more left unnamed. Those were just the few who happened to the first faces of Southwestern that I encountered. I humorously described some of my first impressions of them earlier, but I truly mean that it is the people of Southwestern that keeps me coming back. I am so grateful and have learned so much from each of those individuals and continue to as I meet more and more Southwestern Advantage interns. This is a company that builds people and creates valuable networks that allow each individual the chance to discover what s/he is truly capable of achieving.