Laura Jones – University of Iowa
I first became familiar with the Southwestern Advantage Internship in the summer of 2004 when my mom bought a set of huge burgundy books from two Estonian boys. Two years later, in 2006, my older brother became a “book boy.” Three years later in 2009, my mother, who had initially tried talking my brother OUT of selling books, was trying to talk me INTO it. After hearing all the good things my mom had to say about the program, and emphasizing the point that there were “a lot of cute guys in it with their heads on straight,” I decided to go check it out. Five days after that conversation I had a spot saved for me in sales school.
Looking back I wasn’t the sharpest of kids; I wasn’t involved with anything on campus, I was still dependent on my parents for almost everything, even my laundry, and I was shy in front of new people. I was told that personality doesn’t determine how well you do, hard work does. I knew I could work hard. Ultimately, I think I did well because I had a desire to be really good at something like everyone else in family was. I had never set school records, state records, or been elected president/captain like my older siblings. I wanted to feel like I fit in with a family of overachievers, and the Southwestern Advantage Internship was my opportunity to excel. I didn’t just want to finish that summer, I wanted to place. I was nervous. I heard over and over it was going to be hard, and I would have a “dirt pile” day where I would be challenged to the fullest and want to quit more than ever. Still, I couldn’t picture it. Ready or not, it came.
In the third week of the summer, I had my dirt pile. I took a new route to my territory and managed to get lost even with a GPS. I got there fifteen minutes late and already was feeling down because I had broken one of golden rules: always start on time. As the morning went on, I could not find people to sit down with; they either asked me to come back later, weren’t home, or weren’t interested. By 10:00, I started to question whether I was going to see thirty people that day. By 12:00, I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t even place in the top one hundred that summer.
I started thinking about all the other book kids that were getting ahead of me. I was picturing the end of the summer and not finishing well. I pictured every day being like that for the rest of the summer. It was hot. I had forgotten my water bottle. Worst of all there was no one to talk to. I was frustrated.
I really wanted to quit, but what kept me going was the disappointment I knew I would have in myself if I did. Quitting would be would be failing, not staying and trying. I was used to calling my mom or dad whenever I had a major problem. They would fix it, and I would feel better, but not this time. I had decided before the summer, that when it got tough I would not call anyone. I would solve my own problems.
So I kept going. No answer. No kids. Finally I got referred to someone that did have kids and was home. I put on my best smile and tried to think of three reasons it was a great day. I knocked on Miss Mary’s door, and she sat down with me on her porch. Just talking to her cheered me up. She told me about her daughter and how she struggled with school and ended up buying books for. She then referred me to her neighbor, Miss Pat, who was raising her grandson. She told me how it was hard to help him with homework because it had been so long since she had been in school. Not only did she buy, she referred me to the rest of her street and they all wanted to sit down with me. It was a complete 180! I became so focused on other people that I forgot about myself.
On the drive home that night, I was thinking about the day and it really seemed like God had been testing me. Throughout the summer, I had more “little tests,” that were just as stressful if not more, but I knew it would get better. I got better at coaching myself through them. That summer I ended up third in the company for first year students. I remember when the results came out I thought, “Jeez all I did was what they told me to do.” Easier said than done, but still.
My life changed incredibly since my first summer. I got involved at my school. I joined Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. I run at six every morning and am training for my first half-marathon. I didn’t even think 6 a.m. existed before Southwestern! Within my first year I traveled to Nashville, Louisiana, Virginia, Scottsdale, Cancun, Colorado, Kansas City, and Chicago; most of them trips I won. Most of all I have met some of the coolest people that have forever impacted my life—both families I’ve met in the summer and fellow book kids.
Though it is an amazing program and my life was changed by it, I can’t say I would recommend it for everyone. I would only recommend it to students that are ready to take on a challenge. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. I mean, you can make money quickly, but there is A LOT of work involved, more than any other summer job in America. The only job that is harder is probably the military. It’s not quite that hard. For the students that are ready, man—you are in for the WILDEST ride of your lives this summer! You will experience every emotion possible and the temptation to quit will be enormous at times. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t thought about it enough! You should be nervous, but that is okay. It’s actually better that way because you’ll prepare yourself better mentally. It will be hard, but just remember this: