Zac DeVries – Grand Valley State University
I think one of the funniest and most endearing things about your first Southwestern Advantage summer is not only what it reveals about you, but also WHEN it reveals it. My first summer I was working in North Branch, MN a town only slightly larger than your high school. I remember that week I had had some car troubles and my 94 Mercury Tracer (total chick magnet) had blown a timing belt just after I closed my last sale. So, like any well trained student, I did what I was taught to do, I had my car towed to a repair shop and got a ride from one of my roommates in the morning. So, there I was book back slung over my shoulder ready to take on this town and have a great day! (Little did I know there was a hurricane heading for my tugboat of joy) At about 9:30am, after I had finished only a few presentations I was sitting on a door-step with a mom and her son, when I saw those menacing blue and red lights come flashing on around the corner. With the way this cop was driving you would have thought I just emptied the local bank. The officer strode out of his car and informed me that even though I had signed and paid for a permit (some towns require these) the city council had not voted on it and I would have to leave the town until they reconvened. If that wasn’t bad enough the officer told me he would “gladly” escort me out of the town. Great!
So just to recap I not only have no car, but also no town to sell in. I can’t call my roommates and there’s no way I’m going back to my HQ. So, what do I do? The only thing I could do: I decided to find a way. I remembered there had been a very nice (and cute) college girl that I had gotten some pre-approach from a few houses down, I told the officer I’d be right back and ran down the sidewalk. Between gasps of air I knocked on the door and miraculously she answered, I quickly explained my situation and told her I desperately needed a bike so I could, quote: “Bike to the next town” (ooh yeah, that impressed her) Somehow, by the grace of god, she understood and told me to wait a second. A moment later the garage door opened and there she stood behind a row of multi-colored bikes of nearly every sort. She told me I could have my pick, but she suggested a green mountain bike with a cloud 9 seat that had belonged to her brother who was now in the Navy. Without even asking for payment or my driver’s license she just replied to bring it back when I was done and be safe on the road. Wow, people will amaze you!
By the time I had reached the edge of North Branch I scarcely remembered how unfortunate my predicament had become or how strangely the officer looked at me when I told him, “I’d just bike out of town.” To be honest the only thing I was thinking about was how great it felt to have the wind rushing against my face and how funny I must look to everyone. A pink polo wearing college kid with a huge book bag riding around his shoulder. It didn’t help that I wiped out a few times. People must have thought I was the worst paperboy in the state! It wasn’t until I got slightly out of the town that I realized my troubles had only begun. The next closest town to North Branch lay 12 miles away. In a car that’s no problem but on a bike that’s a little more than a hike.
“Well,” I thought, “this is good because I have a bike which is faster than walking, this is great b/c I bet no one has sold books in this neighbor town before, and this is wonderful because it’s still early so cars can still see me.” (The last one I had to dig deep to muster a smile on) So, I biked, and biked, and biked some more. A number of things happened on the next 12 miles that would change my summer. A German Shepherd chased me for about a half mile, I knocked on a lot of doors of confused people in the country wondering how I got there, I learned about pasteurized milk and how to churn butter, and got chased by two more puppies. But by the time I reached the tiny town of Almelund, MN I had already made 3 sales! Big ones at that! All of these sales in the country, places I may never have stopped at had I a working car. Hmm, interesting…
When I got to Almelund, I noticed right away it was a One-derful place, as in one stoplight, one road, one gas-station that also doubled as a market and town hall. I was in a town that was no larger than my graduating class!! Again, what could I do, complain? What good would that do? There was nothing to do, but work! So I set off, biking down the streets, getting better pre-approach then I had ever done before, biking through woods, streams, what passed for bridges, everything and anything. I wanted to find every house in Almelund. I would talk to them all. Slowly but surely I started to increase my contacts, then my presentation increased too. But more importantly I realized something I hadn’t before, I was doing something I hadn’t up until that point, I was making people laugh, making them smile by telling them about my crazy trip to their town. I was poking fun at myself and it felt great!!
During the evening I had the opportunity to meet someone that changed my life. Her name was Janice she lived outside of town. She had one son in High school and 5 year old daughter. Janice worked two jobs to take care of her kids while her sister helped babysit. Her husband had left her years ago and she still was able to provide a home and education for her children. What surprised me most though about Janice was her outlook on life. It was not only positive but inspiring! She stressed the importance of education and goals to her kids and laughed off a lot of the little things that would cause most of us to brood for days. She bought a few books for her daughter and the college prep system for her son. If it cost her any financial hardship she didn’t let it show. To her, it was well worth it. Janice taught me that when we get down in life, all we need is a little perspective on our situation. With the right perspective any problem becomes trivial. I swore I would remember that forever.
While biking back to North Branch while singing Chiti-chiti Bang Bang to myself I hardly felt the light rain coming down in the late night. My mind was back on the small town that I had just visited, on what the evening had taught me. I remember realizing that even though all these things had happened to me I hadn’t quit, I didn’t give up. Instead I found a way and not only did I do that, but I also made it fun. And that fun, that joy had overflowed onto the people I met that day. Up until this day in my Southwestern Advantage internship, I had been selling people. I was good at it, but I was miserable. I could tell people just wanted me gone. Southwestern had taught us to be service minded, to focus on people, and to have fun; but I hadn’t listened. This was different. This was fun. This was what I wanted to do for the rest of the summer.
This day changed my life, my outlook, and the rest of my summer. I no longer sweated the little things, I made fun of my situation, laughed it off, found the positive, and put the best of me in front of everyone I met that summer. All because of a little car problem and a small town that I will never forget.
BTW I kept in touch with Janice for a while after the summer her son got accepted to a small school outside of Cambridge, MN. and… the college girl that let me borrow the bike, remember her, well she added me on Facebook, shortly after I dropped the bike off 😉
Remember, “A pessimist complains about the wind, an optimist hopes for it to change, a leader adjusts the sails.” 😉
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