Garrek Stemo – Michigan State University
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 from home without a guaranteed income. I was suspicious; it sounded absurd. I had met door-to-door salespeople at my own front door for years. They were always a cunning bunch, fake smiles and wanting my parents to spend money on some useless product (magazines, usually). To me, they seemed rather sad. In any case, I did not want to be one of those unhappy, fake smiling suckers filling a quota on the neighborhood streets.
This was surely a scam. I surveyed the man closely and listened for catches. About halfway through, there it was – his catch. “This summer would be the most challenging undertaking we could do at this point in our lives,” Aaron said. He explained what dealing with rejection would feel like, how being in an unfamiliar place was hard, and how the absence of a floor or ceiling meant dealing with substantially more risk than minimum wage. Well, at least he was straight forward.
He also explained the 160 year history of the company, the financial opportunities, how it’s not about sales – it’s about running your own small business, how it’s not about twisting arms and pressuring people into buying things they don’t need – it’s really about just finding people who already have a need for the product. He explained running your own business means no quotas, and it means you can compete with peers who are doing the same program.
The challenge and competition part grabbed me. I like work that brings out the best in me, not bores me. All the supplies and the training would be provided to run our own business over the summer at 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.
With full transparency about the opportunities and risks, thousands of proven success stories, more for me to gain than my other options, and no upfront costs, what was actually the scam I thought existed? After much debating and three lengthy one-on-one conversations I took the offer. The giggly Eva (the one who invited me to the information session) was to be my coach.
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. That summer I experienced some of the toughest events of my life. The rejections were bothersome (to say very little) and the work felt monotonous at times. I had to find a way to keep going. I wanted to prove to myself I really could stand 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.’ So, on I pressed.
The greatest hurdles did not include things like the heat, ants in my lunchbox, or the worry that my bike might get stolen. 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 very negative thoughts in my mind that I sort of knew existed, but I had never witnessed their real influence.
On the best days I was able to conquer my negative thoughts with that side that had tasted success and appreciated the hard work necessary to repeat it. On these days I appreciated the challenges – reminding myself that’s the type of person I was. It was on these days that my inner self shined out into those that I talked to and I found the commonalities between the people that I met and myself that allowed us to come together for a positive conversation.
The monotony persisted, but on my good days I chose to focus on positive emotion.
By the end of the summer I felt I had conquered an insurmountable behemoth. I did not finish as a top producer, but I was impressed at myself for advancing head-on toward that inner beast and achieving a measure of success with respect to myself.
I feel Southwestern is a chance to improve oneself or see only negativity. It helped me start to look for the good in situations, things, and in people. It’s an attitude development opportunity. 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 limited to be a product of my circumstances.