Matt Atchison – A defining moment

Matt Atchison – Creighton University

Matt Atchison as a Freshman in college when he made $29,000 and was the #1 first year with Southwestern Advantage.  Seriously . . .  : )

As a 29 year old young man that just found out I am going to be a father for the first time, I find myself recognizing that there are certain moments that carry real gravity in the story of our lives.  Sometimes we realize those moments as they are happening (like the moment you find out you are having a child) and sometimes we have no idea how influential an event will become.  I remember getting a phone call in my freshman dorm room at Creighton University ten years ago.  That call opened up a door for me that changed the trajectory of my life.

My mom would tell you that the biggest reason I was successful with Southwestern Advantage was because of my summer job as a kid. I grew up detasseling corn in central Nebraska as part of a family business. Both my parents were teachers so the summer was an important time for working hard and making money.  So from the age of 11 I was out there pulling tassels every day for that two or three week season. Every morning I was up at 5 and in the corn by 6:30. Corn cuts and sore ankles were the name of the game. Detasseling is probably the hardest job a kid can legally have these days and most small-town Nebraska kids have tried it. Most last about one summer and then they are ready to give up corn, corn chips, corn-on-the-cob, and all other corn products for the rest of their life.  My dad was a genius motivator of my sisters and me out there in the fields. I remember him always building up the older high school kids that were the fastest and best detasselers in the crew. He was proud of them. And he paid them well. He always told kids that they could get paid by the hour or paid by the acre. Most would choose the safe route and take the hourly pay. But the best kids always wanted to get paid on their performance.

Instead of taking snack breaks after each row, I learned to compete with the older kids and push myself to pull as many rows as I could. It didn’t really matter if I was tired or bored or wanted to flirt with the cute 13 year old girl in the row next to mine. I wanted to be seen as one of those kids that impressed my dad with their effort day in and day out. I learned to work hard and push myself to do my best when no one else was watching. I learned that it was only a season of working hard and I learned to break things down to one row, one day at a time.  I detasseled for 7 summers and I learned how to enjoy the daily push. There were days that I hated it. Sometimes it rained all day and I was freezing cold. There were days where it was well over 100 degrees and I thought I was melting into the mud.  At the end of most of my summers I vowed it was certainly my last.  It was hard. But it was ALWAYS worth it.  I knew it was good for me and I liked having a checking account.

Matt Atchison – Southwestern Advantage Sales Coach

I can’t believe how many similarities there were between detasseling as a kid and selling books as a college student.  The best detasselers weren’t always physically the strongest. But they were mentally the toughest. They could keep sight of their goals when it was uncomfortable. They could motivate themselves when the boss wasn’t present. They could understand that the check at the end would be worth the work in the moment.  They cared about doing their best.  Not only are these qualities part of what it takes to do well with Southwestern, but these lessons are what make us great in our careers, our faith, our health, and our relationships. I am very thankful to my parents for sending me into the corn and off to the bookfield to learn these invaluable lessons as a young person.

Selling with Southwestern Advantage is not easy and it’s not for everyone. But there is a reason it has been around for 157 years (think about that for a minute).  There is a population of young people that have a desire to see what they are made of and step outside the box. They are ok being away from their family and friends on an adventure for 3 months. They are willing to work long hours and learn how to handle rejection.  They want to BE different than their peers so they are willing to do something different than them.

I looked at it like this…was there any job or experience in Nebraska that I could learn or earn as much as I could over a 12 week summer? Not that I knew of. (I did, however, want to apply to be a Dave Letterman intern but it was unpaid and I had to pay for my own rent in Manhattan. That would be a pretty cool gig though!) If I didn’t like SW, then oh well, it was only a summer. But I thought I would like it and I thought I could do well. My mom thought I was crazy and my dad thought it would be good for me. He knew I would learn a ton either way. It would be part of my “education”.

I went to Massachusetts for my first summer. It was weird and a little awkward at first but I really did try my hardest. I went to work every day and I took very few shortcuts. I knocked on lots of doors and I LEARNED how to connect with people. I got good after a couple weeks. I liked the push. I worked more real hours than any other rookie in the country that summer. I ended up #1 in the company and I made a little over $29,000. I really did. My parents couldn’t believe it. My mom cried when I showed her my savings check of about $26,000 when I got back home in August. I had never been so proud of myself. It was a great feeling at the end. At the END.  The summer was full of ups and downs. Homesickness gave me stomach aches on many mornings. Rejection pissed me off and shook my courage.  Long hours made me tired and my mind tried telling me I didn’t really have to do my best.  There were a few times where I absolutely wanted to quit.  Some kids did quit. It made it easier to think about quitting when my first roommate went home.  But I was committed to myself and my goals for the whole summer.

I came back and sold all the way through college. I became a sales manager and I built teams of students and taught them to be leaders. I love what i have learned and i am proud of the impact i have been able to have with students over the years.  There are many paths that can lead you to success in life. This was one of mine. You certainly do not have to work with Southwestern if you don’t feel it’s your deal this summer.  In my experience, however, I have not seen any other opportunity where I could learn as much about leadership and building people than the Southwestern Advantage  experience. My ten years at SW have been a blessing to me and my wife. The principles and lessons taught are true and they will be true for long beyond the next 156 years.  It is hard and that’s what makes it worth it. Oh, and the people are wonderful too.

If you do go sell with Southwestern Advantage this summer, finish the summer. No matter what. Be committed to persisting until you succeed. Compete to become a top seller. Don’t let yourself rationalize your goals when you are tired or uncomfortable. It is possible but improbable that you will make as much money as I did my first summer. But who cares. Get paid in experience and emotional maturity.  Take an adventure this summer and go learn more about yourself than ever before.  You will build some amazing friendships and you can write a pretty cool chapter in the continuing story of your life. Bon voyage!

Southwestern AdvantageMatt Atchison – A defining moment

5 Comments on “Matt Atchison – A defining moment”

  1. Brian Bakken

    Matt is a true leader! I think everyone who sold books for a couple summers or more can relate to this article. The ups and downs the courage it takes but most importantly the deep long lasting change it has on a persons life. Keep leading those college kids Matt and you will continue to be one of the best role models anyone could have(including your future child)!!

  2. Shaina Chechang

    Thank you Matt for being an exemplary leader and an inspiration to all you encounter! I have learned so much from you over these past 4 years.

  3. Pete Burgess

    Hey Matt, thanks for this. Great article and perfect reminder of what it takes to do well at this. Thanks for being an inspiration to people (literally!) around the world!

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