Rachel Demp – Grand Valley State University
Before Southwestern Advantage, I had always been good at everything. I was a National Dance Champion for three years in a row, All-American dancer for three years, and top scholar of my graduating class finishing 8th out of 400. I was an excellent student, on the dean’s list every semester, and I knew that I could do anything that I set my mind to. After all, that’s what my parents brought me up to believe. I had incredible mentors, like my father who ran his own business coaching company, and my many dance teachers who taught me to always strive for more. Unfortunately, the work experience that I had had up until then did not really show what I was capable of. I worked as a dance camp counselor for two summers where I barely made $200/ week dragging kids to the bathroom and setting up snacks. So when I first heard about selling books during my junior year at Grand Valley State University, I was more than excited to take on the challenge.
I still seem to remember every little thing about signing up to sell my first summer. I met with my manager, Sheridan, and sat through the initial presentation. The second they started talking about competition and challenge, I knew that this was exactly what I needed to do for the summer. Convincing my boyfriend and parents though, wasn’t the easiest task. My mom and boyfriend were very concerned when I first told them. Safety was the main concern, but after explaining what I would actually be doing, they got on board. My parents have never really kept me from doing anything if I decide and commit to doing it. My dad understood the ideas behind the Southwestern Advantage Internship, especially since he runs his own business, and agreed that it would be an experience that would in turn help me “grow up” a little. The deal was sealed when my manager visited my house and spent two hours answering all of my parent’s crazy questions.
I trained with Sheridan all spring, and met some of the other kids I would be working with. I grew more confident in myself and my ability to do well over the summer. “If you promise to see 35 families a day, work hard, and have a great attitude, I will help you be a top first year this summer,” Sheridan used to tell me in our weekly training. But, by the time finals hit, and I realized that I would be leaving at the end of the week….the nerves started getting to me.
Sales school was an absolute blur my first summer, I was overwhelmed with how much there was to learn, and felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day, especially since I was quite the perfectionist. By Tuesday, I cried to my student manager about how hard this was. For the first time, I hadn’t been the best, and it felt horrible. Things got better as he told me that this whole experience is a process, and when you overcome challenges, you grow. I trusted him entirely. On the last day of sales school, I came up with a greater purpose for my summer. I was selling books to finally see what I was made of.
My first day of my first summer was one of the hardest days of my life. I woke up and felt like I was going to be sick, that’s how nervous I was. We went to our breakfast spot, Cathy’s Countryside Chicken Cafe :), and I could barely touch my food. After that, it was time to go to work. I drove up to my first street, and the houses seemed larger than life. Walked up to my first door, took a deep breath and knocked, secretly hoping that no one would be home. Lucky for me, someone answered, and I was so nervous that I literally forgot my name! She looked at me like I was crazy, and I ended up finding out that she didn’t even have kids. Whew, what a relief, I thought. I moved forward. I was so bad my first day that I didn’t even sit down with a mom until 5:00 at night! And by that time, I was so nervous that I butchered everything I was supposed to say.
I got discouraged with all of the rejection from the day. I remembered what I learned in sales school: Persist until you succeed. So, that’s what I did. I still remember my first sale. I was in this beautiful home in the middle of the country neighborhood with a mom named Sandra. By the time I sat down at her dining room table, I was still shocked that she actually let me in (especially after being rejected at the door all day.) She had a second grader. The presentation was absolutely awful, and I am pretty sure that I didn’t say anything I was supposed to say, like I had learned in sales school. I gave her one of the books to peek through and she goes…..”Ok sure, we’ll get ‘em.” I think my jaw dropped to the floor. It actually worked? But I was so horrible? At that moment I was brought back to what I had learned. It doesn’t matter how talented I am, all that matters is that I see at least 35 people a day, the products practically sell themselves, and in that instance they had. Even though I came home that night feeling completely defeated, I knew that it would get better if I just kept putting the work in.
The very next day, I ended up having 5 customers and made over $600 in a day. That was more than I made in three weeks working as a camp counselor during my past summers. I actually ended up as the top first year of the company for my very first week. But it didn’t get any easier. I just grew and got better every day, like my manager told me I would before the summer.
I ended up finishing 3rd in the company my first summer, but in the end, I gained a lot more than just money from the experience. I finally did something completely independent, and proved to myself that I was capable of a lot more than I thought. I met some incredible families, overcame challenges that I never thought I could have handled before, and created lasting friendships with my manager and the kids in my group. I not only gained skills, but I gained the confidence in myself that I can really do anything. Running a small business in the Southwestern Advantage Internship is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Rachel on her experience with a ‘Share The Advantage‘ service project in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: