I’m writing to express my gratitude to you, the other Foundation Org. leaders Kyle Peters and Christie Bradley, my district sales manager Aaron Schafer, and the Southwestern Advantage summer sales program as a whole, especially the student managers of our group and everyone that conducted sales school in Nashville. I wanted to commend you all for the hard work that you do and the passion you have for the program and the results it provides. I feel compelled to write almost out of obligation – I was a doubter in Southwestern from the start and a skeptical/reluctant participant throughout the internship, and now I sit here today just months after going through only one single summer selling books and I realize that I have gained so much from the internship and the experience that I practically feel guilty.
I approached my Southwestern summer quite differently than most. Unlike most of the kids I was in sales school with, I was no longer a college student. Actually, I arrived in Nashville for sales school a mere 16 hours after my graduation ceremony. While, for most, having the courage to go through a summer away from family and friends selling books on the road would seem like a major step forward in life and career progression, for me it felt like a step back. I had just been handed a piece of paper recognizing my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (with a concentration in finance) from the University of Notre Dame. That piece of paper also meant that I could probably get a job with a Forbes 500 company or continue on with my education and get a more prestigious degree. Hell, that’s what all my friends were doing. And yet here I was in Nashville, running around with children’s books and PB and J’s like I was back in the third grade. To say that I questioned what I was doing would be the understatement of the century. You should’ve seen the looks on the faces of all my friends’ parents when I told them what I was doing after graduating.
There was a reason for it all, though, as I often reminded myself. I had studied abroad in Australia two years ago, and I really really wanted to go back. For one, the economy in the US was nothing to stick around for, and I certainly had no idea what I wanted to do. I wasn’t very sure I was interested in finance or even business anymore. Also, I had a great time in Australia. The sun, the beach, the lifestyle, the people, the sun, the bea – let’s just say it all called to me. It was my kind of place. I figured I’d never go back if I waited, so might as well go back while I was young and not tied down. Of course, I had no money. Literally none, not even enough to afford the ridiculously expensive flight over let alone support myself. I saw Southwestern as the best option to get me to Australia. I wouldn’t normally bet all my chips on an internship that requires 85 hours of work per week and pays straight commission, but I had a reliable source – my best friend Rose – who had been through it all and promised me that it was no scam. I figured that even if I did poorly, I would make enough money to afford a flight to Australia (at which point I would beg for change or wing it). I was convinced by Rose and Aaron that Southwestern would add to my resume, so it was a better option than going home and working at a restaurant for the summer. I couldn’t get a ”real” internship as I called it, because no company would invest in an intern who was leaving the country after the internship. So, I signed up to sell books and I trained with Rose the semester before the summer.
Though I chose to sell books I saw it as a necessary evil, simply a means to an end. I was far from jumping into the internship with optimism or enthusiasm. I went into sales school nervous and downtrodden, fully expecting to be put through the worst three months of my life. I won’t chronicle my entire experience that summer, because from there on out it was pretty similar to what every first year goes through. I only wanted to illustrate my mentality going in. I was miserable a lot of the summer, but mostly because I put a lot of added pressure on msyelf. I wasn’t just a college kid looking to learn and get a good experience, I was counting on success over the summer to realize my dream of moving to Australia. My options were either sell or go home empty-handed and embarassed with a college degree that cost as much as a house, no job prospects and shattered dreams. In my mind it was a close call. The fear of failure was a constant presence for me and it held me back the whole summer, but I still learned a lot. I won’t ramble on about all the intangibles I gained over the summer or how I “grew sooooo much” as a person because I’m sure you’ve heard that lame story from about a hundred kids. I just wanted to let you know, concretely, how much I got out of the Southwestern internship and how thankful I am to you and those like you who make it what it is.
As you know, I did well enough to more than just afford a plane ticket to Australia, but also to come here with some savings. This was quite a relief. I got over here to Australia and I worked in the deep fryer at a restaurant for two weeks, flipping french fries. Yep, at this point I wondered how things could have POSSIBLY gone downhill from driving a VW Bug and going door to door looking for families with small children. I worked 12 hour shifts and left at night with sore feet/wrists and grease burns all over. Pre-Southwestern, I would’ve thought this was hell on earth. Post-Southwestern, I thought it was sweet that I didn’t have to work the extra hour and a half. Anyways, luckily I didn’t have to do this for too long since I got a job at a financial planning firm. I got the interview due to my sales experience. Just as I had been told by Aaron, the Southwestern internship was a huge talking point in the interview. My interviewer was amazed that I had door-to-door sales experience and that I had worked so many hours. He asked me more questions about Southwestern than about the job I was applying for, and he hired me on the spot. In my training class the next week, I knew every answer to every question during our sales training. I was already off to a head start at my new job. I had to coldcall potential clients for over 3 months, but this was a piece of cake compared to going door-to-door 13 hours a day. Since I had the sales experience, I succeeded at cold-calling and was the first of my intake group to be promoted. Within a month or two I will be out on the road meeting with clients, assessing their financial situations and selling them on becoming our clients. I can potentially become a financial adviser with my own clients within the year. I am quite sure I would not be in this position had I not done Southwestern, and I feel fully prepared to take on my next role with my current employer since I’ve already presented to hundreds of people over the summer. To sum it up, the technical knowledge I learned from Southwestern, the confidence the experience has given me, and the hiring power that comes with having the internship on my resume is invaluable to me. What’s more is that it actually opened up my eyes to more career options. Whereas before I scoffed at sales, I’ve come to realize that I actually like sales a lot, and my job now combines sales with financial knowledge. In a way I think Southwestern has helped me find a career that really fits my skills and interests, and even if I choose not to pursue financial advising I am so much more aware of other options and opportunities that I have. Again, the confidence that it has given me is key, because having gone through what I went through last summer I truly feel that I can tackle anything.
I wanted to thank you, Aaron and the other org. leaders in particular because you are primarily the ones that made my experience what it was. The fact that you guys are able to stay so positive and motivate others to be at their best while also going through summer after summer of selling books yourselves (not to mention recruiting teams) amazes me. It is a testament to your belief in the Southwestern program and experience, and without that belief and passion for what you do, people like me might choose to go home with the shattered dreams and lack of job prospects rather than stay and sell and give it all we can. I doubt that I could do what you do – my natural state is not towards the energy and optimism levels required and I don’t know if I’d be able to muster up enough psychic energy to keep my attitude so positive for so long – but I really do admire you all for being able to do so. Your charisma is infectious Mo, and it is in large part what made the experience as rewarding and fun as it was for me. I certainly was not one of those who bought into the Southwestern Advantage program from the get-go, but I can say that nobody can deny that what you’re doing has a very lasting impact (both real and intangible) on all those that you work with. I wish the best for you and all of Foundation this summer and look forward to seeing you again Stateside!