Most people who know me know that I spent all four of my undergraduate summers running my own business, selling educational stuff door to door in different states, 80 hours a week, leaving little time for anything else but sleeping. I’m gonna estimate at least 95% of those people have come to the conclusion that I’m just an extraordinarily driven, [probably] masochistic money grubber; a human being akin to the buffalo herds that run into the storm just to prove they can, ignoring the icy rain that sharply jabs at their bodies, knowing it’ll all be worth it when it’s all over. Either that or they just think I’m really good at business/sales so that’s why I keep doing it year after year. Truly, in the course of my last four summers, I’ve made about $85,000, and that’s cool. The money I earned helped me pay my entire way through college and have the freedom to invest early/travel a little. But only the people who have made an attempt at a Southwestern summer know that money is the last thing that motivates a person to keep going when they don’t feel like it. I’ve attempted an explanation of my actions to many of the inquirers, but I thought it was about time that I, now going on my fifth summer in the program as a post-graduate, try to describe the real reason I think my job is amazing and the reason I feel I am amazing at my job for the people who care. It’s not complicated.
I do have to acknowledge the obvious reason first: Nothing can duplicate or compete with the feeling of winning. People do a lot of things to get at that feeling of validation: sports, music, working to lose weight, business, basically anything that takes challenging work to reap a desired reward. That reward may be something tangible, or it may be money, or recognition, or just feeling great about yourself, but all are just an ambition toward the feeling that you’ve championed something. That’s an absolutely inescapable part of what I do. We work a pretty stringent 80 hour a week schedule, which is hard to get used to at first. You have to get over the awkwardness of establishing yourself in a community that knows nothing about you and talking to randoms all day. The bookfield can be a difficult place to live in, and challenge is part of what makes it beautiful at times. Honestly though, the last thing I want to talk about is why it’s “SO CHALLENGING” but I do it anyway because it’s “worth it in the end.” Eh.
I also have to mention that if I didn’t work with the social anomalies that I do, I probably wouldn’t still be involved in the program. Any 18-25 year old who can get through a couple summers communicating with over a thousand different families about their lives and their kids and their hopes and their fears, plunder through mounds of rejection and maintain pure confidence, and successfully build their own business without any real supervision every day ends up being a pretty stinking cool human being with a real understanding of other human beings. They’re all a little crazy, but almost all of them are somebody anyone would like to know. I am constantly challenged by these beautiful individuals, who push themselves and the people around them to be better.
Point is that the program is absolutely challenging at times, and is still, to this day, the hardest thing I have ever participated in (especially my first summer), but that is not my favorite thing about what I do, and the reason I am successful at it is not because I am a buffalo.
I want to clarify, also, that not everyone that works with Southwestern loves it like I do. Some of the bookkids I know definitely do it because they’re HARDCORE and like to intensely challenge themselves. But I’m not on team hardcore; I’m on team I love my life.
The real deal is that selling educational stuff door to door basically helped me become more at one with the Tao (that’s the shortest way I’ve found to explain it…). The hardcore people do really well too, obviously, because what we do is a true numbers game, and the more people you see the more customers you have; there’s no fighting that. I still sit down with about 20 families a day in the summer, which is quite a lot, but last summer I wasn’t nearly as focused on the numbers as I used to be. I went into the summer with one character goal, something I have wanted to hone for a very long time: I wanted to give people unconditional love—no matter who they were or what they did or how they reacted to me and what I was doing. Before I went out last summer I took a painful look at my past actions (and inactions) throughout the years and realized how often I had let fear control me. I also realized that when I respond to fear it is because I am worried purely about myself and “what about me me me!!” This caused anxiety, resentment, regret, and more than anything caused me to push people away and separate myself from others (and sometimes even do things that made me feel like I was above them somehow). I also decided I didn’t want to be like that—I wanted to free myself.
This past summer I came to the beautiful realization that fear and love cannot exist in the same sphere. I had obviously understood this in concept before but decided that selling books is the perfect place to actually see if I could apply it because I am talking to a ton of people every day, and there are infinite opportunities for fear to take over (pretty much every second of the day). I knew that even if I didn’t make any money for myself and my team did terrible and everything else was just a raging sham I would feel okay knowing I had mastered my fear and accepted how small I was in this massive universe.
So I made a commitment, not just to work harder than I had ever worked, but to do it with full love in my heart. And once again, selling books door to door changed my life. I think of all the things I used to be afraid of on and off the bookfield: afraid of what people will think, afraid of rejection, afraid of working at night/in the morning, afraid to be honest, afraid of having hard conversations, afraid of pushing the people I love to be better, afraid to talk to people I felt were above me, afraid of closing, afraid of being honest about the way I feel, afraid of losing the people I love most, afraid of not being loved, etc… really it all comes down to a fear of inadequacy, and a fear of despair. I wanted all of that to disappear. And it really did for a long time. I wish I could say I mastered it—I definitely didn’t, but my mind is flashing back to the hours, days, weeks, when I truly did know what it was like to have perfect love for somebody from the first second I saw them and how it changed everything.
I remember this Mom named Brenda telling me about how her husband had died in October and how her daughter hadn’t done as well in school because of it and I saw her and all I could do was cry with her on her porch because I loved her so much. I remember a single Dad, Jake, who was raising an intensely autistic child and three other kids all by himself and feeling such pure love for his family and wanting to do anything I could to help them. I remember a couple who live in a trailer park and each spend 12 hours a day at the factory to pay rent and raise their son and niece and listening to their huge dreams for those kids and being overwhelmed by their love. I remember listening to the richest Mom in town tell me about how her kids and husband are so busy and how alone she felt and I realize that rich or poor, pretty or weird looking, alone or loved, we all have the exact same fear of inadequacy and I can’t help but love people for it, because I know the same pain.
I know that at one point in my life I would have tried to get something out of these people, and maybe I would have. It seems anti-intuitive, but now I know that I only truly started to succeed at my job and be truly happy when I stopped thinking about myself completely. I spent my summer with the pure focus of giving my love to others. I know people felt it, and I got a pretty good response (when I was applying myself, anyway). I lost all of my attachment to any thing or person out of my control, and really learned true confidence. I had nothing to be afraid of because I had nothing to lose.
I’m not saying anybody has to sell educational stuff door to door to experience what I did, but I wanted to share the real reason why I love my job so much and the real reason I’m good at it. This is why. It’s freedom at its finest (freedom from fear). I’m intensely grateful for my experience with Southwestern for about a million reasons, and, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had pretty miserable experiences too. The amazing thing about it is that I get to take responsibility for all the bad things and all the good things because it’s something I’ve had the opportunity to completely create for myself.
Anyway, I dunno if anyone is still even reading this, but listen. If you’ve never tried freedom from fear I dare you to do something that scares you with full love in your heart and I promise you that fear will be extinguished by that love and the world will be at your feet, feeling your love, and you will be right back at the world’s feet, giving and giving and giving because you will realize your capacity for love is completely infinite. I don’t know a lot, but I know that.