The above photos is just about what I would have looked like as a college student one summer when I got this wild hair and accepted a door-to-door sales job. This is truly one for the books, especially if you really knew me and what I’m like. That job couldn’t be a worse fit for me if I had tried. This is another one of those stories where I’m still trying to figure out why my parents didn’t stop me in dead in my tracks for being a loon. They didn’t, but in the end, I did actually benefit.
It went something like this… I was in one of my classes when a young woman came in and gave a brief presentation about a summer job and that it might be a good fit for someone wanting to do something other than the typical retail or fast food job. It was an opportunity to make really good money and to get a lot out of it in terms of experience. I decided I was interested and wanted to learn more so I attended a separate meeting for it this group, which turned out to be Southwestern Company, a company that sells educational books. The way they talked about it, it made it sound like it wasn’t door to door sales, but I clearly misunderstood. You see, I’m a bit on the naive side of things and wasn’t super skeptical of things, at least not like I should have been. They made it sound easy and like it wasn’t true door-to-door sales and I ate it up; I was a fool.
It was the most interesting experience of my life. Imagine my telling my parents at the tender age of 19 going on 20, that I wanted to take this job and it would mean traveling first to Nashville, Tenn., for training for a week and then after that… I had no clue where I was going. I wouldn’t know where I would be going or where I’d be staying until the end of training and even then I didn’t know where I’d stay for the summer until I arrived to this undisclosed location. Again, how my parents let me do this… I don’t know. It gets better.
So I go off to this training and it’s all fine and dandy. I’m given my sample books and told how to take credit card purchases, etc. They tell us all the tricks to sales, yadda yadda. There were some excellent guest speakers, every inspirational. Too bad it wasn’t enough to get me to sell many books. Well, I did sell some but not nearly enough. I have to be somewhat thankful though because at least I received a paycheck at the end. I hear some people owed the company money. Eek. Finally at the end of training I found out that the company was sending me and my group to the Gulf coast. I was assigned to a much smaller group of two girls and myself and we were headed to Biloxi, Miss., to be exact. Everyone was excited but me. I couldn’t figure out how they figured we’d make a lot of money in southern states where the economy has never really been known to thrive, outside of the days of slavery. At least, that’s always been my perception. I could be wrong but it doesn’t seem too off base. I really had no clue what to expect. If I had only known.
The first order of the day when we arrived was to find a place to stay. That’s up to the small groups to do on their own. How do you do this? You knock on doors and ask people. Yes I said it. You do door to door sales just to find a place to stay for the summer. There are other ways also including checking in with local churches and other groups. As it would turn out, we found a place to stay with a Baptist minister and his family. It was like being in the show “7th Heaven” – a minister, his wife and five kids. They were really nice though and let us stay for free and they fed us from time to time too. It was really nice. My group really lucked out that’s for sure.
The experience was laden with oddities and discomfort. There were several dirty old men that flirted with me or tried to get me to come around again. My first run in was with a middle aged man with salt and pepper colored hair. I had stopped at the house. Selling educational books, I was trying to find families and this guy turned out to be single, no kids. I then asked if I could at least have some water as it was June in Biloxi, Miss. It was crazy muggy and hot. I was also in the hunt for a bike to help me on my sales journey and asked if he had one. We went to the back to check out the older bike he had and it was in need of some help but certainly could have been used when he stunned the hell out of me. He asked me if I go to bed with people. Say again? For a 1970s bike with flat tires, cobwebs and needs some freshening up? It’s funny you should ask… no I don’t but thanks. I couldn’t get out quick enough. Another guy was very nice but it was probably a good 10 years older than I, had a daughter I believe and was wheelchair bound. That didn’t bother me, of course, but he hardly knew me and was already talking about wanting to take care of me, etc. Talk about moving too fast. That wasn’t my only offer.
It got bad enough that I would become cautious about what houses I would go to because I was getting nervous. I felt so uncomfortable. There were plenty of great people I met also, but that aspect was looming too large after a while, especially given that I was working alone for 80 hours a week in a place I didn’t know. Everyone gets mad at door-to-door sales people but let me tell you, it’s just as risky for that sales person. They have no clue who’s going to answer that door or what’s going to happen. I never had issues, thank God, but there are stories of folks who didn’t have such a good ending to their sales jobs. It was risky. I didn’t know it then and that’s probably kind of good. I guess I hadn’t realized I’d be alone so much or I never would have done it for exactly that reason, safety issues. It just didn’t occur to me but again, what I gained from that experience is priceless.
I could go on about more incidents and icky dirty old men, but that’s not the point of this post. The real point is that the entire experience forced me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one. Oh don’t let me forget to say that I capped off the weird journey by choosing to take a bus ride home instead of a plane. Again, where my head was, I know not. The good news is that ride wasn’t bad at all though. I didn’t mind it and I never felt unsafe that way either. Maybe I was just blind to the risk of the entire thing. Who knows. It all worked out though or I wouldn’t be here writing this.
It was a tough experience for me. I was so uncomfortable with having to cold knock on people’s doors, I hated trying to get money from people who couldn’t afford it and then getting my chops busted because I wasn’t selling. What did they expect? We were in the deep south. It doesn’t seem like there’s any money there but apparently some people did okay.
As much as I dreaded getting up in the mornings and having to go to work each day after a few weeks or so, I did it. That was good for me. As much as I hated knocking on doors, I did it. I would give my pitch and sometimes it worked and mostly it didn’t but at least it forced me to try. The whole thing forced me to grow up and mature. It forced me to realize just what I am actually capable of doing. If I hadn’t done that, I know I wouldn’t be here in Needles right now. I wouldn’t have had the faith in myself to make that leap. If I hadn’t gone to Biloxi, I’d still be twice as shy as I am now. I would struggle even more with my being naturally introverted.
There may still be some mental scars from that trip, but at the same time it was a good test for me. I couldn’t be who I am without that trip and I feel I’m a better person for it in the end. It was trying and I hated so much about it and yet, I really did benefit so much from it. I’m thankful for that experience, not for it in of itself, but for what it did for me. I learned about my boundaries but also that I’m capable of so much more. I learned a lot about being independent and self-reliant. I can take care of me and do okay. That was a big lesson for me to learn. I wouldn’t relive it, but I also wouldn’t unlive it either.