Disclosure: The following message is solely my opinion. The information provided is what I witnessed and experienced.
You will hear that this job is not for everyone and that is especially true. I worked for the Southwestern Company during the summer of 2005, had an exceptionally successful Organization and there is not an ounce in my blood that would ever encourage anyone to do the "Southwestern Experience." I'm not going to sit here and call the company a cult. You can decide that for yourself. I will, however, describe for you the effects the company will have on your physical, emotional, and spiritual life if you decide to take "the challenge."
You will hear the leaders in the company say "control the controllables." Well, in truth, there are an infinite number of things to control while you're out on the "bookfield," infinite being the keyword, most of which you can't control. Things happen, you hit and kill someone's dog, you're car breaks down, you become ill, you're raped (and yes, it happens, despite what Southwestern reports). These things that happen, things that are out of our control, they become viewed by the company and eventually by yourself as failures. It begins a pattern of failure in the booksellers. What eventually ends up happening is the students come back to their Head Quarters each night and are encouraged by their peers and student managers to lie about their statistics (how many doors you knocked on, what time you started and stopped). It develops a pattern of lying. Student’s self esteem gets placed in their success, and because a majority of the student sellers are not successful, most students come home with their self-esteem destroyed. Southwestern claims to enhance character, and if patterns of chronic failure and lying are qualities of enhanced character, then they've done their job.
Emotion: It's miserable selling door-to-door. There's fear, anger, hurt, sadness, depression. According to Southwestern, all your emotions are controllable items. The theme is, if your emotions are affecting your production for the company, then they must be turned off. I can't count how many times I heard peers calling other successful bookmen "machines." That's what you become: numb, cold, dry, heartless...a machine. It took until April of 2006, almost a year, before I began to really experience joy again.
Health: There is little time to eat during the day. I did have a full breakfast in the morning at my "breakfast spot" however lunch consisted of a PBJ or even gas station food, and dinner was string cheese inside rolled turkey. My hair fell out in chunks, my skin was constantly blemished, my period was whacked, I lost about 15 lbs on the bookfield, getting down to a weight that was unhealthy for me. You go to bed at about 12:30 each night and wake up at 5:59 every morning. There is no "you" time except for Sunday afternoons spent at a park with your Organization for no more than a couple hours. You loose all sense of yourself because you become a machine for the larger machine: the Southwestern Company. They present the facade that they care about your success; in reality, they just want their share of the profit from your hard work. In fact, my student manager sat down with me to explain the breakdown of the system of profits for the company and myself. It all seemed legit until I was later informed that the student managers would receive commission off of my production. According to what he had just explained, there was no room in the budget that allowed for their commission. Somebody down the line was lying. I later found out that my paycheck at the end of the summer would be 3.42% of what my managers would be making off of my emotional and physical distress.
The product: Southwestern is relentless in the claim that their product is a good "investment." This may be true according to the standards of some school systems. However, after selling the product, I will tell you first hand that Southwestern has cut corners on their product to make more money. The books contain low quality recycled paper, and while the binding may be strong, the cover shows signs of wear soon after purchase. The diagrams are outdated and elementary, and the books really only work if you have the entire set, costing more than $500.
Spirituality: Southwestern's claim to fame is that they helped soldiers get back on their feet after they returned from war by providing "Bibles" for them to sell door-to-door. While this validates the history of the company, management has since changed (it's been over 150 years). My student managers sold me on the idea that the Southwestern experience would bring me closer to God. They say that they make an effort to go to church on Sunday mornings and that weekly morning routines involve group prayer. None of that ever happened. I was removed from my support system, my family, close friends, mentors, pastors, everything that offered support in my life, and spent thirteen weeks in the "desert" so-to-speak. The company is solely out to make money. They've perfected a program that keeps students barely alive enough to meet or exceed profits from the previous year via peer-pressure and brainwashing. At the end of the summer managers said things like, "We know this summer wasn't that fun, and even if you weren't as successful as you had planned to be, there is still an obligation to return next summer and try harder."
Would you like to know what my managers were doing? They were sitting in well furnished offices, playing golf, flying to different parts of the U.S. to give us “Southwestern” rallies. They were dressed in designer clothing, driving imports, and taking long weekend vacations. Rumors floated of six digit salaries for these mongrels as opposed to the average student income of less than five thousand dollars.
The system doesn’t work. That’s what it comes down to. They claim that if you stick to “The Schedule” then you’ll succeed. It places weighty pressure on those students who are sticking to “The Schedule” and not seeing results. The basic idea throughout the company is if you’re not successful, then you’re not following the schedule, and if you can’t follow the schedule, then you’re not a hard worker and you don’t have what it takes to be successful in a real job. I can’t tell you how many times my success in that job was directly related with how well a wife and mother I would be down the road.
Cult? Maybe. Unhealthy? YES! I do not recommend this job to anyone and will gladly provide more information if requested.
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