Many times I find myself writing about real estate, and it is not just because I am selling homes but it is because I love what I do. I now have a daughter in college and everyone asks her what she wants to do when she graduates. She must get asked that question 50 times a day. Funny thing is, she doesn’t know - just like her mother didn’t know when I was her age either. Having Anna’s graduation behind us, and hearing those questions given to her day in and day out it makes me remember how I found my passion, and the life lessons that went along my path. The first memory being of my experience in selling Girl Scout Cookies.
Growing up my father was an entrepreneur. He built custom homes and sold them to clients. We would design the homes, and then build it with the best quality and craftsmanship we could, and once finished my mother would decorate them. My Mom has a natural decorating ability and would make the homes look amazing. We would then move into them and sell them and move to the next home. I remember vividly being around 4 years old watching my father “demonstrate” a home and ultimately selling a home to a potential client. My father has a way about him that is not like a “sales person” but instead he is really, really good in developing relationships. We lived in Lincoln, Nebraska and lived in some of the most amazing homes there. My father had grown up as a farmer and my mother’s family owned a car dealership that included Ford tractors. They did not grow up wealthy, but instead clawed and fought, working hard for everything they owned. With my older sister, Lisa, and myself, my parents wanted to instill those same values in us.
I was in Girl Scouts and one of the first assignments was to sell Girl Scout cookies. I wanted to be the best cookie sales girl out there so everyday I would go door to door and give my neighbors my sales pitch on why they needed these cookies. For me it was never about truly hard selling the cookies but satisfying their need to eat cookies. I mean, I was 8 years old and everyone needed cookies, right? It was bitter cold but I was determined. My parents told me I was born determined and so I walked and knocked on doors and walked and knocked on doors. It became pretty apparent people weren’t home until later so I had to re-strategize.
I had to go in the dark when people were home from work. I had to convince my parents to allow me to go out and sell cookies late into the evening after dinner. So I made a deal with my parents about getting all my chores and homework done and in turn my dad would join me to sell my cookies standing at the street and making sure I was safe.
This was the first life lesson I received was: Life is not fair.
So you probably expect me to say how I won the cookie selling contest, but I didn’t. How could it be? I was so determined and worked so hard! At the meeting another little girl won, and when I asked how she did it, she told me that her parents simply took the orders to work and asked everyone to buy them.
She didn’t have to knock on one door!! I ran to my parents and exclaimed, “SHE CHEATED! That is how she won!!”, to which I thought my parents were going to march into my Girl Scout meeting and right the wrong that happened to their beloved daughter. Instead, my father sat down and told me that some people take the easy way out and some take the hard way and earn it. I worked hard and he was proud of me. He also told me that I need to be happy for the other little girl’s success. It was a hard pill for an 8 year old to swallow, but now that I am 45 years old I can see what he was teaching me and I am grateful for the lesson.
Which brings me to the second life lesson I learned from this experience: Work is hard.
So now I lost the contest and all the cookies come in and need to be delivered. To say I lost my motivation would be the understatement of the year. There were boxes and boxes of undelivered cookies in our home that needed to be delivered to their rightful owners. It was a very cold winter, and I had other things I wanted to do. My parents kept asking me to go deliver them but I had homework I was too busy, and the excuses piled up.
Finally my father sat down with me again and told me, “Heather, these people paid for these cookies and they need to get them. It wasn’t about winning but delivering a service to your customers. Being a person of your word. You don’t want people to feel like you cheated them, do you?? If you don’t go deliver these cookies people are going to say “That Heather Swails is a cheater and a liar” you wouldn’t want that, would you?” I remember sitting there and thinking the horror and embarrassment I would bring to my family and said that I would deliver the cookies. Every. Single. Box.
I got my little red wagon and filled them up, and organized them according to the houses and the orders. We had a long and steep driveway that was iced over, and as I headed out I slid and fell down, skinning my knee. I sat there and cried hard, but no one was around to hear or even care for that matter. I wanted to quit. But here I was with the family name riding on my back at 8 years old, and gosh darn it, these cookies needed to get out. I trudged on and started delivering them.
That is when I learned life lesson # 3: Hard work gets rewarded.
As I was going in the brittle cold weather delivering the cookies, my customers were amazed that I was out delivering them. I got praised by my customers, offered hot cocoa, and best of all I received tips! I ended up racking up more money than I did in my allowance. Looking back I should have never accepted any tips, but at the time $.50 or a $1 was pretty huge in my small world. My motivation returned, and I got all those cookies out and in the end felt pretty good about myself. I also vowed to knock Sally Smith off of the winner circle the next year!
At the time I was going through this I believed my parents were unreasonable and hard on me, and now I am so thankful that they did what they did. I never have forgotten the life lessons that were given to me by the simple act of selling Girl Scout Cookies. I also discovered another thing, and that was that I am a pretty good sales person. Again, not because I was lying or hard selling someone but because I knew how to talk to people and help satisfy a need. I instilled those same values in my children, and I know there are times that I could have made it easy for them but I didn’t. I held true to the life lessons that I received back when I was 8 years old.
Oh yeah, and I also never bought Girl Scout cookies from people at my office when I was an adult. What can I say, some wounds run deep.....