Everyone should take at least a year off between high school and the end of college.
Life requires you to be more than just a student.
Last summer, I took a year off of school.
Before that, I attended Valdosta State University for four years, and no I didn’t receive a degree. It’s funny because so many kids go to college and say “I knew I was home from the moment I stepped on campus.” And I remember sort of having that moment when I was sitting in the VSU dining hall at orientation. I had that “this is my home for the next four years” moment.
But I really think I was having that moment because it was the first time I had been outside of Marietta, Ga in my life. I mean, I had been on vacations and stuff like that, but I had never lived more than a month away from my house in all my life. So, that moment in the VSU dining hall felt like when Andy Dufresne trudged through a sewer of shit and escaped Shawshank Redemption.
But I learned VSU was not really the place for me. Which is different from kids who have that “going to college” moment, because for most kids it ends up being a 4 year vacation. That’s what my brothers and my cousin said to me when I left. They said “have fun on vacation.”
The reason VSU wasn’t the place for me was just because I discovered I was a creative person in a place that had no outlet for it. We had three Waffle Houses, two Chick Fil As, two McDonalds, two Walmarts, and the nicest restaurants were Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Chili's. You get the point.
It was a basic, southern-red neck, fraternity, sorority party school. Or at least that was the vibe, even though 75 percent of the population was from Atlanta. And it worked for the people who were in fraternities/sororities and were fine partying it up at dingy dive bars while listening to club jams.
But I just couldn’t find a home there. It wasn’t me. So, after four years I said “screw it! I have to find something different that provides myself meaning, and I know it’s not here.”
So, I got a sales job.
I actually didn’t even know it was a sales job at first. I found it on an indeed.com type thing, and it said “Sports minded marketing.” I realize now that that title is super misleading, but I applied out of belief that it was a place I would make commercials and advertising for sports related stuff. And as John Mulaney would say “Not even a little bit at the beginning.”
The first day I was brought in with a bunch of interns, and still not really knowing what the job was. All they did was sit me down and write a bunch of big money numbers on a piece paper and were like “this is what you could earn if you don’t suck. Sound good.” And I was like “yeah! looks good!” I was in such a “this might as well just happen” mode.
But the job was simple, the company sold AT&T Uverse, and we were brought in to learn how to sell it to people going door to door. If we sold an application per day we would continue to get promoted, quickly and make pretty money. Or that’s how they explained it.
I phrase it like that, because I was horrible at it. I’m not a first impressions person. I’m a “get to know me and you’ll like me more as time goes on” person. Which is not what you want to be as a door-to-door salesperson. You have one second before someone yells “Get the fuck off my doorstep or I’m calling the police.” And yeah that happened, because it’s illegal to sell in neighborhoods that have “no soliciting” signs.
But the reason I’m going into explaining my time with this job is because it taught me valuable time truly is. Understand that I worked 60 hour weeks. And it was all commission based. And I already told you that I sucked. So, I spent 60 hour work weeks NOT getting paid. But I’ll also admit that it was an invaluable time spent.
The whole job was centered around leadership and learning how to sell so you could teach it to new people. And I had met some of the best people who helped me make sense of not just AT&T, but just life in general. We carpooled out to our territories, and there was an older guy in our carpool who had spent years making good money in real estate. He did this job because he was good at it, and I’ve never heard someone speak better than this guy. He gave me so much life knowledge that I’ve taken with me, and I really feel like I’m a better person for having spent those moments with him, as well as others, even though I wasn’t making any money. The conversations I had were more important.
But also, spending six hours per day sweating in 95 degree weather while dodging thunderstorms in under developed project housing and hearing nothing but rejection all day from people who either can’t afford or don’t want what you’re selling (which I totally side(d) with them on), it builds a toughness in you. And it sure as hell built a toughness in me.
As I wrap this up, one of our managers said a few times in our morning team meetings that he’d never seen anyone that didn’t succeed at sales go onto be successful at anything else.
And that pissed me off, because when I decided it was time to quit the job, that was one of the things I had on my mind a lot. I wanted to prove that that statement wasn’t true. Towards the end of my time at this job, coworkers, including the guy I talked about above, constantly tole me “if you could talk AT&T the way you can talk sports, you would kill this job.” And that’s when I put it all together and said “fuck it. I can be successful at something else, because I’ve already been told by the people here that I’m as good at talking sports as they are at selling AT&T! So what the fuck am I doing here?”
The important part about all this was that I had to shock my brain into becoming more assertive by taking a job that demanded challenging things from me. It was like how in “V for Vandetta” when Evey gets put in the jail cell, and she doesn’t know what is happening or why it’s happening. Yet, all the while, she grows mentally tougher and it actually makes her a better person who isn’t as fearful of things as she was when the movie first began.
And that’s how this job worked for me. It taught me how to get what I want, and also how not to waste time. And now starting in the fall, I will be beginning my 2nd semester at Kennesaw State University where I will be hosting a sports talk show. I now know what I want to do, and I have the mindset that will help me excel at it.
Sometimes a year off of school is the best thing you can do.