Perseverance – How I Put Myself Through College

Beep beep.


5:30 AM

My roommate and I flew from bed.

I assumed the position.

“One. Two. Three. Four…”

My arms protested as I approached the last five push-ups. “Nine….teen…. Twen…teee.”

I rolled onto my back. “One. Two. Three…” My crunches warmed my body further, preparing them for the next step in my morning ritual.

I finished my sit-ups and dashed into the bathroom.

A fine layer of sweat coated my skin – exactly what I wanted. I turned the faucet to “cold” and jumped into the shower.

I squealed as the frigid spray hit my body. “Thirty demos! Thirty demos! Thirty demos! Yeah!” I repeated the phrase five times while I washed at breakneck speed: once for each appendage, and the final for my torso.

I toweled dry and tossed on my collared shirt and shorts, made a peanut butter sandwich, packed the rest of my lunch, grabbed my bag, and we were out the door.

6:15 AM

My roommate drove us to Shoney’s and we piled our plates high with the buffet food.

I looked over my maps and charts. I read from Og Mandino’s Greatest Salesman in the World.

Breakfast finished, we went into the parking lot. We did jumping jacks, cheered, and yelled, “It’s going to be an awesome day!”

7 AM

She dropped me at a house within my territory. And left.

I walked under the carport, grabbing a bike with a baby seat tied on back. My heavy bag squeezed into the seat as I pedaled a few miles to my first appointment.

My long hair stuck to my neck, the air heavy and muggy. The sun already peeked above the trees as the dog days of a Tennessee summer beat down upon me.

7:30 AM

I knocked on the wooden door before me. A woman opened it, thankfully fully dressed.

“Hi, my name is Kelly, and if you’ll give me just one quick moment, I’ll get out of your hair. I’m the college student who’s sitting down with all the education conscience families….” I continued with my spiel, smiling as though I had more than six hours of sleep and didn’t say these lines every day, all day for my entire summer.

I was lucky, I sold to her neighbor. We sat down on her porch as I pulled the sample book from my bag, giving her the appropriate tour for her children.

I went in for the closing. She grabbed her credit card.


I left the house elated. It wouldn’t be a zero sale day – the pressure was off.

I jogged to the next house and knocked.

The door slammed in my face.

My composure never wavered. “She was just having a bad day.”

I walked on to the next house.

Over and over. The goal each day to show the book to at least thirty people, to sit down with at least twelve. Odds were several would buy.

“Each failure to sell will increase your chances for success at your next attempt.” -Og Mandino

1:30 PM

The 100 degree heat roasted me as I heard children splashing in backyard pools. Sweat dripped down every crevice. I imagined sagebrush tumbling down the street, as house after house, no one answered my knock. I dreamed of an ice cold glass of sweet tea a parent was certain to offer me if I continued knocking, finding the needle in the haystack of empty houses.

5:30 PM

Gravy hour arrived, when the day shift parents arrived home. I had my lists, knowing when and where to find them. Showtime!

9:30 PM

Exhausted, I parked my borrowed bike under the carport. I knocked on the door.

“Kelly, how was your day?” The lady of the house greeted me with a warm smile as her two children ran to hug me.

“It was an awesome day!” I said, faking it even it wasn’t true.

She fed me leftovers or a sandwich, mothering me though we’d only met weeks ago.

10 PM

Her husband drove me the ten minutes “home”,  where my roommate and I rented a room from a widow.

My eyes heavy, I drifted off.

I crawled in to the house, attacking thirty more minutes of work as I filled out paperwork and called in credit card orders.

I delayed sleep a bit longer, basking in a hot shower, scrubbing the grime from my body.

11 PM

I collapsed into bed.

Tomorrow will be even better.


For this week’s RemembeRED prompt, we’re borrowing a prompt from Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington.

In her chapter “The Truth: What, Why, and How,” she asks her readers to: “Tell the story (without any trivialization or modesty) of something in your life that you are proud of.” Your word limit is 700 words.


About this post: I worked for Southwestern Publishing Co. for two summers in college (one summer in Tennessee, the other in Alabama). The job was straight commission. You had a week of sales school in Nashville, typically 12 weeks of selling, and one week for delivery. You worked Monday through Saturday, with Sunday “off” for sales meetings with all the other students in your organization.

The key to surviving was routine (described above) and “brainwashing” yourself to view everything with a positive attitude. A day with no sales? You rid yourself of all the “no’s” at once, so the next day would be amazing. You had to keep going, keep knocking, even when all you wanted to do was quit and go home, or to the nearest pool.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I not only survived, but my perseverance (working an average of 84 hours in those six days) allowed me to put myself through college without student loans.

Constructive criticism wanted!


About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos ( sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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12 Responses to Perseverance – How I Put Myself Through College

  1. Wow. That is amazing. Talk about lessons in perseverance. Not to mention training to all the times your children say no to you (or at least mine do to me!)

  2. Carina says:

    That’s pretty amazing. An entire summer of non-stop sales work would be crazy. I worked textbooks sales for a summer and managed to break numbers, and I only worked 8 hours a day four days a week. Sales can be really hard, but door to door all day must be the worst.

    You earned every penny and every bit of pride. Truly perseverance.

  3. Frelle says:

    I am so proud of you. wow. This is an example of something that would have really made me a stronger person in the long run.. finding that ability to keep taking rejection. Grateful for this glimpse into your character and reading a page from your past.

  4. Jackie says:

    Wow! I’m tired just reading all you had accomplished in one day. I defintely think “pride” fits this bill.

  5. Wow! That is perseverance! Your determination and positivity will take you right to the top (if it hasn’t already)!

  6. Kris says:

    Wow. That is amazing. You described your typical day perfectly. Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment.

  7. Elaine says:

    DEFINITELY something to be proud of, in many ways. I’m so glad you shared this with us!

  8. Galit Breen says:

    Kelly, what a glimpse into your story, strength, motivation.

    I liked words like crawled, attacking, basking. And I liked the times for flow and structure.

    But mostly, I really liked the epilogue. (Is that weird?!) It put everything into perspective and told me what was important to you.

    • It makes perfect sense. I had to describe what the daily grind was like to really show the challenge of the summer, but unfortunately didn’t have enough words to show why I was so proud of doing those things day after day, hence the epilogue.

      If I’d simply written an epilogue and said “I sold books 84 hours a week for 12 weeks of summer, you be all “that sounds hard” but you’d only be imagining what a day like that entails.

      Thanks for commenting, as always.

  9. I could definitely feel the heat and the grime and, yes, the brainwashing!

    I wish there had been one line to show WHY this was so important. Because that job sounded awful, so as I’m reading, I’m wondering what the deal was. The epilogue says you had no student loans, but student loans aren’t a big deal (low interest and you get forever to pay them back). I’m left wondering why that job. Does that make sense?

  10. Leighann says:

    Amazing!! What a great accomplishment. I worked Two jobs in college but not 84 hrs a wk. You’re awesome!

  11. Nancy C says:

    Oh my word. I’m intrigued as well. It speaks volumes regarding your desire pay for school and feel a sense of accomplishment. Now I want to know the rest of the story of your college years…

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