How an Internship Changed my Life

When iStock teamed up with the new movie Unfinished Business to release fake stock photos of Vince Vaughn and co-stars for free public use, I couldn’t resist. It’s a stretch writing a blog post around a stock photo but I knew a friend that was willing to write up his PeerStory that would be perfect for the images.

Jordan Ross is not your typical serial entrepreneur, flitting around from idea to idea. He has been successful in at least half of the ventures he’s started and sold his real estate brokerage company in 2013 for $1.2 million. His secret is a focus on what is important to OTHER people, namely his customers, and an ability to share his passion for an idea.

I have known Jordan for years and he’s told me about his experience at an internship he had his junior year. When I saw the stock photos of Vaughn and co-stars, I immediately thought of his earlier movie The Internship and about my friend’s experience.

This is Jordan’s story,

I haven’t seen the movie Unfinished Business yet as I write this guest post but from the description on IMDB, I can imagine my story is pretty relatable. In the movie, a routine business trip to close a deal, “goes off the rails in every way imaginable – and unimaginable.” While my own story probably isn’t as wacky, my own life was changed pretty dramatically by what I learned at my first internship during the summer of my junior year at Penn State.

I had landed a summer internship as a residential real estate agent at a Philadelphia agency. I actually saw myself leaning toward the commercial side of real estate but my father recommended residential for my first professional experience. He said it would teach me more about people and their personalities which would be helpful down the road even when dealing with the cold, calculated-side of commercial properties…and he was so right.

I had already sat for my real estate license during the spring, so I was ready on day one of my internship. Oh, did I forget to mention that it was the summer of 2007? You might now have a clue about what I was getting into, but I didn’t.

Vince Vaughn Unfinished Business stock photos
Unfinished Business Stock Photos

Tough Times and Lessons Learned

Emily Dickinson said that people need hard times to develop psychic muscles. During the summer of 2007, real estate agents in Philadelphia were mental body-builders. Monthly sales of existing homes had peaked back in 2005 across the country and real estate agents were already starting to feel the pinch. Things really got bad in 2007 and memories of the boom years seemed only a fantasy.

I won’t claim that my short four months as a real estate agent taught me everything I’ve used to be a successful businessman but I learned more that summer than most do their entire life.

About making money Money is easy come, easy go and means nothing if you don’t enjoy it and enjoy what you do. Most of the agents around the office where I worked fell into one of a few types.

  • Those that were just in it for the money didn’t last that long because they never made the money they thought they should. They might have done well during the easy times but they still made far less than those that had a passion for the job. Since it was all about the money, this irked them and made them miserable during their short stint as agents.
  • There were some agents that recognized the boom for what it was and saved every penny of their commission checks. Many did well and I assume had a ton of money saved when the bottom dropped out of the market, but even they didn’t do as well as they could have done. By saving everything and not having at least a little fun, they made the job about the money and lost what little passion they had before.
  • The final group of agents enjoyed what they did and had a good time doing it. They saved enough but understood that you need to, “live while you’re alive,” as one agent liked to say. Being able to enjoy their success made them want to be even more successful and drove them onward.

About people – People are not so different and once you get a feel for similarities, you can talk to anyone anytime. A sales job can change even the most introverted of us into social butterflies, or at least give them the skills to, “fake it until you make it.”

I’ve never found it really difficult talking to new people but I wouldn’t say I was ever the life of the party kind of guy. What I learned from my internship is to learn how to relate to people. This starts with really listening to them first. Ask them what they do, what they like about it and what they like to do when no one is watching. You’ll get some pretty great responses to that last one.

Listen to someone for even a little bit and you’ll start to hear some of the same hopes, dreams and insecurities you recognize in yourself. It’s these similarities that bind us and allow us to be social creatures.

About budgeting – Budgeting is no fun but can reduce stress around financial problems a million percent. I know I said you have to enjoy spending your money but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the future as well. By the time mid-2007 rolled around, the agents around the office that had saved nothing were living on coffee and hope. They were on edge constantly, sometimes to the point that they couldn’t focus on the job at hand.

Those that had budgeted wisely and saved a little something may still have been freaked out by what they saw happening, but they always had that little reassuring voice to tell them they had a safety net to catch them when the high-wire snapped.

About education – Formal education gets a bad rap sometimes for being too general for everyday use. I’ve talked to people from all walks of life and levels of education and I can tell you that the broader your knowledge, the more interesting and fulfilling your life can become.

Maybe it’s just me and my personality but I like knowing a little about history, the arts and science. I’ve met people that were raised in educational systems that are much more career-focused, even starting kids on a “career track” as early as fifth or sixth grade. Half of them got pigeon-holed into a career they don’t like and the other half can talk about nothing else, because they know nothing else.

Even when I’m focused on a specific business idea and spending upwards of 80 hours or more a week developing it, I set aside time to read or experience something from another topic. Besides opening up new worlds it helps to avoid burnout in what you call your 9-to-5 as well.

A big thank you to Jordan for coming through with his internship PeerStory. If you have a PeerStory you’d like to share about a personal finance challenge or success, or just about something that you think people will benefit from hearing, email me or share it in the comments below.

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