Girl Scout Cookie season begins on January 13, which means that whole new crop of little girls (and some aggressive veterans) will be set loose in American neighborhoods to learn lessons about business and saving and selling a product they happen to know contains unsustainable palm oil.
With the buzz surrounding the debut of Savannah Smiles, the new girl scout cookie, business promises to boom and, after all, it's all for a good cause: "When you buy a box of Girl Scout cookies you are empowering girls for success," GirlScoutCookies.org promises. Well, friends, let me tell you what selling Girl Scout cookies taught me about success.
The year was 1995. To the north, Maine was hashing out the great Girl Scout Cookie Tax Debate. Samoas were Samoas (curse you, Caramel deLites!) and, in a suburban neighborhood in Massachusetts, I was one of the scores of girls being primed for what, for many, is their first cruel lesson in business -- Girl Scout Cookie season.
Yes, it was upon us: that time of year when New Year's Resolutions crumble before the power of the misleadingly-named "Thin Mints." According to the Girl Scouts of America, the cookie-selling tradition dates back to the 1920s, when little girls baked sugar cookies with their mothers to sell for 25 cents a dozen. The program has since been embraced as a great way to teach girls the value of a dollar and make them aware of their own earning power.
For me, it was hell.
I put up with the polyester vest. I dealt with the fact that the crinkled cookie "catalogue" was engineered like an interstate highway map, such that it could never be refolded into its original form. I sat through Mom's lecture on confidence and smiling as she pulled over the car. I got out, opened the door, and marched up the walkway of my neighbor's home and rung the bell, determined not to let down my troop.
And then the door opened and my world fell apart like Trefoils left in milk for too long.
"Aren't you a little old to be selling Girl Scout Cookies?"
I was only 11 -- the same age as all the other girls in my troop, girls I knew were going around our small town and cashing in on their cuteness to make big sales that would fund camping trips and pizza parties. The problem with me was that I was 5"9 and looked like a slouching giant impersonating a little girl. I was also painfully shy and already quite aware of my difference. When they made us all line up at swim practice, I was literally head and shoulders above my peers.
After that first house call, I did everything I could to avoid the door-to-door approach. I resorted to begging my parents to take the cookie ordering sheets into work so I didn't have to darken any doorsteps with my tall, tall shadow. I tried selling my inventory to my little sister for her allowance money (sorry, Morgan) -- anything to make the quota.
What business and life lessons did I learn back in '95 when I was working in cookies? Much to my continued dismay, looks matter -- at least if you're in sales. Outsourcing saves time and effort. And when you're in trouble, make your family buy in .
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