This is a series by Athena Dean Holtz on Multi-Level Marketing  (MLM) in the Church. Click here to start at the beginning.

Wanting to Be Somebody

As I built my business, I had great training from the charismatic and motivational ex-football coach who owned the company.

“We’re looking for people who want to make a difference with their lives. If you want to do something special with your life and be somebody, this is the place to do it! We need leaders, those with character and strength, with courage and hope. We have an answer to the dilemma of the financial situation so many families find themselves in. This is a time in history like no other. You have a chance to change the financial future of your family and the generations to follow. You have a chance to change others’ lives as well as your own. You can’t afford to let this opportunity pass you by. So just do it! Don’t make excuses, just do it! Don’t whine and complain about your situation, just do it! Don’t listen to others who tell you that you can’t make it, just do it!”

Being new to multi-level marketing myself, I was a total sponge and modeled myself after the most successful of all the leaders in the company. And everyone always knew who was the most successful. Every month a list of the top earners came out and everyone’s cash-flow was listed from top to bottom. There weren’t many women on that list, so that really motivated me!

Our leader really knew how to get us to produce. At regional and national rallies, he would give out T-shirts that said “I Am Somebody” or some other trite statement that made us feel important and recognized. Those T-shirts really got our competitive juices flowing. Some people would do anything (including work 18 hours a day, seven days a week) just to have their names called to go up and get a T-shirt. As I look back I realize those rooms were filled with incredibly needy people who lived and breathed for this “father figure” to tell them they amounted to something! And I was one of those people.

We would frequently hear what it would take to make it big. Of course, making it big always translated into having a big house, new car, and a $100,000+ annual income.

I would often parrot the words back to myself of what it would take to win.

“It’s going to take incredible sacrifice, total commitment, a will to win, hard work, long hours, intensity and endurance. Not just for a week or a month, but however long it takes to win!”

“Yes,” I’d say to myself, “and I’ll just do it!”

The challenge filled me with a sense of noble purpose. How much better could it get? A chance to make big, big money and help people at the same time. This was a crusade, to right the wrongs of American big business. We were the good guys, the white hats, the knights in shining armor.

I worked night and day at a feverish pitch that first year. Ailen was involved in Little League and Roby was active in drama in school. While they searched the audiences to find my face at games and plays, they never did spot me. I was too busy chasing the dream to make time to attend their activities. Those kids hardly ever saw me, but they saw plenty of the baby sitters. I rushed them from school to day care to baby sitters to home, shuffling them from one person’s care to the other. I held the idea close that it would eventually be worth the sacrifice. I only wish the kids felt the same way.

“Mom, why don’t we ever get to see you anymore?” Garrett would ask.

“Oh, honey, it won’t be like this forever. Just a little while and I’ll be able to spend lots more time with you guys!” I was so intense about making it big that I wasn’t very sensitive to the pain in his voice. He kept asking hard questions like that, but I kept giving the same pat answer. We promised ourselves and them that it wouldn’t last for long. We planned to build the business to the point where the momentum would self-propel and then we could kick back and have that quality time with our kids that we were sacrificing on a daily basis. We weren’t the only ones believing the lie that if we just work a few more hours now, later we could make it up to our kids and spouse by having financial freedom. For many others that day never came and we saw families deteriorate and become destroyed one by one.

Marina, a Mexican-American with a fiery personality, was a real leader. She moved up the ladder in our company quickly, while her husband groped to find meaningful employment. Since she was so busy building her business, he took over the role of mothering their two-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. The more recognition and honor she received from her peers and the “boss,” the less respect she had for her struggling husband. It wasn’t long before they separated and then divorced. She continued to pursue success in the company, but lost custody of her kids as her husband took them to live with his parents. The last time I saw her she was experiencing a measure of success, but the hollow look in her eyes told another story.

Brian and Mary had spent years building their business without ever really getting anywhere. People around them found success, but it always seemed to elude their grasp. Brian spent so much time trying to “make it big” that they became two strangers in the same house. Mary became bitter and resentful toward her husband because so many other men were more successful. He just couldn’t seem to measure up and this began to be the source of many heated arguments. Breaking their seven-year-old son’s heart, they separated and were divorced. Both these couples were professing Christians. Their Christian lives seemed to go on auto-pilot as they walked in complete disobedience to God’s Word.

Click here to read the next post in the series.

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