Chapter 1 The New Pioneers
When the tears came, they took Lisa Wilber by surprise. What on earth was she crying about? Until that moment, Lisa had not realized just how upset she felt.
The day had begun routinely enough. Lisa had waited two hours for the electric man to arrive. Her payment was four months late, and the electric company was sending a man to shut the power off. Lisa had waited for him, staring out the window with $46 clutched in her hand—just enough to keep the power on for another month.
She knew she was lucky to have that money. So why the tears? Maybe it was the disgusted way the electric man had rolled his eyes at her when she came flying out of the trailer in her sweatsuit, brandishing the money. As Lisa clambered through the snow, her boot laces flying and her hair wild, she was acutely conscious of how shabby she looked. The trailer park, too, was a mess. All around were snowed-in driveways, dogs barking, broken refrigerators, and rusty cars disintegrating on cinder blocks.
“The way he rolled his eyes,” Lisa remembers, “it felt to me like he was looking down his nose at me. To him, I looked like a trailer-park person, like I’d always been that way, and always would be.”
In fact, Lisa had lived in a trailer only two years. But it seemed to get harder, all the time, to imagine getting out. Everything she tried just seemed to go wrong. Months before, Lisa had been laid off from her secretarial job with a software firm. Work was scarce in rural New Hampshire, especially now, in the grip of recession. Lisa’s husband barely managed to scrounge up a few hundred dollars per month with his woodcutting business.
They subsisted on macaroni and cheese. Their rattletrap Yugo broke down several times a week. When they needed to buy gasoline, they would pull out the seat cushions, looking for any spare change they might have dropped. Lisa’s world had shrunk to a 12-by-70-foot trailer, with only a wood- burning stove to heat it. In the winter, plastic sheets taped over the windows rattled in the breeze, and talk shows gabbled softly on the television all day long. Sometimes Lisa just wanted to scream. That day, when the electric man came, was surely one of them. She went back to the trailer after he was gone, sat down on the couch, and wept until she had no more tears left to cry.
If you had told Lisa Wilber, at that moment, what loomed in her future, she would not have believed it. Lisa was destined, in just a few years, to draw a six-figure income from her own multimillion-dollar sales organization. Never again would she worry about being laid off, because Lisa would be her own boss. She would take her place among the chosen few, those entrepreneurs who had had the foresight to plan ahead. She would greet the twenty-first century with confidence, secure in the knowledge that her business was fortified against the winds and storms of the global economy.
In short, Lisa was a pioneer. Her drafty trailer was the Information Age equivalent of a sod house on the prairie or a log cabin in the Rockies. Cut off from all possibility of corporate employment, Lisa was forced to adopt a frontier mindset. She had to banish all thought of weekly paychecks, health benefits, vacations, and pensions. She had to look within for the strength to survive.
Paradoxically, it was this new way of thinking—forced on Lisa against her will—that would save her. While others clung desperately to their jobs, fearful of any change, Lisa was forced to let go. She became a modern-day homesteader. Generations of Americans had trod this lonely path before. Like them, Lisa would fend for herself in a rugged and pitiless environment. Like the homesteaders of old, Lisa would battle discouragement every day. But also like them, she would conquer her fears and build a new life for herself and her family.
Network marketing is a distribution strategy whereby independent sales reps are permitted to recruit other sales reps and to draw commissions from the sales of their recruits.
The old-time pioneers equipped themselves with tools, such as the Winchester rifle and the Colt .45 “Peacemaker,” uniquely crafted to help them conquer the western wilderness. Information Age frontiersmen will also pack special weapons—turnkey business strategies designed to help ordinary people thrive in the cyber-economy.
In her quest for self-sufficiency, Lisa armed herself with one of the most potent of these weapons. It goes by many names. Some call it network marketing, others multilevel marketing, and some just plain MLM. It is not really new. This powerful business technique was invented over fifty years ago. But in the last ten years, late-breaking technological developments have made its peculiar virtues obvious to the corporate mainstream, in a way they never were before.
What is network marketing? It is a strategy for selling products whereby independent salesmen are permitted to recruit other salesmen and to draw commissions from the sales of their recruits. In an MLM organization, you recruit people, who recruit others, who, in turn, recruit others, and so on down the line. Ordinary sales representatives thus acquire the opportunity to build a money-making organization, many levels deep, that can number in the hundreds or even thousands of people.
In years past, network marketing was dismissed by many business leaders as a get-rich-quick scheme, analogous to chain letters and pyramid scams.
But those days are gone. Today Fortune 500 corporations flock to do business through MLM networks, and Wall Street analysts sing the praises of multilevel sales methods.
Indeed, network marketing has grown into one of the driving forces of the twenty-first-century economy. Reliable statistics for MLM’s global growth are difficult to pin down, since many companies do not report their sales or membership figures to any trade organization. Nevertheless, based upon available data from the Direct Selling Association (DSA) in Washington, D.C., as well as other industry sources, Network Marketing Lifestyles editorial director Duncan Maxwell Anderson estimates that annual sales through MLM organizations have reached about $20 billion in the United States and $80 billion worldwide. The DSA conservatively estimates that about 8 million people engage in network marketing, in the United States alone.
Why do they do it? Because MLM provides an answer to one of the most nagging questions facing people in the Information Age: How do you make a living in a world where there are no more jobs?
As the traditional workforce shrinks, the contingent workforce—people working flexible or part-time hours— grows at an ever-accelerating pace.
Frontiers, in every age, offer boundless opportunity. But one thing they don’t offer is jobs. The first homesteaders who arrived on the Great Plains were entirely on their own. They had to build their own houses, dig their own wells, plow their own fields, and raise their own livestock. Otherwise, they would have starved.
Life on the cyber-frontier will work much the same way. As the Information Age dawns, it is clear that jobs, as we know them, are becoming obsolete. Millions of people have been laid off from corporate positions in the last twenty years. Many have looked in vain for other jobs with comparable pay, benefits, or security. In the old days, layoffs were seen as a temporary cost-cutting measure. Companies would slash their payrolls to get through tough times. But as soon as the economy picked up, they would hire their workers back. Not anymore.
Downsizing today happens for a different reason. Companies lay off workers because their plants have moved out of the country—permanently—or because automation has made human effort unnecessary. “Technology makes companies more and more efficient—with fewer and fewer people,” says economist Paul Zane Pilzer, author of Unlimited Wealth, Other People’s Money, and God Wants You to Be Rich. “The most profitable companies are the ones doing the most downsizing. That process will continue to accelerate.”
Nowadays, downsizing continues through fat and lean times alike. Most of the jobs being slashed will never come back. Even those people who continue working must often change their status from that of employee to freelance contractor. Corporations prefer freelancers, so they can limit a worker’s hours as needed and avoid paying benefits. As the traditional workforce shrinks, the contingent workforce—those people working on contract, with flexible or part-time hours—grows at an ever-accelerating pace.
In The Sovereign Individual, economic forecasters James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg predict that the twenty-first century will see the “death of jobs,” as we know them. Only in recent years, they explain, has the word job come to imply lifetime employment. Past generations understood the term to mean a one-time task that you were hired to do. A blacksmith, for instance, would get a job shoeing a horse. A seamstress would get a job sewing a dress. But no one expected those jobs to last for life. No one expected health benefits, pensions, or gold watches. “Before the industrial era,” they write, “permanent employment was almost unknown.”
In the Information Age, Rees-Mogg and Davidson predict, the word job will return to its older meaning. It will refer to specific and temporary tasks. “Already, major corporations such as AT&T have eliminated all permanent job categories,” they observe. “Positions in that large firm are now contingent.”
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich estimates that 20 percent of the U.S. workforce is already self-employed today. If Rees-Mogg and Davidson are correct, that figure may approach 100 percent in the years ahead.
On the old frontier, there was only one way to ensure a safe and comfortable retirement: you had to build a business—usually a farm—that would continue earning money till the day you died. Information Age pioneers will be faced with a similar challenge. With neither corporate nor government pensions to lean on, they will need to feather their own nests by building strong and self-sustaining businesses.
Independent contractors are not entitled to receive corporate pensions. In the twenty-first century, they will almost certainly get no government money either. Tax-and-spend retirement schemes, such as Social Security, have already run out of steam. No one can afford the taxes any longer to keep them going. Some place their hopes in a new plan to divert Social Security taxes into personal retirement funds, invested in the stock and bond markets. But markets are subject to booms and busts. One good bust, and you can kiss your retirement good-bye.
Even in the happy event that the government would simply give up, allowing people to keep their own money and put it in the bank, many would still fail to achieve a comfortable retirement. At current rates of inflation and interest, a forty-year-old in the year 2000 would need to sock away at least $3 million in order to enjoy a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle in his golden years. But how many middle-class families do you know that can afford to save $3 million?
In the nineteenth century, millions flocked to the frontier in Conestoga wagons. Today, it is the frontier that is coming to us. Everyone alive today must confront the cyber-economy, whether we like it or not. How we fare in the years ahead will depend entirely on how soon we accept the inevitable and how energetically we prepare for self-sufficiency. It is a hard life on the cyber-frontier, a life of bone-crushing labor; of hot competition; of risk, fear, and suspense. But just as the old-time pioneers built fortunes in the West, so we have opportunities before us to thrive and prosper as never before, in ways that we could never have imagined back in the old corporate world.
Experts have long predicted that the twenty-first century would be an age of luxury, the Internet a cornucopia of customized service that would cater to consumers’ every whim. And so they will be. But we must earn those luxuries by the sweat of our brow. We must earn them by making smart decisions. Our livelihood, in the years to come, will be largely determined by the choices we make today, by the strategies we select for building our Information Age businesses. Those who choose network marketing will be taking a giant step in the right direction.

CHAPTER 2: The Leverage Principle
Give me a place to stand on,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the earth.” The greatest of Greek mathematicians was speaking, of course, about the power of leverage. He meant that if he had a large enough fulcrum, a lever of sufficient length, and a place to set up this apparatus, he would be able to move the earth, much as a farmer levers a stone from his field.
Lever and fulcrum are among the simplest devices known to man. Yet they enable a workman to hoist many times his own weight. In the business world, the Leverage Principle is applied with even more wondrous effect. CEOs gain leverage by borrowing money, enabling them to expand operations, raise their stock price, and increase profits far beyond what they could have managed on their cash flow alone. A manager gains leverage by delegating tasks to employees, thus multiplying his personal efforts many times over. “I would rather have one percent of the efforts of a hundred people,” billionaire oil tycoon J. Paid Getty is reputed to have said, “than a hundred percent of my own efforts.”
Getty was right. No one person has the time or energy to build a successful business on his own. An entrepreneur’s success is tied directly to the amount of leverage he can bring to bear. That’s where network marketing comes in. It is a system specifically crafted to give ordinary people access to extraordinary leverage. 
An entrepreneur’s success is tied directly to the amount of leverage he can bring to bear.
The first Americans to practice leveraged salesmanship were the Indians. They employed the Leverage Principle to great advantage, both in trading among them-selves and in dealing with the white man. Agents of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada, for instance, discovered that the native people from whom they purchased beaver pelts employed a kind of franchise amount of leverage system. Rather than dealing with the English one-on-one, the Indians would descend on the trading post once a year with a great fleet of canoes. Each fleet was commanded by a trading chief, specially selected for his negotiating skill. The chief would charge the other Indians what amounted to a franchise fee for the privilege of joining his fleet —typically, one beaver pelt per canoe. For this price, Indian merchants gained the advantage of being part of a large trading party, with greater bargaining clout.
The power of Indian trading blocs was evident in their ability to get the prices they wanted from the white man. The price of a beaver pelt, for example, plummeted from twenty to ten shillings on the London fur market from 1785 to 17 9 3. Logically, the white traders in North America should have made up for their losses by cutting the price paid to native suppliers for each pelt. But the Indians continued to demand the same price as before.
“If they believed… that three beaver skins were worth one ax head, then that was that,” says Professor Abraham Rotstein of the University of Toronto. According to Rotstein, the frontier prices for thirty-five different trade goods stayed roughly the same for more than a hundred years. No matter how wildly their value fluctuated on the London markets, the Indians would simply not agree to any price changes. And because they employed the Leverage Principle—bargaining collectively, through trading “franchises”—they had the power to enforce their will. 
Yet white traders also knew how to exploit leverage. Great conglomerates like the Hudson’s Bay Company and John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company muscled their way ever deeper into North America, relying on their massive size to gain the best deals. As the white man grew in numbers and strength, he ultimately drove the Indians out of business.
During this time, a new economy emerged, in which colonists purchased supplies from “Yankee peddlers”—itinerant salesmen who traveled the country by foot and cart. The peddlers prospered for many years. But they did not use leverage. Each man looked out for himself. Consequently, the Yankee peddlers had little ability to fight back when wholesalers began to employ their own leverage, using the new railroad and canal systems in the 1840s to ship directly to shopkeepers. The new system bypassed the peddlers entirely, and they nearly vanished as a species from the American landscape.
Only by exploiting the Leverage Principle for their own purposes did peddlers manage to fight their way back. A new type of salesman arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like the old-time peddler, he worked for himself. But unlike the peddler, he sold a well-known product with a national brand name. Avon Products, Fuller Brush Company, and Electrolux were among the legendary firms that arose during this period, selling such wares as perfume, brushes, and vacuum cleaners door to door. They were called “direct selling” companies, because they sold directly to the consumer rather than to shops and department stores.
For the manufacturer, direct selling offered the opportunity to put a product right in the customer’s face, rather than letting it sit on a store shelf, lost among hundreds of other items. For the salesman, these networks offered wholesale discounts, protected territories, and the prestige of a major brand name. When an Avon lady or a Fuller Brush man came to visit, customers took for granted that their products were trustworthy.
The direct salesman, like the Indian trader before him, gained leverage by working through a network. This new way of selling caught on like wildfire. “There were at least 200,000 persons selling door-to-door in 1920,” writes University of California management professor Nicole Woolsey Biggart, in her book Charismatic Capitalism, “double the number in 1900.”
Yet there were limits on the direct salesman’s leverage. He was caught in a time trap. One man could only hawk so many Fuller brushes or Electrolux vacuum cleaners in the course of a day. His income was limited by the number of hours he worked. As long as he expended physical effort, knocking on doors and wagging his tongue, he made money. But the moment he stopped working—whether to sleep at night, to spend Sunday with his family, or even to nurse a cold—his earnings evaporated. And woe to the man who suffered crippling injury or failing health. His income would decline in proportion to his incapacity.
In short, the early direct sellers earned linear income—money paid in exchange for time. Most people, in fact, earn linear income. It’s a perfectly fine way to make a living. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants certainly do well on this sort of income. But there is no leverage to it. No matter how much linear income you receive, you must still report for duty and perform physical work —whether arguing a case, examining a patient, or crunching a spreadsheet— in exchange for every penny you make. You are still tied to a forty-hour work week. Your income will never rise past a certain point, dictated by the number of hours available in your working life.
Only from residual income do great fortunes arise.
The only kind of income that provides real leverage is residual income. This is money that keeps coming in, long after you have completed the work. It is the kind of money that bestselling authors and hit songwriters earn from their royalties, the kind that investors and business owners draw from their stock dividends. Once you have established a residual income stream, it keeps on flowing, even if you decide to take a year off and lie on the beach.
Only from residual income do great fortunes arise. Only from residual income do great fortunes arise. Unfortunately, direct selling was unable to offer this benefit in its early years. Thousands of would- be Horatio Alger heroes beat on doors across America, through the 1920s and ‘30s. But only those who gave up on direct selling and moved on to start their own businesses actually attained financial freedom. The need was great for a new type of work that would combine the accessibility of direct selling with the residual income of genuine business ownership. That demand would soon be fulfilled in a remarkably innovative way.

Chapter 3: The Multilevel Solution
Most experts agree that Carl Rehnborg was the first entrepreneur to successfully employ a network marketing program. Other companies had only flirted with such methods before. As far back as the 1920s, some direct- selling firms had paid one-time finder’s fees to their representatives for each new salesman they recruited. Others had even allowed salesmen to collect a percentage of their recruits’ gross sales for a limited period of time, say, for the first sixty days after the recruit had joined. But Rehnborg appears to have been the first to allow salesmen to draw permanent commissions from their recruits, a steady income stream that would keep on flowing through the entire life span of the business.
It all began during the 1920s, when Rehnborg had been an overseas manufacturer’s representative in China. Civil war broke out, and Rehnborg was trapped for a year in the foreign settlement of Shanghai. Forced to live on a starvation diet of rice and water, he supplemented his rations by making soup from plants, grass, and even rusty nails (for iron).
Rehnborg’s experience taught him profound lessons about the value of nutrition. Back in the United States, he used his training as a chemist to develop food supplements made from alfalfa, parsley, spinach, watercress, carrots, and various minerals and vitamins. He started a company to sell these products in 19 34. Originally called the California Vitamin Company, it was later rechristened Nutrilite Products, Inc.—a name destined to resound in the annals of entrepreneurship.
Operating as a conventional direct-selling firm, Nutrilite prospered for many years. But in 1945, Rehnborg tried something different. He introduced a new plan for compensating Nutrilite salesmen. Some accounts say that the plan was developed by Rehnborg himself. Others hold that it was the brainchild of Nutrilite distributors Lee My tinger and William Casselberry. Whoever invented it, the plan exhibited most of the features that we commonly associate with network marketing today.
It allowed any Nutrilite distributor with twenty-five regular retail customers to recruit new salesmen and to draw a 3 percent commission from their sales. This was not a one-time finder’s fee or a temporary reward, but a permanent business arrangement that would last as long as the recruit stayed in Nutrilite. Ordinary direct sellers now had the ability, for the first time, to build a sales organization that could generate residual income. Like bestselling authors, oil tycoons, or Wall Street investors, Nutrilite distributors could now gain leverage from the efforts of other people. Many achieved stunning success under the new system.
Rehnborg’s key breakthrough was to allow Nutrilite representatives to draw compensation not only from the sales of their recruits, but also from the recruits of their recruits, and so on. This multilevel arrangement offered staggering potential for growth. You could now recruit others to do your recruiting for you, not just your selling. Each new salesman (or “distributor”) that you brought on board now doubled your ability to recruit others. Simple arithmetic demonstrates how this doubling power works to the network marketer’s advantage. Any time you multiply a number by the same quantity over and over again—whether you are doubling, tripling, quadrupling, or whatever—you are said to be increasing that number geometrically. The strange magic of geometric progression offers multilevel sales leaders the chance to grow their businesses at breathtaking speed.
Consider how you would respond if someone offered you the choice between $ 100,000 in cash or a penny that was guaranteed to double each day for a month. Those who understood the arithmetic would have no trouble deciding. They would ask for the penny, because they would understand that, after thirty-one days of doubling (assuming that the first doubling began on day one) the penny would have multiplied to over $21 million. That’s geometric growth. Multilevel marketing puts the same mathematical force to work in building your business.
Let’s take a hypothetical case. Suppose you recruited five people in your first month. Then, in your second month, each of your recruits brought in five more people. If the process continued, without interruption, for six months, you would end up with 19,530 distributors in your downline (the MLM term for the total number of people generated by your recruiting efforts). Now suppose each person in your downline purchased $ 100 worth of inventory each month. If you drew a 10 percent commission from each sale, your total commissions, in your sixth month, would be $ 195,300. And those commissions would keep on growing, month after month.
But for those special few with the energy, vision, and tireless persistence to break through every obstacle, multilevel commission structures offer a unique opportunity to build a sales organization that grows in geometric progression, year after year.
Of course, this is a highly simplified and idealized example. No business proceeds like clockwork. The dropout rate is high among MLM recruits. Most people would have to go through a lot of trial and error before they could find five good people capable of going out and recruiting five more. For that reason, most network marketers earn only modest incomes. But for those special few with the energy, vision, and tireless persistence to break through every obstacle, multilevel commission structures offer a unique opportunity to build a sales organization that grows in geometric progression, year after year. Many succeed in doing just that.
We’ve come a long way since the days when Indian trappers would pay one beaver skin per canoe for the privilege of joining a trading party. Multilevel marketing has raised the Leverage Principle almost to a science. Companies that employ MLM today routinely achieve growth rates unheard-of in conventional business.
“Most business editors get excited when they find a company whose sales or profits have ‘soared’ 20 percent in the last year,” writes Duncan Anderson, editorial director of Network Marketing Lifestyles magazine. “But in network marketing, growth rates of 100 percent annually are not unusual, in the early, expansive phase of a successful firm.”
In short, the opportunity has never been greater. Those who choose network marketing today gain a special advantage. They enter the industry at the precise moment that it is embarking on a powerful new phase of evolution. For reasons that will be made clear in succeeding chapters, I have named that phase Wave 4. It marks the end of network marketing’s infancy. No longer is MLM perceived as an immature business, rife with scam artists hawking get- rich-quick schemes. Today, blue-chip corporations such as Citigroup, MCI, and IBM confidently sell their services through multilevel sales forces. This powerful business strategy has become a linchpin of the twenty-first-century economy.
In the pages ahead, we will learn why corporate America has embraced this new strategy so enthusiastically. We will see how network marketing fits hand in glove with the needs of our burgeoning Information Society. Most important of all, we will find out how you and your family fit into the Wave 4 Revolution; how this radical new method of work may someday provide the key to your financial freedom; and what specific steps you will need to take in order to walk the path of Wave 4 success.
PART 2: The Wave 4 Revolution
Chapter 4: Acres of Diamonds
Many centuries ago in Persia, a farmer listened enthralled while a storyteller wove him a yarn. The tale concerned something called a “diamond.” According to the storyteller, a diamond was a “congealed drop of sunlight,” a gem so precious that any man who discovered a mine of them would be richer than any king. The farmer had never heard of diamonds before. But now that he had, he burned with desire to lay his hands on such a treasure.
It happened that this farmer owned many fields and orchards. He was a wealthy man. Yet from the moment he heard about diamonds, he felt like a pauper. The one thing in life that he coveted, he could not have. The thought of all those diamonds lying undiscovered, somewhere in the world, tortured him in his sleep. So one day he sold his lands and set out on a quest. The farmer wandered through Africa, Palestine, and Europe in search of diamonds. At last he arrived in Spain, a bitter old man, dressed in rags. Overwhelmed with despair, he threw himself into the sea and drowned. Never once, in all his travels, had he so much as glimpsed a single diamond.
Meanwhile, back in Persia, the man who had bought his fields made a startling discovery. He found a diamond embedded in a black stone. Further investigation revealed that there were literally acres and acres of diamonds concealed beneath his property. In time, that humble farm came to be known as the diamond mine of Golconda, the richest ever found. If only the greedy
farmer had been content to stay at home! The wealth he craved would have been his for the taking.
“It makes not so much difference where you are as who you are… If you cannot get rich in Philadelphia, you certainly cannot do it in New York.”
This story was first popularized by Dr. Russell Herman Conwell, a minister, educator, Civil War hero, and one of America’s greatest inspirational speakers. Until his death in 1925, Conwell toured the country, exhorting audiences to open their eyes and to see the opportunities right in front of them. Rather than run off to the big city, Conwell preached, people should stay put and make the best of what they found, right in their own hometowns. Conwell’s “Acres of Diamonds” lecture, delivered some six thousand times, made him the most beloved and sought-after speaker of his day.
“I say to you that you have acres of diamonds in Philadelphia, right where you now live…” Conwell once told an audience in that city. “Out of the 107 millionaires worth $ 10 million [in 1889], 67 of them made their money in towns of less than 3,500 inhabitants It makes not so much difference where you are as who you are… If you cannot get rich in Philadelphia, you certainly cannot do it in New York.”
Conwell believed that the capacity for success lay within each of us and did not depend on our surroundings or circumstances. Seventy-five years after his death, Conwell’s message has acquired a special relevance for our burgeoning Information Society. More than ever, the best opportunities can be found right in our own backyards, in our own home offices, on our own personal computers. But you would hardly know it from the attitudes of most people. All too many of us contemplate the Death of Jobs with an ever-deepening dread. We see the future as a high-tech wasteland, where only the highly trained elite will find work. Yet precisely the opposite is true. For those who understand Conwell’s lesson, the Wave 4 Revolution offers acres of proverbial diamonds, concealed under our very noses. 
Lisa Wilber learned Conwell’s lesson the hard way. When we last met her, Lisa was weeping in her trailer, having just paid her last $46 to the electric man. Self-pity was her ever-present companion. Like the farmer in Conwell’s story, Lisa envisioned herself as poor and had done so for most of her life. Her father was a janitor and her mother a secretary. They were hard-working folk, who had always managed to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. But the glamour and excitement that Lisa craved could not be found in her parents’ house.
Magazines and television only whetted Lisa’s appetite. She would glue herself to the TV, gazing spellbound at the intrigues and power plays unfolding each week on Dallas and Dynasty. Lisa spent hours studying her parents’ coffee-table picture books about the Kennedy family: the fine houses, the cars and boats, the sunny faces, the happy children, the languid afternoons in Hyannisport. How different it all seemed from her drab existence in rural Massachusetts!
Somewhere out there was a wider world, Lisa told herself, a world of money and opportunity. She vowed that she would partake of that excitement, someday. But for now, life was just a blur of chores and schoolwork. The only break seemed to come on those rare and special occasions when the doorbell rang for Lisa’s mother, and a familiar voice announced from the porch that the Avon lady was here.
“Ever since I was a little girl,” Lisa recalls, “I always wanted to be the Avon lady.”
Like the characters Lisa admired in Dallas and Dynasty, the Avon lady seemed at home in the world of money and commerce. Sharply turned out in a business suit, she would open her sample case and get right to the point. “She didn’t come for chit-chat,” Lisa recalls. “She came to do her job. She was a businesswoman. Very professional. I looked up to her for that.”
Lisa longed to navigate the business world with that same ease and confidence. To her, Avon Products represented a corporate fairy godmother, a mysterious force capable of transporting her to a better world. Lisa loved the products. Her very first lipstick came from an Avon catalog. She also knew that Avon was a multibillion-dollar company, with a history going back to 1886. Its blue-chip reputation spoke of money, power, and status— the three things Lisa coveted most. If only she could become an Avon lady, Lisa thought, then perhaps she too might acquire some of those attributes for herself.
Lisa’s business instincts were not off the mark. Avon Products did indeed represent the future, notwithstanding the fact that it was one of America’s oldest corporations. The direct-selling movement Avon had helped pioneer back in 1886 was only now beginning to fulfill its potential. Economic revolution was in the air. And Lisa was destined to play an important role in that coming upheaval.
But first, she had a mental hurdle to overcome. Lisa had to learn the lesson of Acres of Diamonds. Like the greedy farmer in Conwell’s story, Lisa was never satisfied with the opportunities at hand. Her restless spirit kept her always on the prowl for something easier, better, and quicker. Consequently, she was ill-prepared to make a success of her Avon business.
Lisa joined Avon when she was only eighteen years old. Yet as with most things she tried, the novelty wore off quickly. Selling Avon products just didn’t seem to bring in the kind of money Lisa wanted. She worked the business, year after year, on a part-time basis. But Lisa never gave it her full attention and, consequently, never earned more than a few hundred dollars per month. Most of her time and energy went into finding other ways to survive.
Lisa’s quest for the proverbial pot of gold took her down many well-worn but empty paths. Convinced that she needed technical knowledge to succeed, Lisa put herself through school, completing two associate’s degrees in management and data processing. Convinced that hourly pay was the most reliable form of income, Lisa earned her keep by working every sort of odd job, from cleaning houses to waiting on tables. When things got tough, Lisa sought escape through travel. She drifted far and wide across the world, from Mississippi and South Carolina to the island of Guam.
Through all these changes, Lisa’s Avon business atrophied. Her punishing schedule left little time for selling. And her constant travel made it hard to keep customers. Ambition was never lacking in Lisa. She did not shrink from challenges. But her energy was scattered in a dozen different directions. Like the foolish old farmer in the story, Lisa encountered only struggle and hardship wherever she went.
When she was growing up in Massachusetts, Lisa often felt poor. Yet her notion of poverty amounted to little more than having cheaper clothes than the other kids at summer camp. Only when she left home did Lisa finally learn what it meant to be broke. In Charleston, South Carolina, she went for three months without lights or hot water after failing to pay her electric bill. Lisa was exhausted all the time. Her job, classes, and Avon business kept her going around the clock. One night, while working late in a minimart, Lisa fell asleep at her cash register. The neighborhood was so bad that police surrounded the store, with guns drawn, thinking that Lisa had been shot.
“Hardly a day went by that I didn’t tell myself, I can’t take this anymore,” Lisa remembers. “I was lucky I didn’t have to compromise my principles. I had to work some icky jobs, but at least I never had to do anything illegal.”
Lisa was underemployed. No matter how hard she worked, she could not earn enough money. As the Death of Jobs gains momentum, underemployment is spreading with epidemic speed through our society. More and more people try to make up for the jobs they’ve lost by working several part-time gigs at once. But they soon find themselves on a treadmill. Their round-the-clock work schedules consume their time and energy, but give nothing back. Because they work for linear wages, their efforts offer no chance for growth. Most underemployed people dream only of landing a steady job again, with normal hours, decent pay, and good benefits.
Unfortunately, steady jobs will only grow harder to find as the twenty- first century progresses. The quest for regular employment will seem as quixotic in the years ahead as the search for gold mines did to Russell Con- well’s generation. Conwell urged his contemporaries to forget about striking the Mother Lode and to busy themselves, instead, with more practical occupations. Someday soon, a new generation of Conwells will arise to offer that same advice to job seekers of the Information Age. These forward-looking people will advise us to put aside romantic and foolhardy notions about landing a good job, to stop wasting precious time on resumes and interviews, and to get busy with the more realistic task of building a self-sustaining, residual income.
Like most underemployed people, Lisa dreamt only of finding a good job.
And in time, she did. After returning to New England, Lisa found work as a secretary in a New Hampshire computer firm, located only a couple of hours’ drive from where she had grown up. Lisa’s new job paid what, to her, was the incredible salary of $20,000. Two years later, she married. Lisa’s luck seemed to be changing at last.
But her newfound happiness was based on a shaky foundation. Unknown to Lisa, the Death of Jobs was already stalking the land. It struck without warning, two weeks after her wedding. Lisa went to work that day only to learn that she and her entire department had been laid off.
“I cried all the way home,” Lisa recalls. “Everyone in my department was crying. I was in love with that job. It paid full dental, full medical. I had no idea what I was going to do now.”
Lisa’s husband cut firewood for a living, earning barely enough to survive. Jobs were scarce in New England in the late 1980s. Talk of hard times and recession filled the papers and TV. After all the years of scraping and starving, Lisa could not believe that she was penniless once more. She broke down completely when she got home, wailing and rolling on the floor of her trailer before her befuddled bridegroom. “I pretty much pitched a fit,” Lisa admits. “I’m not proud of it, but that’s what happened.”
As usual, Lisa saw only the hole and not the donut. What she saw was poverty, recession, unpaid bills, a dingy trailer park, and an underemployed husband. Lisa looked back upon her travels, like the greedy farmer in the story, and concluded that all had been in vain. She had wandered to the ends of the earth and back. She had explored every path that was open to her. But God Himself seemed to block her every move. No wonder Lisa rolled and rolled on the floor that day, clenching her fists and kicking her feet. No wonder she wept as if life itself were coming to an end. But in fact, life was only just beginning for Lisa. She did not realize it yet, but “acres of diamonds” lay very close at hand. All she needed was to open her eyes to see them.