As I was making my way through Target last week, I couldn’t help but notice that I was being stalked by a twenty-something woman with a toddler in her shopping cart. It was one of those situations where every time I rounded a corner she was standing there, flashing a smile that, although a little forced, certainly was a testament to her commitment to proper dental care. I gave her a quick once-over and decided that I could take her down should the need arise. She didn’t look like the scrapping type, though. There wasn’t a hair out of place, her make up was expertly applied, and – contrary to my jeans, baseball cap, and flip flops that screamed, “I’m over forty, and I’m not bringing sexy back!” – Ms. Sassy in her precious little sundress could teach Charlie Sheen a thing or two about winning.
While I was perusing the deodorant aisle trying to decide if I wanted to smell like summer rain or Sporty Spice, I could feel someone staring at me from a few feet away. I turned as my cutie-pie stalker walked up to me and said, “Hi! My name is Angie, and I’m a consultant for (insert name of skin care company that may or may not rhyme with Kary May). I have a group of women who meet twice a week, and I was wondering if you might be interested in being a face model for our group.” Now, before you think I’m blowing my own horn being for fabulous and all, she quickly followed up with, “Because we need all different types of faces to sample the products for the group, including the anti-aging line.” (Oh, no she didn’t….)
I accepted the business card she offered, and through clenched teeth I said, “Hmmm, I’ll think about it.” What I really wanted to do was sit Miss I Don’t Have A Wrinkle Yet down with a stiff drink and give her my dire warning about how pushing skin care on your circle of friends and strangers alike may leave you traumatized for life.
My tale of woe begins five years ago. I was in a very different place in my life than I am today. We had recently moved my ailing mother into our home which meant I was in that “Sandwich Generation”, folks who are taking care of their parents as well as their young children. In addition to my mom, I had a toddler, a first grader, several pets, a job, and a nice little prescription for anxiety medication that made managing it all seem like sunshine and butterflies. Needless to say, hawking over-priced eye cream was the last thing on my mind when presented with the opportunity that summer of 2006.
I should probably state for the record that when I received a sample of this high-end skin care line from a friend, my beauty regimen consisted of giving my face a once over in the shower with whatever bar soap happened to be on sale that week. Maybe that’s why spending some extra time pampering myself made me believe that I could win friends and influence people by sharing these products. I also blame the aforementioned prescription for loosening my inhibitions, causing me to squelch my better judgment and jump blindly into the Deadly Sea of Direct Marketing. This shy, lazy, attention-shunning wallflower had just dropped a wad of money into a business where only the most ambitious, thick-skinned go-getters succeed. I was doomed before one squirt of SPF 15 day crème even left that orange bottle.
I immersed myself in training. I learned the ins and outs of the products and memorized the sales pitch like a champ, reciting it verbatim at our weekly meetings and encouraging others to do the same. I watched as our upline made it look so easy to land other women to work the business and host parties for them. I soon realized that in order to make this “career” take off, I was going to have to do more than just learn how to type an order into the computer. I was going to have to regularly do my least favorite thing in the world: talk to other humans.
I tried. I really did. I noticed, though, that our leaders who seemed to be pulling down the big bucks possessed some very crucial characteristics that I didn’t. They were stylish and attractive, loaded with self-confidence, and their mouths continued to form sentences even when they spoke to people they barely knew or didn’t know at all. I found it impossible to complete a sale if all I could do was barely choke out my name when encountering a new face.
Once I squeezed the life out of my friends and family, I had no choice but to literally ask strangers for help in growing my business. Honestly, I would have rather cut my toe off with a dull butter knife dipped in battery acid than be in the spotlight in a room full of people I have never met, but I did it. What I lacked in personality, well, I also lacked in selling skills. In order to make my monthly quota, I made deals on products that actually took money out of my own pocket. When that didn’t work, I would buy items that I didn’t even need just to boost my bottom line in the hope of advancing. I was pouring the money I earned from my real job into the multi-level marketing abyss, never, ever to be recovered again.
The business itself was brutal. I would meet people who promised to host parties in exchange for gifts, but would take the loot and run. Friends turned the other way when they saw me coming or openly slammed me and my attempt at success in this arena directly to my face. Many times I would spend hours preparing for a party only to be left standing alone when no one showed. Phone calls and e-mails were never returned as if I didn’t exist. And, when it became abundantly clear that I would never succeed in this line of work, my fellow business builders dropped me like a cheap tube of Dollar Store mascara.
I hobbled away from this business deeply humbled, emotionally battered and financially wrecked. They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and in this case, even though I survived, I have a permanent limp. Without sounding too dramatic, I can say without hesitation that I lost all hope for humans as a species. The business of selling beauty in a bottle caused me to lose faith in humanity in a way that even shopping at Wal-Mart on Black Friday couldn’t. I bravely and uncharacteristically put myself out there, and was soundly beaten to a pulp. I had no choice but to collect my half-empty bottles of hand lotion and go home.
So, Miss I’m-Confident-Enough-To-Approach-Total-Strangers-In-Target, I will not be joining your weekly skin care parties. I don’t care how awesome the latest shade of creamy shadow would look in contrast to the dark circles under my eyes. I don’t believe you when you tell me how much money I can make by just working a couple of hours a week. Plus, I would suck as a face model because the mere mention of the words down line, residual income, and comfort zone make me shake so uncontrollably that you’d never even get the lipstick to my lips anyway...but thanks for asking.