Thursday, January 29, 2009

Taking a break from the Quixtar/TEAM story

My plan was and still is to tell my story about my short stint as a Quixtar IBO affiliated with TEAM. I planned to pick up the story at my attendance at my first monthly seminar. Because this story has so many layers, I am going to take a break from writing about it for a few weeks.

Just to whet your appetites, I will say that I had some fantastic experiences that I would like to describe. I also had some really difficult times, some intense moments of self doubt and frustration. Through all of it I'd like to think that I grew. I definitely see money differently. I also am still of the employee mentality, which is something that has to change in the lives of people that want to be successful in MLM's/direct marketing/network marketing businesses.

When the inspiration hits to pick up the story, I will.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath: lessons and reminders

Forgotten on my bookshelf the last 5 or 6 years has been a set of John Steinbeck books, including his classic Grapes of Wrath. The books look really nice on the shelf, but I wasn't really drawn to them. Oh, I did read two pages of Grapes the day we put the set on the shelf but I quickly lost interest. Last week something drew me back to the book.

Since a week ago yesterday, I hardly put the book down. I'm a slow reader (good, but slow) but I devoured it at a clip of about a hundred pages per night. It is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful, moving, demanding books I've ever read. It's easy reading, written in the phonetic vernacular of its characters. Despite being loaded with themes, symbolism, and allusions, it moves along quickly like a pulp western. I found that I couldn't stand waiting to see what happened next to the Joads and their companions.

I'm hardly an expert on literature. I just know what I like and what I don't like. I know whether or not I am moved, changed. Grapes of Wrath changed me. At least in the short term, while under the book's spell, I see the world in a different light.

Dying to write about it, I was tempted to discuss themes and symbolism, to take on the larger messages of the book. I thought about discussing socio-political issues raised by the book. But I'm simply not qualified to do all that, and scholars make their living on dissecting, breaking down such things. I'll leave all that to them and to you should you pick up the book.

Lesson. Reminders. Parallels. Grapes is set in the 1930's, smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl migrations to California. (In many ways, it reminded me of -- or felt like -- Angela's Ashes which takes place at the same time in Limerick, Ireland.)

To hear people talk now, we're in another depression. People are fleeing my home state for work. Families are losing their jobs and their homes. Government help seems their only short-term option. The parallels are fascinating, yet, it's too easy to draw them, make much out of them.

The contrasts between then and now probably couldn't be more stark. Our poor, for the most part, have food, shelter and clothing. They even have access to medical care. Of course, we have a significant homeless problem, but today's poor generally have their basic needs met. My trips through our so-called "slums" or "ghettos" have shown me families living below the poverty line can still somehow manage to afford satellite TV! Dust Bowl migrants, if they could find work, were lucky to earn $1.50 to $3.00 picking fruit or cotton 10-12 hours a day. That many was barely enough to allow them to feed their families. Shelter was whatever could be found to shield them from the elements.

The reminder for me was how blessed and spoiled I really am. Grapes brought back to mind my grandmother's stories about coming of age during the Great Depression. She remembers her parents and siblings living on a turnip sandwich for dinner; they were happy to have that much (or little.)

It's a work of fiction. Steinbeck was criticized by some as taking liberty with the facts. He and other defended the historicity of the book. Whatever the case may be, Grapes is true and accurate at it's core: life can be hard and the human spirit can endure the most horrible of circumstances.

The book reminded me how soft I really am. Could I survive a job loss? Could we live on one income? What would we do if we could no longer afford our home? What if we had to scale back all of our discretionary spending? I've whined and complained in the past about feeling like I was not getting ahead, about feeling "tied to a job," about having too much work to allow me to keep my weekends free. Maybe I should be thankful for all the many blessings I do have instead of railing about those things I don't have. Grapes, more than our current economic situation, has put that in my face, forced me to reflect on what is important.

I know (or hope) I'll never be the same again.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My favorite moment of the 2008 Presidential election

We're smack dab in the middle of Obamania. There is a lot of excitement about our new President and the new direction in which our government will be headed. The inauguration was not without flair and drama: millions in attendance, the President's rousing speech, the goofed up oath of office.

To me, all this is just an extension of what has been going on for the last year or more. It's all just part of the so-called "election cycle." And while it is great that the process gave us the first bi-racial President in history, I found this little moment to be my favorite. It might be one of the least significant things to happen, but it's still my favorite.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exclusion in the name of...inclusion? *scratches head*

I saw this bit in the "Metro Times," a free Detroit area rag. I find this typical of the politically correct left. There is a drone of whining and complaining about how conservatives or "right wingers" are bigots, hate-mongers and want to shut out from society those that are not like them. But the minute one of their own welcomes in someone who does not share their political or religious views, the attacks start.

I blogged about this before, but it's worth mentioning. Instead of this Obama disciple celebrating a huge day in American history for all the good in it, she's upset that a supposed right winger is giving the prayer. Notice the response of Metro Times' Dan Savage:

Q: I'm going to Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. I've spent eight years, one month, one week, and one day waiting for this. (But who's counting?) However, I am looking for suggestions for a respectful way to protest the participation of Rick Warren. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I really don't want to engage in an antireligious protest. (FWIW: I was annoyed with some of the antireligious people at the anti-8 rallies. We need all our allies for this fight, so don't trash the engaged, progressive religious folk!)

While my friends want me to throw shoes, that ain't gonna happen. Ideally, I'd like a peaceful, gracious way to protest Warren's participation that won't undercut this great day, a way that can be picked up (and publicized) by folks on the Mall. Any suggestions? —Faithful Obama Girl

A: Whatever you do, FOG, don't do those things you, um, already said you don't want to do. No one should boo or throw shoes or do anything disruptive. The American Taliban love to pretend that they're the persecuted ones around here, and booing or throwing shoes or even just turning your back on Warren — the gay-hatin', right-wing Christian bigot Barack Obama invited to give the invocation at his inauguration — will invariably be spun as an attack on people of faith, as a vicious assault on prayer itself, as the moral equivalent of a syphilitic rent boy pissing directly into the open mouth of a crying baby Jesus.

I don't think I've ever seen a less inclusive, less open-minded assessment of a person than this. If saying homosexuality is "wrong" or a "sin" is "hate," than how can this type of talk not also be "hate"?

I wish people on both sides of the political fence -- on both sides of the so-called culture war -- could simply agree to disagree. Are none of you folks capable of living by the golden rule? Do you have to engage in character assassination and dehumanization over differences in worldviews?

People disgust me, particularly the politically correct thought police.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Quixtar, TEAM and Me Part 2

PREFACE: I've decided to write in several parts my experience as a member of TEAM (f/k/a Team of Destiny) and as a Quixtar "Independent Business Owner" (IBO.) Some names (mainly the people we worked with closely or who are 'bit players') have been changed for various reasons, mostly to avoid hurt feelings or embarrassment that might possibly be caused from perceived negativity in these pieces. I see no reason to change the names of the leaders of these particular organizations. They are well known folks, especially here in Michigan. I have no particular axe to grind with individuals or these organizations. I just want to chronicle my experiences, both good and bad.
_________________

Part 2.

I came home from our meeting with Mark and Vicky very intrigued by the business I was shown. I had a sense that I would be involved but I still wanted to "check it out" before committing to anything. We had several CD packets, one which included the book Have Fun, Make Money, Make A Difference, by Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady, and a video of a talk by Brady.

I couldn't wait to read the book. What I found in it was fascinating. to me, the business plan made all kinds of sense. I appreciated that Woodward and Brady also made it clear that this wasn't a "something-for-nothing" opportunity or a "get-rich-quick scheme." It was going to be hard work but, with perseverance, the hard work would pay off. We watched the DVD together but didn't finish it. I found myself annoyed by all the talk of toys and what seemed to me to be conspicuous consumption by TEAM leaders. I felt like the material aspect of success was too highly promoted, something I've never felt differently about since first being introduced to TEAM/Quixtar.

We were in the middle of a dispute arising from the sale of our previous home, having some difficulty with the buyers, so I didn't want to join the business until after that was remedied. Vicky invited my wife and me to a Tuesday night meeting in Brighton, Michigan, which seemed like a good way to get more information while taking this all into consideration. Mark ____ (last name escapes me) and Bill Lewis, who only a few months thereafter went Diamond, were the speakers. Mark was great. Bill was fantastic.

Everyone made sure to tell us what great leaders Mark and Vicky were and how lucky we were to be associated with them. Vicky, to her credit, was fairly transparent about that. Humbly she explained that is TEAM's way: edification. It also helps sell new people on membership.

I remember being a bit unnerved by the fact that nearly every man there -- several hundred -- was wearing a black or navy suit, white shirt and a red tie. Vicky explained that was based on studies that show dark suits, white shirts and red ties make a man more "relatable." You can do whatever study you like, but that never sat well with me. It seemed too much like a uniform -- TEAM leaders called it that -- and gave everything a bit of a cult feel. I am a professional and still do not understand why a nice blue tie wouldn't work just as well as a red tie.

The meeting was fueled, almost literally, on X-S energy drinks. Many people there had them as X-S was a product heavily promoted by TEAM. Quixtar was (and maybe still is) its exclusive distributor and the payback to IBOs for X-S was decent. Besides, the drinks were pretty darned good.

In the next few weeks, I did a lot of internet research. I argued with friends about the apparent logic of the business model. I got a good handle on some of the leading products. I kept in contact with Mark and Vicky every few days.

After the better part of a month, and after another meeting with Mark, my wife and I decided to join. We went to Mark and Vicky's house and completed the necessary forms and paid our fees for Quixtar IBO registration and TEAM website access. I was very excited. I just felt like this was our ticket to financial freedom. Some of my excitement was tempered with a smidge of disillusion when I found out that we were joining Quixtar, owned by the parent company of Amway. I had gotten past most misgivings about Quixtar, but I felt like I had been buffaloed a bit. I had not only been told that we wouldn't be joining Amway, technically a truth, but that Quixtar was just a "shopping portal." In reality, Quixtar was 100% control of whether or not I would have my own business.

Even so, it was like Christmas when we got our first shipment of products. I couldn't wait to try everything. The costs of all the products, within the first few months, was shocking. I kidded myself into belieiving we weren't paying a lot of money -- a few hundred dollars a month -- for energy drinks, some cosmetics, home goods like napkins etc., energy/snack bars, and some other non-perishables. I bought into the company line that I was "buying from my own business" and that the "rebates" defrayed the costs of the products. Shipping, too, was quite pricey. We found within 3 or 4 months that we really had to scale back on orders because we were buying things we didn't really need because we committed to buying x-amount of dollars of "business volume" per month.

Next time: I attend my first TEAM monthly seminar.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Quixtar, TEAM and Me (part 1)

PREFACE: I've decided to write in several parts my experience as a member of TEAM (f/k/a Team of Destiny) and as a Quixtar "Independent Business Owner" (IBO.) Some names (mainly the people we worked with closely or who are 'bit players') have been changed for various reasons, mostly to avoid hurt feelings or embarrassment that might possibly be caused from perceived negativity in these pieces. I see no reason to change the names of the leaders of these particular organizations. They are well known folks, especially here in Michigan. I have no particular axe to grind with individuals or these organizations. I just want to chronicle my experiences, both good and bad.
_________________

Part 1.

Our daughter had a playdate with a friend from kindergarten. When my wife came back home with our daughter, she commented on where the family lived, that they were in a nice subdivision in a big house. Like people typically do when they learn that others have been (or appear to be) financially successful, I asked, "Oh, what do they do?" "'Mark,'" she replied, "owns his own business. I didn't ask too many questions."

Some other get-together with the kids brought my wife and the wife/mother of that family, "Vicky," back together. It was then she learned that family was in some sort of "leadership development business." Intrigued and looking for something better than the doledrums of her current job, my wife prodded Vicky for more information. Whatever was said, my wife ended up at a meeting hosted by Tim Marks, a giant in these organizations. (I've had the pleasure to meet Tim and I think he's a decent guy and incredibly good at what he does.) My wife came back impressed but still couldn't explain to me what this "business" did or how it worked.

"We're meeting Mark and Vicky Saturday morning at Panera" was about all I could get from her, mostly because she didn't know what she saw, she just knew she liked it.

Saturday rolled around and we (me with some trepidation) met Mark and Vicki at Panera. I recognized her from dropping off/picking up our daughter from school. She was a pretty lady with a nice personality and sweet smile. He looked very studious but he really wasn't. (Mark, through this business, learned to be a reader, a learner, grew spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and relationally, about that I have little doubt.) Both Mark and I did most of the talking after introductions. After the better part of an hour, he "showed me the plan." I won't bore you with all the details, but he talked about Michael Dell's "content, commerce, and community," some of Robert Kiyosaki's business success principles (from all his "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" stuff), Wal-Mart and retail distribution, internet commerce and franchising.

Soon I asked, "Ok, this is a pyramid deal right?" "No," Mark replied very definitively. "Pyramid schemes are illegal. We're aligned with Disney (etc.) Do you think they'd do business with a pyramid scheme?" "Probably not," I answered, "but that stuff you drew, those circles, how is that different from a pyramid?" "Well, we build communities of people who shop on line in teams, which is one of the reasons we are called TEAM." He went on to differentiate their organization plan from the so-called 6-4-2 business model that organizations like Amway have used forever.

It turns out the way TEAM did (and presumably still does) build organizations is through what network marketers like to call "stacking." Instead of me sponsoring 6 people who are in separate lines below me, I would sponsor person A in "leg" 1. The next person I brought into the business would be sponsored by person A in leg 1. Of course, person A is trying to bring in people and he might introduce someone that would be sponsored by the person below him. A big TEAM organization doesn't look like a pyramid, it looks like an inverted bar graph. The truth is that it's network marketing, plain and simple, regardless of who "sponsors" whom.

I next wanted to know if it was Amway. Mark told me, flat out, it wasn't Amway, which was technically true but somewhat misleading. One of my college roommates had introduced me to Quixtar several years before that and I had no interest, so I wanted to know if it was Quixtar (started by the DeVos family, Amway's primary owners.) Mark told me, "Quixtar is just a shopping portal. That's all it is. It's kind of like Amazon.com. You just get your stuff through Quixtar." In my mind that meant there was little or no affiliation with Quixtar, which was a relief to me.

What TEAM members "sold" was the business model. Just about any item you could imagine -- and some services, too -- could be purchased through your own internet-based business and "the manufacturers" (actually Quixtar) paid you back. If you're interested in the nuts and bolts of the business model, there's lots of information on the 'net. It took me months to understand how money was made through TEAM/Quixtar and I won't bore you with the details.

Mark and Vicky gave us a few books, several CD packets, offered us tickets to a seminar the next Saturday (which we took but returned) and said we'd get back together in a few days.
_________________

To be continued...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Maybe it wasn't the fruitcake after all

I felt lousy after Christmas. I felt utterly poisoned (as I previously posted.) Given that overindulgence is pretty common during the holidays, I chalked up my gastric distress to that.

In the wee hours of New Years Eve, unfortunately, all that "poison" came rolling out...violently. I hate nausea and vomiting more than just about any discomfort I've ever had. It didn't stop there. I became delirious. I didn't know where I was. I thought my wife, who was in the next room, had left for Hawai'i. That was all she needed to know to force me to go to urgent care.

Care was urgently given there, at least after I got done throwing up in the hallway, leaving a nice mess for the custodial staff. Because of the delirium, urgent care sent me to the big hospital, to the ER. I won't bore you with the details, but I was there for over 6 hours, 90% of that spent out in the lobby watching crap like "The View." Ugh. But I digress...

I'm better now. But I'm not right. Something is still off. I assumed I got food poisoning from a restaurant I ate at on the 30th. Since my stomach is still sour and it was for days before my little trip to the hospital, I'm wondering if there's something else at work. Have I worried myself into an ulcer? Do I have some sort of gastrointestinal disease? Do I just eat like garbage and, therefore, feel like garbage? My eating habits are not the best but I don't know how I could be making myself feel this bad.

Perhaps a return to my family doctor is in order.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thank you Spartan seniors

Congratulations on a 9-4 season.

Thank you for representing very well the Michigan State University, its football program and the entire Spartan nation.

Best of luck to you in the future.

Congratulations to the Georgia Bulldogs

The better won the Capital One Bowl today. Hats off to you and your fans.