Getting Started & Finding My Way
(Part 9)

This is part 9 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.


It was early in the summer of 1977, and I was home from school, staying busy with various projects around my parents’ house, and wondering how I would ever find myself a good job.

Then it occurred to me that I should sell Shaklee products. A friend of the family had finagled my mother into becoming a Shaklee “dealer.” She had a Shaklee sales kit, with information about the products, and prices, and order forms. But my mother never did anything with it. I saw within that Shaklee sales kit the answer to my problems with finding a job.

My stepfather had once sold insurance for Combined Life and they gave him two classic “success” books. One was Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude by W. Clement Stone. The other was Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I had read the books in the past. I read them again.

W. Clement Stone started selling insurance when he was sixteen years old. He was an amazing man. His book was inspiring. Clearly, there was a lot of money to be made in sales. I studied the Shaklee materials to familiarize myself with the product. I liked Shaklee. Vitamins, nutritional supplements and Basic-H were good products.

Not having a car, I decided to ride my bicycle. My parents had a house on State Route 41-A. There were a lot of houses in the 16 miles or so between our place and the town of Skaneateles, on the North end of Skaneateles Lake. I would just stop at houses and go to the door and knock and tell people about Shaklee. By the end of the day, I’d have all kinds of orders. I knew from the motivational books I had read that before you can be successful at sales, you have to imagine being successful. That was fun.

It so happened that I had prior experience with cold-call sales. Back in 8th grade, when I lived in the suburbs of Syracuse, N.Y., my social studies class at school planned a two-day trip to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. To help raise money for the bus and other expenses, we sold candy bars.

I knocked on what seemed like hundreds of doors in the housing development where I lived. I sold a LOT of candy bars. Then I went beyond my neighborhood. One afternoon I rode my bike down State Fair Boulevard (the busy road in front of the housing development) to a trailer park. The people were older there and they seemed glad to see me. They bought a LOT of candy bars. When I left the place I noticed a big sign that said “No Soliciting.”

One Saturday morning my stepfather dropped me and another classmate off at a housing development several miles away to sell our candy bars. He would return in an hour or so to get us. It was not a good neighborhood. The houses were run down. The people who answered the door were not friendly. Worst of all, a gang of kids confronted us. They started to give us a hard time. I was glad my friend was with me. But we were really outnumbered, and some of those kids were big. It wasn’t going to go well for us. We were going to get hurt.

It was about to get real ugly when, thankfully, my dad drove up. My fifty-year-old heart beats a bit faster just thinking of what a close call that was.

In the end, I sold more candy bars than anyone else in the class and won a prize of some spending money for the trip. Sturbridge Village was my first introduction to a living history museum and I’ve been in love with such places ever since.

So that is how I had prior sales experience. If I could sell candy bars, I could sell Shaklee. I got on my bike one summer midmorning, clutching the Shaklee sales kit, and headed north.

I knew most of the people who lived along the road for the first couple of miles. I didn’t want to stop at those houses because that would be too embarrassing.

After a couple miles I decided it was time to stop at a house. As I rode my bike up to the house, I didn’t turn in the driveway. I changed my mind. The place didn’t look right. I would stop at the next house I came to.

Well, every house I came to didn’t look like a place I wanted to stop. I didn’t have the nerve to stop and sell Shaklee. Hard as I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I got angry because I was too scared to stop. I determined that, no matter what, I was going to stop at the next house.

But I never did. I rode my bike all the way to Skaneateles and then I rode all the way home, and I never stopped at a single house.

I was disappointed with myself. I was a failure as a door-to-door Shaklee salesman. What was I going to do with myself? How could I find my way in the world? I was feeling pretty low.

To be continued....
Click HERE to go to Part 10 of this series


Ron and Ginny said...

OH! The horror! I understand... Been in a similar situation...

Ross Cornwell said...

I have enjoyed so much reading your inspirational and informative blog posts and noted your comments about how the works of W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill have influenced you. In that regard, I thought that you and your readers may be interested to learn that a new edition of Napoleon Hill's classic book "Think and Grow Rich" has been published.

Its title is "Think and Grow Rich!" (subtitled) "The Original Version, Restored and Revised." I am the editor/annotator of this new 416-page edition, which is really an homage to Dr. Hill. (For several years I was the editor-in-chief of "Think & Grow Rich Newsletter.")

What I have done is this: to restore Dr. Hill's book to its original manuscript content (it was first published in 1937, but was abridged in 1960), annotate it with more than 50 pages of endnotes (most of the persons and events he discusses are generally unknown to readers today), index it thoroughly, add an appendix with a wealth of additional information about Dr. Hill and his work, and revise the book in ways to help remove certain "impediments" to reading the book today (language that today would be considered obsolete, sexist or racist). None of these things had previously been done with TGR.

If you would like to learn a little more about this project, a quick visit to will give you some details. The "Editor's Foreword" provides more complete information, and the “Testimonials” page will demonstrate how well-received this new book is around the world.

Here is the book’s page...

The book is available on all the Amazon websites and most other online sellers (it is now the No. 1 best-selling version of TGR on Amazon), it can be ordered by any bookstore, and it will soon be appearing in bookstores everywhere. I invite you to include a link to the book on your web site.

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Thank you for your time and attention.

Ross Cornwell, Editor