During my teenage years, my mother worked as a real estate agent — a successful one, with a corner office wallpapered with plaques listing her as a member of the "Million Dollar Club" (feel free to say that aloud with Austin Powers intonations). To be successful at selling houses, she found any opening in a conversation that could possibly lead to a discussion of real estate. When she drove carpool and noticed that one of my friends' homes was being painted or landscaped, she'd ask, "Are your parents selling? Do you have a Realtor?"
I was mortified by her brazen salesmanship and vowed to never go into any career field that required hawking things. Especially selling things to people I consider friends. I chose a career in journalism and rolled my eyes at the sales and promotions staff who would wander into editorial meetings with "story ideas". As a reporter, I considered my work more noble than merely selling things.
Eight years ago, after spending most of my adult life in a television newsroom, I took a break from the (paid) workforce to raise my kids. Our family lived relatively frugally, confident that our single-income status would be a temporary thing, a few years until the kids were old enough to go to preschool... then Kindergarten.
In Mommyland, I was introduced a whole new world of women who "worked from home". Join any mother's group, and it's only a matter of time before you start getting invited to parties. It starts out like this: you get an email inviting you to someone's house for a Girls Night Out. There will be cocktails, hor d'oevres and jewelry. Or Candlelite, Pampered Chef, Southern Living, Cabi Designs clothing, maybe even good old fashioned Mary Kay cosmetics.
Every invitation comes with a clear disclaimer to "Come for the company, you don't have to buy anything!"
Being a softie, I ultimately either succumb to high-pressure sales or feel so sorry for the hostess — who must be in such dire financial straits that she would debase herself to peddling shlocky goods, that I always end up leaving in possession of more scented hand lotions or Bundt cake pans and less money in my checking account. It took me a long time to learn to tell people that I categorically just don't attend parties where things are sold, joking, "I don't drink and shop," or "I'm taking a break from shopping. " I stopped feeling sorry for these at-home salespeople, knowing that the few vitamins or bracelets I buy would never bring them the six-figure income promised by multi-level marketeers.
Fast forward a few years, and I am trying to once again contribute to our household finances, as a freelance writer and communications consultant. Three years ago, I started my own blog, HapaMama, where I wrote heartfelt essays read largely by no one except the handful of friends I told about it. These days, linking and social media play a crucial role in "building your brand" and "getting exposure". I learned to cross-post every new article on my Facebook status update, I joined networks such as Open Salon, and I put Google Ads on all of my blogs.
No story about my mother and her career would be complete without noting that she did not start out as a salesperson, either. A trained scientist with advanced degrees, she also took time out of the workplace to raise children. She lamented the fact that her skills were obsolete to her industry by the time she tried to return to the laboratory.
I'll be the first to admit that my writing has yet to qualify me for the Million Dollar Club (still trying for a living wage). Maybe I'm no smarter than those women who got suckered into selling Amway. But like my mother, I will have to try and find a way to make things work.
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