Teaching Our Kids to Thrive in a Tough World

When you factor out those fortunate people who are born to wealth and a few athletic and entertainment superstars, virtually every millionaire in America got there one way: By learning to sell. Salesmanship is the great equalizer of our society.

It is the one line of work that is available to virtually everyone. You don’t have to have family connections, a big bank account, or a lot of education. All you have to have is some basic product knowledge and an inexhaustible supply of drive and ambition.

Sales skills are the best way the average person has to earn a fantastic income. Sure it’s tough. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. There’s lots of rejection. You don’t get paid until you sell something. At the end of every day you know exactly what you were worth because you are paid exactly what you earned-not a penny more, not a penny less.

What a feeling! The knowledge that you are charting your own course is unbeatable. You aren’t dependent on the whims of a boss. It’s great knowing that you can always make a good living.

What Could Be More Important Than A College Education?

If there was one thing I would urge any parent to do to prepare their children for the professional world it wouldn’t be to get lots of technical skills or a college education. It would be to encourage their children to learn the art and the heart of selling.

I can trace so much of the business success I have enjoyed in my adult life back to some early decisions I made about selling. I remember being a little embarrassed when people talked about the way I was always trying to sell something as a kid. I did not want to be known as a salesman. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate the choices I had made as a boy. All those school day afternoons as a little guy knocking on neighbors’ doors selling Christmas cards, all occasion cards, flower seeds, fire extinguishers-whatever. Then, in my teens, instead of working at the Burger King, I began to realize that I could make more money and control my life better by selling Swipe miracle cleaner.

When I graduated from high school most of my friends either took summer jobs, or just took the summer off. I decided to leave home and go to the big city of Nashville for a week of intensive sales training by the Southwestern Company. After which, they sent me to South Georgia to sell Bibles and family medical books door-to-door. I soon realized why so many of the guys left after the first few days. One hundred degree temperatures were common. For the first part of the summer we were working out on county back roads where the houses were sometimes a half-mile apart. There were plenty of stories about the snakes and wildcats that lived in the swamps near the roads. Since we were expected to work until about 10:00 at night-those stories took on a special impact for me! After all, at that point, I didn’t even have a car. It was tough work. When I went for a day or two without a sale-and ran into a bunch of people who seemed to truly enjoy being rude to me-I learned the importance of focusing on the finish line. I learned to set and achieve my goals.

I’ll never forget the feeling when the summer of 1970 came to an end. I was beat and worn out. I had lost weight and gotten a tan. I had become a lean, mean selling machine. When I started college in that fall, I had enough money to buy a car, a new wardrobe-pretty much whatever I needed. I had won several sales awards. But, I had gained more than that. The 17-year-old kid who had left home in June had learned how to confidently deal with people and provide for his own needs. I knew, going into college, that I already had the ability to make a good living and get ahead in the world-the next four years were just frosting on the cake.

Those early sales experiences were the building blocks for the radio and television production company I started during college, that eventually became the advertising agency that I headed for over 25 years. They were the training ground for the real estate work I have found so satisfying and profitable. All in all, I can tell you that the sales skills I learned as a boy have benefited me far more than any formal education ever has.

That’s why I’m so excited when I see a kid with an interest in selling or starting his own business. Just last week I passed a brother and sister who were running a lemonade stand in front of their home. As is my practice, I stopped for a drink. What really thrilled me was how enterprising these kids were. They not only were selling lemonade-they also had snacks available. And, when I gave them a dollar for the 50-cent cup of sugar water, the little girl asked, “Do you want any change back?” Those kids are off to a good start!

Mom and Dad, let your kids’ imaginations soar-and, dream with them. Have brainstorming sessions on ways they can earn money by selling something or starting a small business. A lot of the most successful business people in our society started their business careers as kids. By the time they were fifteen, Bill Gates was developing his software business and Estee Lauder was doing facials.

If we hope to raise independent kids who will be able to chart their own course in adulthood, it behooves us to help them “catch the vision.” Frankly, I am concerned as I watch American culture deteriorate. Arguably, the world our kids will live their adult lives in will be tougher than the one we’ve known. Employers may not be as accepting of employees who hold to the Christian ethic. Laws may not continue to protect Christians workers as much as they do now. Teaching our children how to prepare for such a future-facing it confidently and with the know-how to make a living-may be our greatest legacy.

Steve Diggs is a nationally recognized motivational and life-skills speaker. He has also distinguished himself as the author of seven books, a TV and radio personality, and a leadership trainer.