It’s been a year since I decided to leave my full time, work-from-home-job with Mary Kay. In that year, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my experience. I’ve reflected on everything I learned during the 3ish years I spent with the company; two of which were spent leading a unit of 100-something women as a Senior Sales Director.
I have felt for some time now that I owe it to my former customers and team members to fully explain why I left. I have gone back and forth with the idea; knowing that it would come with a wave of backlash, many Facebook unfriendings, and maybe even some real-life unfriendings. I know this, and still… I feel compelled to share. Not because I am a scorned ex-employee (I left while I was driving a free car and still considered successful in most senses of the word) or because I want to damage anyone else’s career (I still have great respect for many of the women I met through Mary Kay). I want to share because I don’t like keeping secrets, and I believe in vulnerability and transparency. With every new day, there seems to be a new wave of MLM facebook and Instagram posts, all explaining why their company is different than the rest. I can’t speak to all the others, but I can share my story with the hope that it helps someone make an informed decision before signing on any dotted lines.
So, despite what I know is sure to come, here it is. My story with Mary Kay.
I became acquainted with Mary Kay a few months before my wedding in 2013. A family member had a close friend who was (and still is) a Mary Kay sales director, and she suggested that I ask her to do my makeup for my wedding. I had seen some of her work, and she was a talented make up artist, so I agreed. I won’t go into every single detail, but that experience ended up being awkward. At my bridal party’s makeup trial, she tried to sell us product. My bridesmaids consisted of my three underage sisters, and two of my closest friends who were still in college and broke as a joke. Needless to say, she sold us nothing and we left promptly after our trial session ended. Later on, she would send multiple texts asking us to buy product- at one point even telling me she needed the money because her husband had been laid off. Can you say, “too much information”? But my wedding makeup looked beautiful, I never thought anything of it afterwards, and I moved on.
My next experience was at a close friend’s debut party on Halloween eve. I went as a favor, stayed despite the fact that it started almost an hour late, and purchased one product to be kind. I remember feeling uncomfortable, but I am nothing if not strong willed, so I did not feel particularly pressured into buying anything more than I did.
It was a few months later, that my husband and I decided Mary Kay might be a good opportunity for our growing family. I was pregnant with our first child, and I had dreams of one day being able to quit my job and be a stay at home mom. My friend- who I had an incredible amount of respect for, and still do – showed me her commission check and told me she had managed to make more in a few hours doing Mary Kay than she had in a week at her normal job. I was impressed. Mike was impressed. And we both thought, “if she can do it, why can’t I”?
So, I handed over our credit card, signed on the dotted line and BLAM, I was a Mary Kay consultant.
Fast forward a few days. I assume, knowing what I know now, that I did some kind of orientation over the phone with my new recruiter’s up-line, but it must have been quick because I don’t remember it whatsoever. What I do remember is agreeing to pay $600 for inventory, because “you can’t make money without investing money first”. A few days after again handing over my credit card, I got a call from my husband. “Why is there a $730 charge on our card? I thought we agreed to $600?”. “Um, we did. Great question. I’ll call”. And call I did. The explanation was taxes and shipping. Might have been good to know before charging my card. But, after much apologizing from my sales director (she even offered to buy part of my product back from me..), I relented and accepted the charges.
I won’t bore you with the details of my start with the company. To be honest, it was exactly what you would imagine. Parties in friends’ houses. Setting goals that always seemed to get bigger the more I accomplished. Eventually, I set my sights on directorship; in other words, I was tired of being a small fish and was ready to climb the ladder.
I was told the requirements, I was given the timeline, and my up-line was beyond supportive. All of a sudden, I was getting much more attention. I was selling more. People were signing up under me. The tactics that I had once thought felt uncomfortable with were now falling off my lips as easily as my own name.
I eventually entered DIQ, which is a 4 month period where you are expected to hit certain quotas and recruit a certain amount of team members before you debut as a director. Those 4 months turned into 7 months. The tricky part of Mary Kay (and I would assume any other MLM company) is that once the last day of the month comes and goes, you are back to zero, friend. If you don’t hit your goal, guess what? That work is out the window and you are back to square one. But I was determined to become a stay at home mom, which meant I was determined to make a full time income, which meant I needed to be a sales director. I worked my tail off. I skipped meals with my family, I lost hours of sleep calculating numbers and quotas and piecing together the puzzle that made up DIQ. It was grueling. But over and over again I heard “this is the hardest part” “you’ll get through it” “this is why only 1% of women make it to the top” “it’s smooth sailing after this”. And so, 7 months later, in December 2015, I became a Mary Kay Sales Director.
And I rested. I took a nice, long awaited, much needed vacation. Right?
Wrong. The day I debuted, I was handed a packet of how to be successful as a Sales Director and I was told “this is not the time to slow down. Don’t lose your momentum. Get back to work”.
Okay, I thought, I’ll work now and I’ll rest later. When later would be, no one could tell me, but I was looking forward to it. The company handed me new, even bigger goals, to hit in my first year of directorship and I took the challenge as a way to make even more of a financial impact on my family. I smashed those goals; debuting as the #2 sales director in my class out of hundreds of women. I made $2000 out of the possible $3000 in bonuses, I earned prizes out the wazoo and I was killing it. But “later” never came. I didn’t slow down. If anything, I worked harder. I ended up debuting another sales director under myself less than a year after my own debut. I hired an assistant. I earned a first car, and then a second car.
But here’s what else was going on behind the scenes.
I was exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted. I gave birth to my second child just 6 months after my debut, and didn’t even take 1 day off. I was fulfilling orders in my hospital bed- hand to God this is true. And my peers told me “good for you”, “that’s some insane work ethic”, “way to be a girl boss”. Now, when I see pictures of women bringing their newborn children to mary kay meetings, I want to shake them and say “TAKE A BREAK. YOU JUST GAVE BIRTH, YOU NEED REST!”. But I know they are just doing what they think they are supposed to do: work hard for their family, no matter what.
After my son was born, my husband left his job to go back to school full time. I became the primary bread winner for my family. At the same time, a thick black cloud of postpartum depression moved in and loomed over me. I was trying to spin all the plates. I was juggling all the balls. I was having my cake and eating it too- bread winner, stay at home mom, successful entrepreneur, leader.. whatever you want to call it.
But the truth was, I was drowning. The first of every month, when the scoreboard would go back to 0 and all of the past month’s work would be washed away, I panicked. I can still feel the sensation of my throat closing up when I would turn the calendar to a new month. I needed new customers, new recruits. A new, blank, tracking sheet. New motivational words to get my girls working (who, by the way, were incredible. I feel so blessed by the women I got to work with).
I wish I could say someone noticed. I wish I could say that I got a call from someone who told me “take some time off” or “the company will take care of you while you recover from this crippling depression”. But that wasn’t the case. Sure, I had friends who supported me. Some of them were even involved in Mary Kay with me. But when the idea of taking time off came up, the response was always “you’ll feel better when you hit your next goal”, and “Mary Kay is the only thing that will help you feel better; you don’t want to walk away now”. No one told me to breathe. No one told me to take care of myself first.
Because the truth is, that wasn’t an option. The company wouldn’t just press pause on my quotas while I figured out which anti-depressant would stop me from feeling suicidal. They wouldn’t pay me while I went to therapy. There is no FMLA. There is no PTO. And while residual income is wonderful, there was no way it would support my family while I took some time to breathe.
>>I want to quickly insert that it wasn’t all bad. If it had been, I would not have stuck around as long as I did. The fact is, I met some really incredible people through Mary Kay. I developed some deep friendships and learned a lot about myself through that season of my life. I gained a lot of organizational skills that I still implement today. I listened to many speeches that reminded me of my worth as a woman, my ability as a mother, and bolstered my faith in God. I have many positive memories of Mary Kay. That is why the decision to leave was so complicated. I loved the people I was spending time with, but I started to resent the work we were doing. The process of leaving was almost excruciating because I had become so invested in the lifestyle of Mary Kay. It was more than a job- it had become my identity. <<
When I started to seriously consider leaving, my first thought was “when did I become so weak”? In fact, I had friends tell me I needed to work on my “emotional management”. As if the problem was my inability to manage my emotions. I was a work from home mom of two kids under two, fighting off severe postpartum depression, all while supporting her family while her husband pursued his dreams, and the problem was my emotional management? The term still makes me cringe.
I spent months believing I was the problem. If I could just manage my time better. If I prayed more. If I read more personal development books. If I woke up at 5am.. maybe 4am… maybe if I just didn’t sleep… I would have more time to make more money and I wouldn’t feel so bad. The next party will be a hit. And if it’s not, it’s because I didn’t pitch the products correctly or nail my closing speech. The next girl to sign up will be my next director. Just hold on. Just keep going.
And then, I couldn’t anymore.
I couldn’t call one more person and beg for one more sale. I couldn’t put on another fake smile or sell another woman a product I had long ago stopped believing in. I couldn’t tell my story one more time, knowing I was glorifying the good and omitting the bad. I just… couldn’t.
And then the fear came. I had heard what women said about the ones who left. They were quitters. They were settling for a sad, pathetic existence. They weren’t living up to their potential. Women who were once valued members of our “pink bubble” were now outcast. Rumors would fly. Dirty laundry was aired. I could hear what they would surely say about me at the next meeting. And I didn’t want to lose my friends. So, I tried to hold on just a little longer.
But then, I found myself sitting at what would end up being my last Mary Kay event, listening to a self-proclaimed Christian woman share how she became a Mary Kay millionaire, and I heard her say this sentence.
“Depressed people are just lazy people. If you are struggling with depression, you should get off the couch and see how much better you feel”.
It hit me like a freight train. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. And I couldn’t believe that the women around me took it in without balking. It was like a curtain had lifted and I was hearing it all for the first time. This is what we are saying to women? This is what we are preaching? We are convincing women that if they are depressed, they are lazy? That the difference between success and failure is as simple as getting off the couch? If that was true, why weren’t we all millionaires already? Why hadn’t my hours of work cured my depression already? Why wasn’t I happy, despite my free car and my handsome commission checks? And why are all these women taking in this shit like it’s straight out of the bible?
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t already had one foot out the door before that moment, but that gave me the strength I needed to walk out and slam the door behind me. I left my position as a successful, Equinox driving, Senior Sales Director. I called the company and scheduled my car pick up. I went about it the very best way I knew how. I even stuck around for 3 months after I announced my resignation to help my unit transition.
And you know what happened? The support fell away. The calls from friends became more sporadic. The advice ceased. The calls from the company didn’t feel so warm and friendly. Turns out, there’s a whole bunch of literature on how to start a Mary Kay business- but almost nothing on how to end one. My up-line even started telling women to be careful when they talked to me. As if my decision to leave made me some kind of poisonous influence. It turned into “every woman for herself”. I understood. After all, I had been that woman before. When a team member left, I would smooth over any rough edges left by their departure, and would fill the hole with a new, more zealous recruit. I would over-compensate for the loss by flashing shiny things in front of my team members’ faces. I would remind them that “haters gonna hate” and immediately discredit the ex-consultant any way I could.
I’m not proud of it, but it was all part of the job. And when I look back on that season of my life, I am wrecked with embarrassment and guilt. Oh, the guilt. The women I promised success to who never saw even 1/10th of the paycheck they were hoping for. The times I told women they were “only a decision away from success”. The countless number of unwanted texts I sent, most of which were never returned. The friends I made uncomfortable. The times I told women to use the “husband unawareness plan” to buy more than they were supposed to. All in the name of “entrepreneurship” and “the hustle”.
I have had a year to think it all over. And every time, I come back to the same conclusion. MLMs serve a purpose, no doubt. They allow a small percentage of women to support their families in a way that suits their needs. They bring women together. They give purpose to women who may have lost themselves in the chaos of motherhood. But the catch? The catch looks like the hundreds of women that don’t get that experience. The ones who come in with a “can do” attitude and leave with an “I failed” mentality. The women who were promised things they would never receive. The credit cards taken out irresponsibly. The debt incurred unnecessarily. It has kept me up at night more than I would like to admit.
To those who are still in the bubble: I see you. I know you are not in it to swindle or manipulate. I know you believe you are doing what you need to do to support your family. And I know you have the makings of an incredible business woman. I hope someday you truly go out on your own. I hope you find a way to start your own brand, own your own business, or pursue your passions in a way that won’t leave you high and dry should you ever need to step away.
To those who are ready to walk away, or have recently left the bubble: To you, I would say: remember there is a whole universe beyond MLM. There is life on the other side. You are not a quitter, you are not suffering from a lack of emotional management. You are not the problem. It is okay to walk away if that is where your heart (or husband, or most importantly, God) is leading you. Eventually the dust will settle and all will be well. After the party ends, there are plenty of other adventures to be had.