Growing up poor
Early years are formative years, and it’s not too difficult to trace the outline of Frank VanderSloot’s character in his upbringing. Frank often speaks of the deep admiration he holds for his father—a man who worked hard for his family, but never achieved any significant financial success.
Frank’s writings tell about overhearing quiet conversations between his father and mother… times when his dad would break down into tears, as he apologized to his wife for not doing a better job of providing for her and the children.
How could a man who worked as hard as his father end up feeling like a failure?
That is the question, I believe, that fueled Frank’s desire to beat the system—to find a way for the common man to achieve real success. The Melaleuca Blog posted the transcript of an interview with Frank, where he talked about taking the side of the underdog. Here is a part of that article:
I think there is something in all of us where we want the underdog to win. We want to see David beat Goliath. And, I suspect I am just like anybody else in that regard. I think it also made a difference how I grew up.
My dad was a “little guy,” and I see myself as a “little guy.” I wasn’t very good in sports, so whatever team I was on was considered the underdog just because I was on it. I have always enjoyed personally being the underdog in sporting activities, and I guess that carried over into the business world. The bigger the odds are, the more fun the event or challenge is for me.
You’ve always got to figure out a different way of doing it. David beat Goliath with a sling. No one was expecting it. They tried to put armor on David, but David had a different plan. He did what he was good at, not what was expected.
I believe there is opportunity like that in all of us—but you can’t do it through the normal way. I think our business model exceeds the potential of any business model out there. It certainly isn’t “traditional.”
There are millions, even billions of “little guys” on this earth. When all the “little guys” are doing business with each other, you have the power of the masses. If that spirit catches on around this world, and I believe it is ripe for that, I can’t even imagine how much potential that gives Melaleuca and people who throw in with us.
When people understand where their dollar is going and catch the spirit of doing business with each other instead of with large corporations, then, I believe we can beat the Goliaths of this world.
The following comes from memories that Frank shared at the 2003 Melaleuca Convention:
This story starts long before me, with the man who had probably the biggest impact on my life—my father… he judged a man by the thickness of the callouses on his hands… he earned a dollar a day when he was first married to my mom… at a dollar a day, you can’t save too much, but they put a little nest egg together.
My job was to milk the cows—every night and every morning… we had our own milk, we had our own garden, we raised our own meat, and we tried to keep expenses as low as we could.
During the Depression… my mom had become a scavenger. She would collect anything that looked like it had any value at all… after we stopped at the grocery store, we would always drive around back and see what the grocery store had thrown away… there would be plums and apricots and peaches… we would carve the bruised spots out and can them in jars or eat them fresh… we never went hungry; we were a happy family.
My dad taught us to work. We didn’t play much, but we worked together… and it was evident that he loved us… when he didn’t know that the kids were listening, I heard him weep, as he told my mother how sorry he was that he could not provide a better living for her and for his family.
He told me how important it was that I finish school… and he committed me to do everything I could to get a college education. He told me to save my money, to try to save every penny that I could. He set me up with a savings account at the bank… and he gave me a calf every year that I could take to the sale. We had these little Pomeranian dogs… and I got two of these dogs, not only to sleep with and keep warm up in the attic, but I could keep and sell the puppies and put that in the bank.
An excerpt from Leadership in Action magazine:
Much of my perspective about wealth and about the merits of helping the average person comes from my childhood. Some people are born into money. That is, they inherit it from their parents. But the vast majority of people are not born into wealth.
As I was growing up I had no desire, no dream, no hope and certainly, no plan to ever become wealthy. I had never even considered the possibility. I guess I just figured I would always be poor. My parents were poor, our relatives were poor, and our neighbors were poor. But I don’t think I ever realized we were poor because I never knew anyone who had wealth and had nothing to compare our situation to…
I grew up on a little farm in the mountains of Northern Idaho. Our family was quite poor by today’s standards. Our little farm supplemented my father’s net income of $300 per month that he received from working on the railroad. He would leave home Monday morning and come home Friday night.
Since I was 12 years old it was my job to feed and water the cattle, take care of the chickens, milk the family cow, and chop wood for the wood stove that my mother cooked on and that heated our home. My mother purchased all our clothes at the Salvation Army Thrift Store and frequented the dumpster behind the Safeway store in Sandpoint looking for day-old doughnuts, bruised bananas, and wilted vegetables…
My father explained to me that his financial situation was the result of him having to drop out of school in the third grade to help support his family. He wanted me to go to college but knew that he would not be able to pay for it. He counseled me to save every penny I could and promised that if I could keep our farm going that he would let me work on neighboring ranches during the summer to provide a source of income for my future education. I followed his counsel and never spent a dime on recreation, toys, or clothes.
Besides ranch work, I loaded trucks, worked on the railroad, sold beef jerky, and cleaned laundromats. Some might say that sounds rough for a kid, but the truth is I enjoyed every minute.
I especially enjoyed the challenge of “beating the system” and I was able to finish college with a degree in Business Administration from Brigham Young University—one of the best business schools in the country—with a wife and two beautiful daughters…and absolutely no debt. We still didn’t have any money, but it felt great to not have any debt either. I felt like I had really accomplished something! My point is you can essentially be poor and still be happy. And I also believe that being free from debt added to my sense of accomplishment.
Family time and family values are central to the Frank VanderSloot philosophy. Here is an excerpt from the Melaleuca Blog:
To me, I have been in a home without peace, and you cannot grow very much personally. And I have experienced a home that is always peaceful, and that is because of my good wife, Belinda. It is during the last 15 years of my life with her that I believe I have experienced the most phenomenal personal growth. To have personal growth you have to look inside yourself. You’ve got to change some things that need to be changed, and strive to be better. If you are full of anxiety and turmoil, it is hard to look inside and change. Somebody said, “If you are up to your fanny in alligators, you forget that your purpose is to drain the swamp.” I’ve surely learned the value of peace and love.
Family experiences often provide excellent mirrors for business principles. Here is one such example from the blog:
I have been delighted to watch what happens when someone makes a goal and sticks with it until that goal is achieved, no matter what kind of distractions may come their way. Some businesses move more quickly than others. The speed of the growth of each business has more to do with the tenacity of the leader than any other factor. Those who are not tenacious are easily distracted; day-to-day life gets in the way, or they busy themselves with unproductive activities…
When my children were smaller I took them fishing a lot. In truth, I do not enjoy “fishing” nearly as much as I enjoy “catching.” We had a family motto: “While others go fishing, we go catching!” I taught my kids that if they were going to be serious about “catching,” they had to keep their line in the water. They repeatedly heard me say, “You can’t catch a fish with your line out of the water!” They got tired of hearing it, but those who were tenacious about keeping their line in the water caught lots of fish, while those who got distracted and fiddled around with other things never caught much of anything.
My son Matthew Trent was one of my biggest frustrations. He seemed to always have his line tangled up or often busied himself with getting things “just right” or moving up to the next fishing hole or investigating flowers or weird rock formations. Although he always had a great time, he seldom caught any fish…
From the November, 2006, issue of Leadership in Action:
I suspect that how we live our lives will have a bigger impact on our children and therefore on future generations than the buildings or cities that we build. I suspect doing good for one another and teaching our children noble principles will do much more good for future generations than any architecture or monuments.
Although the physical evidence of our existence will vanish soon or just a few centuries after we are gone, I suspect the things that we teach our children will be passed on for generation after generation. Our names and our stories and even our lives will soon be forgotten, but the principles that we teach our children will be found through the eternities. The eternal and universal principles of honesty, integrity, kindness, forgiveness, courage, work ethic, humility, spirituality, charity, love, and faith will endure for centuries and millennia.
Frank VanderSloot attributes much of what he is today to the teaching he received from his father and mother. He points to their strong guidance and their living witness to the principles of hard work, honesty, and commitment as the formative ingredients of his own success. Looking back on his experience as a parent and as a grandparent, he offered this advice to readers of Leadership in Action magazine in the July, 2007 issue:
Nowhere can we make a more positive investment in our country than through those who are most precious to us: our own children. After all, our children are not only an investment in the future… they are our future.
But how do we make good on this stewardship? No one prepares us to be parents. We take no courses. We get no official training. We receive no step-by-step guidance. We take no test to prove we are ready or qualified to be parents. Most of our training is from watching our own parents. And since no parent is perfect, our training has also not been perfect.
As parents, we find ourselves making our own mistakes, but deep down we know that the most important thing is to give our children our time, energy, and love. It seems simple, but it’s amazing how often we fail to do just that. What’s often even harder to remember is that many of the choices we make today will have a definite long-term impact on our own children. How we choose to instruct, encourage, and discipline will all have a profound effect on our children’s future lives.
Greater still will be the effect of our own example. Far more than anything else, it is through our example that our kids truly learn. Being there for our children has never been more important than it is today. They are introduced to a constant barrage of sex and violence on TV and in the media in a way that we would never have wanted them to be. The values of our nation and of many of today’s prominent role models are deteriorating at a rapid pace. The potential challenges this creates for our children and the damage that it can do to them is immeasurable.
Parenting is much the same as any endeavor: It requires hard work and patience before you can eventually see results. You may not see the effects today or tomorrow. You may not see them next week or next month. But eventually you will see them, and they will be the direct result of our actions.
So you have to work hard, and you have to be patient before you can enjoy the rewards. It might help to remember that these investments will someday pay great dividends when you go home from work and see that little boy coming up to you with a baseball bat in his hand, or that little girl who really wants you to teach her how to fish.
Try to remember the importance of your investment when your teenager makes a wrong
choice or makes mistakes on his journey to adulthood and needs your encouragement, or when your tiny baby seems to do nothing but cry.
Remember that whenever you interact with your child, you’re affecting not only him or her, and not only yourself, but the future of us all. Children. They are our gift to the nation, indeed, to the world.We must realize that, aside from our spouse, we have no greater responsibility and should have no higher priority.
For more of Frank’s writings, see the In His Words page.