When people get indoctrinated into MLM (multi-level marketing, where you make money by getting other people to join and pass you a share of their earnings – the people who start it make all the money and the people who join later pay all the money) they’re warned to beware of dreamkillers.  What’s a dreamkiller?  Someone who tries to talk sense into them.

Much like abusive spouses and cults, MLM networks know its important to separate victims from the people in their lives who love them and will try to help them.  The abuser gives a reason why the person’s social network isn’t to be trusted, isolates them, which makes it easier to continue harming the person.  MLM networks label a person’s social supports as “dreamkillers” and warn inductees that the dreamkillers in their lives just want to keep the inductee as a boring ordinary person and are trying to sabotage the inductee’s efforts to improve their life.

I came across a heartbreaking letter (linked to the google cache, the original site, Writers Manifesto, seems to have exceeded its bandwidth). The woman writes a letter dripping with venom to her parents, who’s primary insult to her seems to have been warning her off of MLM, suggesting that a restaurant might be a good business to start in Australia, and wanting to talk about family instead of the author’s latest schemes.

‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.’

Reading between the lines, I’m sympathetic to the parents’ perspective, they worry about their child, tried to warn her away from businesses they knew were bad news, try to help channel her entrepreneurial spirit to more productive ventures (or encourage her to build on the stability of a traditional career) and get depressed when they hear their daughter getting worked up about a new scheme (and perhaps getting angry at them when they won’t get dragged into it).

Paul Graham gave what I think is the best explanation on why parents are risk-adverse:

One is that parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would be for themselves. This is actually a rational response to their situation. Parent’s end up sharing more of their kids’ ill fortune than good fortune. Most parents don’t mind this; it’s part of the job; but it does tend to make them excessively conservative.

Our author goes on to iterate that she resents everything she’s done for her parents over the years, moved to another country to get away from them, and plans to become a millionaire and then spite them for not supporting her (I assume by not giving them money).  Charming to the end.

I DESPISE people and organizations which willfully and systematically introduce this kind of discord into families.  And in the case of the MLM, its just to make a fast buck.

If someone is trying to prepare you to ignore advice from your friends or family, please be very, very careful.  Whatever their rationale, when someone tells you to stop listening to all the people who love you, you’re getting out on thin ice.

Having known people who survived abusive relationships, cults and MLM networks, sadly the only thing we can do from the outside is keep telling them we think they’re in danger until they get angry at us, then we need to shut up.  After that just let them know how much we love them and we’re there when and if they need help.

26 replies on “Dreamkillers”

I’ve seen a few people get drawn into MLM. Fortunately, none of them were badly hurt financially. You’re right that it was difficult to talk them out of it.

An interesting part of MLM schemes is that once a victim wises up, they usually don’t have anyone to be mad at. The people who recruited them are usually victims themselves. Most victims never have any contact with the people who actually make money from the scam.

I wholeheartedly agree with you lumping MLM in the same category as cults and abusive relationships (without demeaning those in abusive relationships).

Not a whole lot of difference between MLM pushers playing on peoples’ fears for their future and cults like Scientology banking on peoples’ fears for their eternity … and the family disconnection practices seem nearly identical. Shameful.

Interesting post. I’ve never heard of this concept of dreamkillers, but then the closest to MLM I’ve been involved with has been Avon and Melaleuca (in both cases with more emphasis on saving money on things I want, rather than making a lot of money selling to others or enrolling them). But I’ve never heard anyone talk about one’s social network being a detriment.

I went and read the letter and the comments below it (which were uniformly supportive of the writer). While the letter was very negative and rude, it was clearly written by someone who has had a difficult relationship with her parents for a long time. It also didn’t seem to have any direct connection to MLM. In fact, the writer mentions more than once that she tried and *failed* at MLM.

I think there are a lot of bad MLM companies and that they make a lot of money off people who really couldn’t afford what they were getting into, but I didn’t get the impression that her involvement with MLM was what had soured her relationship with her parents.

What seemed more pertinent was that she had apparently previously worked in the restaurant business as an employee and had no desire to get back into it, but her parents were trying to get her to stop trying to develop some kind of online business and buy a restaurant.

Frankly, she’d lose less money in even the worst MLM than by opening a restaurant. The minimum capital necessary would be at least 6 figures and *90%* of restaurants go belly up within the first year (compared to about half of all other new businesses that close within 3 to 5 years). It’s a business where you need excellent business skills, real talent, unending hard work (usually 14 to 16 hours per day 7 days a week) and a good dose of luck in addition to very deep pockets.

I think people who have had a bad experience themselves with MLM often have a knee jerk response in regard to anything they think is related to it. So, tell me, Mr. Cheap. Did you have a bad time with an MLM?

Shevy: Yes, its often hard to know what really goes on in peoples lives, especially when we just hear one perspective. I certainly read things into the letter than may or may not have been there.

I’ve never personally had a bad time with MLM. When I was first exposed to it, it just didn’t add up to me (how you make money “buying from yourself” just didn’t make sense to me). The few family and friends who got into it tended to be the people who weren’t particularly good at thinking things through .

I agree that the restaurant business is a tough place to make money (and, as you say, an excellent place to lose it). I think her parents hearts could be in the right place for suggesting she pursue regular employment or a brand of entrepreneurism they understand better (i.e. running a restaurant).

I started (and failed) running my own business, and if I wrote off everyone who didn’t believe in me when I was doing it, I would have lost some people who are quite close to me. Most people are more conservative than the typical entrepreneur, so if you’re going to start a business I think you need to be understanding that no everyone shares your risk tolerance (and some friends and family will deal with their worry by trying to discourage from running your own business).

You’re right that there might be other things behind this letter. I just found the issues she raised didn’t seem to be worth an estrangement from your parents.

She won’t make anything. She is so woefully full of bitterness that it will drive people away from her. She needs counseling. What really concerns me are the commenters who supported her rant against her parents. They are only hearing one side of the story and then making a judgment.

Tragic story. Children won’t see their grandparents and their grandparents won’t be a part of their children’s lives. All because of a MLM. I hope the guys at the top can sleep at night…wait, those guys don’t sleep. They also can’t stand garlic and crosses and sunlight.

I guess I would be one of those “dreamkiller” with my series on Primerica 😉
I can’t believe this company has “Saturday Meeting” with all the family… Come on people, WAKE UP!!!!!

Instead of dream killer, I guess we should call ourselves alarm ringer 😉

A yr ago I was invited by an MLM company (Network Twenty One-masquerading as a business education provided but really a marketing arm of Amway) to join them for the promise of “doing what you want to do in your life, financial indepence” and all that crap. It’s sounds so good until I search the internet and realized some issues dealing with an MLM company.

Good thing I ignored them as soon as they plan to introduce their stuffs to my parents and friends! While I do agree that there are legitimate MLM company, its very important to check the company’s records (e.g “Google them” ) to verify things. And yes, I knew a lot of families being separated because of the financial havoc some MLM companies did to their lives. It’s a pity because it happens mostly in developing countries (e.g Philippines where I now lives).

I am always amazed that most people still fall for the make quick money schemes. There isn’t such a thing as making a ton of money fast.
If it were we’d all be doing it..but the value of the dollar would be even lower 🙂

Hmmmm…. the woman’s letter says a lot more to me than JUST parental/child issues with MLM. There’s a lot more going on here – she obviously has a deep seething anger and hostility towards the parents. It’s all well and good to judge a person but I have to ask: What’s the back story? Children don’t just turn against their parents. They just don’t. There’s two sides to every story. Maybe her father beat the tar out of her. There are hidden volumes in between those written lines.

Great article, well written. But in response to one of the comments, I’d have to say that I would not call the various MLM companies “scams.” I reserve that word for companies operating illegally or cases of outright lies. Certainly there’s nothing in the structure of Avon or Mona Vie that seems to be like that. I would just want to emphasize this for people.

Also, as to the whole “the people at the top get to make the money and the people at the bottom end up paying the money,” well, this is basically how our whole capitalist system works, so, we can’t really hold that against the MLMs. They’re just mirrors of the capitalist hierarchies that are everywhere else around us.

That said, I can vouch from my own experience with some of these companies that the comments about cults are true from an experiential perspective. You do feel isolated, because no one else understands… etc etc. It’s hard. There is no easy answer. Each person has to learn for themself what the experience will mean to them. For some people, these are great business opportunities.

I just wish that such business-workers/salespeople would work at developing sincere relationships outside of their business. There’s nothing smarmier than being approached in a “Friendly” way by someone trying to befriend you but it drips with “hey someday maybe you’ll be in my downline.”

I think you misread the letter. She says that her parents were against her MLM, which she admits failed, but that she now has another business that her parents don’t respect, which is why they are always suggesting other “schemes” like opening a restaurant.

This is very much like my dad who seemed for a long time to see me as a “failure” because I didn’t get a masters degree like my brothers did. “When are you going back to school?” he asked for many years, not realizing that I was doing just fine without those extra letters after my name…

MITBeta: Yes, that’s how I read it to, what part did you think I misread?

Parents often have firm ideas about what they want for their kids, but sometimes kids over-react to the “extreme encouragement”. Has your father actually called you a failure, or is it just that you don’t like that he’s encouraging you to do something different than what you’re doing?

What I read in your analysis is that the woman was upset about her parents warning her off of MLM and suggesting other businesses. What I read in the letter is that her parents don’t respect her decision to run a home based business (not MLM, it would seem) and show it by asking her to do things when she should otherwise be working and by continually suggesting other business opportunities that probably don’t make any sense.

I have not been called a failure, and my dad has backed off in recent years, but people communicate in ways that are not necessarily verbal, and it was some time before my dad “got it” that 1. a graduate degree isn’t the be-all, end-all of life, and 2. if I was ever going to get one (and I may yet), it would be on my terms, not his.

MITBeta: Yeah, that’s what I got from her letter too: the MLM experience was in the past but her parents still bring it up and her current venture doesn’t have anything to do MLM…

I think there was some misreading going on but perhaps not by me? 😉

I’m glad you’re on better terms with your father now. That’s always a good thing.

No, it looks like we read the same thing. Parents can have firm ideas all they want, but after a certain point in their children’s lives they have to let them find their own way, otherwise you wind up with the kind of resentment you see in this letter.

Parents can only raise their children and hope that they instill the values and good judgement that they hope their adult children will espouse, but if they fail in this respect, they have to give up the battle unless asked for help. Most people don’t appreciate unsolicited advice, and most people don’t like to hear that advice over and over again.

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