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  • David Cotti

The Mentor

I was 15 years old, living with my biological father and two brothers in a small, roach-friendly, two-bedroom apartment in Mesa, AZ. One morning I woke up with an overwhelming feeling that something in my life needed to change. I was tired of our current situation - being poor. I had no clue what to do, but I knew that sitting on my rear end was a front-row seat to nowhere! So, I spun up my favorite job-searching app, the classified section of the Mesa Tribune Newspaper. Cut me some slack - it was 1995.

Scanning the classifieds, I found plenty of jobs paying under five dollars an hour. However, the summer beforehand, I worked eight-hour days for a construction crew building block walls. They paid me $10 an hour, all under the table. So clearly, I wanted more than a minimum-wage paying job. I wanted to shoot for the moon! And there it was, right in the middle of the page! The advertisement read, "Want to make a six-figure income? Call John LaMarca at (520) 867-5309." I had no clue what a six-figure income meant at the time - but I did know that six figures had to be more than four dollars and twenty-five cents an hour. So I took the leap and called Mr. LaMarca.

I sprang from the couch, grabbed the phone off the wall (I feel old right now), and dialed the number. "You need to sound older," I thought as the phone rang. When Mr. LaMarca picked up, I forced more bass in my voice, but that jank didn't work! After introducing myself, Mr. LaMarca asked me how old I was. The jig was up, "fifteen," I replied, "but I'm motivated and ready to do the work." However, I had no clue what the "work" entailed, let alone what skills were needed to enable a fifteen-year-old kid to make a six-figure income. Nonetheless, we set up a meeting at a local coffee shop. Which, in hindsight, sounds like the beginning of an Unsolved Mysteries episode.

I arrived at the coffee shop 20 minutes early - small, round pub-style tables and stainless steel chairs neatly lined the lobby. I picked a table close to the front counter and waited. A tall man of medium build walked into the shop wearing a dark-pinstriped-tailored suit. The man stood near the front door, scanning the lobby as if looking for someone. We made eye contact, and I gave him a nod indicating his search was over, and he walked to where I was sitting. I stood up and reached my hand out for the obligatory greeting with eye contact and a firm grip. We sat down, and after a few minutes of small talk, John asked me a question I will never forget. He asked, "David, have you ever heard of Amway?" I replied, "No," to which he responded, "Great!"

Amway is Multi Level Marketing. The business model relies on independent sales representatives to market and sell a product or service. These representatives earn commissions on their sales, as well as commissions from the sales of their downline members. It is a type of direct selling known as network marketing. The real money comes in by growing one's downline members.

I paid $80 to become one of Mr. LaMarca's downline members. I was all in with my newfound path to financial freedom. I even got my biological father to sign up - funny to think he was my downline member. I hit the pavement hard, making fliers that I would distribute at local laundry mats and apartment community boards. I even put an advertisement out in the Mesa Tribune - similar to the ad I responded to. The first call I received would foreshadow my destiny within the Amway organization. The caller promptly ended our conversation after asking, "Hey, how old are you?" This aspiring entrepreneur, apparently, didn't believe a fifteen-year-old kid could produce the advertised results; go figure. I would go on to receive dozens of calls that would end similarly. Although I would go on to make precisely zero dinero - I would receive my weight in gold through mentorship.

First, Mr. LaMarca put a stop to me calling him Mr. LaMarca. During our second meeting, he insisted, "David, please, call me John." This made me feel like we were peers. Strangely it gave me more confidence when dealing with adults twice my age. Aside from the technical coaching I received regarding "Amway business," John gave me homework assignments in the form of reading books. Month after month, he would hand me a new book to read. I was consuming books with titles like "Think and Grow Rich," by Napoleon Hill; "The Power of Positive Thinking," by Norman Vincent Peale; and "How to Win Friends & Influence People," by Dale Carnegie. In addition, John taught me the art of visualization - to vividly see, in my mind's eye, what I wanted out of life. Again, I made zero ducketts, franklins, or greenbacks. However, I did notice that John's positive, take no prisoners attitude - combined with all the reading and exposure to new ideas and concepts - started to influence how I saw my life and future. I began to adopt a mindset that everything will work out in the end, no matter what happens in this life.

John made bacon, bank, benjamins, cabbage, cake, chalupa, cheddar, dough, figgas, lettuce, and loot. You know, the folding stuff! I, on the other hand, did not. So, about a year and a half into my Amway endeavor, contact with John faded into the background. I didn't make six figures, but I did walk away with a six-figure mindset.

My journey into the world of Amway may not have resulted in the financial success I initially sought. However, looking back, I realize that the actual value of this experience was not in the money I earned or the business I built but in the personal growth and mindset shift it instilled in me.

As a fifteen-year-old living in challenging circumstances, I had a burning desire for change. The classified ad promising a six-figure income caught my attention, and I took a leap of faith by reaching out to John LaMarca. Although my age posed a challenge, John saw potential in me and became more than just a mentor; he became a friend. Under his guidance, I delved into the world of Amway, eagerly embracing the opportunity for financial freedom.

My journey with Amway taught me invaluable lessons. Beyond the technical aspects of the business, John introduced me to a wealth of knowledge through books and the power of positive thinking. Reading titles like "Think and Grow Rich" and "How to Win Friends & Influence People" expanded my mind and influenced how I saw my life and future.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway from my experience was the shift in mindset I underwent. John's unwavering positivity and refusal to accept defeat influenced me profoundly. I began to embrace the belief that everything will work out in the end, no matter the challenges life throws me. This newfound outlook guided my pursuit of financial success and subsequent careers in wrestling, boxing, and the military.

While I may not have achieved the financial gains I hoped for, the lessons I learned and the personal growth I experienced during my time with Amway were immeasurable. As I reflect on my journey, I am immensely grateful for the mentors who entered my life at critical moments, shaping the trajectory of my future. My path could have taken a much different and less favorable turn without their guidance.

Ultimately, my Amway endeavor may not have led to six-figure earnings, but it did give me a six-figure mindset. This paradigm shift pays significant dividends in all aspects of my life. I am fortunate for the people who believed in me and pushed me to grow, and I carry their lessons with me as I navigate the twists and turns of my ongoing journey.

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David Cotti
David Cotti
Jul 11, 2023

Thank you for sharing, Maren. After reading your description of Karen Pryor, I realized that I've read one of her books. It's a great read titled, "Don't Shoot The Dog." Have you read it? If not, I can lend you my copy.


Jul 11, 2023

I had a mentor also. My former boss who led the team of the Junction City/ Geary County Animal Shelter. Jennifer was a great leader and had a keen understanding of how positive reinforcement works as an aid to achieve higher motivation, better attitudes, and outcomes. She is a dog trainer who first studied Animal Science at Kansas State University. Since K-State's program is very livestock centric however and she wanted to focus on companion animals, she set out to become a dog trainer with the Karen Pryor Academy after earning her Bachelor's.

In case you don't know the name Karen Pryor, she is absolutely huge in the positive reinforcement training world and is basically the mother of clicker training.…

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