How to Be the 1st in a New Direct Sales Company

clarity call direct sales fashion first mindset not feeling enough sseko fellows program May 18, 2018

If you’ve been in the online or direct sales space for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard it, “be the first, and you got it made”.  Back when I first entered "Direct Sales Land" at the ripe young age of 18 I remember hearing this statement. “You want to be the first, that way you are at the top of the pyramid to start off… if you’re not, you have your work cut out for you!”  It was an immediate punch to the gut after agreeing the “opportunity” as they called it was the answer to all of my aspirations, dreams and helping to put funds to those extras I desired for my lifestyle. What I have to say to that now, at 37 and after being the first in a direct sales program are two things…  (I think that is how old I am, memory loss is real after 30 ladies!)

That is such a complete load of horsepucky and…  keep searching for a chance at more.

I forget that people want to know this about me, they want to know how I got the opportunity to be the first in the company I am a part of for direct sales, Sseko Designs. That they are interested to know what it means or feels like to be the first…  This blog wouldn't need to be as long as I'm planning, so if you gotta run or have kids hollering here's the thing, it’s just like anything you do for the first time… it’s hard, it’s shakey, it takes lots of failing and falling, and it’s unspeakably beautiful at the same time.

In the past, I've tried to forget or ignore this question.  I've fumbled around it because I want to be humble about it, and definitely, don’t want anyone to feel like because I was the first I should have special treatment or a higher value than others.  I was only first for eight days and it's there something others wanted and for some reason, I was the one to receive. As much as, I have put sweat and tears (thankfully no blood) into the Sseko Fellows program these past three years, it wasn’t just me, and I think that is what has been hard for me of feeling grateful yet almost ashamed of being first, there was (and still is) so many others putting their sweat, tears, failing and falling to get to where we are today & where we are going, being the first has truly given me a front seat to a beautiful representation of perseverance in discovering how to do something.

But since, I do get asked this question, and because it is important to me to bring light to the hard and the beauty of it, and because being first doesn’t guarantee your success and on some levels it does… here it is, I am going to share how in the world I ended up with the opportunity to be the first Sseko Fellow of Sseko Designs’ direct sales program.  Most of all I'm going to share how being the first was my opportunity to truly find me.  An opportunity that doesn't have a predesignated starting point.


Owners of Sseko Designs, Ben & Liz Bohannon at the 1st Sseko Fellows Summit 2017.


I don’t know about you, but when I look back at all the really amazing opportunities of my life; my marriage, travel experience, jobs, the birth of my kids, it was because I had taken a step back. Allowed to fall more into myself and maybe didn’t realize it but took the time to take care of myself, listen to what I personally needed for me, not someone else, and just was content.  I'm sharing this now because this year, literally a little over a month ago, this statement turned on that light switch. On the plane from Uganda to Amsterdam, as the stewardess addressed the cabin with safety measures, I realized taking care of myself, putting on my own oxygen mask first, this is a necessity, not a desire or a want, but a must!  I realized one of my main missions is just that, teach women how to put on their oxygen masks.  It freaked me out because whoa, I’m not sure I’m ready for the next level.

To give some context to this story, about four years ago, my husband and I went through a really rough season in our marriage.  It was a combined effort neither of us was innocent in, the ten plus years of neglect, avoidance, and lack of cultivating a healthy partnership.  We had started young, unexpected but determined to change things up. No divorce, no poverty, no missed opportunities for our children, no time to waste. We cared about making things right of what we felt was where we were wronged.  We still feel that way today, with one big difference… each other.  We put our own oxygen masks on now in our marriage, and by doing that we can right wrongs together. 

That year we struggled something turned on and turned off inside me. I don’t know if I can explain it clearly but something snapped that I was no longer in control and that triggered so many horrible villains in my memories that I absolutely needed therapy. Also, something opened where I saw exactly where I did have control over me and strengths.  Strengths I had cultivated my whole life.  Strengths I could use to help save this relationship that mattered more to me than any other I had ever experienced my entire life. Between those two moments of clarity, it was the first time I’d allowed myself to say, I need oxygen and I’m the only one who can give it to myself.  For the first time in my life, even with all of the areas we were working on I recognized clarity.  It would be the first of many realizations there over the past three years, but the first in getting me to a place where I could accept an opportunity being offered just to me.  I recognized there was an oxygen mask I could put on and breath in contentment. And that I believe opened the door that would eventually give me the opportunity to say, yes.

My husband DJ and I the first Spring I was a Sseko Fellow.  May 2015


I don’t think I would have been in the frame of mind to be the first, without the fact that when it was offered to me, which I’ll get to soon, to say yes to being the first Sseko Fellow, if I hadn’t just walked through fire and needed that oxygen.  I firmly believe I had just exited such a dense period of boldness and needing brave uncomfortable situations I didn’t want to face, that when I was asked I could see myself at the end destination of what they were asking. I had cultivated and acquired the skills to overcoming whatever mountains were ahead.  I knew at least the main landmarks along the journey, and that was enough to believe I was enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The struggle with enoughness over the past three years has definitely poked it’s “Swiper No Swiping My Enoughness” little head onto my path.  It’s definitely convinced me I wasn’t worthy of being first or shouldn’t have been first, or well just wasn't enough to be the first of the Sseko Fellows or anything for that matter.  In those moments we all need friends, community, loved ones, even customers to remind us, “Girl, you deserved that star don’t doubt it! Own it! Pin it to your backpack and feel proud to take credit for it.”

I think the difference today, and why I am sharing this is because I'm more confident in the adventure.  I’ve been an apprentice of it this these past three years, and see that no one else has the map, I’m the map!  You're the map, you decide where you take your first step!

I realize now that before I was even given the opportunity to say yes to being the first Sseko Fellow, I had discovered only I could be my map, even if I wasn’t sure how to read it.  It was in my backpack, waiting for Swiper to show up, and for me to open it up and say, “Ok, Here’s where I start.”  Being first didn't give me my starting point, I had to choose that all on my own.


After doing what I needed to do for me to put on my own oxygen, which in turn allowed my husband and I to begin to heal our marriage, I had begun to see the boldness and bravery of being my own map.  It’s like the first moment you decide you're gonna streak or go skinny dipping.  (If you've never done either, you might be way younger than me and your generation would get arrest for that stuff, or you might not be my people.  I hold a bit of my confidence just because I've skinny dipped.) That was effing scary, and guess what? I said yes to all of it! Yes, I was young and crazy and carefree.  It was like for the first time I felt my first real tastes of... Gena.  As a girl who struggled with knowing where I belonged, freeing myself like that allowed me to belong to me.  The year before I said yes to being a Fellow I had been stripped, jumped head first into a fire and had come out freed on the other side.  My map was ready for another starting point.

It's crazy how much I was trying to find it too.  I took opportunities with my church community at the time, I took opportunities with organizations I volunteered for, I took opportunities in any shape or form that made me see more of the woman I was, more of Gena. Just a little bit. I was going to show up if they wanted me or not because I knew the woman I had always been was ready.  An anticipation of who I truly am was definitely part of how I became the first Sseko Fellow.

There I was with my map and my backpack, doing whatever I effing could to show up in her marriage, and things still weren’t great with us that September in 2014. We were still having nights with tears, talking all night long, and turbulence.  One particular night was pretty rough and a lot was released, we had finally decided we were desperate enough to show the eff up for each other and have tears, talks, and turbulence about the real issues.  In the morning... we changed the subject. We were out of tears, sleep deprived but a wee bit free of some of the weight that had been holding us back. Partly relieved and partly unsure what was going to happen next.  Then out of the sake of just being up all night talking about something that mattered… I decided to talk about something that completely didn’t matter, I complained about my flip-flop tan.  

Yes… I play this off saying “it was so vain”… but it wasn’t.  It just didn’t matter and we both just had nothing left in us that that moment, we just couldn't talk about what mattered.  But we couldn't NOT talk.

It’s funny, and I’m smiling because holy crap, how much that flip-flop tan mattered! <3

My husband then proceeded to go into fix-it mode.  He’s a mechanic and like most guys is always ready to show up to fix it.  He immediately flew in with the fix that we needed to design a base with different straps, that I’d sew, and could be interchanged.  Then I’d “never suffer a flip-flop tan again”! I still remember how we looked at each other when he said that… It was a “Hey, that’s not a bad idea… actually, that’s a freakin’ awesome idea!” type of look.  

This is where I’d usually share that Sseko saved my marriage… It didn’t, it was a piece of it but DJ and I did that. We saved it, and we keep showing up to it together. But this moment was the first time in a long time we saw where we fit with each other and we’ve been showing up for each other every day since.

Like all romantic moments, they come to an end...  Our excitement for our freakin’ awesome new, multimillion dollar, never need to worry about anything ever again in our lives idea ended when I said to DJ, “Hey, maybe we should Google this?”  

A search for “fun, strappy interchangeable sandals - no flip-flop tan” and guess what, there she was… the woman who would crush all our dreams (at least for a brief moment) and truly now has helped them come true… Liz Forkin Bohannon!  The co-dreamer and founder of Sseko Designs. (She’s seriously the clearest, knows who she is human being on the earth!)  DJ and I sat for a moment, somewhat bewildered, somewhat pissed, but very much in awe. Someone had thought of it first, and there was a reason, she was showing the eff up and it was on a grander scale than we had even dreamed or in that moment could.  Her idea, in that morning, kept us curious and showing up.

It took a few months for me to get the courage to reach out to her, but what she planted in both DJ and I from her story worked through us over the next five months.  Sseko worked through me to remind me of a legacy handed down to from my grandparents. It worked to remind me that my love for my family didn’t mean I couldn’t have a love for teaching, creating and serving others.  It worked through DJ in accepting forgiveness, speaking his truth, and trusting our lives together.

Yes… All that happened through watching a few videos on the Sseko Designs website… bahaha.  Seriously… you should watch them. ;-)

If I am being serious, Sseko truly was a big part of us remembering who we are separately and together.  Sseko never was too far from our minds. I talked about it, stalked Liz, and then her husband Ben on YouTube, and shared it regularly with DJ.  Until one morning in bed after watching Liz’s, The F Word talk, DJ said to me, “You need to contact them.  This would be an amazing direct sales company, ask them to share this.”  and to that, I said, “You know what, they have this form for a party type thing I could fill it out, I think I’d like that, but I’m not selling it, babe… I am so done with that.”  And so, I filled out the form and nothing happened.

That bothered me.

How could this part of our lives dare to ignore us?

I won’t have it.  I’m sending them a PM!

12:37 pm on February 5, 2015, I Facebook messaged Sseko the following… (This is now completely embarrassing, a whine of a message, asking why I hadn’t been important enough to reply back to and how they were ignoring my legacy by not replying back to my submitted form!)

I’d like to say this was me being bold.  It was, but it definitely wasn’t refined or dignified.  It was me saying I needed validation, that what felt like something that showed up right when it needed to better not dare to not show up when I felt it was supposed to show up.  Don’t get me wrong, this message was completely genuine. Out of a place of true admiration for what I understood at the time Sseko was about. I really had invited a fair amount of women to my home, assumed I’d have product to share with them, and felt Sseko was a sign from my grandfather who never let me down.  (attachment syndrome much?)  Today I see a message sent out of fear, a message sent because I didn’t want to believe something I felt so strongly about wasn’t a destination on my map.  I didn't want it swiped away.

I joke that they should have ran away from me then… but they didn’t.  

Soon after I received an email.  Again, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  It stated they had stopped that program they had tried with the "Party in a Box", and they were sorry, but they couldn’t send me anything.  Oh no, no #sorrynosorry to me!  (Ever felt that way?)

And so... this was me.

Ok, if you’re not gonna show up… guess what, I’m gonna…

I called the office and left what I am sure was probably the most privileged voice message about how I couldn’t uninvite people to my home and why would the form still be up if it wasn’t a program they were doing anymore… I can't remember to be honest, but over the past three years I have thought, many times, about how much they probably regretted picking up that phone and calling a hard-headed, sometimes overly emotional, hot mess woman from farm country PA.

To their credit...

Since that day they’ve always shown the eff up.


Being the first Fellow wasn’t anything I looked for; I didn’t do any searches for “newest direct sales company” or “startup direct sales opportunities”.  I won’t lie… I had done that in the past, because if you've been a part of this world, you know, that’s the mentality. Be the first. It matters. But at this point, after ten years of corporate sales, I was actually at the point of “eww, don’t associate me as a salesperson with that… I have way too much inventory from when I was in my twenties to believe that’s a system I want to be a part of again.”  Plus, my husband despised direct sales, at least it felt that way, when he’d seem to not validate the opportunities I felt were just the perfect fit for me to be successful.  I know you get me... Too many parties, too much junk we didn’t need, too much money spent and not enough money made.

There was no way I was doing that again.  No way.

When the phone rang that morning, I wasn’t expecting the Pennsylvania number to be someone from Sseko.  Their headquarters is in Portland, Oregon and it took me a bit off my guard when the girl on the other end who kindly said she was with Sseko and began explaining why my event couldn’t be.  She began apologizing for the form not being taken down sooner.  (You know, I’m sure I’m harder on myself than what it was actually like, but I wasn’t taking no for an answer at that point.) I proceeded to tell her my WHOLE story, my background in business, and I'm sure laid it on thick. (Now knowing this young woman like a sister, she has the heart of a saint and I am seriously thankful she had a soft front, strong back, and wild heart to enter into that hot mess with me the past three years.  She’s validated my skills and strengths and never once waived on showing me the grace I wasn’t ready to give to others, let alone myself.) Halfway through my life dump, I am pretty sure she just wasn’t sure how to handle me thinking she just was making a simple call to apologize for no "Party in a Box", she was an intern then and probably was like… “whoa, ummm, here let me get you someone else.”  She's now the Director of the Sseko Fellows program and it wouldn't be what it is without her.

At that moment though, she was an intern and I was definitely not budging.  She passed me to Liz.  I shared more and soon I had a box on it’s way to me.  

This all transpired between the two weeks of the debut of Sseko airing on Shark Tank.  I spoke with the young woman from PA and Liz’s husband Ben a few times while awaiting my box.  I kept showing up and sharing my business and sales experience, my WHOLE story. They listened and shared more of their stories as well.  The morning of my event the young woman who would soon become someone I spoke with pretty much every week or every other two weeks for the next full year and a half called me.  (My memory is regularly that of a jellyfish but this is close enough to how it went down.)

“Your box should be there today,” she said.

“Awesome, I think there are twenty women coming. I’m really excited.”

“We have been thinking about giving direct sales a try and were wondering if you’d join us as a part of a program to see how it will work,” she said.


Shit… what do I say… I want to but I need to focus on my marriage, going back to work and starting a business isn’t what we need.  Why did I even share all this stuff with them?

DJ, my husband, is sitting next to me in bed overhearing everything except what I’m saying to myself in my head.  However, sometimes I think he can hear that too.

“Ummm, can you let me think about it?  See how tonight goes, wear the sandals for the weekend?”

“Oh yeah, sure.  Sounds good,” she said.

“Thanks so much for working so hard to send me all of the product and I’m really excited.”  (That’s me realizing I’ve probably been a bossy bitch and probably was a little too bold in all I shared with her or asked her for during the past two weeks.)

I hung up the phone.  I handed it to DJ to put back on the dock.  

He looked at me and said, “This is you. You need to do it.  I’m with you, you need to say yes.”

Liz & Ben on the ABC show Shark Tank, February 2015

Sometimes I look back at that moment and it reminds me just how much I longed for him to believe in me, but in truth, he's believed in me our whole marriage.  It was just the first time I paused long enough to see it and ask myself if I believed in myself as much as he did what could happen?

I called Sseko back and said Yes to this adventure of being the first Sseko Fellow.  This adventure where I’d be an apprentice of ME these last three years and I am very sure for years to come.  An adventure where I’d learn how important it is that my oxygen mask is on first before I can serve, speak or take care of others.  An adventure where I’d finally believe “I’m the Map”, but girl you better know you need others to help you along the journey. An adventure where I’d need to show the eff up before I’d be seen as dignified in my boldness and my bravery to share just why being the first in anything doesn’t mean you're automatically gifted with anything special.  An adventure where being the first in anything DOES mean you are automatically gifted with the opportunity to discover just how special YOU truly are in this world.

Holiday PA Sseko Style with the Director of the Sseko Fellows Program, 2017 

I recently was reminded of this at a retreat when the main speaker said, “The world can’t afford you to be useless.”  Not putting on our own oxygen mask FIRST, not taking the time to see ourselves as our own map FIRST, not being brave enough to show the eff up FIRST, before we are bold enough to share, that’s denying ourselves of ourselves FIRST.  That’s useless, and it’s where I believe we seek to gain validation that we are enough, it's why we want so badly to be FIRST. The problem is, it makes it so easy for others to swipe it away because we didn't do the work to be first, FIRST.

A few months back, I think Liz saw I was questioning why I in all the flippin’ world would I be the first Sseko Fellow?  This is what she texted me.


Or she sent it to everyone because she knows we all need to hear it… either way, it felt like a star on my map.

Joan (University Bound Sseko Co-Worker) and I at our Sseko Workshop in Kampala, Uganda. 
Sseko Fellows Uganda Trip 2018


Being a part of the Sseko Fellows Program since the start has been such an impactful, powerful and just downright freakin’ FUN experience.  Every time I’ve felt like it just wasn’t working, or I was frustrated or had to look at myself in the mirror and wanted to turn away, the generosity of what I was offered in being a part of this has made me want more of it. To not give up my spot on my map. (or a seat at the table as we say at Sseko)  To not give it up just because of being one of the few who helped with development, or even because of the importance of the women who are so extremely important to me in the Sseko Fellows community. I used to think that was it.

Those are gifts, yes.

The answer I have uncovered trying to understand why me, how did this happen?  The answer is I just needed the opportunity to find myself, FIRST.  Maybe?  Who knows, maybe when I find all of Gena that will be it for me as a Fellow, but for now, I want that sweet taste of MORE, not the sweet taste of being first. Being a Sseko Fellow has always allowed me to be MORE ME. That’s the true gift of what this program provides, and that isn’t given just to me as the first, it’s truly offered to every single woman who decides to grab a chair and slide in next to me at the Sseko Fellows table.

I know, how in the world did I end up as the first rep for my company? Inquiring minds want to know, I get it.

Truth is , I don’t think I’ll ever really know why it was me.

I’ve always been Gena... a woman who believes when a girl or woman is given the opportunity to learn skills to help her show up and share with others she can create her own freedom.  That changes her world, because she sees herself and in seeing herself the world sees her, and that I believe changes the world.

For more info on Sseko’s products, showing up and sharing the Sseko Story and earning free products in an online party or trunkshow, or discovering a community of Ssisters who will help guide your map as an apprentice of adventure in the Sseko Fellows Program.  Join me in my Facebook Group and send me a PM… I’ll reply and I’ll honor your answer with dignity and uniqueness like only someone who’s been there before you can do as you step into your map for the FIRST time.