“By the time you read this story, the quirky cult company…will end its wild ride as an independent enterprise.” (Fortune, 2/19/1996) “The idea that they’re going to…hit a big home run…is delusional.” (The Financial Times, 7/11/97) “Whether they stand alone or are acquired, [the company] as we know it is cooked. It’s so classic. It’s so sad.” (The New York Times, 1/25/96) “…A chaotic mess without a strategic vision and certainly no future.” (Time, 2/5/96)

Who was this doomed company that all these experts were writing about? It was Apple Computer. Of course they were wrong, and just how wrong can be spelled out in four letters: i-P-o-d. And now look: in a few months, this “delusional” company with “certainly no future” will launch the iPhone and completely change the rules of the mammoth cell phone market.

If you had been Apple in 1997, how tempted would you have been to throw in the towel? And if The New York Times wrote that your network marketing business was “cooked…so sad,” would you keep going?

We ask prospects all sorts of questions: What’s your dream, how soon do you need to earn X dollars, what are your strengths, who do you know? The other day I heard a different question, one I found especially captivating: What’s your capacity for disappointment?

I have a benchmark: when someone enrolls in the business, I don’t consider their business in serious momentum until they’ve withstood their first crushing disappointment.

My point: the future, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

The hardest thing about this business is that we are all entrepreneurs: businesspeople who determine our own future. The upside: You get to set your own hours, work when you want, how you want and with whom you want; you are your own boss. The flip side: it’s all up to you. All of it.

Here is one of my favorite quotes on writing (attributed to the late Jeff MacNeilly, cartoonist-author of Shoe): “Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until beads of blood start to form on your forehead.”

Network marketing is a little like that—only harder. You don’t build it with words, which, after all, will to some extent bend to your will, but with people, who won’t.

Most entrepreneurial businesses are like motor boats, with you as the engine. As long as you have fuel, you can putt-putt-putt anywhere in the lake. But this business is a sailboat. There is no motor: you’re the sail. And the wind? Other people. You must have or develop the capacity to be profoundly disappointed when they change direction and still maintain your faith in your future.

If you don’t, you could end up stuck in a dead calm for months. If you do, you can sail around the world.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Consulting Editor of Networking Times.