When I reached a million dollars of annual income, many people in my downline, my company, and even the network marketing profession had come to believe I was just one of the fortunate. We often look at the outliers as those whose performance or achievement seemingly cannot be accounted for except perhaps by supposing that they were blessed or highly favored.

I had also come to suspect that there were certain rumors circulating about the reasons for my success. Prompted by these two realizations, I felt it was time to come clean with the truth, or at least, with my version of how I got to where I was.

When I was invited to tell my story for 8,000 people at a company convention, I opened with the question, "How many of you have never done anything that you would be ashamed to see published in your church newsletter?" Not one hand went up. "You see," I continued, "we're all made of the same mud. Mine may be just a little dirtier than others."

Many of us have limiting beliefs that our past or some deficiency we have dictates our future. We tend to think that the successes of others come without such a history of lack, mistakes, and failures. But the story of my own success is as spiced with all these things as can be.

In the early eighties, after I sold an electronic security company I had helped to build, I made some poor decisions and took some wrong turns. Just as there is no sudden leap to greatness, a wrong course, too, is set one small step at a time. At first as a favor to someone and growing ultimately into a dangerous conspiratorial involvement I became involved in helping some people who were engaged in a marijuana-smuggling operation. I participated in that illegal activity for nearly three years.

As in the Biblical story of the prodigal son, I abandoned my lifelong principles, and then one day awakened and returned to myself.

I walked away from my past and found new meaning and purpose. I also buried that record and stuffed it into a closet like the proverbial skeleton.

Steadily my life filled with light again. In 1989 I married my wife, rediscovered principles of my youth and network marketing. I was eking out a living as I made my way through lessons of discernment as to what makes a good company and a good opportunity.

Then it happened. Seven years after I'd put my criminal career behind me and started a new life with a beautiful wife and a young son, the closet door swung wide open and the skeletons came lunging out, screaming for the world to hear.

A caravan of federal, state, and local police descended on my property. I was charged for the sins of my past and held accountable. I pled guilty, throwing myself on the mercy of the court. My family lost everything.

While I awaited sentencing, an old friend called to see if I was interested in putting my network marketing skills to work with him. (He asked me to meet him at a restaurant called "Rosy Tomorrows," and boy, did I need some of those.) Despite the situation I was in, my friend took me on.

In quick succession I was sentenced to three years in prison, given twenty-four days to get my affairs in order, and jumped on board in the new network marketing venture with my friend. There were a lot of enjoyable last things I could have done with my wife and son in those twenty-four days, but those things wouldn't have sustained them in my absence. I had a why that could make me cry.

I worked eighteen hours a day and called 1,500 people. I had no time for niceties with people of bad attitude. I launched my business with forty-four recruits—and then went away to the Fed Hotel.

I knew that first surge would not be enough to build a lasting check. I would have to continue building the business from prison.

Life had taught me always to be aware of others' needs and values. I soon realized that the prison warden's most singular focus of measurement in how well he ran the prison was how clean it was kept. One of this prison's problem areas was the phone room. My prison job was cleaning the bathrooms, so I became the best bathroom cleaner they ever had, and once I'd developed that reputation, it wasn't hard to convince the warden I could rid him of his eyesore if he could keep the riffraff out of the phone room for four hours a day to allow for my uninterrupted cleaning time. After my first time there, cleaning and waxing, it didn't take me more than an hour to keep the place immaculate. I now had three hours a day of alone time in the phone room.

While it was legal for an inmate to use the phone for personal calls, business calls were strictly prohibited. Nonetheless, my why was stronger than the risk of being found out and thrown in the hole for my violation. I decided to take the risk again and again, with my wife's help facilitating three-way calls, sending messages, and mailing packages.

Not only did the risk of discovery make the phone weigh two hundred pounds, I was also obligated to tell everyone who expressed interest exactly my situation. Talk about working outside your comfort zone! Recruiting rejections became the easy part of this particular brand of cold calling. Persistence was the key.

I emerged from prison making $20,000 a month. When the gift of freedom returned (a freedom most take for granted), I really went to work.

Was I blessed and highly favored? Yes—though no more than you are!

You too can forget what has passed and press on by reinventing yourself and your future.

KEITH MCEACHERN first briefly joined network
marketing in 1965, and helped build a successful
electronic security company that was eventually
acquired. He returned to network marketing in
1990, and over the past seventeen years has averaged
seven figures per year and has helped many
others to million-dollar annual incomes.