Graduation Day

Jeff vonKaenel

In the circulation area of Sacramento News & Review, about 25,000 students will be graduating from high school and college this year. It is an important moment. Life-altering decisions will be made.

So some reflection is needed. Perhaps the advice of an older and possibly wiser person will provide some insight.

I had an important life lesson at the age of 18. I had two job offers that summer. I could get a job as a lifeguard at the local pool, which would have been fun and paid $1.60 an hour. Or I could sell Fuller Brush products door-to-door, which I had done the previous summer, and make something like $10 an hour. In a summer, I could make enough money to pay for a whole year’s tuition at UC Santa Barbara. So the choice was clear.

The Fuller Brush company had a line of hairbrushes, cleaning supplies and other sundries, which claimed to be superior to products in stores. There were no online stores in the 1960s.

Another benefit of Fuller Brush was that the salesperson provided customers a break from the loneliness of being stuck at home or caring for children all day. In the 1960s, there were many housewives who stayed home every day.

Back then, most people would invite you into their living room for 15 minutes or so while you explained the wonders of brushes or cleaning products. If you know me, you will not be surprised that I had a series of jokes that usually got a chuckle.

All houses have a personality. Are the people happy in the house, or are they sad? Is there love in the house? I could feel it. And over the course of the summer, I was in thousands of houses—working-class homes in San Jose and rich people’s homes in Saratoga.

The rich people had nicer houses with nicer things. Some of their homes were warm and inviting, but others were so cold that you wanted to leave as soon as you could.

In the working-class neighborhoods, there were also houses that were heavenly and houses that were miserable. What struck me was that wealth and nice things had no impact, positive or negative, on happiness.

At age 18, this was a major revelation. I was a good student and a very good salesperson. I had a well-paid corporate future waiting for me. But my experience selling Fuller Brush convinced me that it was not worth it. If the big paycheck did not increase your chance for happiness or love in your house, what good was it?

So I never pursued it. Instead I worked at alternative newspapers for 45 years, which certainly never produced a big paycheck. Adjusting for inflation, I made roughly twice as much per hour selling Fuller Brush than I do now. But I am happy. And I have had a good life.

So, dear graduates. I know you’ve heard that money can’t buy you love or happiness, but trust me. Selling Fuller Brush, I learned this first-hand, door by door.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.