“Are you ready for a brand new beat?” (Martha & The Vandellas, “Dancin’ In The Street”)
Just cuz I’m such a nice guy, I like to gather recent Facebook posts I’ve published and lay them all out here on the blog…
… so you lazy types who can’t be bothered reading social media will still enjoy the advice, tactics and weirdness I lay out for everyone else.
So here, in no particular order, is a fresh pile of the good stuff from the last month or so:
Pro Chaos Theory Tip #1: Freelance copywriters learn quickly that the level of functional insanity among biz owners…
… is astonishingly high.
A client who (rightly) wouldn’t dream of interfering with his dentist, or plumber, or mechanic (“Here, let me drill for a bit on my molar — you’re doing it wrong”)…
… will routinely muck up and alter ad copy, no matter how accomplished the copywriter.
I’ve only had a tiny handful of clients in a 30-year career who resisted changing essential copy. The majority indulged in this ad-murdering habit (often after consulting with their English Lit major daughter, or the boys down at the local watering hole).
There are multiple ways to deal with this situation (the primary one is to establish yourself as “the adult in the room” early)…
… but first you have to realize what’s happening. You can’t “fix” dumb, and you can’t soothe irrational rage…
… but you can (as a First Option) learn to identify who’s gonna be trouble down the road, and choose not to play with dumb or irrational players.
Seems obvious. Isn’t. If you don’t stay aware, chaos will consume you.
Why are so many top writers introverts, I’m asked.
It’s an extroverted world. Introverts, to survive, must observe, understand and adopt extroverted models. This strengthens your Empathy muscles to absurd degrees.
The basic ingredient of good, persuasive writing is (aha!) empathy.
Extroverts are under no such pressure to study or change behaviors…
… and just get pissed off when forced to deal with introverts, who seem inscrutable and closed-off.
So, at least for writing, introverts have the advantage.
It’s only fair, as the world tends to bully introverts in most other categories.
One of my goals is to become “That Uncle I Never Had” — a worldly guy who would have taken ME aside back when I was so tortured by the challenges and choices of life…
… and just laid out a good reality check. Not tell me how to live, but show me the OPTIONS.
A single freaking clue or two would have gone a long way helping my bewildered teenaged-self cope.
For example: The entire extended family was working class — we traded physical labor for wages. A noble lifestyle that valued hard work, sweat equity, and not getting too big for your britches.
However, I was a near-sighted, introverted thinker. Turning off my brain and rolling up my sleeves to concentrate on hauling, hammering, lifting and building was doable, but difficult. My dairy-owning cousins seemed to revel in it, and mocked my mental exhaustion from blocking critical thought.
It didn’t dawn on me to pursue “brain work” until I hit 32. All my energies, up to that point, went into figuring out why I didn’t fit in, pushing uphill against the micro-culture of being working class.
I felt like a traitor, and a weenie.
I finally got my own clue, said fuck it, and became a freelance writer.
And, surprise, I suddenly worked harder and with greater sweating glee than I ever thought possible. This square peg had finally quit trying to fit into a round hole.
Letting my brain off its leash launched the career I should have always pursued…
… if I’d ever gotten a clue it was even possible.
“That” uncle I never had would taken me aside and said “Johnny, me boy, you’re different. And that’s not just okay…
… but it’s something to CELEBRATE. And pursue with gusto. Think, and write, and debate and go down dark mysterious philosophical alleys to your hearts content…
and NEVER be satisfied with mediocrity.
Or conformity. Just don’t expect anyone to applaud your choices. You’ll catch grief all the way… and that’s to be seen as a badge of honor, not shame. Go your own way, and let your freak flag fly.”
That’s all most of us need in life — a clue. A hint that we’re not wrong to want something else, or abnormal to not even know what you want yet…
… but that it’s okay to wander away from the herd to find out.
I’ve met precious few people along the way who qualify as “that” uncle. So we can all use one.
This is why I write these long posts, and have kept the blog going for ten years. It infuriates some folks, but I’m writing for those who can use the advice and clues.
The truth is, going your own way won’t always make you rich. And you gotta be okay with that, if you’re gonna unleash your brain and heart.
Cuz sometimes, you will stumble upon wealth and happiness you cannot even comprehend now.
Life is one long risky adventure. And if you think you can make it safe and without drama, you’re deluded.
Much better to embrace reality, prepare yourself for the game, and work hard on a solid, ethical and deliriously happy ride.
Big bonus if you help others and make the joint a better place.
Do you have smart friends who always seem to make dumb-ass decisions?
Are — ahem — YOU one of these miscreants yourself? (Confession: I am. More often than I care to admit.)
Well, gather ’round. I believe I’ve stumbled upon a solution.
Here it is: When you have an important decision to make…
… just ask yourself this simple question: “What would a smart person do?”
Then, go do that.
Do NOT (as so many of us somehow seem to do) ask “What would a blithering idiot do?”…
… and then go do that.
No, no, no. This is your self-intervention moment.
Don’t be the blithering idiot.
Do be the smart person.
Sounds too simple and obvious to work, doesn’t it?
Stunningly, it works.
Pass it around.
Random thoughts I probably should just keep to myself: It’s the birthright of every American to bitch and moan about how things are run.
Heck, the country was birthed in a snit, and didn’t last a generation before dissolving into civil war.
Still… as anyone who’s ever had to meet a payroll knows…
… it’s ridiculously easy to complain and insist you could do a better job…
… but it’s infinitely harder to roll up your sleeves and actually get something done.
All pro copywriters who’ve had a client insist their changes made the ad “better” know that look the client gets when the results come in…
… and they’re suddenly faced with the harsh reality of their doofusness.
It’s similar to the look the drunk who thinks he’s a great singer gets when he finds hisself onstage with a karaoke mic, exposed for the clueless wreck he actually is.
The world is divided into 3 groups: Those who know what they’re doing, and do it well.
Those who don’t know what they’ve doing, but figure it out.
And those those who refuse to acknowledge they are incompetent maroons, yet insist on being in control.
This is why true experts like to hang out with each other. Because the rest of the time, they’re dealing with aggressive stupidity, misplaced overconfidence, and stubborn ineptitude.
Let the bitching and moaning commence.
No one can predict the future, but the universe always lays out hints…
I may have stumbled onto a scientific way to add MASSIVE productivity to your week.
It’s just freaking amazing how awesome this tactic is.
In fact, it adds the equivalent of a entire EXTRA day to your workweek!
Wanna hear what is?
Here’s the secret: I woke up today thinking it was Friday. Was kinda bummed that I hadn’t accomplished quite as much as I’d intended to this week…
… until I discovered it’s actually Thursday.
Entire extra day added!
Think I’ll use this found time to goof off.
I mean, I earned it. Being a productivity scientist and all…
If you agree with everything you read… then you ain’t reading the right stuff.
There’s a baked-in bias in our brains that seeks consensus. And that’s fine for civilians, whose shallow thinking usually causes little damage outside their social circle.
But when you’ve swum into the deeper part of the pool — whether in biz, politics, or celebrity — each new decision and action is fraught with larger consequences.
It’s fine to be hard-headed when you actually know what the hell you’re talking about.
It’s pretty screwed up, however, to take your industrial-level naïveté (the polite word for raw ignorance) onto the Big Kids playground where maroonity is challenged and a real handicap to getting shit done.
Read more stuff that pisses you off, but don’t GET pissed off. Instead, walk a mile in their shoes, and try to determine what is actually rankling you.
Our default internal mechanism of blindly rejecting the Other represents the worst of our tribal tendencies. The grand arc of civilization has been a relentless battle against that destructive thinking, but it requires disciplined effort.
Surrounding yourself with people and info sources that agree with you may seem the comfy way to go.
But it’s a trap for anyone seeking to live fully and with gusto.
Life is rife with challenges. Instead of dodging them, embrace them.
It may make your brain buck and resist at first, but growth is never easy.
If growth bothers you, best to swim back to the shallow end.
And that’s it for this session, folks.
P.S. Don’t forget to solidify your position as a true bad-ass in your niche…
… by quickly learning how to write everything you need to persuade, sell, and nurture your customer base AND your future prospects.
Best way to pull that off: Take the Simple Writing System at-home program.
At your own pace, using your own best learning style, we’ll simply and efficiently install murderously-good writing skills into your brain.
No matter how stubborn you are, or how convinced you’ve been that you “can’t write”. That’s nonsense. We’ve taught thousands of entrepreneurs, biz owners and rookie writers how to write at the most awesome level possible…
… and if THEY could do it, then you can, too.
It’s time to up your game.
See what the fuss is all about here.
“Have I got a deal for you…” (said no one, ever, truthfully)
You having a good week?
Nobody tried to cheat you out of anything, or make you look like a maroon?
That’s good. You’re walking the straight and true, and that’s the real key to a life of wealth and happiness.
Still, sometimes it pays to see what’s going down over in the darker side of town.
So let’s share more of the “survival rules for entrepreneurs” I have in my consulting stash — the insights (from brutal experience) that helped me build a solid biz and reputation…
… but this time, let’s wander into the really weird stuff for a spell. Be cautious, and don’t make any sudden moves, okay?
Here’s Rule #8: Convincing prospects to trust your bad self.
I first heard about “the trust game” from a wizened, street-savvy con man, early in my career.
I knew I needed to learn more about solid salesmanship tactics, and there were no books around explaining the good stuff. (There still aren’t very many.) You had to search out the old-school guys who’d made their name working face-to-face with people…
… in situations where, if they didn’t make the sale, they might not eat that night.
So they tended to get a little ruthless. Murdered their ethics, buried ‘em in the back yard, and went out to work the “game”.
I had no intention of conning people. These guys did not lead nice lives, and one of the reasons they got so good at working the con is that they often had to disappear quickly to avoid being busted. Sometimes they just split for a short time. Sometimes they left town altogether. Yes, there is another world, parallel to ours, where con men drift in and out of sight, following a sort of circuit across the country.
And with the dangerous games they play, they usually only have one shot to get it right, and losing wasn’t an acceptable option.
So they learned the hard-core persuasion tactics.
The learned the confidence game.
I realized something, though: The same tactics they used for their crooked products…
… could also be used for high-quality, completely ethical products.
They were just too lazy to create good stuff.
Plus, it was obvious they also liked the thrill of being bad. Evil bastards, most of them.
But they were also kinda lonely.
And once you got them telling stories, you couldn’t shut ‘em up. When they sensed an appreciative audience, they just spilled everything, happily. Proud of their life’s work.
So whenever I ran across one of these street-wise confidence men, I became their new best friend for an afternoon, grilling them for insight, tactics, warnings and horror stories.
And I never bored them by asking “Why don’t you just go legit, and sell good stuff? You’d make an honest killing.” They weren’t interested in becoming legit.
A good life lesson right there, but we’ll get into that another time.
Today, we’re going deep in the confidence game.
So, here’s the story…
Bob had grown up on the streets of Berkley, being a lookout as a kid, then a shill and later the dealer as a teen. By the time I met him, he had married a lawyer and was enjoying the good life as a kept man in the suburbs. But he loved to talk about the old days.
His “product”, in this instance, was a classic 3-Card Monte street game. You set up a table on a corner, and had three playing cards placed in a row: Two red aces, and the black Queen of spades.
With the lookout watching for cops, the dealer would use slight of hand to move the cards around, inviting the marks (say, you, passing by and thinking “Hey, that looks easy”) to guess where the Queen was now.
The shill was pretending to be a mark, actively engaged in the game. And winning money. He’d bet $20 that he could spot the Queen, lay down a bill, watch the dealer move the cards around…
… and then point to the card he insisted was the Queen. The dealer turned it over… and voila! The Queen.
“Yeah!” the mark would yell. “This is like taking candy from a baby,” as he pocketed another twenty.
“You’re gonna break me, man,” whined the dealer, looking all sad and embarrassed.
Now, you, of course, would never indulge in illegal street games like this. No, no, no.
But it seemed so…
… easy. You followed the Queen without missing, just like the shill.
Why, all that money could have been yours. If you’d been betting.
“Hey, buddy,” says the dealer, looking at you with imploring eyes. “You want to give it a try?”
What the hell. You throw a twenty down, watch the Queen get shuffled around… and you pick her out. The dealer turns the card over, and hey, you won! You followed the Queen, without trouble.
Easiest money you ever made.
You know where this goes, right?
You win the next time, too. And the next.
Then, the dealer — looking more frustrated than before — asks if you want to double down, maybe triple down. If the lookout has signaled a cop nearby, maybe the bet gets even higher. Big money, you’re talking about now.
A pile of cash, just sitting there.
What a schmuck, you tell yourself. If this guy wants to give me more money, great.
And all of a sudden, it ain’t so easy following where the Queen went.
You’re pretty sure it’s there, yeah, it’s gotta be there on the left. Pretty sure.
And it ain’t. Not this time. Or the next. Or the next.
And you just lost a little bundle.
The cop turns the corner, the dealer folds up the table and scurries off (with your lost dough) in one direction, the shill in the other… and you’re wondering what the heck just happened.
“The con,” my new BFF told me, “is all in building up confidence. Allowing the mark to trust that the dealer is who he presents himself as — a bungling maroon who can’t hide a Queen amongst three cards to save his life.”
He sat back. “I loved that game. You gotta really work to gain someone’s trust.”
My question (which I kept to myself) was: Why do all that work to gain trust…
… and then squander it on one transaction?
Why not actually have something of real value to offer? Something worth the money, that turns the mark into an actual customer…
… who comes back for more. The lifetime value of a customer who buys again and again — delighted with the quality of the product and service — is surely worth more than a quick rip-off (and the risk of spending the night in the pokey).
For marketers and biz owners like you — who strive to do the right thing, who have a great product valued fairly — the stark elements of this game should give you a hint how to create that lifetime customer.
It’s all about trust.
Real trust, though. Not that smarmy fake stuff the street hustlers practice.
This is what’s behind the free reports, the bonuses, the unconditional guarantees, and even the “double your money back” promises of classic marketing campaigns.
Every sale begins with a relationship. Sometimes, it’s a brief one — you have something your prospect wants, he’s done some shopping around and likes your prices (and guarantee), and the deal is done.
Other times, it’s a more drawn-out affair. There has to be some wooing, some proof of your reputation and the quality of what you offer.
And the first steps may have to involve no risk at all.
Something for nothing, essentially. A “taste” of the goods. A chance to experience what it’s like to own one.
In the con game, all this is rushed. And, in truth, you can’t con an honest man. The hustler relies on teasing the greed of the average mark…
… who falls in love with the thrill of making an easy killing by putting one over on some street dude who is obviously an idiot.
Until he isn’t.
In a rational marketing campaign, you have better things to use to engender trust.
You’ve been around for a while, with a track record you can verify, testimonials from real people who can vouch for you, and clear evidence that you are a square shooter with a high-quality product, priced fairly.
Yet, it’s the same “game”, essentially. You establish trust, you let the prospect drive the transaction (no pressure), and you deliver the product.
The big difference: You’re doing it ethically.
While the con man cannot stand the thought of actually providing real value.
For him to “win”, the mark has to “lose”.
Just saying. The art of salesmanship goes back to the dawn of history, and can be used for good or evil.
Choose the right path, and I’ll help you become successful, by continuing to share these insights.
More “survival rules for entrepreneurs” to come.
P.S. You know what else works in your favor, when you crave the Big Bucks and successful lifestyle of a damn good entrepreneur?
Knowing the “deep” secrets of awesome salesmanship.
Now, it took me DECADES of chasing down mentors and teachers (including all those old-school street-wise dudes)…
… along with the hard work of putting what I learned to work in the real world as a freelancer, and then as a consultant.
I have been around the block, my friend. And when you add the life experience of my biz partner, Stan Dahl (who was a ridiculously high-paid consultant for such companies as Starbucks and Wells Fargo before joining up with me to help entrepreneurs)…
… that’s a lot of solid, real-world experience on display. Tons of advice, tactics, strategies, problem-solving tricks, and solutions to whatever might be holding you back.
And how do you take advantage of all this experience and savvy?
The most fun (and immediate, results-wise) way is to simply join our Platinum Group… which is a hybrid mastermind/brainstorm/workshop for solutions to the problems holding you back from the Big Bucks and the Good Life. Where we share everything we know about wealth and happiness and fixing what’s wrong…
… no matter how bad you believe your problems are, or how unique you think your worries are.
There are answers to every problem, sticking point and disaster you encounter. We’ve been proving it in this globally-respected group for over 8 years now.
You’ll be among colleagues who are just like you, who’ve encountered the same decision moments and crises, and seen the best and worst of life in the marketing fast-lane.
Just see why so many entrepreneurs have relied on this group over the years. You might just discover something about yourself…
… and you might realize why these kinds of groups have been the main go-to resource for the most successful business owners throughout history.
Just go check it out here.
No pressure. No obligation. Only a peek behind the scenes at the most talked-about and unique mastermind/brainstorm/workshop around…
Photo, clockwise from bottom left: Big Jason Henderson, Brian Kurtz, me, Stan Dahl, Joe Sugarman, and Scott Haines, Las Vegas, after one of our Platinum Group mastermind meetings.
Several years back, Mongo and I were road-dogging with Gary Halbert in Beverly Hills, looking for a new-fangled television option that had just become available…
… allowing you to project video images onto a huge screen in your home. This was ages before 70″ HD TVs were even a glint in a Samsung engineer’s eye.
As usual, Gary needed to find out every detail of this wondrous new contraption. He loved cameras, movies, and all interesting new technology… especially when it promised to entertain him.
Hanging out with Gary meant exploring the world deeply, with gusto.
Also with lots of irreverence.
We parked on Sunset and wandered across the street to an audio/visual store, where the awesome new projector TV was being sold. Several salesmen descended on us immediately, ushering us into a special room displaying the magic.
We stood there for a few moments, watching some soap opera show play out larger than life on the screen. It was pretty impressive.
Mongo and I looked at each and raised our eyebrows. We both had the same thought.
“Um…” said Mongo. “Do you have any porn you can put on? This soap opera crap is pretty boring.”
Gary nearly choked, laughing. I grinned at the salesman, nodding.
He looked sheepish, then grinned back. “Of course,” he said, leaning close. “We watch porn after-hours on this thing all the time…” and he went over to fuss with the video player.
“Score,” said Mongo.
“I’m gonna buy this thing,” said Gary. And he did. But not until after the demonstration.
So we watched some late-nineties grind-and-slobber video for a while (much more intriguing than the soap opera crap) before getting bored and wandering back outside to see if there was better trouble to get into.
Because that’s what we did, Mongo and I, when we were with Gary. A little research, a little exploration, a little visit to the tavern next door to share tall stories and see what else we could get into on this fine sunny day in Southern California.
Mongo is, of course, my great pal and cohort Scott Haines. After I’d done my several years being Gary’s main road dog, Scotty took over. We both were thick as thieves with Gary, traveling around the country to seminars and biz meetings and chewing up scenery in as many different cities as possible. Miami, San Diego, Key West, Phoenix, LA, Orlando, New York city… it was an education in how the U.S. was cobbled together, as much as an ongoing lesson in dealing with clients in every type of market imaginable.
Scotty earned the prized nickname “Mongo” after the Alex Karras character in the movie “Blazing Saddles”. Scotty was a short, broad shouldered, incredibly strong man — with martial arts skills that would have made him fearsome, if he wasn’t also saddled with a heart as big as any man I’ve met. If you were Mongo’s friend, you had someone who would watch your back and sacrifice himself without hesitation when the chips were down.
I valued him as a pal, and also as a colleague. He was a brilliant copywriter (the only way you could get the road dog job with Halbert), and understood the marketing game as well as anyone. He arrived into our world from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the late nineties…
… suffering some serious culture shock moving near Gary in Key West, and then Miami and Hollywood. Sort of a trial-by-fire for a young man eager to tackle the big wide world on his terms.
Scotty and I got along famously, liking each other on first sight. Writers are like that, you know. The “tribe of scribes” is an ancient guild, going back to the beginning of civilization. We’re the dudes and dudettes who get the stories down on paper, who translate the culture into novels and ads, who keep watch over the way history is tracked. It’s a lonely gig, often just you and the blank page…
… and that inherent loneliness bonds us together. We know the drill. We understand what goes into the process, how tough it can be even while seeming like we’re goofing off driving around Hollywood destroying shit.
Writers love to hang with other writers, cuz we never need to answer the question “how do you do it?” We get to skip past the mystery and incredulous quizzing, and just move straight on to our other main job: Drinking and making each other laugh so hard it hurts.
Mongo remained a close friend with Gary, as did I.
And when I decided to become a guru, writing my books and courses and hosting the now-legendary “Copywriting Sweatshop” seminars, I didn’t hesitate to ask Scotty to be my sidekick. He was there for the first three seminars, right beside me, as I faced down 40 marketers who paid $5grand each to have me critique and fix their miserable ad copy. They expected a lot. We delivered more than they ever dreamed possible.
He also was one of the first teachers we hired to honcho a classroom in the Simple Writing System. His students adored him, and he became good friends with many of them.
When I had a problem myself, whether in life or biz, Mongo was one of the first guys I called. Level-headed, despite his shocking appetite for good booze. Fearless when facing problems, despite being a shy introverted giant.
He was the most fun, thoughtful, and generous man I’ve ever known.
And he’s gone. Left this mortal coil today at noon Tulsa-time, surrounded by grieving friends and family, to go see what Gary’s been up to in that Big Marketing Joint in the sky these past ten years.
He was just 46 years old, far too young to leave us so suddenly. The entire writers’ community is in deep shock, emotionally shattered by the passing of a beloved colleague, friend and cohort.
I talked to him the day before he left Austin for Tulsa, to visit with family over Christmas. Twenty-four hours later, he suffered a massive stroke, and was on life support for almost two weeks before his family was convinced by the docs to let him go.
I can still hear his thunderous laughter. We joked and shared old Halbert stories during that call, howling at the misadventures and insanity that wonderful man could generate. It was two longtime pals, talking like we always had. I expected to talk to him again this week, when he got back from the holidays, maybe meet up somewhere for fresh adventures.
Those adventures will have to wait, now.
I’m not a religious man, but I do have a raucous spiritual side, and you can’t tell me I won’t see both Gary and Mongo again, somewhere. In due time.
Life is wondrous, but also heartbreakingly fragile… and you can never predict what the morrow will bring.
Hug your loved ones. Never assume there will be plenty of time later to tell them you love them, plenty of time to enjoy their company, plenty of time left to share your best stories.
Scotty lives on in our hearts, of course. In that ever-growing place where those who have left remain with us. So crowded, that special place.
But that’s what happens when you live large, and embrace life fully. You collect friends, you love them, and sometimes… they have to leave early.
Folks, he’ll never be forgotten…
… but for now…
… Mongo has left the building.
I love and miss you dearly, pal.
Here’s to you.
For the rest of you:
P.S. Feel free to share your own Mongo stories in the comments here. His very large group of fellow writers have been supporting each other since Scott went down, and while we’re grieving, we’re also laughing through the tears… sharing the funny, embarrassing, wild stories and memories of the big guy.
He was a force of nature. A damned good friend.
And someone we’ll all miss for a very long time…
UPDATE: Big Jason Henderson, one of Scotty’s best pals, set up a GoFundMe site to help with the funeral and hospital expenses Mongo’s family is now faced with.
Go here if you want (and are financially able) to contribute. Doesn’t matter how much. Every penny is appreciated.
You are invited to leave comments and stories on the page. You’ll see that many of Scotty’s cohorts, clients, colleagues and many notorious and famous friends have already done so…
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)
I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular annual tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.
It’s a good one, worth rereading even if you’ve read it before.
What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…
… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…
… and why they care about getting there.
So, even if you’ve seen this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2016, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.
This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).
This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…
… to reach goals, to clarify the direction of my life, and to change habits. I first shared it in the old Rant newsletter a few years back, and I’ve hauled it out here in the blog on a regular basis. It’s timeless, classic stuff that will never let you down.
So let’s dive in. Here’s the relevant part of the post (slightly edited):
“Goal Setting 101 And
The January 15th Letter”
Yeah, yeah, I know a chat about goals can quickly turn into a boring, pedantic lecture. But then, so can a chat about space flight.
And, in reality, both space flight and your goals are VERY exciting things.
Or should be.
It’s all in the telling.
What I’m not going to discuss are “resolutions”. Those are bogus pseudo-goals that have the staying power of pudding in a microwave.
No. It’s merely a coincidence that I’m suggesting a review of your goals in January, just after the New Year’s supposed fresh start.
I mean…there’s not much else to do, so why not sit down and plan out the rest of your life.
This is, of course, a very damp, cold, and bleak time of year. The depths of winter and discontent.
A good percentage of the population suffers fleeting depression because of lack of sunlight… thanks to the geniuses behind Daylight Savings Time, who arrange for dusk to arrive around 2:30 in the afternoon in these parts.
We also just got slammed with back-to-back-to-back world-class storms, each one dumping a massive load of snow on us. I sent photos to friends, and many emailed back wondering when I’d gone to Antarctica to live.
We had a little cabin fever brewing. Didn’t help when the local PBS channel ran a special on the Donner Party, either. Three feet of snow drifting down, the lights flickering, enough ice on the road to make the SUV sidle like a Red Wing goon slamming someone into the boards.
The safest place was home… but man, the walls start to close in after a few days.
I’m telling you, I had excuses up the yin-yang for allowing my senses to get a little dulled. The natural response is to turn your mind off, and hibernate until March. And I succumbed. Started moping around, binge-watching The Wire on HBO GO instead of reading a book, surfing the Net for stuff I didn’t care about… you know the drill.
I’m sure you’ve done your own version of it now and again.
And I’m also sure you already know that no amount of “buck up” happy talk will mitigate the gloom.
In fact, there are a few enlightened health pro’s who say we should let our bodies wind down every year or so. Get a full system-flush type of cold, crawl under the covers for a few days and let the demons and other bad stuff bubble to the surface. So you can purge the crud. Evacuate the used-up bacteria and tube-clogs out of your pipes, physically. And shoo the whispering monsters out of your head.
We’re not perfect creatures. We need to sleep, we need to recharge our batteries, and we need to stop and get our bearings. At least once a year. So don’t beat yourself up for the occasional down period. We all have them, and the healthiest folks just roll with it. It’s not good to repress this stuff.
It only becomes a problem when you sink into clinical depression. That’s the cold, empty state where nothing looks good, and hope is an absurd memory.
I’ve been there. Several times. The year I turned 30 (for example) I lost my job, my girlfriend and my place to live all within a 45-day stretch.
That shit can wear you down.
Now, I have two things to say about this:
Thing Numero Uno: If you think you’re losing a grip on your mental state, seek professional help. Don’t head straight for pharmaceutical land, though — give “talk therapy” a try with a real, qualified psychotherapist.
Choose this therapist carefully. You’re going to dump every secret you have on them. You may need to plow through a couple to find one that clicks with you (just as you might have to try out several dentists or plumbers to get a good match). (And yes, you should regard this therapist just as you would your dentist — they’re not gonna become your new best friend, but they will bring a professional expertise to the table during the time you need them. And you only need to see them until you get your head straight… which might be a short time or long time. Again — just like you may need serious dental work, or just a cleaning once a year. Figure it out.)
Keep in mind the fact that everyone goes through bumpy emotional states. And that the percentage of people who actually do lose it every year is rather small.
That’s why talking about your problems with someone who has perspective can be so beneficial — the first thing you learn is that you aren’t alone. And what you’re going through is not abnormal.
Most of the time, you’re probably going to be fine. Even when your problems seem overwhelming. There are tools available to help your brain cope. You don’t often come across these tools on your own.
This kind of talk-therapy is one of the few times the “science” of psychology earns its keep — because finding out how others successfully dealt with the same nonsense you’re suffering through can change everything. Seriously — often, just discovering that you’re not alone in what you’re going through, that others have successfully navigated similar troubles, and that the folks who study human behavior and thinking patterns now have really simple (and super-effective) ways to obliterate feeling overwhelmed can solve much of what’s currently holding you back.
A good book to read (while you’re waiting for the spring thaw) is “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. I’ve recommended it before, and it deserves another nod. (The blurb on the back cover, from the New York Times Book Review, starts with “Vaulted me out of my funk…”)
I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I remember the main lesson well. A study, explained up front, stands out: Someone tested the “happiness” quotient of a vast sample of people, including Holocaust survivors.
And it turns out that, at some point in your life, Abraham Lincoln was right — you are as happy as you decide to be.
This is startling news to anyone lost in despair. Because it seems like you’ve been forced to feel that way. With no choice.
But it’s not the case. The happiness study revealed that you can NOT tell from a person’s current attitude what sort of trauma they had gone through earlier in life. People who had suffered horribly could be happy as larks, while silver-spoon never-stubbed-a-toe folks were miserable.
The difference? Attitude. Optimistic people work through setbacks and trauma… while pessimists settle into a funk that can’t be budged.
And it’s a CHOICE. At some point in your life, you choose to either live in gloom or sunlight.
This realization rocks many folk’s boat. Especially the pessimists. They dominate society, politics, business, everything. And they are very protective of their gloom and doom outlook. Invested, heavily, in proving themselves right about the inherent nastiness of life.
Maybe you’re one of ‘em.
If you are, you’re killing yourself, dude.
The guys in lab coats who study this stuff say that heart disease rates are HALF for optimists over pessimists. So, even if you doubt the ability to measure “happiness” — and it is a rather rocky science — you still can’t deny the stats on dropping dead from a gloomy ticker.
Now, I am most assuredly NOT a clear-eyed optimist. I get creepy feelings around people who are too happy all the time.
But I do prefer having a good time, and appreciating the finer things in life (like a deep breath of cold alpine air, or the salty whip of an ocean wave around my ankles, or a secret smile from the wonderful woman I live with).
I’m just good at balancing out the bad with the good.
Being in direct response helps. Lord knows, there’s a LOT of bad with every piece of good news in this wacky biz.
Gary Halbert and I had a term we used for years: We’re “pessimistic optimists”. (Or maybe we’re optimistic pessimists. I forget.)
How does that work? Easy.
We expected horrible atrocities at every turn… and rejoiced when we defied Fate and unreasonable success rained down on our undeserving heads. We grooved on the good stuff in life… and just nodded sagely at the bad stuff and moved past it as quickly as possible. Maybe cop a lesson or two as we scurried by the wreckage.
If you focus on the bad things that can go wrong, you’ll never crawl out of bed in the morning.
When you finally realize that — not counting health problems — pretty much everything bad that business, or relationships, or politics can throw at you will not kill you… then you can begin to relax.
And eagerly court the Unknown by starting another project.
Have you ever had your heart broken? Hurts like hell, doesn’t it. Feels like your life is over.
Well, from my perspective, sitting here at “way past 50” and pretty darned happy, all those romances-gone-wrong that broke my heart long ago look just plain silly now. And my resulting deep depressions — where I was sure my life was over — are just tiresome lessons I had to get through.
Not a one of those ladies was worth a burp of angst. They were fine people, I’ll agree to that. A few were exceptional (and very skilled at certain man-pleasing arts).
But worth a Shakespearean suicide?
It’s taken me a while, but I’m now a certified realist. My youthful idealism has drained away, and my brushes with hate-everything-cuz-it’s-not-perfect dogma never took.
And guess what? Contrary to what an embarrassingly huge number of self-righteous folks would have you believe… being a realist has not dented my passion for life one little bit. In fact, it has opened up a whole new world of unexplainable spirituality (which cannot be contained within any formal religion).
I’m not against religion. Let’s have no “save my soul” emails here. One of my favorite friends to argue with has a doctorate in theology. And I have many other friends committed to various belief systems ranging from fundamentalist to Buddhist to humanist. We get along because, on a deep level, we understand that true spirituality transcends whatever way you choose to express it or appreciate it.
I loathe black-and-white views of the world. It’s a shame that our great country has descended to this “you’re nuts if you don’t agree with me” mentality… but it’s part of the pendulum that’s been swinging back and forth ever since we left the jungle.
The far edges of our institutions — political, religious, cultural, all of it — are in spiritual and emotional “lock down”. They’re sure they’re right, they’re positive you’re wrong, and neither facts nor logic will sway their position.
Mushy liberals seem astonished that anyone would ever not love them, or want to destroy their culture. Repressed conservatives seem intent on crushing everyone who pisses them off (and that’s a lot of people).
It’s “whatever” versus “blind obedience”. And neither works so hot in the real world. I have no use for dogma, or idealism, or punishingly-harsh rules that have been cooked up by hypocrites.
Hey — I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live their life. I’ve screwed up plenty, and if I have any wisdom at all, it’s only because I’ve survived some truly hairy situations.
But I don’t believe anyone else is in a position to tell you how to live, either. That’s gotta be your decision.
And it’s a damn hard one to make.
Fortunately, while I can’t tell you how to live, I can move some smooth (and proven) advice in your direction. Take it or leave it… but give it a listen anyway, cuz my track record on successful advice-giving is fairly impressive.
And I’m telling you that having a hateful, brooding attitude will stunt your growth. It will make you a smaller person, a less-wise person, an older and feebler person. And you won’t grow. Not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. Not in your business life, either.
Most people don’t want to grow, anyway. Growth only comes from movement and change… and the vast majority of the folks walking the earth with us today are terrified of change.
You can’t blame them, really. Change is a form of death. Whatever was before, dies. And whatever comes next must be nurtured with devotion and sacrifice.
That’s hard. That’s a hard way to live, always dying and being reborn.
And because it’s hard, it’s avoided.
Well, screw that.
I suspect, if you’re reading this, you are not afraid of change. But you may not yet understand the power that REALLY giving yourself to change offers.
And that brings us to…
Thing Numero Dos: Goals are all about change.
That’s a subtle point many people gloss over. Rookie goal-setters often get stuck on stuff like quitting smoking, or vague concepts like “become a better person”.
Or “get rich”.
That seldom works. Goals need to be specific… and they need to involve profound change in order to take hold.
Halbert often talked about “image suicide” — the necessity of killing and burying the “self” you are so heavily invested in, before you can move to a new level of success.
I see this all the time in my consultations. Biz owners refuse to do even slightly risky marketing, for fear of damaging their “reputations.”
And my question to them is: What reputation?
Unless you’re the top dog in your niche, no one gives a rat’s ass about what you think or do. No one is looking at your marketing for inspiration or condemnation, because you aren’t the guy to look at.
No. What these scaredy-cats are talking about when they say “reputation” is what their family and friends think of them. And that’s a sure sign of a losing attitude. That ain’t Operation MoneySuck.
My colleague Ron LeGrand, the real estate guru, is one of the best natural salesmen I’ve ever met. The guy understands the fundamental motivating psychology of a prospect at a master’s level. And he knows that one of the major obstacles he faces in every sale… is what the prospect’s spouse (usually the wife) will say.
She can nix the sale with a sneer. Or she can nix it in the prospect’s head, as he imagines that sneer.
Ron counters both sides of the objection expertly. He encourages the prospect to get his spouse involved in the decision, so she becomes invested in it. Or, he suggests waiting until the first big check comes in… and letting the money explain to her about what you’re up to.
This is the reality of most people’s lives. As much as they want what you offer… they are terrified of making a mistake. Cuz they’ll pay dearly for it at home.
It’s a huge deal-killer.
That’s why you include lots of “reason why” copy in your pitch — to give your buyer ammunition for explaining his decision to the doubters in his life. However, as Ron knows, the best (and simplest) “reason why” is results.
Money, as they say, talks.
The top marketers seldom give a moment’s thought to what a risky tactic might do to their “reputation”. They don’t really care what people think about them. You can’t bank criticism.
I know many marketers who are involved in projects they are passionate about… but which bore their spouses to tears. Some (like Howard Stern’s former wife) are even deeply embarrassed. But they don’t complain too much. Because the money’s so good.
Aw, heck. I could go on and on about this. The story of Rodale’s shock and dismay at the brutally-honest ad I wrote for their timid “sex book” is a great example. They refused to mail it, because of their “reputation”. Yet, after it accidentally did mail, and became a wildly-successful control for 5 years, they suddenly decided their reputation could handle it after all.
The people who get the most done in life are all extreme risk-takers. They embrace change, because growth is impossible without it.
But you don’t go out and start changing things willy-nilly.
You need goals.
And you need a plan.
Now, there are lots of books out there that tell you how to set goals. I recently found, in a moldy banker’s box, the ad for Joe Karbo’s book “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” that I’d responded to back in 1982. The exact ad! With the order form torn out… it was the first direct mail pitch I’d ever encountered, and it changed my life forever. Joe’s book was essentially a treatise on setting goals. And it’s good.
It was a wake-up call for me. I’m having that crinkly old ad framed. Can’t imagine why I kept it, but I did. Pack-rat riches.
If you can’t find that particular book, there are dozens of newer goal-setting guides on the shelves. But they’re all based on the same formula:
1. Decide what you want.
2. Write it down, and be specific.
3. Read the list often, imaging as you read that you have already achieved each goal.
What this does is alter the underpinnings of your unconscious. When one of your goals is to earn a million bucks this year, and that goal burns bright in the back of your mind, each decision you make will be influenced.
So, for example, you won’t accept a permanent job somewhere that pays $50,000 a year. Cuz that isn’t going to help you attain your goal.
The problem is this: To earn a mil in a year, you need to average around $50,000 every two weeks. This is why it can take a while to get your goal-setting chops honed. As I’ve said many times, most folks don’t know what they want.
And they aren’t prepared for the changes necessary to get what they want, once they do decide on a goal.
What kind of guy earns $50,000 every two weeks, like clockwork? It takes a certain level of business savvy to create that kind of steady wealth. It doesn’t fall into your lap.
What kind of guy makes a windfall of a million bucks in one chunk? That’s another kind of savvy altogether.
In that same moldy banker’s box, I also found a bunch of my early goal lists. And I’m shocked at how modest my aims were. At the time — I was in the first months of going out on my own, a totally pathetic and clueless rookie — I couldn’t even imagine earning fifty K a year. My first goal was $24,000 as a freelancer. And to score a better rental to live in. Find a date for New Year’s. Maybe buy a new used car.
Listen carefully: I met those goals. As modest as they were, it would have been hard not to. I needed them to be modest, because I was just getting my goal-setting chops together. And I wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time even bothering to set goals.
Let me assure you, it was NOT a waste of time.
The lists I found covered several later years, too. And what’s fascinating is that many of the more specific goals I set down were crossed out — I wanted those goals, but didn’t feel confident about obtaining them.
So I crossed them out, and forgot about them.
A couple of decades later, I realize that I’ve attained every single one of those “forgotten” goals. The big damn house, the love of my life, the professional success, even the hobbies and the guitars and the sports car.
I’m stunned. This is powerful voodoo here.
The universe works in mysterious ways, and you don’t have to belong to a religion to realize this. The whole concept of “ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened” was well-known by successful people long before Luke and Matthew wrote it down.
The keys are action. Movement.
Ask, seek, knock.
These simple actions will change your life forever.
Back to making a million in a year: Some guys know what they need to do to make this goal real. They’ve done it before, or they’ve come close.
Setting the goal is serious business for them… because they are well aware of the tasks they’ve assigned themselves. Take on partners, put on seminars, create ad campaigns, build new products. Get moving on that familiar path.
I’ve known many people who started the year with such a goal… who quickly modified it downward as the reality of the task became a burden. Turns out they didn’t really want the whole million after all. Half of that would suffice just fine. To hell with the work required for the full bag of swag.
Other guys don’t know what they need to do to earn a mil. So their goal really is: Find out what I need to do to earn a million bucks.
Their initial tasks are to ask, seek, and knock like crazy. And change the way they move and act in the world. Because they must transform themselves into the kind of guy who earns a million bucks in one year.
Right now, they aren’t that guy.
So, for example, reading “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” suddenly becomes an “A” task, while remodeling the kitchen gets moved to the back of the burner. Sharpening your ability to craft a killer sales pitch becomes more important than test-driving the new Porsche.
More important, even, than dating Little Miss Perfect. And test-driving her new accessories.
Nope. When you get hip to the glory of focused change, you never lament leaving the “old” you behind.
It will be hard, sometimes, no doubt about it. Especially when you discover your old gang no longer understands you, or mocks your ambition. They liked the old, non-threatening you. They want him to come back.
But you’ve changed. And hot new adventures are going to take up a lot more of your time now.
My trick to setting goals is very simple:
Every January 15th, I sit down and write myself a letter, dated exactly one year ahead.
And I describe, in that letter, what my life is like a year hence. (So, in 2016, I dated the letter to myself as January 15, 2017.)
It’s a subtle difference to the way other people set goals. Took me a long time to figure it out, too.
For many years, I wrote out goals like “I live in a house on the ocean”, and “I earn $24,000 a year”. And that worked. But it was like pushing my goals.
Writing this letter to myself is more like pulling my goals. For me, this works even better. Every decision I make throughout the year is unconsciously influenced, as I am pulled toward becoming the person I’ve described.
But here’s where I do it very differently: My goals are deliberately in the “whew” to “no friggin’ way” range. Mega-ambitious, to downright greedy.
There’s a sweet spot in there — doable, if I commit myself, but not so outrageous that I lose interest because the required change is too radical.
I’m pretty happy with myself these days. Took me a long, hard slog to get here, and I earned every step. And I want to continue changing, because I enjoy change. But I don’t need to reinvent myself entirely anymore.
So here’s what makes this ambitious goal-setting so effective: I don’t expect to REACH most of them.
In fact, I’m happy to get half of what I wanted.
There’s a ton of psychology at work there. The person I describe a year away often resembles James Bond more than the real me. Suave, debonair, flush, famous, well-traveled… and in peak health. I hit all the big ones.
However, long ago I realized that trying to be perfect was a sure way to sabotage any goal I set. Perfectionists rarely attain anything, because they get hung up on the first detail that doesn’t go right.
Being a good goal-setter is more like successful boxing — you learn to roll with the punches, cuz you’re gonna get hit.
You just stay focused on the Big Goal. And you get there however you can.
I’m looking at last year’s letter. I was a greedy bastard when I wrote it, and I didn’t come close to earning the income figure I set down.
Yet, I still had my best year ever.
And — here’s the kicker — I would NOT have had such a great year, if I wasn’t being pulled ahead by that letter. There were numerous small and grand decisions I made that would have gone another way without the influence of what I had set down.
I didn’t travel to the places I had listed. But I did travel to other, equally-fun places. I didn’t finish writing that third biz book. But I did position it in my head, and found the voice I want for narration. That’s a biggie. That was a sticking point that would have kept the novel from ever getting finished.
Now, it’s on power-glide.
There’s another “hidden” benefit to doing this year-ahead letter: It forces you to look into the future.
A lot of people make their living peering ahead and telling everyone else what to expect. Most do a piss-poor job of it — weathermen are notorious for getting it wrong, as are stock market analysts, wannabe trend-setters, and political prognosticators.
Yet, they stay in business. Why? Because the rest of the population is terrified of looking into the future. That would require some sincere honesty about their current actions… since what the future holds is often the consequence of what you’re doing right now.
If you’re chain-smoking, chasing street hookers, and living on doughnuts, your future isn’t pretty. For example.
Or if you’ve maxed out all your credit cards, and haven’t done your due diligence to start bringing in moolah, your future isn’t nice, either.
No one can “see” into the future for real. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, it’s easy, when you have a little experience in life.
Things you do today will have consequences tomorrow. If you put up a website today for a product, and you do everything you can to bring traffic to it and capture orders… your consequence can be pretty and nice.
Sure, you may get hit by a bus while fetching the morning paper… but letting that possibility scare you off of trying for something better is for pessimists (who are scheduled for early checkout).
You have enormous control over your future.
And once you realize that, you can set out to start shaping it.
P.S. If you’re one of those people who’ve been skimming blogs like this… never reading anything carefully and slowly, and digesting what’s on the page… then I have one more suggestion for you: Stop doing that.
Most of the uber-successful folks I know (and I know a lot) have both skimming skills AND “deep reading” skills. And they know when to use them. You skim to get overviews, which may turn out to be flawed (because you missed something crucial in your skimming). You deep-read when you want to absorb something important, and you need to make the impression of what you read stick in your brain.
Right now, there are readers here who should be seriously considering the courses and opportunities I offer in the right-hand column of this blog. This is the stuff that has launched freelance careers, transformed biz owners into ad-writing monsters, and armed both rookie and veteran entrepreneurs with the fundamentally awesome skills of success. Quickly, and with the surety of proven-in-the-real-world tactics and advice.
So stop screwing around. If you need further help in getting your career going, or in crafting the kind of marketing that will boost profits through the roof… then consider the offerings on this page an essential task in your new list of goals. This is the real deal. No fluff, no nonsense — just honest, solid, proven stuff from a respected veteran of biz success.
Meanwhile, get busy with your January 15th letter.
P.P.S. One of your main goals, if you’re a serious entrepreneur and you haven’t mastered slamming out world-class copy yet for your bad self… is to GET bad-ass at it as soon as humanly possible. I don’t care how you do it — find a mentor, start experimenting with one of the many courses or coaching programs out there…
… or, as I recommend, just join our mastermind. We’re going into our ninth year of it, so we’re doing something right. To get the details, go here.
Give yourself at least the OPTION of deciding yes-or-no, with some background, by going to this page now and seeing what’s up. At the very least, read some of the testimonials, to get a taste of how powerful the transformation in your life and career can be when you finally get hip to the stuff no one told you about before.
I’ll be checking into the comments here, if you have questions about any of this…
12:37pm, Christmas Day
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” (Ralphie’s Mom, “A Christmas Story”)
Hope you’re having a great holiday, and all your dreams have come true.
If you’re here after grabbing your FREE copy of the book that Dean Jackson and I just released, welcome. Our gift to you took just 90 minutes to create, per Dean’s brilliant “90-Minute Book” magic. Well, 90 minutes, plus the four years since I first proposed the book to Dean…
… but since we dawdled away those years never actually writing any of it, this sudden burst of creativity for 90 minutes actually represents a Christmas miracle.
I’m stunned we got it out.
Sure, it’s in need of some editing, which we’ll do later (when the book is sold on Amazon), because it’s a transcription, and my brain-to-mouth process works much differently than my usual brain-to-keyboard process. But for now, today at least, this somewhat raw first edition is your free gift from us.
Get your free copy at www.3or4problems.com… if you missed the announcement of it on Facebook last night.
And welcome to the blog. Be sure to sign up for alerts, top right. Right there. No, your other right. Yeah, right there, inside the little box. Just type in your email address — the good one you always check, not the fake oaddresse you use to throw folks off your trail. You want to hear from me. I won’t deluge you with email, and I swear you’ll love every message you do get from me. (I’ll never share it, either.)
PLUS — you get a cool free special report when you sign up, jammed with info you can put to use right away to make yourself and your biz glow with profits. Yet another freebie gift for you. The goodies are just piling up.
There are tons of great posts for you here on the blog — over a decade’s worth of advice, tips, strategies, insight and pro-level marketing secrets… all in the archives. Which you can access in the lower right column. Yes, just below where you left your email address.
Also, check out the books I offer, the great deals on the courses, all of it.
Oh, and just for now, I’ve slashed my normal Skype consults (where I personally solve your entrepreneurial biz problems, and even critique your copy if you want, in real time, digitally face-to-face). Right now, you can get a full-on consult for $999 — which includes your hour on Skype with me, personally, plus an email exchange for anything you want me to look at. I normally charge $2,500 for these. But I’m feeling the holiday spirit, big time.
To get the details, just email my assistant Diane at email@example.com. Write “I want to know how to get a personal consult with John” in the subject line. We’ll get right back to you with the details. And get you on the schedule fast.
The new year is right around the corner. How rich and happy you get over the course of 2017 depends on how you approach the opportunities and problems you have in front of you now.
One of the best ways to kick it up a notch is to get your sticking points unstuck, your problems solved, and your plan for the year double-checked by a respected, well-known pro. I’ve been doing this stuff for over 30 years now, and the list of folks who owe their wealth and happiness to me is long (and full of some very famous people).
But enough of that.
If you’re ready to goose your fortunes for the coming year, great. I can help you in ways you can barely imagine right now.
Today, just enjoy your Christmas gift from Dean and me.
Hope you and yours are having a great day.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones…” (Bob Dylan)
Lots of talk about gratitude these days. There are entire movements (run by schmaltzy guru’s in nice suits) centered on getting folks to feel the gratitude, to embrace and become it.
Like it’s magic or something.
Knowing how to appreciate the important stuff in your life is a good thing, of course. Being grateful for what you have should be a daily moment, part of being mindful about what’s going on around you and within you (and around and within those you love, deal with, oppose and haven’t met yet).
Early in my career, while devouring self-help books — I read one Og Mandino for every biz book I read for awhile, just to keep my heart and soul moving forward along with my brain — I even went so far as to acknowledge the non-living things around me. I would thank a keyboard, for example, for serving me so well when I replaced it. And mean it. Give it a decent burial in the trash, introduce myself to the new keyboard and get back to work. Same with my shoes, my thrashed car (which needed the encouragement, I can assure you), my favorite pens, and so on. It doesn’t even seem silly now… it makes sense to be mindful of the tools that help us do what we do. Astronauts name their shuttles, sailors name their ships, and I assign my beat-up leather coat a personality.
So I’m an old hand at thanking the universe and the things and people around me as I move along.
But a little perspective, please.
For too many business people, there’s no real thought given to the notion of gratitude. They act like just saying the word creates a magical forcefield of wonderment and power.
So we get airline flight attendants urgently crooning over the intercom that if there is ANYTHING they can do to make our flight more comfortable, just ask.
Which is, of course, pure bullshit.
The things that would make me more comfy — like more leg room, wider and plusher seats, and maybe a mickey in the drunk’s beer next to me so he’ll shut up — are not within their toolkit. I mean, a foot massage would be nice, too, but even mentioning it would have the air marshals on your butt in a heartbeat.
So why do they even say it?
Sometimes it’s just habit, from the old scripts they used to read. The job requirements included big smiles, friendly demeanor even in the face of rudeness, and a steady stream of patter to calm folks down while the jet screamed through the heavens eight miles high.
So even in towns like Reno, you still get the pilots schmoozing about “we know you have a choice when you fly”… when we absolutely do NOT. And every passenger on the plane knows it. If you’re headed anywhere on the beaten track, it’s Southwest or the highway.
And AT&T robots love to drone while you’re on hold, about how grateful they are to have you as a customer. It’s all please and thank you and yes, sir. The gratitude practically drips from the phone…
… but they aren’t grateful enough to hire more operators to handle your complaint. I mean, c’mon, people. Get real. Those 30-minute hold times are planned… to cull the mob down. Just part of the biz strategy created by evil fuckers with big smiles all bubbly with gratitude for your business.
Yeah, get real. Which is what I always advise entrepreneurs and biz owners to do when crafting their business plans and operating scripts. Don’t use the drivel doled out by big corporations when you’re creating pitches to your prospect and customer bases. Be real, tell the truth, and don’t make promises your ass can’t fulfill.
The worst are businesses that hire some PR firm to write up a “mission statement”. This is all the rage every so often, as the MBA schools recycle old tropes on doing biz. Not understanding what a USP is, and possessing no clue on how to actually deal with a prospect or customer, dazed biz owners will spend a lot of time and money positioning a statement out that is supposed to “define” the “culture” of the joint.
So we get lots of vague “the customer is king” and “you’re the boss” crap… which sounds great, but is just blabbering babble if not put into action.
Just like your old drinking buddy who would swear on his mother’s grave to pay you back for the ten-spot he borrows when he needs it… but, of course, has no ability to bring that promise along with him into the future, because he spends every dollar he makes, can’t plan to save his life, and gets offended when you become that asshole who wants his money back. Being true to your word is a vague concept without real meaning. Stop bugging me, man.
If you decide you want to shine at customer service, then DO IT. Don’t talk about it. Don’t slime me with your bullshit sincerity and grandiose promises. Just be really fucking good at customer service. The word will get out, trust me.
Think about this, and about your relationship with gratitude.
Yes, you’re VERY thankful to the grubby dude from the garage who drove out to fix your car in the rain. At the time he’s getting things done, and you’re sensing you’re gonna get out of this ordeal after all, you want to hug him. And you say, over and over again, how grateful you are that he exists.
Yeah, yeah, whatever. You’re not grateful enough to invite him over for Thanksgiving dinner, are you? You gonna help him move to a new apartment next weekend? Go watch the big game with him at the garage?
No, you’re not. Your main tool is expressing your gratitude, by saying it over and over. But once you’re off on your way, he’s a distant memory.
A nice twenty buck tip gets oodles more mileage than another heartfelt handshake. He may even go out of his way to rescue you the next time you run into a tree, remembering how monetarily grateful you were.
On the other hand, he may demure and not come at all, if he’s all creeped out over your slobbering hugs of impotent gratitude.
Lying is lying. The small lies in life set up the big ones. Nobody trusts nobody these days, for good reason — trust is and always has been earned, one act at a time. You can’t just announce that you’re trustworthy and have it mean anything.
In fact, one of the old street maxims is: Take whatever the guy says, and figure the opposite is true.
In biz, the client who brags about money not being a problem… has a cash flow problem. The colleague who talks big about trust is screwing your spouse. The accountant who has a mission statement centered on “serving the client” is embezzling. The joint is filled with liars.
This means there is always one darn good way to stand out in even the most crowded, cutthroat market out there. Just be honest, without making a big damn deal about it. In fact, don’t even bring it up. Don’t bullshit your audience, and don’t try to front-load your reputation with promises you can’t fulfill.
Your audience will let you know what your reputation is, soon enough.
Don’t be like that pilot blabbing about choices when there aren’t any. He is announcing to everyone that he is, at best, a mindless corporate shill. And if he wanders into the cabin during the flight and tells you something about not worrying, everything’s just dandy…
… you will be excused if your next act is to look for a parachute.
Consequences matter. Stop lying to yourself, to others, and to your business. Yes, to your business — it may not be a living, breathing thing, but it still operates in the corporeal world, just like the rest of us.
Don’t turn yourself into a lying shit heel, just because you want to sound all corporate-like.
It matters. Real gratitude has teeth, and is connected at the hip with action. Not bluster.
No, really, thanks.
P.S. Make sure you check out all the goodies available in the right hand column here. My books and courses make excellent Christmas gifts, you know…
“I read the news today, oh boy…” (John Lennon, “A Day In The Life”)
One of my favorite quotes from the legendary Gary Halbert: “There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by a man who refuses to face reality.”
You laugh, but he was dead serious. One of the reasons we became fast friends was our mutual outlook on life – whenever reality was inconvenient to our goals, we just ignored the facts, lowered our head, and bulled forward.
That photo, above, is me in high school (from the yearbook), taking a jump shot. I’m the guy in the thick glasses. I loved basketball, and was good enough to become the captain of the “B” squad my junior year…
… however, as should be evident in this photo, I ran into a brick wall trying out for the varsity a year later.
The guy guarding me as I took that jumper is taller than me by a foot. I was the smallest guy on the squad…
… and really, at some point a caring coach probably should have taken me aside and said “John, I know you love the game… but look at your family. No one is taller than 5’10”, and basketball is a sport for tall folks. You’re not going to magically grow into the size they want on the varsity team…”
I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. I’m like a Jack Russell terrier – a big dog trapped in a small dog’s body. Tell me I can’t do something, and you get a prolonged snarl (and maybe a quick nip).
Eventually, in sports, my poor eyesight and lack of height stopped me…
… but I had fun for a couple of years in the meantime.
Later on, as I was gathering my courage to try copywriting, an actual professional copywriter earnestly informed me that I should not even try.
“It’s too hard,” she said. “You’ll never be a pro writer.”
That was, of course, the BEST thing she could have ever told me. I doubt I could have survived the first years without that internal motivation of needing to prove her wrong. It fueled me during the tough early years.
I call it “negative motivation”… and it’s actually one of the most powerful forces available for getting stuff done. I never saw that writer again, and don’t even remember her name…
… so it wasn’t a need to flaunt my success in her face. It was all internal for me – I used her as the “face” of the obstacles in front of me, and I even laughed when I later realized I was in a position to tell her “Fuck you, I made it anyway.”
Yes, my internal ego is an immature twerp sometimes. Chip on the shoulder, testy underdog attitude, and an almost stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face reality.
I am so grateful for it, too.
(By the way… I nailed that shot in the photo, above… and ended up with 20 points while also hitting the winning basket. Easily my finest moment in a futile, doomed effort to be a “real” basketball player. A has-been at 16.)
Now, you do not need to be a belligerent rebel to be a good entrepreneur…
… but it can help sometimes.
Certainly, given the choice of sitting down to dinner with the business types in suits, who are uber-polite and careful in their conversations…
… or the rowdy crowd of rule-breaking ne’er-do-well whack-job entrepreneurs who may easily get kicked OUT of the restaurant….
… well, you know which group I’d pick.
I was Halbert’s sidekick for a very long time, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig was strutting into a new client’s offices and creating massive chaos. In a rational world, none of the buttoned-up biz owners we dealt with would have tolerated us for more than a few minutes…
… but, because we brought the “magic” of ads that worked, they HAD to not just tolerate us, but sometimes coddle us and even pay us more than they were going to earn themselves in the project.
We weren’t mean. Perhaps arrogant at times. But both Gary and I had wandered into the entrepreneurial world precisely because we didn’t “fit” in the normal corporate environments. We were outlaws by nature, outrageous by temperament, and adventurers who ate risk for breakfast by choice.
Again – you do not NEED to be a half-crazed rebellious lunkhead to succeed in biz…
… though, I’ve noticed that a great number of the dudes and dudettes at the top of the entrepreneurial game don’t easily fit into nice, tidy molds. They don’t behave themselves in polite company. (Y’all know who you are.)
So I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what you DO need to be a successful entrepreneur. In my mastermind, there have been many members who were unclear on what it “meant” to be an entrepreneur…
… and we’ve helped every one of them get over their fears, stop obsessing on the wrong things, and become much more confident (and successful) marketers. Mostly, they are stunned by the magnitude of profit that comes from doing things right.
It’s all a matter of hanging out with veterans who can commiserate with your stumbles, help you correct the damage, and reveal the secrets of getting into a solid success-groove, and riding it all the way to wealth and happiness.
My goal is to, eventually, have a comprehensive menu of things you can do at every step of your business life. That’s gonna take a while, though…
… so, for now, I have a starter checklist here you might find helpful.
Let’s just get into it. Here (in no particular order) are the main things you’ll need in your “toolkit” as an entrepreneur:
 Survival resources. This includes books (both the ones you read for general knowledge and put on your shelf… and the ones that stay on your desk, dog-eared, because they are tools that help in your day-to-day work)…
… an ever-expanding network of experts, mentors, colleagues and go-to-guys (including tech geeks, hosting services, spies, friendly competitors, and helpmates in your quest for animal-level contentment)…
… and whatever courses, seminars, and tutorials you need to attain a mastery of the details of whatever biz you’re in.
 Goal-setting skills. You need to understand, clearly, where you’re headed and what you want from both your journey and your final destination.
It’s okay, early on, to not be clear on you ultimate goals. Sometimes, you work hard to attain something, and only then realize it wasn’t what you wanted after all. That’s how life works when you decide to swim in the dangerous part of the pool. You will constantly re-adjust your long-term goals as you go.
Short-term, however, you need to get good at breaking down the best path to your target, while also learning how to fix problems and deal with unexpected emergencies.
 Thick skin. You simply need to put your ego aside when entering the entrepreneurial world…
… cuz you’re gonna get stomped, bullied, abused, insulted and assaulted. Often. In new and fascinating ways that your civilian pals will never believe possible.
Your motto must be “eyes on the prize”, at all times. There will be setbacks, disasters and breathtaking failures.
You know you’ve “arrived” as a true entrepreneur when all of this becomes just part of the process, and you even enjoy the constant challenges raining down on you. (You’ll have the best stories at the bar during seminars, too.)
 Risk tolerance. This is what sets most entrepreneurs apart from civilians. Against the advice of your drinking buddies (who really do not want you to succeed, because that will destroy their own belief that the little guy can’t win)… and contrary to the fears of your family (who are terrified that your wild-ass biz plans will bankrupt the joint)… and in utter defiance of your own Red Flag danger alarms…
… you’re going to have to lay your reputation on the line, and climb into a fight with the forces of capitalism armed only with your wit, meager skill sets, and raw determination.
And no one else except other entrepreneurs will even vaguely understand what you’re going through. Working without a net. Daring the universe to slap you down. Going into situations, over and over again, where you’re a complete rookie, apt to make embarrassing mistakes.
In short, living with risk. And the consequences of risk, which can include failure.
Of course, a true entrepreneur regards “failure” as just another step on the rocky path to breakthrough success. It’s a process. Few get it right the first time.
So, you need to assess your capacity to accept, and deal with risk. If the very notion of taking a risk terrifies you into inaction, it’s probably a sign from God that you need to get a job somewhere safe.
 Your basic bag of tricks. You may have to learn the basics from books at first, or by observation… but no matter how you learn them, you need to understand the fundamentals of a sales funnel (qualified leads are captured and closed)…
… the details of fulfillment and customer management…
… and how to craft a sales message that can be easily communicated to prospects.
It’s not rocket science, but you’re an idiot if you think you can “fake it” as you begin marketing your biz for real.
Fortunately, there are a lot of courses out there to shortcut your efforts…
… or, you can dive into the many books out there on these subjects. In a weekend, you can begin your self-education by reading one on marketing, one on sales, and one on writing copy.
Your first choices may be the wrong ones to read, but that doesn’t matter — because you’ll have started the process, and that’s the critical part of this step. Next weekend, read three different books on the same subjects. Rinse and repeat until you feel you have a toe-hold in each subject, at least.
The longest journey begins with a single step. Just try not to fall on your face immediately, all right? Read critically and intelligently, and continually seek out authors you can trust and identify with.
 A budget, or war chest. You will need cash in your biz adventures. No getting around that.
I’m not a great role model. I started my freelance career with one last tank of gas in a rattle-trap car, one month’s rent paid, and enough spare change to feed myself for a couple of weeks. I had no Plan B.
Much better to have a planned budget, and the money to meet it for at least a few months. If you’re already in business, and you want to expand or get into a new project…
… then have a “war chest” of cash you can invest in the adventure. Don’t go in broke, or clueless about what you may need to pull out of your existing biz.
Most entrepreneurs hate budgets and planning.
Do it anyway. There are plenty of misadventures awaiting you in biz — don’t stumble on stuff like budgets, which you have control over and can figure out easily.
 Ability to judge what’s worth doing, and what’s going to hold you back.
This is a biggie. You may suck at it right now, but one of your goals must be to get pro-level good at judging client requests, job offers, new projects, partner assessment (in both biz and love), and all the little and big decisions that will cascade upon your head every single day.
One tactic: Use the 1-10 “pain scale” measurement many doctors use in assessing patients. Use it on yourself: What level is the value… the risk… the reward… and the danger of any decision you encounter?
Is it a big deal, or a little deal of no lasting consequence?
Get good at this, as fast as possible. One of the main failure points of unsuccessful biz owners is a lack of prompt, good decisions.
 Stress management. You’re going to encounter stress as an entrepreneur. That’s a given.
Ignoring this stress is a very, very, very bad idea. It will never leave, it will build up, and in due time it will fry your brain like an egg in a skillet.
You are not a superman. Your body and mind are vulnerable to the ravages of poor diet, lack of exercise, and constant hormone dumps of adrenaline and other bad chemicals.
Massage, meditation, lots of vacations, reading good books (not biz books) to relax, having “safety zones” in your week where you are free from the tentacles of your biz (no phone, no email, no nothing)…
… the tactics for battling stress are easy to find and experiment with. Find what works for you, and give it PRIORITY status in your life.
For example, I began getting weekly massages early in my career… long before I started buying better clothes, a newer car, or eating out more often. Massage “re-set” my physical stress levels, and I’m convinced it has saved me from ulcers and worse. And kept me mega-productive for decades.
I started out with a “business before pleasure” mindset… but included in “business” was de-stressing and being a good animal (loose, strong, well-fed, lots of restorative sleep, etc).
And finally (for this short “starter list”)…
 Have an exit plan. Go after your goals like a terrier after a squirrel, with total focus and commitment.
However, realize that sometimes your goals need to adjusted, or even abandoned.
When the facts and circumstances change, your goals change. (This includes sudden changes in technology, like Google slaps… booming new opportunities that didn’t exist earlier… even realizing you no longer crave what motivated you so desperately before.)
I’m not suggesting you have an easy “bail out” plan, that you can take whenever things get dicey. Like Cortez burning his ships upon his conquest of Mexico, a lot of entrepreneurs do better when there is no turning back.
Rather, I’m talking about visualizing your life after success. Many entrepreneurs, right after “making it”, immediately begin to sabotage the biz. Because the fun is in the building up of the thing, the adventures of tackling challenges and working without a net.
Once you’ve been successful, you either need to pivot to management of the biz (yawn)…
… or consider the consequences of cashing out, selling your biz, moving into something else, or just becoming an “intrapreneur” like Steve Jobs did at Apple.
At least consider what your life will be like when you succeed. And consider lots of options for yourself.
Okay. That’s the starter list. Not a bad checklist to have on the wall above your desk as you move forward, either.
One last thought on reality: Yes, I ignored the reality of who I was, and what I brought to the game, as I plowed through life going after unrealistic goals.
However, there is ONE reality I never ignore.
That would be the reality of results. I love seeing how ads and tactics work, or don’t work, through actual sales numbers (and click-through and open rates, and so on).
However, I look at these results CRITICALLY. I don’t accept them blindly. They are tools for moving forward. Where did, or where could the ad have failed? Can we fix it? What other things can be done to navigate a sales problem? Where IS the main problem, anyway?
My stupidly-aggressive and irrational refusal to face certain realities has served me well over the years. If I’d listened to the nay-sayers, or even my own fears, my life would have been much less exciting and happy. And rich, in every respect.
Still, all vices in moderation. That’s my motto.
Find out what works for you.
I hope this list is a good starting point.
P.S. Did I leave anything off the list that should have been on there?
Love to hear your take on the matter, in the comments section below…
P.P.S. Need a good suggestion for a book to jump-start your quest for the Big Bucks?
Start right here on the blog, in the far right column. Grab “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” right now on Amazon. Or order “Success Secrets No One Told You About”, also available digitally (and it costs just a couple of bucks).
And when you’re ready to join the best mastermind operating, check out the Platinum Mastermind. I’ve personally been hosting this notorious group for over 8 years now.
Don’t be that guy who refuses to help himself, with opportunity staring you in the face. I’ve been transforming the lives of entrepreneurs for over 30 years now… to conquer obstacles, earn massive success, and start enjoying life on all levels…
… and the FASTEST way to make it real for YOU, is to take advantage of the help I offer.
You’ll figure everything out so much faster (and with so much less grief) when you get some honest mentoring from a grizzled pro who knows his shit.
Again — love to hear from you in the comments. I hang out there often…
“Let’s make the most of every second we can borrow…” (“Let It Ride”, BTO)
I was going through the archives here, found this bitchin’ post from last September…
… and decided to re-post it. Cuz it’s so good.
Reality checks have been a major tool in my life and career. And believe me, I’ve needed every single one. I started out so clueless, so lost, so desperate for guidance, that my head was filled with all kinds of muddy thinking and dumb-ass notions.
So, if you’re game, here’s a few of the best I’ve gone through myself.
Here’s the post:
Almost everything you encounter today is conspiring to waste your time. Lots of it. Most of it, in fact.
For eons, the distractions of life were put on hold by the sheer requirements of subsistence living. The party animals starved when winter hit.
So we gathered in villages in order to share the burdens of eating every day. There was a time to sow, a time to reap, and so on. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker started specializing, so the rancher, the farmer and the night owls could get on with their end of the game.
Complications were instantaneous, of course. Humans are hard-wired to screw things up, especially once we get into a good groove. (The Primary Rule Of Entrepreneurship, which should never be forgotten, is: The first thing most entrepreneurs do, once they’re successful with a simple idea they’ve turned into a biz, is try to complicate the shit out of it. And ruin it. It’s unconscious, because their lizard brain can’t stand the drudgery of management, and craves the excitement of new ventures. I’ve seen this rule demolish more success arcs than divorce, embezzlement and incompetence combined.)
So, over the long arc of history, the smart alecks started figuring ways to have others do the hard work for them… allowing them more leisure time. Becoming royalty was a good way to get out of the unpleasantly-sweaty parts of life. Concocting empires and war (from afar) was an excellent way to amass wealth and power… which translated to lots of servants, soldiers and lackeys scurrying around doing your bidding. It’s the ultimate con game.
And, voila! Boredom was invented.
Too much time, too little to do.
It’s pretty much a given that most folks, stripped of fulfilling duty, will find a way to wile away the time. Prisoners dig tunnels, trophy spouses shop and have affairs, bosses gamble away the payroll, students hack into Pentagon computers, and so on. We’re just busy little beavers when we latch onto something to do.
In the modern world (and I hope you’ve noticed) the “what to do with your free time” trends have been heavy on entertainment, though, and a little weak on substance.
And, from this old codger’s perspective (after many, many trips around the block)… most folks are squandering a truly great life, by going after what they’ve been sold as a “good” life.
And I say this as one of the guys who has helped feed this travesty, though excellent advertising.
Thus, it may be time for a little Reality Check session here.
On how not to waste your life chasing bullshit.
Reality Check #1: You only get one ticket for a life. There is no “do over” button, no replays, and no options on more game time.
Sure, I know you know this. Like, duh, right?
So why are you living as if you had unlimited time to waste? You’re treating your life the same way you treat your lack of exercise, your refusal to quit bad habits, your putting off of all that critical stuff you need to get after.
Oh, I know. Eventually, you’ll get around to it. Yeah, life’s short, whatever. You’re not gonna die in the next couple of months, at least, so why freak out over missing opportunities and all that crap?
Here’s where your own bullshit blinds you: Your “real” life doesn’t start down the line, after you’ve accomplished that thing you’re putting off. The college degree, the marriage to a hot mate, the new car, the new haircut, the signing of your band… none of that “starts” your life.
No, your life is going on RIGHT FREAKING NOW. Who you are today is pretty much the foundation of who’ll you be tomorrow, even if you win the lottery and can tell your boss to shove it.
And if winning the lottery is your entire plan for a better life, then you’re deep in the dreaded Delusional Swamp. Time to start wading back to dry land, and re-establish a relationship with the reality of your situation.
Reality Check #2: If you don’t change anything, then the next 5 years are probably going to look pretty much like the last 5 years.
And if that makes your skin crawl, then you must face up to a brutal fact of life: If anything is going to change, you’re gonna have to take responsibility for it.
Hey, I’ve known people who were wrenched from their life, drafted into the Army, and shoved into foreign cultures and terrifying situations rife with challenges to their belief systems.
And they came back pretty much the same person. They were so set in “who they were”, that new experiences just bounced off without much effect. They returned to the same job, same neighborhood, same desires.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s what you want.
However, as a consultant and coach, I don’t usually encounter folks who are ecstatic with the way their lives are going.
No. The folks I deal with have made the fateful decision to CHANGE. They’re open to it, they crave it, they’re willing (they hope) to suffer to attain their goals.
They just need a little help doing it right.
To change, you have to actually draw a line in the sand. Up to this second, I was this person. From now forward, I am going to change the way I do things.
You can’t just promise to do this, by the way. Nope. You gotta form some goals to aim for, and implement your plan to go after them. You gotta make a (probably long) list of the attributes you need to nurture or create… like discipline, dedication, firm resolve, follow-through, and a professional’s code of behavior (“You show up where you said you’d be, when you said you’d be there, having done what you said you’d do… every time, with no excuses allowed.”).
If you need help, you find it and start implementing what you learn. Mentors, coaching, courses, whatever it takes to get you past your sticking points.
If you need to get the biz working, you start today. Not tomorrow. Today. You set up a schedule and a plan, and you follow it. Even when you’re tired, even when there’s SO MUCH ELSE you’d rather do, even when you have to say “nope” to fun.
In fact, “fun” becomes a reward, not a primary pursuit. The old adage “business before pleasure” is the precursor to “work hard, play hard”. We’ve lost that sense of proportion, as a culture. Too many folks just want to play hard… and maybe squeeze in a little duty on the side.
And success doesn’t function like that. Fucking around is the way you eventually fuck up. (And I say this as a primo fuck up, for much of my pre-career life. I know how fuck-ups operate, the ways they spin excuses and avoid responsibility for mucking things over. I was a master at it. And I had to murder that part of me in order to move forward.)
Today, I have as much fun in my life as I do hard work. But the work is fulfilling, and the fun feeds my soul. And vice versa.
I got to this point by sacrificing long-held beliefs about what I was capable of, what the world would “allow” me to do, and how far I could push into unchartered territory when I set my mind to it.
Reality Check #3: … most of your limitations in life are self-inflicted.
And a lot of it has to do with time. As in, how you spend it.
My line in the sand was drawn one evening while I was sleeping on a friend’s couch, homeless after losing my job, girlfriend and place to live all in a short span. I had driven around the west coast for several months, aimless, clueless and directionless, hoping for some kind of sign on what my next move was going to be.
No sign arrived. What did arrive was a rather abrupt realization that I was standing in my own way. My entire life to that point was full of scattershot, ill-thought-out decisions that happened only when I was forced to choose or suffer another catastrophe. It occurred to me, that fateful evening, that maybe I should start considering my decisions more carefully. And add some actual data and info.
It was a start. I knew that just deciding to be decisive was worthless without good reasons to follow up on a decision. Being decisive, in and of itself, isn’t a good thing. It just means you act quickly. Thinking through the consequences, and including a little research, suddenly meant my decisions had some teeth.
No longer was it “what the hell, let’s do this and see what happens”. Suddenly (literally overnight) it was “let’s examine the options here, and make the call based on something more than just a hunch.”
That meant changing a lot of my habits. I love science fiction, and always had a novel with me. However, during this period of decision-making, I needed to put the sci-fi on the back burner for a while, and read up on stuff like biz, advertising, marketing, salesmanship, and all the other skills and tactics I might need to explore in a freelance career. (Remember: I’d never met a freelancer before I became one, and had only a vague idea of what they did. There were no books on freelancing at the time, no mentors, no seminars, no nothing. I’d have to wing it… but I was still going to put as much info on my side as possible before wandering out there in the cruel advertising world.)
In a very short time — because I was obsessed with this “remake my bad self into something productive” project — I read nearly everything in the library on these subjects. Raced through an Evelyn Woods speed-reading course, figured out I had just enough money to keep me from starving for a few weeks, and dove in. No distractions. Business before pleasure became my mantra, and because I’d drawn that line in the sand, there was not gonna be much pleasure while I loaded up my brain with relevant stuff.
No TV. No visits to the pub. (They wondered where I was.) No long romantic calls with old girlfriends, trying to stir up a little action. No nothing. For a few weeks, I was a monk.
And holy shit, did I ever get stuff done.
The punch line to this story is that, on my very first interview with an ad agency for some freelance work, I walked in thinking my weeks of research had maybe prepared me to not sound like an idiot. However, what I discovered is that I knew much, much more about the history, application and use of advertising and marketing than any of the full-time professionals at the agency. My research made me a freakin’ Ph.D. in the subject, better-read than even the creative director.
They were impressed, and I got the job. I was stunned, and took their fee in a daze. How the hell do you work at an agency, and NOT know about John Caples’ groundbreaking ads from the sixties, Claude Hopkins’ revolutionary work in the 1920s, and all the current heroes of direct response in the print and broadcast games?
So, yes, you cynical jerks out there. The library is your friend, just like Miss Adams told you in the third grade. Knowledge is king. Accessing resources, like libraries or Google or experts (especially experts), gives you an edge… and no matter how “naturally” gifted the next writer you go against may be, you’ll still scorch him with better research every time. Every. Time.
Which, of course, brings us back to time.
How are you spending your time?
If you’re not where you want to be in life… and you’re watching ANY TV at all during the week… then you’re a fucking moron. Sorry, but that’s the truth.
If you’re still partying like a college boy (or girl), you’re the reason you’re not succeeding yet.
And if you aren’t topping off your brain-tank with info, knowledge, skill sets, and insights… relentlessly and with clear goals on how to use all this stuff… then maybe it’s time to just admit you’re not cut out for a successful life.
No shame in that. The world needs ditch diggers, too, just as Judge Smails said. (Caddy Shack. No need to Google it.)
… if you DO crave success, then start with your own bad self. Do a reality-based checkup on how serious you are about moving up a level or two. Are there good biz books on your shelf, sitting there all lonely and forgotten, that you should be reading? Are you still following 3 different sports every season, spending more time on the sports pages than the financial section? Do you have people in your world you haven’t bothered to bond with, cuz it’s “too hard”, and thus you aren’t reaping the benefits of networking? Are you ignoring the opportunities spread out before you?
Are you, in short, still kinda believing that someday, maybe soon, magic will happen and your “real life” will begin in earnest?
You know, like when you were 8 years old and still believed in Santa? (Spoiler Alert: He ain’t real.)
There is plenty of time in your future for binge-watching The Walking Dead… drinking yourself into misadventures with your wayward pals… obsessing on your fantasy leagues… and chasing Susie Q around. No career requires total immersion for the rest of your life.
Still, until you get up to speed, and kickstart your new life as a knowledgeable, decisive, skilled and effective professional…
… time is your main resource. You hold yourself back by squandering it. You want someone to blame for the shitstorms swirling around your head? It’s you.
There. Settled that.
Now, it’s time for assessing your current state — what skills you lack, what attributes you need to adopt, what vacuums exist between your ears that need to be filled with good stuff.
You’ll be astonished what you can put together in just a few weeks. Yes, your buddies at the pub and everyone in your fantasy league will hate you for abandoning them (not to mention Susie Q, wondering why you aren’t harassing her anymore). Don’t look to them for support — they want you to fail, so your “old self” will come back and stop making them feel bad about being unsuccessful themselves. (And, in truth, they’ll get over it when you finally break through your limitations, and start proudly calling you “the guy who got it done”.) (Though, they’ll still try to force Jello-shots on you every time you visit.)
You think you got oodles of it.
Growing up and putting aside the time-wasting pleasures of your youth is just another stage. Doesn’t mean the next stage won’t be even more exciting, entertaining and full of adventures. It’ll just be different.
Okay, scolding over.
What time is it, anyway?
P.S. And when you’re ready to start finding and exploiting the expert-level resources around you…
… there’s no better place to start than the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club. It’s the one online joint where you can access most of the best material I’ve ever created to help entrepreneurs and copywriters.
It’s a one-stop resource where you can get fast expert feedback on any biz, marketing or advertising question you have…
… including the opportunity for ad critiques from me, personally (in the Marketing Brain Cleanse show I host on the site with my longtime biz partner Stan Dahl).
And, I maintain an active online “office” there, where I interact with folks regularly. With specific advice on sales funnels, career moves, and the problems holding you up. It’s like having a direct line to me and the support staff.
Plus, I’ve stashed my entire “swipe file” of ads there (they’re on constant rotation) – which include my commentary and side notes on why they worked (and how to use them as a template for your own ads). Along with the notorious interview series I did with my colleagues like Gary Halbert and Dan Kennedy, and my breakthrough email marketing course…
… and a ton more. It’s a huge payload of courses, coaching and shortcuts I’ve created to boost the bottom line for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Augmented with a full-time team of experts in the tech, strategies, tools and advice that’s working now in the fast-changing biz world out there.
What’s more, it’s a ridiculous bargain to get immediate access to everything. You’ve spent more on lunch.
Go here to see if this honest “insider’s” resource is for you. It’ll take you less than 3 minutes to understand the full impact of this awesome site.
And I’ll see you there.
“Knowledge is Good.” (Farber College, “Animal House”)
As a public service, I like to occasionally collect the best of the insane/brilliant/outrageous/decent advice and observations I spread around Facebook, and post it here for your frenzied and happy consumption.
It’s the least I can do, since a few of you have absolutely refused to join us in Zuck’s digital playground. I don’t blame you — Facebook can suck enormous quantities of time from your life, and take you down dark holes to the fever swamps of the worst of human thinking…
… but then again, some of the crap there is really cool.
So, at any rate, here’s a round up of the last month or so, in no particular order. I promise, no cat videos…
Friday Mentoring Session #33: One of the small advantages I had when I started my career as a freelance copywriter was having my then-soon-to-to-be-ex-girlfriend throw a lamp at me as I ducked out the door for the last time.
She was mad that I was devoting so much time to the gig, and I realized I needed to fly solo for a while if I was gonna successfully navigate the rocky early-career months.
Now, I’ve helped many a married-with-kids rookie get their mojo going in this same career — there’s no requirement to live like a monk (and I didn’t, either).
But any sweetie who wants to come along needs to be VERY clear on the time/energy/focus commitment that IS required. A rookie has an enormous amount of reading, video-watching and audio-listening to do for many months (I took a year to feel I’d “arrived”, but I had zero help and was inventing the entire process as I went)…
… and if you’re also juggling a “real” job, there just ain’t gonna be much time for lovey-dovey and relationship nurturing.
It’s not a permanent status, though… and any couple that has gone through military deployment, for example, will understand that during crunch time, you just gotta buck up.
Becoming an entrepreneur requires an entirely different mindset than “normal” living — and you need to understand this as you commit to deadlines (which you can NEVER miss) while your family/significant-other/new-squeeze needs to have the self-confidence and respect for your career that gives you room to move through the early months.
Cuz you’re gonna be frustrated, you’re gonna fuck up, you’re gonna be obsessed to distraction with problems, and you’re gonna be used and abused by clients.
After a period of self-hazing and chaos, if you’re doing it right, you’ll get the hang of the gig, and your productivity will zoom while time-commitments drop…
… and you can start planning deadlines and time-boxing projects so you again have plenty of time to get busy with your sweetie(s).
Just sayin’ — this isn’t a normal kind of job. Your entire brain chemistry is going to transform and your lifestyle will be obliterated (so you can rebuild it how you choose).
My first breakthrough was making “business before pleasure” my mantra (which completely harshed my former partying/slacker habits).
I’ve since counseled many writers and entrepreneurs through the burn-out and destroyed relationships that occur from miscommunication, selfishness and narrow-minded/short-sighted thinking (which is rampant in our culture, btw).
Fore-warned is fore-armed. For someone with entrepreneur’s blood in their veins and a writer’s soul, there isn’t a better gig in the universe.
But you seldom travel solo. With the right partners, it’s a dream ride. With the wrong ones, it’s like hacking through jungle with a butter knife.
Be sensible. Communicate. Prepare yourself and everyone around you, and enjoy the pleasant exhaustion of moving into the world of success and goal-attainment.
Observations From The Sludge Days Of Summer: My energy levels fluctuate like crazy — mostly, I’m a total sloth, following the great “dog wisdom”: Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lay down, never just lie there when you can snooze.
However, when I get moving, I go from Neutral straight into fifth gear, with a natural walking pace somewhere between a meth addict and a New York hedge fund asshole with bidniz to get to.
Yesterday, though, the heat woulda killed me at that pace. So I purposely slid it on back to cruise levels while bopping around on errands. And you know what? There’s something truly luxurious and wonderful about moving slow.
I mean, little old ladies fresh from eye surgery passed me in their Caddy behemoths. A squirrel mocked me by running faster across a lawn than I was driving. I made sure not to hold anyone up, even pulling over when a wild eyed guy in a thrashed Buick tail-gated my ass for four feet. And I walked with a slow-mo pace that felt languorous.
Y’all just get on your way, don’t mind me. I’m cruising today, thanks. Just truckin’ through the ether, moseying on down the line.
It was great. It was really great.
I’m gonna be that guy who pisses off everyone else by taking things slow now, as much as possible.
Happy Fourth, folks.
Remember: Light, then TOSS the firework. Don’t hold on.
Work Hack #47: Did you know that many top writers use sleep as a productivity tool?
You’ll get more done, at a higher quality level, in one hour after a power nap… than you’ll ever drag out of your brain in five hours of exhausted effort.
Plus, you can easily teach your subconscious to write FOR you. Some of my best headlines burbled up after a nap. I just asked my brain to distill all the info and ideas I’d crammed into it while I snoozed, and deliver a good headline when I woke up. Voila!
Cool part: Once you get hip to this hack, naps are technically “work”.
So you can toss the guilt, and legitimately tell folks you’re working while hitting the couch.
I love my job.
Department Of STFU, memo #24: Can you keep a secret?
Can any of your friends, family or colleagues?
Of course YOU can keep a secret. You’re a totally trustworthy dude… except maybe for that one time you let a secret slip. But it was just that one time. And it was SUCH a good secret, you know what I mean?
Okay, maybe a few other times, too… but no more than a dozen. Or so.
Okay, fine. You’re a freaking slack-jawed sieve. A virtual walking tabloid of juicy info.
Relax. You’re not necessarily a “bad person” if you occasionally blurt out shit that should remain buried. Humans are social animals, and keeping good info to ourselves isn’t standard equipment in our emotional makeup.
Still, if you’re gonna be successful, you’ve got to get a handle on this.
One of the vows I made when I started my freelance career was to BE that guy you could trust. It just seemed natural. In the “real” jobs I’ve had, approximately none of the working stiffs around me could be trusted with anything.
Heck, untrue (and hard to believe) rumors spread like wildfire. The true stuff was treated like first draft ideas that required embellishment to meet the fundamental requirements of being whispered about at lunch.
Your secret wasn’t just spread around like cheap mulch. It was was dressed up like a French streetwalker and highlighted with fireworks.
I discovered that actually keeping a secret was kinda empowering. I enjoyed locking away a Big Story. It changed my own opinion of myself.
Plus, when my rep spread, it helped me slip into inner circles and behind closed doors. A trustworthy dude is hard to find.
Still, the urge to share is almost overwhelming.
People tell you things when you’re perceived as someone who can keep a secret. Especially in those inner circles and behind those closed doors.
Folks in powerful positions are eager to talk… but seldom have anyone around they can safely spill to. They’re forever waiting for the blabbers to leave the room, so they can relax their guard. Hopefully with a trusted fellow insider around, who they can dish with in confidence (often like 7th grade girls on the playground).
It’s lonely at the top.
You want to rise in your chosen profession? You crave the excitement of being on the inside? The thrill of moving and shaking with the movers and shakers?
Then learn to shut the fuck up. Love and trust your close friends with all your might…
… but KEEP the secrets entrusted to you.
It’s part of the job description when you start being a responsible, trustworthy dude or dudette.
Yes, I know it’s hard.
If it was easy, it wouldn’t be so lonely at the top.
Extra Bonus Lesson: It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and one slip-up to destroy it forever. Never forget that.
As Close As I’ll Get To Politics: I have no answers for the current sad state of affairs in the world (and especially here in the States)…
… and you don’t, either.
Nobody does. The ideologues, the idealists, the conspiracy nuts, the whack jobs and the serious elites all have their fave theories (and bones to pick).
But it’s all futile. It’s not comforting to know this isn’t new shit going on, but at least it helps with a bit of perspective.
First, this current upheaval doesn’t even begin to match the turbulence of the sixties. Just in ’68 alone, we had the police riot at the Chi-town Dem convention (and no one was ever held accountable)… the assignations of Kennedy and King, within months of each other… the Tet offensive in Viet Nam (which signaled the end of illusion about “winning” the war, and the start of the 7-year grind to get the hell out)…
… and an encyclopedia’s worth of other gruesome shit that just went on and on and on.
Cities burned — Watts, near LA. ‘Lanta. Detroit. NYC was becoming a wasteland. The threat of nuclear annihilation hovered, always. Jim Crow wasn’t letting go without a lethal fight.
We could be entering another period of chaos like that. Or not. It’s a brave new world, with one superpower and a whole new kind of battlefield (virtual, digital, grid-wide). No one knows what’s gonna happen.
That floating anxiety you feel? Get used to it. Knock it down by tending to your own garden, affecting the things you have some control over. For the Big Picture stuff, you’ve just got to breathe deep and hope our luck holds out.
Second: There are no special factors creating the messes we’re now seeing daily. A lot of it is biology — we’re still essentially shaved apes, fresh from the primordial jungle, inventing wonders with our advanced cerebral cortexes and mis-using them with our lizard brains.
Eat, fuck, defend territory, fear change and The Other. That’s the subliminal message sent through your system, undetected unless you work hard to raise your self-awareness.
Sure, you look nice in your new duds, drinking expensive wine and all caught up on the latest gossip. But beneath the groomed, clean, perfumed surface lurks a survival-minded eco-system of biological imperatives that care not a whit about civility or fairness.
We aren’t doomed to succumb. The history that brought Americans to this high stage of civilization is a gore-strewn mess, and we may never be done with the bloodshed. Cuz that’s our nature — to fight when oppressed, to protect what’s “ours” against all threats, to huddle up in tribes that require real power to thrive.
It’s really kind of stunning we’ve lasted this long, especially with the nukes, chemical weapons, and grid-destroying computer viruses now available. And the way sociopaths tend to rise to leadership positions in all political systems.
No answers. But lots of hope.
We’ve worked our way through similar shit before. We may pull it off again. Beneath the nihilism, there remains the strong urge to survive, to make better choices that help rather than destroy.
I’m betting on good beating evil right now. I’ve been through this crap before, and seen how time can heal and rancid politics can swing back to rational governance.
Meanwhile, choose your battles carefully. There are a lot of us on the planet right now, and you may be in a minority more than you think. We’re not living “The Handmaid’s Tale” yet.
Reality can suck, big time. But calmly being proactive can work at solving horrendous problems. You gotta give it time, though. There’s no magic. You keep your head down, choose your goals wisely, and do the right thing.
Above all, do not give in to panic, or that withering fear the assholes like to exploit for drastic moves that are not conducive to a good solution.
Never let the bastards win. But never expect them to stop trying, either.
Good night, and good luck.
(Side note: Don’t post anything overtly political here. I don’t agree with your cultural spin, don’t wanna hear your fever-swamp conspiracy theories, and will delete all trolls. This is NOT the time to thrash togetherness.)
Nice little “how did I get here?” exercise: Quick now, recall your ten favorite summer memories.
Good stuff, I’ll bet.
Now, chart where most of them came from. Certain time frame, certain group of people, particular place frequently visited, particular recurring state of mind, perhaps.
Whatever you discover… whether it was youthful indiscretions on vacation, mid-life crises gone well, a period of discovery, whatever…
… it is a clue to who you are today, and how you got here. Your bad memories also count, but this is more fun.
Most people never question who they are. Top creative minds are forever consumed with it. If you crave maximum wealth with happiness (not just one or the other), such critical thinking about your past is essential.
I’ve never agreed with folks who insist on no regrets and no nostalgia. Screw that. A life well lived is a long-form tale worth sharing, and those stories take shape through the retellings.
Embrace moments of recalling good times. You’ll still have plenty of time left each day to get your shit done…
Wait — how did you not know we’ve put up a brand new Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast?
You fools! It’s being shoved into Insiders’ ear-holes at this very moment all over the globe… causing all kinds of awesome havoc amongst entrepreneurs who thought they were doomed to be uninteresting people for the rest of their days.
Not so, it turns out. We actually deliver a FORMULA for murdering your boring tendencies…
… which opens huge opportunities to up your game (and results) with more interesting copy, hooks, stories and offers.
Plus, you’ll be sought after at parties, instead of avoided.
I’m telling you, this is life altering stuff.
Go listen now at www.pi4mm.com. And accept the burdens of being an awesome storyteller…
Lifestylin’ Question #14: What’s the longest period of time you’ve spent living out of a backpack?
I lived out of my car for several months while homeless… hitchhiked with just a canvas pack for over a week at a time for a few years (after reading “On The Road” at 19)… logged a fortnight in Boy Scouts out in the hinderlands… and spent a good part of my career living out of suitcases in hotels (which doesn’t count).
Absolutely loved it all. Though occasionally scary, often a bit desperate, and always unpredictable, low-rent travel really does shave off the idealistic crap in your brain.
Seeking out adventure as a young, broke, and enthusiastic hormone-drenched young person used to be a requirement for growing up. Live by your wits, see some of the world from street level, meet whacky characters and have no clue where you’ll be tomorrow…
… there’s something to be said for that kind of dramatic journey.
I’m hearing, though, that it’s becoming rare with the new crop of kids. I hope it’s just another bullshit meme by the snarky press…
… cuz, if true, it would be a damn shame.
What’s your story?
Get Your Shit Together Memo #15: Did you know we completely revamped the Simple Writing System “at home” course? Reshot it in HD, updated every detail, made it just more awesome than it already was all the way around.
And this SWS 2.0 version has just been released… in a very limited amount, while we make triple-sure all the glitches are ironed out in the delivery system. (You get to watch the videos online, on any device, at your convenience… plus you get some serious time in the Marketing Rebel membership site, where I have a permanent virtual office.)
I’m a bit older in the videos (yes, I’m personally delivering every lesson), but wiser. As good as the SWS was (and we’ve put thousands of entrepreneurs, writers and biz owners through it), each of the simple steps is now even more powerful…
… because we’ve learned a few things in the 8 years since first launching it (including all the feedback from students and celebrity teachers — like David Garfinkel, Harlan Kilstein, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan Ferrero, David L. Deutsch and so many others).
Plus: Bonuses up the yin-yang.
Anyway, if (like every breathing marketer on the planet) you need to up your game with the written parts of your biz… including email, ads, VSLs, social media, speeches, and everything else… then here’s your first stop.
It’s a permanent resource, once you get it. A freakin’ bargain, too, considering the way these simple skills can immediately change your life (as they have so many others).
Just check it out: www.simplewritingsystem.com.
Dept. Of Political Standoffs, Memo #17: What’s the matter, Bunky? All this political discord infesting the media got you down?
One of the best things to ever happen to me in college was taking a debate class. I thought “Oh, boy, I’m gonna demolish my opponents with totally bitchin’ arguments that cannot be refuted!”
But the teacher had other plans.
The entire semester, she forced me to present the opposite side of any issue we debated. Total WTF moments for me. To prep, I had to get into the head of people I despised, disagreed with, and never wanted to hang with.
But I also wanted to win the debate. So I bucked up and crawled into the mindset of the opposite side.
Result: An awesome jolt of empathy powers. Equal to the mind-expanding acid trip I’d taken earlier that month. (Relax, it was the seventies.) Completely opened up my mind.
And I totally destroyed my opponents with bitchin’ arguments that could not be refuted.
Did it change my politics? Nope.
But I saw the other side with stunning clarity… including the humanity and sincerity of their positions.
My sense of a black-and-white world of easy decisions, obliterated. My compassion for people who thought differently, massively expanded.
And my ability to persuade… multiplied by a factor of a gazillion.
Shouting at each other accomplishes nothing. Refusing to entertain the thought you may be wrong and (shudder) the other guy is right is a habit of dunces. (See: Dunning-Kruger effect.)
The world is full of subtlety and nuance, whether you recognize it or not.
Being open minded ain’t a handicap, Bunky. It’s the only way for thinking folks to live well.
Okay, now back to the blood-sport shouting on the tube…
Jeez, almost forgot it’s “Piss Somebody Off” Monday!
Here’s my contribution: Blazing Saddles is one of my favorite movies. And one of my fave quotes from it:
“Jim, you’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”
Now, I grew up in both the West and the South — the tiny town of Cucamonga in southern California — and my extended family and neighborhood was rife with Oakies, hillbillies, Texans and some of the most aggressively-naive blowhards you’ve ever met.
But they were, at heart, good people, most of them. Casual bigots, sure. And suspicious of anyone who got “too big for their britches” or acted snooty (whatever that was).
Now, I’m no genius, but I’m damn proud of every neuron I’ve managed to squeeze some IQ units out of, and I’ve worked hard to get myself all educated and shit.
And I’ll tell you that it’s awful lonely out there in the real world sometimes… cuz if you value intelligence and critical thinking at all, you’ll be in the minority in most groups outside of your silo.
And it pays to remember that, often. Blazing Saddles was offensive, outrageous, puerile and gut-wrenchingly funny. It was also stuffed with observational truisms about life in these United States that you don’t get from Reader’s Digest.
If you can at all handle it, try not to be a total maroon. More than ever, we need to stop disrespecting intelligence and thoughtfulness. I know it’s hard, folks, but “fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son”… (guess that quote, and you can sit at the bar with us next time we’re at the same seminar)…
Busy day. I just trashed the dry cleaner who ruined some of my new shirts, on Yelp.
Lakeridge cleaners, here in Reno, if you want to see how a pro writer eviscerates someone.
I used them for years. They told me go screw myself after they botched a job badly. Good call — lose a great customer, be a total jerk was about it, and irritate a writer who knows how Yelp works.
My main job in life is to help good entrepreneurs and biz owners. Part of that includes helping to rid the joint of bad businesses. Like Batman, if he understood marketing.
Though, from the other reviews, I see they’re doing pretty good at committing biz suicide all by their lonesomes…
Uncomfortable Discussion #8: Here’s the thing about change — learning how to become a functioning adult is hard, as in requiring every shred of skill, talent, brain power and ability you possess. And when you “arrive” (however you define it — get a job, get hitched, get pregnant, get out of jail, whatever) you’re kind of exhausted from the effort…
… and you really don’t want to go through all that crap again.
And then the world changes. In our lifetime, that change has been dramatic, jarring, frequent and brutal. Very little of what worked for you even 5 years ago is still viable. The music on the radio sounds like static, people stare at you when you dance, and your job can be done faster and better by machines.
You think I’m talking about the generation just ahead of you, don’t you? All those clueless old fucks slowing you down and mucking up the vibe.
But here’s the truth: No matter how hip you are right now…
… in a very, very short time (much too soon to be fair), YOU will be the one desperately grasping for a clue (and holding up the line because you’re slow).
I marvel at my Pop’s life (he’s 94 and still kickin’). Born in the Industrial Age, dug foxholes in Belgium saving the world from the Hun, witnessed the birth of the Nuclear Age, tried to ignore the Cold War while keeping his head low and raising a family, and I’m gonna do a Skype video call with him later this afternoon. On his PC. He’s impressed with his new HD teevee (you can see the blades of grass in the outfield!), still reads the entire newspaper every day (but fact-checks the editorials on Google, the lying bastards), and if we all had to go live in caves for awhile after the space aliens bombed us back to the Stone Age, he’d be the guy you’d want in your tribe (cuz he knows how make stuff and fix machines).
Mostly, though, I sympathize (finally) with his sense of wonder of how the details of life keep changing, making his prior assumptions and habits almost criminal (though he tries to keep up, separating his recyclables and watering on odd days). He’s not bitter, and reveals a enviable patience with punk tailgaters, ESL customer support, and rude clerks.
And, following his example, I actually relish the way my former talents and abilities become obsolete (and even mocked) as things change, and change again.
There’s a core sense of “self” that includes a Zen attitude of living well no matter what Life hoists on your ass, and working on what you do well… that only seems to become evident as you get really old and decrepit. You shrug off the bad shit (like modern pop, which just objectively sucks the big one, I mean, c’mon, people), and adjust your own groove as you go (so you aren’t in the way of the punks in Daddy’s Beemer determined to die on the highway in a flaming pile-up).
The key: Don’t fight change. It’s gonna happen, and you’re gonna get grazed at best, wounded and left behind at worst.
You are not required, however, to change your “core” self… unless you’re a bigot or so dangerously stupid that you need to shut up and listen more.
Change is a bugger. It’s like that rogue wave that even the most experienced surfer can’t handle — it arrives without warning, defies the natural laws you’ve learned to navigate, and seems to have it out for you personally.
It doesn’t. The universe is wired to fuck with old animals in unpleasant ways. Accept that, and do your best, and cultivate your sense of wonder and joy.
Everybody’s ticket gets punched sooner than they’d like. The ride may seem long and never-ending at times, but it ain’t.
Hope you’re enjoying your weekend. Go tell someone who deserves it you love them, will ya?
I’m seeing a lot of fear in the news lately — some of it real, lots of it imagined, most of it overplayed. The battle for eyeballs and clicks has turned the entire media circus into a rabid dog fight.
Couple of rules for staying sane:
God did not write the article. Neither did Satan. Nor was it penned by a genius, or even a particularly bright individual in many cases. It’s a regular dude or dudette with biases, neuroses and an overwhelming fear of being disliked, fired or (worse, for a writer) ignored.
So take it all with a grain of salt. If the topic interests you, go find several other takes on it by other writers in other venues. (Yes, even the dreaded “other side” of the political spectrum.)
(This all goes double for TV talking heads, by the way.)
The same idea goes for understanding statistics that get thrown around to bolster or shoot down arguments. Any savvy disruptor can cherry-pick stats to fit his narrative. Much better to see what the context is, and learn how stats about “real life” work.
Just remember that the talking heads on TV, and the bloviators on the radio, and the writers for online and tree-killing news sources are TRYING to punch your buttons. Dog fight.
Unless you’re a player on the world stage.
However, you can be a player in LOCAL events quite easily. If you truly believe you have answers and solutions, then the school board, the city council, and even the neighborhood watch program needs you.
Reality has a way of weeding out the big talkers, cuz when it’s time for action they tend to wander off, bored.
Literally, you can walk off a lot of stress. Put on your sneakers, get out and chug up some hills. Have those internal conversations while you’re burning up calories.
You’ll feel better later, I promise.
Paranoia is like a leach on your mojo. Once it gets its claws into you, it won’t easily let go. You’ll need to spend twice the time murdering it, than you spent acquiring it.
But that’s the game. You play the hand you’ve been dealt. Sitting around wishing you had a better one is useless. Learning how to maneuver with what you have available in resources, skill and savvy is the ONLY way to win consistently.
Meanwhile, don’t let the bastards win.
Shh. Big Brother is listening: Back in the old days (before the turn of the century), the standard advice was never to write anything in a letter you didn’t want to see in a headline in the next day’s newspaper.
Then those new-fangled voice message machines appeared, and you had to add that to the list: Don’t leave a voice trail, either.
Also good advice.
Then we added email. Common sense, right? Then, with the NSA gaining muscle in the Grid, we added phone calls.
Now, with video cameras covering most of the public (and much of the private) spaces in the modern world, you should probably be careful about your actions, too. Don’t write, say, or do anything you wouldn’t want blasted across the Web tomorrow. Or in an hour from now.
All good advice.
Which leaves me with one question: Are we already in a world where you cannot exchange ideas with someone else… without the risk of that conversation becoming public? And not through hearsay, but through paper, voice, digital and video trails?
Are we really there already?
Disturbing Reality Check #4: For the most part…
… baring true interventions of nature (such as trees falling on you or zombies assaulting you unawares)…
… you are exactly where you’ve designed your life to be at this point. That may be hard to swallow, if where you’re at sucks right now.
Still, when you stop fighting the reality of how you got here, and accept that you’re responsible for much (or all) of the damage currently roiling in your life…
… you can finally stop blaming others, roll up your sleeves, and get busy fixing what’s broken.
To really get in a primo Zen groove, you should also get busy cleaning up whatever messes you’ve made, while filling in the gaps (in knowledge and skills) that will eventually round you out as a Dude (or Dudette) To Be Reckoned With.
The first rule of Reality Checks is: Reality checks suck. They bitch-slap your ego, demolish the excuses that have been propping you up, and rub your nose in the stark fact that your choices are now “change or rot in place” if you truly lust for a better life.
But the pain of exiting your former deluded self is brief… and the rewards so outweigh the inconveniences… that once you get in the habit, you’ll continue to morph and become a better and better person for the rest of your days.
One ticket. That’s all we get, folks. No do-overs, no replay buttons, no time machines. It also doesn’t matter if you’ve got decades left ahead of you, or only a few seasons… if YOU don’t seize the day and gobble up the opportunities around you, nobody else is gonna do it for you.
Heads Up Alert #13: Your world is crammed with fools, tools, and drooling Neanderthals who, at best, are merely amusing characters in your life’s movie…
… but who can also be, at worst, the agents of your destruction.
Not everyone likes you, remember. You have close friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues secretly rooting for you to fail. (Sometimes not-so-secretly.) There are folks out there who can muster alarming rage and target it directly (and very personally) at you… for crimes they’ve only imagined you’ve committed.
And, there are charming bastards out to harsh your mellow because that’s the game they need to play in life.
Humans are constantly conflicted over the existence of others in their world. Heck, a good percentage of folks are in constant conflict with themselves — they don’t even need someone to play with. (My favorites, though, remain people who get mad at things like machines and objects. Like, that toaster is in league with his pitching wedge and the starter in his car, out to get him. So, destroy them!)
When you poke your head above the general fray — by becoming an entrepreneur, volunteering to help the PTA, run for office, whatever — your first lesson about surviving as a more public person will be to thicken your skin. Cuz you’re gonna be attacked, no matter how sweet and lovable you are.
Your motives will be questioned, your history will be combed through for gossip-ammo, your looks will be mocked… and it can escalate fast if you engage. Cuz that’s what the worst of the haters need to do — find a wall to bounce their rage off of. When you respond, or even pay polite attention to the trolls who will come after you (and they will come in droves, relentlessly)…
… you are playing a game where you are guaranteed to lose. Cuz there are no rules for the troll, and no “winning” the argument or setting the facts straight — they just want to jumpstart drama and destruction, and the more casualties the better.
Here are 3 very simple rules to help you out:
Key: YOU should get away from dealing with trolls early in your career. All legit complaints should have an easy path to get past your assistant, because you need to know how good people are being affected by your stuff. But the trolls should be caught and released back into the wild without the chance to inflame your sense of decency and optimism.
And know that legitimate complaints can help you become better… and any initial burst of anger or aggression can easily be turned around with some good old listening and calm response. (Some of my most rabidly-loyal customers started out hating my guts over something we easily clarified. Seriously. It’s like 3rd graders getting in a fistfight, only to become best friends for life afterwards.) (Okay, maybe that’s a male thing…)
Remember: You’re writing the script of your movie, as much as the universe will allow. And you really do have near-total control over your emotions, your fight-or-flight responses, your decisions to hate, love or just see what happens later.
Good reframing is just editing your script, so instead of losing control, you re-shoot the scene in your head so you’re the understanding, water-off-a-duck’s-back Adult In The Room who can remain in a state of Zen calm even while everyone else is freaking out.
Give the trolls in your life enough rope to hang themselves. When you’re living a good life, doing the right thing as often as possible, don’t get all hung up on what the critics and nay-sayers are demanding. Your fans, happy customers and reputation will balance things out.
Sorry for the long post. It’s hard to explain some of this crap without needing extra paper…
Stress-busting tip: Life got you down? Sales tanking, creditors swarming, job going south, angst bubbling up in your gut?
Worse, is your brain locked in a hellish loop, obsessing and freaking out?
Time to intervene. Write yourself a letter, outlining all your troubles & all your immediate plans. Be specific, just get it all out of your head (where it’s causing trouble) & onto the written page (where you know it can found, so you can forget about it).
Then take a break. Hide the letter for 24 hrs. Let your unconscious work on solutions. When the loop starts, remind yourself that it’s all safely written down, so you don’t need to memorize details.
Your unconscious has a remarkable talent at organizing things and getting perspective on what’s important and what’s fluff. But you gotta give it elbow room to maneuver.
So back off for a day. Or even a few hours, if deadlines are approaching.
You’ll be stunned at how sensible and efficient your brain can be, when you stop fussing and awfullizing everything.
Hey, did you know I’ve got a book on Amazon?
Yeah, you can order it and read it and use it as a doorstop or throw it at the mice in your closet. Or use it as kindling for the fireplace (what with winter only 5 months away and all).
I mention this only because, if you do NOT own this book, your life will be one long miserable slide into horror and boredom. And I don’t wanna be responsible for something like that.
Anyway, after more than a year on the charts, it’s still bubbling up in the best-seller lists (for starting a biz, entrepreneurs, etc). This makes me happy. And a happy John is a productive John.
Go here to get it.
I’ve been asking people, lately, what I consider a great question: “Is there anyone in your life who could write your biography?”
Most folks never think about their legacy. The writers I know all do, of course, though few take the time to work up an autobiography (beyond the blurbs we use for promotion). You gotta be really full of yourself to think you’re worthy of a book.
Still, it’s a question to ponder. Who in your life knows you well enough to tell the tale?
I have no one. Because I’ve moved around a lot, and had radically different sub-plots in my life many times that brought in new batches of friends and cohorts, leaving prior ones in the dust.
There are folks who could tell you intimate things about me, within a limited “chapter” of time… but never the whole story, as an overview. Childhood, youth, the middle years, geezerdom. They’re like separate John’s, completely different people.
Guys like Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have been close their entire lives, from late childhood on, because of the band. They may not know all the details of each other’s tale, but they could hold forth with pretty decent accuracy on the main themes.
I have a cousin who married his high school sweetheart, and they have that kind of relationship — total lifetime knowledge of each other. Maybe, at one time, that wasn’t so rare. Now, it seems almost quaint (at least among the circles I run in).
I guess you can count yourself lucky if you have someone who could pen a relatively factual obituary for you, today.
The flip side: I could write the biography of MANY friends…
… because I’ve practiced the simple tactics from “How To Win Friends And Influence People” for most of my life. I ask questions, and then follow up with more questions. I’m interested in how people live, how they make decisions and how they handle the consequences. What their happiest memories are, what their darkest days were like, how they got here from there.
It’s not magic. It’s empathy, combined with a genuine interest in other people. It’s easy to get someone to tell their life story, when you simply ask them.
It’s not done all at one shot, either. You need to spend some time together, share some history, earn the trust required to divulge secrets.
And, because you don’t betray confidence, you never share what you hear capriciously. You simply know more about certain folks than even their other trusted pals do.
As a writer who needs to understand how people operate, this is a main tool. Empathy, plus interviewing.
And here’s the Big Secret: So few people know my entire story… because they never ask.
They’ll wax prolific on their own tales, when asked. But they never ask back. Most are just too overwhelmed with living their own lives to care about anyone else’s, and it’s understandable. Others are genuinely uninterested in how others live.
But most just don’t know how to ask. They confuse respect for privacy with refusing to go deep.
Back in college, I had a great prof who forced us to go into the community and get an old person to tell their tale. It was an anthropology class, and we would have flunked without doing it.
It was freaking great. These oldsters — ignored, forgotten, in the way — lit up when asked about their lives. No one had ever asked before.
And the tales told were fascinating, like the best novels you’ve ever encountered. War, loss, love, discovery, travel, horror, insight… all the rough and tumble intricacies of a long life were there.
It opened my eyes, tell you what. I was young, full of myself, obsessed with the now-relics of a Boomer existence (sex, drugs and rock and roll, mostly). Yet, these folks who came before me went through similar periods (swing, prohibited booze, flappers, illicit sex)…
… and then entered new chapters, usually family, job and generational upheaval. It all made sense.
It was like glimpsing my own future, told from the past.
Just saying. We get so deep into ourselves, we forget to pop our heads out of our ass ever so often to see what’s going on with everyone else.
Life is a gorgeous, horror-filled wonderland, relentlessly bombarding us with incoming drama, tragedy and comedy.
Those who get to enjoy/endure it for many years are the lucky ones.
And the tales told are never boring, when you know how to translate them…
Psych Insight #439: The one consistently shocking piece of advice I give rookie freelancers is… if a prospective client says “money is no problem”, then you can be sure it very much IS a problem. Larger lesson: We are creatures of denial & masks. Deconstructing “who” a man is reveals what he fears and desires most. Heavy, but essential to great salesmanship.
Really Petty (But Important) Pet Peeve: People who have no sense of time when they say “just one second”, or “give me two minutes”, or a dozen other random time periods…
… who then get mad when called on it in one second, or two minutes, or whatever.
I know they’re just really saying “I need an indeterminate amount of time here before I can deal with you”…
… but what they’re actually doing is making their lack of awareness MY problem. Cuz now I gotta cool my heels for some multiple of the time period they want — it’s never a second or two minutes — and that’s fucking irritating. Especially when it gets into half-hour territory.
Top pro’s respect other people’s time. Even back before cell phones, Gary Halbert and I would pull over and call a client from a pay phone if we were gonna be ten minutes late from traffic…
… a significant hassle that could add five minutes. But it stemmed from the knowledge that being late was one thing, but eating up someone else’s time by keeping them waiting in the dark was quite another.
Being purposely late is a power game tactic, a whole different lesson. It’s a move you better be prepared to handle the consequences of. (It can ruin a reputation fast when misused.)
Even if you’re always the first person to arrive by being on-time, DO it if you want to be considered a pro. And learn to judge time, for crying out loud. Don’t say “just a sec” when it will actually be ten minutes. You’re just setting up resentment and arguments, and you gain NOTHING.
Grow up. Learn how time works.
And that’s a wrap, folks. Hope you enjoyed the short articles, pieces of advice, and other crap collected here. I’ll be back in a few months with another round up. Meanwhile, you can find me on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/john.carlton.
P.S. If you’d like to learn how to write EVERYTHING you need for your biz to flourish… from emails to ads to VSLs to speeches and regular old pitches… then you need to check out the Simple Writing System right freakin’ now.
I poured my heart and soul into creating this unique at-home learning course, and it’s the bomb. On your own, at your own pace, you can quickly master the very straightforward skill set behind writing the best possible copy, under every possible circumstance, for every possible situation. Step by step, easily and simply.
Go here to see what’s up (and get a glimpse of some of the thousands of entrepreneurs and pro writers who’ve used the SWS to make their world happier, wealthier, and more awesome all the way around).
Do it now, while you’re thinking about it. Don’t stall any longer on finally goosing your life and career into the next level.
Hope you’re enjoying these dog days of summer. Bloated thermometers, singed grasslands still smoldering from fireworks gone bad, outdoor concerts, late evening strolls, gorgeous sunsets and glorious full moons rising like ancient gods lighting up the sky.
Oh, yeah, and politics up the yin-yang. Wouldn’t be an election year without that mid-summer slugfest going on.
But what I want to discuss is something much closer to home.
Specifically: You. And your future happiness.
One thing I see, a LOT, in consultations with entrepreneurs is the steady drumbeat of burnout and personal lives gone to shit from the most mundane problem of all: Working too much.
I don’t have a problem with standard-issue workaholics (who occasionally get overwhelmed with their own over-scheduling), any more than I care if you occasionally get stupid drunk and embarrass yourself and your entire lineup of ancestors stretching back to the dawn of time. That’s your business.
The key to both of these issues, however, is the word “occasionally”. My personal motto is “moderation in all vices“, which has served me well for a very long time (yes, I consider overwork a vice). I like to live near the edge, chewing up scenery and sampling all the pleasures and misadventures offered up by a life well-lived. It’s certainly kept me flush with great stories to tell.
But I don’t go overboard as a steady diet. With work, occasionally you may have to burn the midnight oil on a project. Miss your daughter’s piano recital, not be home for dinner for weeks on end, never have a decent day off. It happens. Running your own biz, or freelancing for clients can play havoc with anyone’s schedule.
However, I don’t usually see the moderate dudes and dudettes when I do “my life sucks” type of consultations.
No. I see the basket cases, who are at the end of their rope and desperate. Another divorce coming down the pike, kids alienated and getting in trouble at school, old friends not even bothering to check in anymore (cuz you’ve blown them off once too often). Plus, another biz crisis plowing up the legacy, threatening to destroy everything you’ve worked so hard for.
That’s the irony. All that relentless time at the job not only destroys private lives… but it also doesn’t necessarily get rewarded in the real world of business. Cuz your brain is thrashed, your energy stores depleted, your creative thinking conked out, your mojo just gone.
All because you lost sight of what matters.
It’s not money.
I know a lot of very, VERY rich individuals… who are absolutely miserable most of the time. They’re damn good at earning profits, but piss poor at building relationships and establishing something to work FOR. Other than the almighty buck.
And trying to get a true workaholic to see the ravages of his evil ways is a fool’s errand. Like the hard-core alcoholic determined to hit bottom, the workaholic has an internal dialog going 24/7 that won’t release him from the need to work until he drops. Every day. Every night. Every weekend. Forever or until biology steps in with a stroke, whichever comes first.
So I never try to “fix” a workaholic. I mean, I have tried, many times before… and after years of experimenting, I’ve given up on “solving” the problem. Can’t be done, not without a drastic life change (like, oh, say, a stroke) that forces the issue. But until the hammer comes down, the workaholic will refuse to even think about alternatives.
I do, however, have a good workaround that’s successfully helped some workaholics “reframe” things enough to sneak in some relaxing time, some time with family, some fun times even with pals who’ve forgotten what you looked like.
Want to hear what this workaround is?
Okay. I’ll tell you.
It’s called “The Big Damn Reframe To Bring Love And Happiness Back Into Your Miserable Life“, and it goes like this:
You know how you treat clients — with all that respect and deference and paying attention to “doing the right thing” by them? Whether it’s a professional’s code, or a personal style of doing business… if you’re successful at business, you’ve found a way to deal with clients, manage their expectations, and work with them to get the best possible result no matter what the situation.
Well, that attitude is both what brings in the Big Bucks, cuz you’re attentive to the details of making a deal happen (and in most businesses, the devil is in the details)… and what creates problems with your life outside of work. You bend over backwards to treat a good client with respect, you meet your deadlines no matter what, you provide excellent customer support, etc. All the things that go into a successful arrangement that keeps profits flowing.
However… you do NOT treat your private life the same way. You shrug off “deadlines” like dinner with the family, or push problem-solving off to your spouse whenever you can, and you seldom leave enough energy from your day to have any fun before crashing into your pillow like a statue falling over.
And therein lies both the problem…
… and the solution.
Here it is: Simply start treating the people and activities you love…
… the exact way you treat good clients.
With respect for fulfilling your promises, yes. With the same energy you’d bring to a critical meeting. With everything you’d do to accomplish great things to impress, persuade, fulfill and help your business relationship thrive.
Yes on all that. Standard advice from any amateur shrink.
But here’s the key to this reframing:
You also SCHEDULE your family, friend and relationship time, right there in your planner next to the “real” clients.
And you treat each scheduled event the SAME. If you wouldn’t blow off a biz meeting, don’t do it for little Tobie’s baseball game. If you wouldn’t skip a phone call to a client waiting for advice or input on a project, then don’t skip that phone call to an ailing pal (even if you “don’t know what to say” or feel awkward). (Figure it out. Just like you do with every client you’ve ever had.) If you know how to save up your energy for a meeting with a client during a busy week, use that same tactic for everything else on your schedule.
And if you have to take on less clients, then that’s what you do. One of the first pieces of advice I give any entrepreneur is to FIRE their worst clients. Don’t let money by your guide — let your quality of life rule this.
When you get going in biz, and your reputation starts bringing in more and more work… get more picky about who you take on. Have a sense of how much you want to work, and don’t push past that boundary by taking on too much. Yes, occasionally “the” great opportunity will come along and upend all your plans…
… but that doesn’t mean every asshole client who drops a check in your lap deserves your attention. Send them to a colleague (maybe for a nice 10% finders fee). Keep an eye on your very LIMITED energy reserves. Charge more, if you need to take on less clients to stay sane. Figure it out.
That’s what the real pro’s at living well do. They figure it out. They NEVER allow their idea of a good life to be subsumed by clients who make them miserable.
And, they know how to keep that work-life balance thing going.
If you aren’t in the habit of doing sloppy work for a client, then don’t buy pizza again when it’s your turn to handle dinner at home. Take ten minutes to google a decent home-cooked meal, bop into the store just like you’d bop into Staples for printer ink when you’re out during a deadline, and whip up something tasty. It ain’t that hard. Mr. Google is crammed to bursting with easy recipes and advice. Heck, I’m the worst cook to ever stumble into a kitchen, but I’ve learned how to make wonders happen on the stovetop… because it fucking MATTERED to me.
Just like creating killer hooks for an ad matter to me. Yes, they take a bit of time to get right. You have to work at it. There are very few shortcuts that don’t require some elbow grease.
So what. You learned to keep your eyes on the prize at work — do good stuff, collect the Big Bucks.
Well, guess what?
It’s the same with everything else. Put in the effort… collect Big Love and Big Happiness.
Yes, this sounds like pop psychology, cuz it is. It’s a simple tactic that anyone can adopt in their toolkit.
But knowing about it is one thing.
DOING it is quite another. If you already knew about this tactic, and you’re not doing it, then shame on you. Give yourself a big slap upside your head, and immediately get busy correcting things.
Life doesn’t “start” at some future point, after you’ve taken care of all your biz commitments.
No. Your life is what you’re doing NOW. THIS is your life, right now, this moment. However you feel, whatever mess you’ve made of things, this is your life right now.
And sometimes, a simple little tactic can make all the difference in the world. As well as providing the very excellence bonus of not burning you the fuck out.
Give your loved ones the same attention, energy and time you give your best clients. Don’t squander your best stuff on strangers who just happen to have enough dough to hire you.
Hope this helps.
Now, go enjoy your summer.
P.S. Bonus coping tactic:
Whenever a client wants more of your time, and it’s going to eat into your “special” time… NEVER explain to them what’s going on. You simply say “Sorry, I’m booked for the next hour (or whatever). Let’s get you on the schedule for tomorrow (or next week).”
You wouldn’t explain to a client that you can’t help them now, because you have another client already booked. YOU DON’T OFFER AN EXCUSE AT ALL. You’re booked. As a professional, you honor your booked clients, no explanation necessary. You’re treating your friends/family/tee time/whatever the same way you’d treat ANY client — with assumed confidentiality, and due respect for the time they booked with you.
Pro’s don’t blow off commitments because something “better” comes along. They honor their promises, and find a way to make everyone happy. Clients know that trying to get extra time outside of what you scheduled for them isn’t something they should expect. They don’t do it for THEIR clients, you know. They’re just trying to get first on your list, and eat up more of your time, because humans tend to be naturally selfish.
No harm in asking.
Big harm, though, in blowing off your other clients (no matter what relationship you have with them) to satisfy someone’s need for extra attention.
My good pal Dan Kennedy has a great saying: “Do not make your crisis my emergency.” In other words, you don’t earn extra time just because you fucked up. He makes sure all clients understand this, too. He’s booked to the max, routinely, with multiple clients. But he works his schedule like a pro.
You should, too.