Tag Archives: life lessons

Year-End Roundup Of Good Stuff


Saturday, 1:10pm
Reno, NV
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now…” (Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”)


A lot of my social media focus lately has been on Facebook. As much as I distrust and mildly despise The Zuck, I have to hand it to the little sociopath for figuring out a dynamic that allows for real interaction with folks…

… which lasts, on average, around one to three days. Then, even the most viral post disappears down the social media rathole and is gone forever.

So I like to rescue some of the better posts I’ve carved into the FB newsfeed, and stack ‘em up here on the blog… where they’ll survive in the archives for as long as this rickety thing exists. (We’re officially at the decade mark, by the way. Ten years of posting monthly… except for January of 2012, where I inadvertently didn’t publish an intended article in time, so the archives have that single hole in them. That’s pretty freakin’ awesome.)

Anyway, no need for context here. If you’d enjoy seeing the comment threads on any of these posts, just hop over to my FB page (where you should already be following me, anyway, what are you thinking?). It’s www.facebook.com/john.carlton.

And, as always, I love to hear what you’re thinking in the comments here (where I often hang out and interact).

By the way… that photo up top is from the big damn AWAI seminar I was a featured speaker at, back in October. Everything about the photo (and yes, that’s Dan Kennedy sitting with us) is explained in the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast I link to below (in one of the posts) (and yes, this is a tease to get you to read this entire thing).

Enjoy the year-end Facebook roundup:

Take This To The Bank, Part 11: Most people’s daily actions (eating, buying, loving, hating, grooming, working, all of it) are based on beliefs… which they regard as “true”.

You better grok this, if you want to communicate with, sell to, or persuade folks in any way.

As irrational and unfounded in reality as these belief systems can be, they become unshakeable foundations for all behavior, thought and decisions.

Rookie copywriters like to bowl readers over with facts and data and science. Yawn. These are humans you’re writing to. Reality is very subjective, and by the time perception gets past the internal obstacle course of flawed senses, emotional distress, and knee-jerk denial… your facts will get ambushed and slaughtered as efficiently as a 30’s-era mob hit.

Real persuasion occurs in the murky soup of people’s ancient, mostly-unconscious belief systems. Timid efforts ain’t gonna cut it.

Bold, and even spectacularly whacky beliefs trump crunchy facts every time.

Just something to keep in mind as you explore persuasion expertise…

A life well-lived will be roiling with stories. Seems pretty obvious.

But it’s the same with a business well-run. And a career with lofty goals. Even a project you’ve thrown yourself into. Or a single day of enthusiastic productivity.

The world spins in the greased grooves of stories. All around you, and deeply intertwined with your very existence, are stories of romance, harrowing adventure, small and large heroic episodes, and the fascinating history of your impact on everything you touch. Yes, you.

Your stories swirl and crash into the stories of your friends, colleagues, lovers, clients, family, enemies and random encounters.

Recognizing these stories, and molding them into snarling tales with a set-up, a point, and a punchline or lesson, can kick you into a higher level of conscious living. The slumbering masses ignore, deny and deflate their stories… and yet, the hunger in all of us for well-told tales is never sated.

There’s no big secret to success. It’s not the moolah or power you accumulate… it’s the wealth of experience, feelings, brain stimulation, and your impact on others generated by living large.

It’s hard to become, and stay conscious. Your stories help you catalog the good stuff, and keep you enmeshed with all the other actors in your life’s movie.

The best marketing is alive with stories, because it’s all just an extension of life well-lived.

Go chew up some scenery. The only real crime in the universe is squandering this unique, scary and wonderful existence you woke up with today…

Can I bitch about something here? That’s a good use of social media, isn’t it, bitching about stuff?

I have a little insight to how people behave, after a lifetime studying you. (Yes, you.) We’re whacky, no doubt about it.

But let me get this straight: You’re in a vehicle weighing, what, nearly two tons. Driving, usually too fucking fast for conditions, amongst many other vehicles weighing just as much, or more. Like metal beasts lumbering about the Pleistocene savannah, only with tinier brains.

Folks, do you really think running red lights is a good idea? Cig in one hand, phone in the other, steering with your pinkies and blowing lights at 15 over the speed limit…

… this makes sense to you? You’re invulnerable, against all the other metal behemoths crowding the road, with gnarly grills just itching to chew through your side door?

I’m degrading my opinion of humans again. Down to maybe 4.5 on the devolution point scale.

Ya friggin’ idiots. (Not you. Those other friggin’ idiots…)

Okay, I know you’re still stuck for a great gift idea for that special entrepreneur in your life (who could, of course, be you).

Not easy to please, entrepreneurs. They can be kinda grumpy about the tools they use to jack up the mojo in their projects.

So here’s another suggestion: The game-changing “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” course (which remains one the essential dog-eared most-used manuals in many Top Dog’s offices) is a nice little transformation bomb you can plant on anyone in biz and get a big kiss in return.

Plus, you know, you’ll be helping to change their life trajectory, just as this little course has helped thousands of other entrepreneurs, small biz owners and freelancers.

It’s the original “how to” manual that launched (or rescued) a gazillion online and offline biz ventures, and turned many cockeyed wild ideas into moolah-belching juggernauts for a generation of entrepreneurs. More than simply still “relevant”, it’s never lost being spot-on, timeless advice, with specific tactics that have never stopped working in marketing.

Nice little freebie comes with the course, too — the shockingly useful “Power Words” report that can kick your writing up several levels immediately.

Just in case you’re stuck for gift ideas. Get your copy here.

Trying to help out here…

Memo to writers everywhere: A strange confluence of coincidences has created an interesting story here, regarding writers who give a flying shit about truth, the integrity of research and investigation, and living in the deep end of life’s pool (rather than barely getting wet in the shallows).

The fictional series “Newsroom” on HBO is currently in the middle of a plot line (which obviously was recorded many moons ago) that is being mimicked in REAL LIFE by the turmoil over at the New Republic… and it concerns a sub-plot that may (in REAL LIFE) affect your career.

Ignore the political stuff, if it bothers you. I follow news sources from every whacky end of the American political spectrum (so I know what even the scariest amongst you are obsessing on)… just grow up and get past it.

The sub-plot I’m referring to is nouveau riche young guns exerting some righteous Brave New World wrath on “old journalism” sources… by buying the joints, and destroying them.

In their eyes, it’s “disruption = great new stuff happening” — the ethos that made Silicon Valley rich and powerful.

In reality, it’s “click-bait = chaos and weak-ass journalism”, the nightmare of putting naive people with little real world experience in charge of informing the rest of us.

I’ve seen this happen with multiple online resources I used to trust. Almost overnight, they’ve gone from worthy sources of well-thought-out and well-written stories (that follow basic journalistic ethics of research and backing up angles)…

… to puff pieces on celebs, viral bullshit, and trending word clusters that get clicks. Oh, which are also poorly written, with no conscious editing, mired in first-person “this is how I feel” stories with no point. Just get Kim Kardasian into the headline.

This is NOT new in journalism, folks. Good, ethical news publications have always been outsold by tabloids… rumors and envy-laced rage has always trumped solid reporting… and shallow curiosity beats deep thought every time.

Every writer — including copywriters, script writers, speech writers, article writers, all of us — has to make a choice at some point. Are you gonna go for the easy bucks, and let ethics slide…

… or are you going to challenge yourself, take risky chances to get to a deeper level, and become a REAL writer?

You may earn less, you know. You will walk away from lucrative gigs, refuse to take the big checks from unethical clients, and lose jobs by insisting on doing what’s right (rather than what’s easy, and possibly more profitable).

It’s not one huge initial choice, either. It’s an ongoing series of choices in life, that constantly dog you. No job is safe from invasion by barbarians. No niche is a paradise of truth and ethics, once competition arrives.

The fiction of “Newsroom” can rattle you (and, yes, occasionally irritate you, too).

The reality of what just happened to a century-old magazine (New Republic) IS rattling, and IS irritating.

Young people — even stupid-wealthy ones — are not the problem. This isn’t a generational issue.

It’s about allowing naivete and untested-in-the-real-world personal feelings of omnipotence trump solid (and often non-profitable) deeper thought.

The future of a click-bait-driven media is not pretty. It’s 1984-level social thuggery in action, lulling the masses to sleep while The Man reclaims his throne.

You think we’re immune from gulags and crushing behavioral control?

Us writers will be among the first to be imprisoned and hung up on the wall, Handmaid-Tale-style, when the shit hits the fan (and few will notice, because the story may not go viral or get clicks).

The red flags are flying, folks.

Choose carefully.

Brand-spanking new podcast now posted… for free, y’all… at the usual site. Psych Insights for Modern Marketers (or pi4mm dot com) (notice how I disguised the domain name, so Zuck wouldn’t spot it and bury this post?).

All about the fastest way to sneak into the “inside” of the high-flying copywriter world (with specifics on using to get on the inside of ANY target situation, market, business, or glee club).

Road dogs have more fun that you do, and automatically get hauled behind the curtain and into the secret world of the movers/shakers. Extremely overlooked gig, and very few folks have a clue what it is, how to do it, and why you SHOULD do it.

Top “A List” copywriters who’ve written multiple gazillion-dollar campaigns have road-dogged for me. Even after they’ve become famous and rich. Why?

Feast your ears on the podcast here: www.pi4mm.com

Reality Check #57: You wanna be a “real” writer?

Then write. Writers write. And rewrite, and study language and persuasion and communication, and rewrite some more putting the new skills to work immediately (constantly jettisoning the bad tactics and exercising the good ones).

Have this tattooed on your amygdala: Writers write.

This requires hours every day of solitary work. Extroverts can do the gig, but it’s easier for introverts (who are often awkward in jobs that require social skills). Both types can thrive, but only by sitting down and focusing.

Write. Write, write, write. Keep journals, exchange emails with other writers, always have a book cooking, read good writers and study their technique, and write well every time you craft a sentence. Make your To Do Lists sizzle with good verb choices. Pen emails that others actually print out and keep. Keep notepads nearby at all times, and wear your ink-stained shirts with pride. And rewrite everything before you let it out into the world. Edit, sculpt, and fortify everything you write.

The scribe guild was one of the first to manifest after civilization formed. Your writing skills can change the world… or bore folks to tears.

Real writers write. If it’s painful to write, you’re probably not suited to the gig.

Just sayin’…

Ancient “uncle” advice you’re welcome to ignore: You never really know someone, until you’ve seen how they react to being cold, wet, tired, hungry and lost.

It’s possible to spend a lifetime around someone, and never see under the masks. That’s certainly what many folks aspire to, never being exposed. Even Brave New World types who claim to embrace lives with no privacy or secrets are hiding shit from their friends and loved ones.

Most people never even truly understand themselves. Too scary. So the delusions pile up.

I feel lucky to have gone through Boy Scouts as a kid. I hated the quasi-militaristic culture, the mindless conformity, the way they frowned on mumbly-peg knife games and blowing shit up.

But, I’ll be darned, it sure gave me the opportunity to see how I dealt with being cold, wet, tired, hungry… and lost. In the woods. With other Scouts, who were NOT handling it well…

The best lessons in life come from disasters. Anyone who grows up having it too easy is pretty much guaranteed to be an unconscious azzhole as an adult, without empathy or clues on living well and playing well with others.

What do you think? Bad advice?

Department of Jealousy, Envy and Schadenfreude: One of the best coping tactics I picked up early in my career… when I was constantly having to face down new clients who were richer, better looking, more self-assured and louder than me… was the “what’s the REAL story” angle.

Here’s how it goes: When you first deal with biz folks, you’ll encounter a lot of ego and confusing status wrangling… because to survive in many biz environments, you’re either a Big Dog or you’re the poop bag dispenser. So folks scramble, lie, cheat and steal their way to positions of confidence and power.

And as you gain experience, you learn quickly that nearly all of it is a total sham. In fact, the “real story” behind the bluster, facade, masks and attitude is often the complete opposite of what’s presented. Cut any financial claim you hear in half, right off the bat. Figure that most boasting about happiness is flimsy denial. And particularly assume that anytime anyone says “money is not a problem”, that money is VERY MUCH a problem.

Freelance copywriters are privy to the real story behind the biz, the product, and everyone in the office. When you do the job correctly, you never turn off your “detective” chops (cuz hooks hide).

And very quickly, you will discover what a rickety artifice most of society and the culture is. Be happy it works, but do not be intimidated by anyone, ever.

Chances are, once you know the back-story, you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes inside their skin… no matter how awesome they present their lives to the general public.

Learn to be happy in your own skin, and you can rule the world.

Sorry, it’s the best advice I can give you: Early in your career, get your butt kicked (virtually, please) as often as possible, in every area that defines your gig. Learn your lesson, fix whatever’s missing or weak in your skill set, and get back in the game ready to do measurably better.

That’s it. Those who never fail are playing it too safe (or are just lying mofo’s protecting a sordid past). The key isn’t failing, however — it’s the lesson-learning thing.

Heck, it’s easy to fail, marinate in humiliation and believe you’re cursed, or unlucky, or being punished by the universe.

Much, much harder to buckle down and go deep into what happened, using critical thinking and goal-achievement tactics to figure it out… and do it so well that you’re actually itching for another at-bat in the same situation, so you can put your new info, skills and attitude to the test again.

Pro’s don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves, or keeping score of wins and losses. They work at getting better, all the time, and they aren’t terrified of mysteries or difficult problems. Every major step up in their career started out as a mystery or difficult problems. It’s what pro’s eat for breakfast.

Few people want to hear this kind of advice, of course. Much easier to believe there’s some “secret” to succeeding that requires little work, and rescues you from ever feeling bad or being blamed. It’s gotta be out there, It says so on the teevee machine…

Pro’s grind. Wannabe’s whine.

I’ve had around 5 mid-life crises, starting back when I hit thirty.

I enjoyed the hell out of each one (though sometimes reluctantly, since each one arrived as a “crisis” and I was deep in change and turmoil, sometimes for years).

So I’m a bit of an expert. And I discovered there are two kinds of mid-life crisis:

1. You realize you’re not happy with what you have, and you need to try something else (though you’re not quite sure what)…

2. Or, you realize you haven’t achieved what you wanted to achieve. And you need to get on your horse.

Both involve an “uh oh” reaction deep inside, one so profound it’s like an 7.5 earthquake in your system… providing a panicked sense of motivation and energy.

Which can either go well, or badly for you.

Abrupt change, not planned out very well and relying on untested gut feelings and vague notions of what might “make you happy” is a recipe for disaster.

On the other hand, an urgent period of planning, including having escape routes and Plan B alternatives… along with self-knowing goal-setting that is attainable and reasonably realistic…

… can transform your life. And limit the collateral damage in the people and things around you.

Too many folks just ignore that rumble deep inside (of wanting “something else”) until it explodes… and then they become the bull in a china shop, trying to change without direction or plan or help.

That’s fucked up. Living a full life means constantly asking yourself the hard questions, exploring the things your heart desires, test-driving the possibilities, and critically examining your experiences and lessons learned. So you get to know yourself better.

It’s only a real “crisis” if you turn it into one. The better way to look at it is as another fork in your life’s path, an expected and welcome sign that you’re changing from who you were yesterday into who you’ll be tomorrow…

… and this change sometimes has profound implications for your life, and the life of those around you.

Don’t be the bull. Start examining yourself, and your life and goals, and come to terms with where you’re at on your ticket, what’s left for the ride, and how you want to embrace this new, slightly shorter, and age-modified person you’re becoming.

You really can enjoy the whole process, and keep everyone and everything you love intact (and even happy) while still getting after what you really want.

Just sayin’. I didn’t get to be a happy grizzled veteran of life the easy way, you know, and sometimes I’ve got good advice to share…

Best Advice Ever #33: Do you understand the difference between “shame” and “remorse”? Most do not. And suffer for it.

The “voice” of shame is: “I’m a bad person.”

The voice of remorse is: “I’m a good person who screwed up. I will fix what I broke, clean up my mess, make amends if possible… and not just vow to do better, but actually take steps to learn HOW to do better next time.”

Much easier to just feel ashamed, and believe the guilt you agonize over is enough punishment to even things out. Don’t change, refuse to do the hard work of growing the fuck up, and just continue on your current path of sleep-walking.

You’ll always have plenty of company by choosing shame and never doing anything proactive to learn new behaviors or new skills. You may even enjoy snoozing through life.

But then, you just may like the new company better as you wake up and grow…

In the midst of all this wonderful holiday hubbub and chaos, take some time to just relax and gather your thoughts. Quiet room, Rhino’s “DooWop Xmas” collection on the box, another glass of eggnog (okay, you’ve had enough already, but hey, it’s the holidays) (you’ll work off the extra ounces later, no worries) (okay, the pounds, you’ll work off the pounds later, just get off my case and let me enjoy this)…

… maybe a good book. One that makes you laugh, gives you some good tips on changing your life for the better (starting right after the New Year, of course), perhaps a little advice on piling up some big bucks, too.

Here’s my list of recommended books that fit the bill nicely:

1. “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together.”


Okay, there is no number 2. Just get the “Entrepreneur’s Guide” here, and treat yourself to a transformation in thought, deed and good humor. Starting right now.

Mmm, that eggnog needs a bit more rum, don’t you think?

And that’s it for the year-end roundup.
Hope you have a great holiday, don’t get thrown in the clink on New Year’s Eve (“Amateur Drunk Night”, as we call it), and let’s reconnoiter here again early in January to start kickin’ some serious business butt, and start making all your dreams come true.
Stay frosty,
P.S. The end of 2014 also brought the passing of an early mentor, and he’s worth memorializing here again. This is what I posted a few weeks ago:

One of my first writing mentors, Jim Rutz (who was also arguably the co-inventor of the magalog, which now dominates large-scale direct mail campaigns), has passed away. It’s a sad day.

I ghost-wrote direct mail packages for Jim over the course of an entire year, after being paired with him by my much-missed agent John Finn, the first of several mentoring arrangements I was lucky to toil through. Jim was a brutal taskmaster, an over-the-top great teacher, and one of the most skilled “pure” writers I’ve ever met. Also one of the most eccentric, and while he and I existed in completely different worlds, his advice for me to let my freak flag fly (not his words, of course) helped me create my own global reputation. (I mentioned him, in fact, while passing on this advice during my speech at AWAI in October.)

I worked harder writing for Jim than I ever had, before or after that ghost-writing period. It was the best way to grow quickly as a pro, much like the classic Karate Kid’s instruction. He later mentored other A-List writers (like David Deutsch), and remained one of the top two or three “first choice” writers of the largest mail houses in the world his entire career.

Goodbye, Jim. And thanks, again.


The Grizzled Pro Speaks

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Friday, 2:29pm
Reno, NV
Ch-ch-changes, oh look out, you rock and rollers…” (David Bowie, “Changes”)


All last week, on Facebook, I opened myself up to the mob…

… and promised to answer the best 5 questions posed in an experimental “Bug The Grizzled Pro” post. I just wanted to see what was bothering folks, holding them up, disrupting sleep and profits and happiness.

I was pretty damned impressed with the level of questions that poured in, too. Finding 5 good ones was easy. Answering them required my full focus… and the stuff is good.

So, just to make sure this advanced Q&A isn’t lost in the mire of Facebook (where stuff fades away forever), I’ve posted the entire exchange here. (If you want to see the comments, you’ll have to go to my Facebook page and root around in the posts for the week of November 9-14. And while you’re there, thrilling to the banter, trolling, and fevered debate, sign up to follow me, why don’tcha?)

Here’s the relevant posts. Enjoy:

Post #1:

Bug The Grizzled Pro: Anything you’d like to ask me about, or see me rant about here or on the blog?

I’ll never run out of my own ideas (you oughta see the cluster-mess of untapped stories, advice, epiphanies and general bullshit roiling around in my head)…

… (just be happy you aren’t experiencing this kind of internal chaos yourself)…

… but I’m always happy to see what folks are curious about.

I mean, really — how often do you get a chance to strafe the deck of a veteran, seen-it-all professional like this?

Give it a shot. The worst that can happen is public humiliation, or accidental enlightenment that forces you to change your life (or something in-between).

Don’t be a coward. Ask.

I’ll answer the first… um… five good questions during the week. But they gotta be good…

Continue Reading

The Entrepreneur’s Checklist


Friday, 2:15pm
Reno, NV
“I read the news today, oh boy…” (Lennon, “A Day In The Life”)


One of my favorite quotes from 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). 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. 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.

I call it “negative motivation”… and it’s actually one of the most powerful forces available for getting stuff done. I never saw her 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, snarling 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.)

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 one I’d pick.

I was Halbert’s sidekick for a very long time, and one of the most enjoyable parts of the gig wasContinue Reading

Congratulations… Now, Stop Being A Wuss

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Monday, 7:55pm
Reno, NV
But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“)


It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…

… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.

So, without further ado… here’s the fourth redux of that post:

Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.

That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.

See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…

… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…

… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.

I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…

… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?


While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds: “Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.”

A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.

And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.

You know what I say?

Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ‘em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand.)

Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… and the realities of life-outside-of-academia do not jive at all with the propaganda doled out by the university systems.

Many of the richest guys I know are drop-outs. Some are HIGH SCHOOL drop-outs. The few friends who did go to the kind of school whose name causes eyebrows to rise…

… are ALL working far outside their major. To the point that nothing they learned has proven to be even remotely useful to their adult life. (Unless they stumble upon another over-educated dweeb at a cocktail party and get into a bare-knuckle Trivial Pursuit marathon.)

Too many people get all confused and bewildered about “education” as opposed to “going to college”.

It’s not the same thing, folks.

Some of the most clueless individuals I’ve ever met have impressive diplomas… while nearly all of the most savvy (and wealthy) individuals I know done got educated all on their lonesomes.

I learned more about history, business and psychology in 2 weeks of serious pre-Web library surfing (with a speed reading course under my belt) than I did in 4 years of college.

And I learned more about life in 3 months of hanging out with street-wise salesmen than I did from ANY source, anywhere, up to that time.

By all means, go to college if that’s part of your Master Plan to having a great life. You’ll meet interesting people, and it’s a Rite Of Passage for many Americans these days.

But don’t do it blindly. Just cuz The Man says it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

Do some critical thinking before you jump in.

And if you really want that degree in Russian literature, or women’s studies, or political science, or whatever… Continue Reading

The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life (one more time)


Wednesday, 6:50pm
Reno, NV
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 tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.

It’s a good one, worth rereading even if you 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 read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, 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.Continue Reading

The Answer (and Winners) Revealed…

photo-1Thursday, 2:30pm
Reno, NV
Every time they were sure you were caught, you were quicker than they thought…” (Bob Seger, “Still The Same”)


Well, we do have a couple of winners to announce here.

It was a hell of a quiz, wasn’t it. Over 400 responses (and still climbing)… and, as several posters noted, just reading the thread was an enlightening experience (with dozens of great stories and insight shared).

Crowd-sourcing at its finest.

Before I give the two winners their moment in the sun, however (and ship out their signed copies of “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“)…

… let’s get straight on the answer to this one-question quiz.

Recall: I asked what — in my 30 years consulting with biz owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs, inventors and dreamers — was the Number One problem I saw folks encountering in their quest for wealth and happiness.

There may indeed be many other problems troubling folks…

… but in my experience, there is only one Big Kahuna problem.

And solving this big one also solves vast chunks of other problems in your life and career. Just like that.

The last great clue (no, I’m not gonna just roll over and tell you the answer without preamble) is in the photo up top here: That’s (from left) Joe Polish, the marketing whiz-kid who wrote the forward to my book…

Gary Halbert, my uber-infamous mentor, biz partner and close pal…

Gary Bencivenga, whose controls I stalked and whose teaser copy inspired me to rewrite my own bullets 30 times for every ad I penned (and who I actually wrote some stuff for in the late 80s)…

… and me.

Bencivenga loved this photo. We’d all known each other and worked in the same part of the direct response world for years… but we’d never all been in the same room together. (This was in NYC, at Gary’s legendary “Bencivenga 100″ seminar.)

Think you have the answer yet?

Consider: Just from these four guys, you’ve got generations of successful copywriters and marketers who owe their “breakthrough moment” to one of us. Ads that brought in gazillions, and created empires. Advice that transformed a moribund business plan, or a headline, or a career. An entire revolution in biz attitudes, success strategies and persuasion methods…

… all emanating out like rocket-fire from just these guys.

Got the answer now?

We leaned on each other, borrowed from each other, learned from each other, watched each other’s back, traded war stories and admired each other’s skills…

… and, in general, shared often large parts of our professional lives in the thin, rarefied air of world-class movin’-and-shakin’.

In short… Continue Reading

Quiz Time! (With prizes! And angst for your brain!)

blog photo 12-10Wednesday, 9:26pm
In The Bosom Of The Sierras Below Lake Tahoe, NV
I got your number on the wall…” (Tommy TuTone “Jenny/867-5309″)


I’ve got an idea: Let’s give out a couple of hot prizes. What d’ya think about that?

Like… how about a bitchin’ hot-off-the-presses copy of my book “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“…

signed by me, to you.

Free. I’ll even pick up the shipping, that’s what a mensch I am.

And all you gotta do is be either the first to deliver (in the comment section below) the correct answer to the question I’m about to reveal here… or write up the best response. I’ll be the judge and jury here.

So there will be two winners. We’ll let this quiz percolate for a week, and then I’ll announce the two winners here.

I haven’t hosted a quiz in a long time. Shame on me. The last few quizzes pulled in hundreds and hundreds of replies, which kind of freaked me out… but they were also evil fun. I’ll be in the comments myself, sifting and searching for the two winners (and tossing out the trolls).

I’ll announce the lucky victors in the comments section on Friday, November 22.

Free signed copy of the one book all serious entrepreneurs should have on their shelf. Might be worth something, you know, when I kick the bucket (or get embroiled in a scandal or something).

First correct answer, and best response (as judged by me).

Okay, ready?

Here’s the set-up for the question: I’ve been counseling and advising entrepreneurs for over 30 years now…

… on just about every detail of creating a solid biz model, and cramming all marketing materials with the kind of persuasive voodoo that brings in the Big Bucks. I’ve helped transform a small army of formerly-clueless entrepreneurs into scary-good monsters of profit.

And, in almost every long-term relationship I’ve had advising a client…

… we’ve covered every aspect of running a business — dealing with details, solving problems, finding happiness and managing wealth (or lack thereof).

If you haven’t enjoyed a mentoring relationship like this (or even an extended round of consulting with an expert), you might be astonished at what, precisely, pops up as the biggest (and baddest) obstacle to getting filthy rich and deliriously happy as an entrepreneur.

You might even be shocked.

So, here’s the question: Based on what you suspect I’ve discovered in my 30 years of consulting…Continue Reading

Psst! C’mere, I Got Something For Ya…


Friday, 5:24pm
Reno, NV
Step right up, we got bargains galore…” (Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”)


I’ve had a flood of new folks wander in through the side door of this blog lately…

… so I thought I’d just catch everyone up on what’s happening.

Happenin’ Thang #1: I’m speaking at my dear friend (and legend in the biz) Joe Sugarman’s seminar (in Vegas, baby!) on the 24/25th of October.

The line-up of speakers is pretty shocking — Joe Polish, Jon Benson (VSL wizard), just a mob of snarling experts who rarely are in the same room at one time.

Rather than re-explain how awesome this seminar will be (and it’s a “must be there” event… and nearly all the hottest “A List” copywriters I know booked their spot the moment they heard about it)…

… I’m just gonna post the URL, so you can check it out for yourself. Time is tight. And anyone who understands how unique this kind of event is, and why it’s so critical for entrepreneurs to hang out at live seminars and brush elbows with experts is already salivating over the opportunities this opens up.

Go here to see why so many pro’s are going to the Sugarman event.

Happenin’ Thang #2: As many of you already know, I’ve been co-hosting a killer new podcast series called “Psych Insights for Modern Marketers” with my colleague Kevin Rogers (who has authored several guest posts on this blog).

It’s killer stuff… all focused on going deep into the street-level salesman’s psychology of what makes people buy. You won’t find subject matter like this anywhere else, and you sure as heck won’t get the deep-behind-the-scenes insight from grizzled professionals like me on any other podcast.

Plus… it’s free.

Go here to check out the latest podcast. I hang out in the comments section, too, so feel free to start a thread or join one of the existing brouhaha’s already getting frothy in there.

Happenin’ Thang #3: If you haven’t subscribed to my Facebook page, you’re missing out on the frequent posting I do there… especially the Monday Mentoring Sessions, which reveal the essential lessons I’ve learned (always the hard way, by getting bloody first and only then figuring out where I went wrong and how to fix it next time) on becoming a happy, successful dude.

I’m usually over the limit on “friends” there, so just subscribe as a “follower” — you get the same privileges.

My Facebook handle is: www.facebook.com/john.carlton

Last note: I’ll be posting more original articles next month.

For now, if you’re jonesing for more stuff to dive into, just hit the archives over in the right-hand column here.

Coming up on nine years of material in there. All free.

Be sure to sign up for alerts, though, so you find out when new posts are added. Top of the right hand column, in the “Keep Informed” box.

Use your best email, not your slog one. I’m not gonna spam you, or send too much stuff — I usually send out no more than a couple of emails each month, all related to things you (as an entrepreneur, writer, biz owner or freelancer) will appreciate discovering.

Okay, that’s it for today. Lots of great stuff available here, and you ignore any of it at your peril.

Enjoy your Halloween, and I’ll see you here next month.

Stay frosty,


The Envy Cure (Redux)


Friday, 3:23pm
Reno, NV
Under my thumb is a squirming dog who just had her day…” (Stones)


I’m republishing this off-beat rant, cuz it’s been one of the most-discussed and helpful posts I’ve written over the years.

And it’s a totally counter-intuitive take on a subject most biz books not only ignore, but aggressively seek to dismiss. Yet, in my decades of consulting, I see it bubble up in nearly every entrepreneur I meet at some point.

So, enjoy another nugget from the archives:


Do you suffer from the heartbreak of envy?

Are you jealous of friends and colleagues who attain success, while you continue to struggle?

Would you like to learn a simple cure for feeling inferior to others?

Well, then step right up…

Here’s the story: I grew up with the definite impression that ambition was a moral failing.  The operative phrase was “Don’t get too big for your britches”…

… which was a cold warning to anyone who dared attempt to rise above their (vaguely defined) place in life.

And one of the greatest joys was to gleefully watch the collapse and humbling of the High & Mighty.  I believe there’s some evolutionary fragment left in our systems that wants a solid check on keeping folks from leaving the pack.

Now, if you risk failing and succeed, that’s great.  We were there for ya the entire time, Bucko.  Rooted for ya.  Got yer back.

I think our innate need for leadership allows for a select few to “make it” without hostility.  And, as long as they provide whatever it is we need from them — protection, entertainment, intellectual stimulation, decisive action, look good in a tight sweater, whatever — they get a pass.

But we seem to have a ceiling of tolerance for others moving up the hierarchy too fast.  Whoa, there, buddy.  Where do you think you’re going?

And when the unworthy grab the brass ring, it can trigger a hormone dump that’ll keep you up all night.  Because, why did HE make it, when he’s clearly not the right dude towin.  This is totally fucking unfair, and makes ME look bad now.

The lucky creep.

I hope he screws up and gets what’s coming to him…

And so on.

I’ve felt it, you’ve felt it, the nicest person you’ve ever met has felt it.  Humans are constantly comparing themselves to others, and we do not like it when Mr. Envy comes a’knockin’.

Dan Sullivan (of Strategic Coach) has a good take on this: He suggests you stop comparing yourself to others… and instead, compare yourself to yourself.  Get happy with the progress you’ve made from wherever you were before.  Don’t allow your brain to start measuring how short you came up against your lofty dreams, or other’s success. (Which is what most folks do.)

I like that tactic.

However, I have another one I’ve been employing ever since I began my solo career, so many decades ago.

It works, and I think you’ll like having it in your tool kit.

Back then, as a raw rookie, I was dangerously inept.  And woefully inexperienced and unprepared for the tasks ahead of me.  Had I allowed my Inner Scaredy-Cat to win the argument, I never would have left the house to go snag my first gig.

Worse, as I moved into inner circles (at joints like Jay Abraham’s offices), I began to encounter other writers my age and younger… who were light-years ahead of me in every category.  Fame, skill, wealth… and especially that precious sense of feeling like you earned your place in the world and belonged there.

Mr. Envy showed up frequently, and occasionally I would find myself secretly wishing for these guys to fail.  I mean, why them and not me yet?  The bastards were too big for their britches…

But that wasn’t gonna work. If I wanted to earn my OWN place in the world, I realized I needed to knee-cap Mr. Envy, and lock that demon away somewhere forever.

Because the better way to look at things… was to congratulate these guys on their success, learn from their adventures getting there, and encourage even more success for them.

There was, I knew (once Mr. Envy was muzzled), plenty of room for everybody in the writing game… and the other guy’s success didn’t impact my own even a little bit.

In fact, once I selflessly began networking with them, they helped me out.  It was win-win, all the way.

Still, though… that nagging sense of “Gee, I wish I was him” kept lurching back into my head. I wanted to be an MTV rock star, a drooled-over novelist, an infamous international lover, a frequent guest on Larry King (this was a long time ago, folks), David Letterman’s best friend, a gazillionaire with no worries about rent or…

And that’s when I stumbled on this extremely cool CURE for envy.

I’m sure I nicked it from some other source, somewhere… but I haven’t been able to find it explained anywhere else.  Maybe I really did invent it.

At any rate… it works.

Wanna know what it is?

Okay.  Here is my…

Super-Potent Envy Cure: When you find yourself wishing you were someone else… or at least in their shoes, enjoying all the great stuff they seem to be enjoying…

… just imagine being inside their skin — really inside them, being them — for 5 minutes.  Dealing with everything that makes them who they are.

And then see if their life still looks so good.

Most envy comes from a lack of something, perceived or real.  When you’re broke, the dude with two hundred bucks in his checking account looks like a winner.  When you’re desperately horny, the guy getting laid all the time looks like the hero of a 007 novel.  When you’re being ignored in your market, the mogul with the big business machine looks like a cushy gig.

This is where your street-level salesmanship comes in.  (Which is what I’ve been trying to share with y’all over the past 6 years here in the blog.)

Great salesmen lead better lives.  Not because they sell lots of stuff… but because they live in the real world.  You can’t be efficient selling when you’re hobbled with a belief that the world (and everyone in it) “should” behave a certain way… or you wish they would.

Naw.  You gotta be hip to how people actually operate.  So you take off the blinders, and peek behind the masks, and get to know your fellow high-end primates REALLY well, from deep inside their hearts and minds.

This raising of the curtain — shocking at first — will actually make you love people more… while also helping you understand why they do what they do.  You’ll understand why good people do bad things, why bad people do good things, and why the inner life of everyone around you is unique.

And while you love your fellow beasts…

… once you feel comfy with yourself (because you’re finally going after your goals and engaging in your own rollicking adventure in life)…

… you won’t want to spend even a full minute inside the skin of anyone else.

Because it is CREEPY AS HELL in there.

I love to read autobiographies and biographies.  (Or skim them, when they’re horribly written.)

It has changed my outlook — and my petty jealousies — to learn the real story of the people I once idolized, and often wished I was living their life.

Wow, does it ever change your outlook.  Especially when you discover the wicked little secrets that fueled their motivation to attain whatever it is — fame, acclaim, wealth, accomplishments — that triggered your envy button.

The novelists loathed themselves.  The movie stars craved adulation like junk.  The great lovers were joyless asshole sociopaths.  The wealthy barons were infested with sick needs.

Big men still pitied themselves over Mommie’s inattention.  Forceful leaders were quivering lakes of insecurity.  Debonair social stalwarts harbored unquenchable dark desires.

Yes, there are folks out there who succeed without secret vices and immature cravings.

They’re also boring as hell.  And you’d be screaming for release after ten seconds inside their skin.  (Many have just been unusually successful at quashing their sweaty-palmed desires.  In fact, the boring ones are often sitting on the nastiest payloads of demons.  See: Every Bible-thumping politician recently caught with hookers and drugs.)

You want wit, a lust of adventure, forceful opinions and a knack for winning in your heroes?

I do, too.  But I’ve learned to like them despite the roiling mess of complexity coursing through their veins.

In fact, I embrace it.  I like my heroes flawed — it brings out the luster of their accomplishments.

It also highlights the elusive (and quickly disappearing) moments of satisfaction they seek.

You’re alive.  You are here on this earth with a ticket to ride that expires (sometimes sooner rather than later).  You may wish you had a better set-up… finer bone structure, a thicker mop of hair, more muscles, more impressive genitals, bluer eyes, a rich uncle with you in the will, whatever hang-up is spoiling your enjoyment of life…

… but the simplest way to attain lasting happiness is to let your dumb-ass desires drift away, and get jiggy with who you are now, and what you’ve got to work with.

It’s kind of Zen, and it takes effort to get there.  But it’s worth it.

You can’t be happy all the time, but you can actually enjoy the down times, too, once you change your basic orientation from “I wish” to “Here I am”.  Some of the most satisfied people I know are butt-ugly trolls who have learned that natural beauty is fraught with negative side effects (and not worth pursuing)…

… and that, at the end of the day, what really counts is what you bring to the table in terms of being a quality human being.

I’ve known a MOB of successful people in my career (including many of the most famous and infamous “bigger than life” legends in business).  I’ve been friends with them, been let in behind the scenes, and hung out long enough to see behind the mask.

And I wouldn’t want to spend 5 minutes inside any of their skins, ever.  I like who I am, with all my faults and all my regrets and all my inherent stupidity.  I fit well inside my own skin.

And — though it took a VERY long time — I earned my place in the world.  Really earned it.  Nothing happened from wishing, or cheating, or relying on luck.

Naw.  I blundered my way into the Feast of Life.  Utterly fucked things up along the ride… but kept learning from mistakes, kept cleaning up my messes and fixing what I broke when I could, kept trying and growing and staying true to the goals that resonated with me.  That’s all I had going for my sorry ass.

We’re all pathetically flawed.  All of us, from James Bond on down through your neighbor who just bought the new Jag (and won’t stop gloating about the deal he got).

Nobody gets out of here unscathed.  You can’t live without making mistakes and stepping on toes.

And yes, sometimes you will get too big for your britches, when you’re going for the gusto.  When it happens, buy new ones.

Stay frosty (and true to yourself),


P.S. My recent reads include the autobiographies of Keith Richards and Christopher Hitchens.  Keith’s may be the best-written of all-time — he’s a brilliant storyteller, used a writer who knew him for decades to help collect his thoughts coherently… and he is tough on himself.  Hitch bares all, but can be a bit long-winded.

The key to biographies is NOT to settle old scores, or try to spin your existence so your legacy looks better.  Screw that nonsense.

The key is to spill the beans, relentlessly.  Lift up your mask, raise the curtain on your demons, cop to your trespasses.  And share the juicy details. The story is not the broad overview, but the detail.  You lived it, dude.  I wasn’t there.

What happened?

P.P.S. What biographies or autobiographies have you liked?

And let us know, in the comment section here, how you’ve handled envy (good or bad) in your life.  Along with the realization that your fellow passengers on this whirling planet are one scary-ass species…

VERY Special P.P.P.S. While not exactly an autobiography, my latest book “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” reveals a ton of behind-the-scenes adventures and insider advice aimed straight at the tender beating heart of the struggling entrepreneur.

Get your copy now, either as an ebook or in paperback. For a few measly bucks, you’ll be ushered into a front-row seat to see how I stumbled upon the amazing result-getting lessons of great marketing…

… and I guarantee you’ll laugh your ass off along the way.

Get it here: “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together“.


Why We Blow Stuff Up On July 4th


Monday, 1:43pm
Reno, NV
“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)


As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.

We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.

Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair, of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways, of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery, of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…

It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.

But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.

Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).

Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.

Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.

However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.

This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.

I just learned to loathe cynicism long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…

… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.

Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.

And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to beContinue Reading

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