“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…
“Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen, “Papillon”)
I was talking to a colleague the other day, and he asked me how I liked retirement.
Uh, what retirement is that, I asked.
Well, he said, I thought you’d pretty much left the biz.
I guess I need to address this now. I mean, seeing as how I’m speaking next week to a seething crowd of 500 copywriters at one of the biggest bootcamps of the year (the sold-out AWAI gargantuan event in Florida). AND, the following week, hosting our autumn Platinum Mastermind meeting (now in it’s 7th year). While, you know, handling multiple calls from colleagues looking for advice, plus paid consulting gigs, writing a new book, monitoring the next Simple Writing System classroom, and…
If this is “retirement”, it sure looks an awful lot like a regular workweek.
But, yes, there has been a rumor floating around that I’m retired (or “semi-retired”), not traveling anymore, not taking clients, etc.
And, in a word, it’s all bullshit.
What happened was, a couple of years ago, I decided I sucked as a manager, and sold the Marketing Rebel corporation to my longtime business partner, Stan Dahl. Who has been handling it quite nicely ever since. The Insider’s Club membership site is cooking on high heat… the Simple Writing System just had another All-Star Teachers session (with A-Listers like David Garfinkel, Mike Morgan, Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, and former Gary Halbert sidekick Scott Haines all hosting classes)… and all the good work we’ve always done in the advertising and marketing worlds has continued without a hitch.
It’s working so well now, because I realized what a bottleneck I was as a manager. Once I got out of the way, things blossomed.
Jeez Louise, that’s humbling. But it’s all worked out great.
And I got back to what I do best: Writing, consulting and being one of the most notorious bad-ass creative advisors in the game.
This is a VERY common entrepreneurial blunder, by the way. You get a biz going by handling almost everything personally… the ideas, the planning, the implementation, the writing, the schmoozing and networking, and all the hiring of tech help and support teams and lawyers and contracts and…
… and pretty soon, you’re working 70 hours a week, the biz is thriving, but you aren’t doing the creative stuff you’re good at.
For me, the calls and meetings with lawyers and accountants and affiliate managers and everyone else’s lawyers and biz operatives just crushed my spirit and will to live.
I was unhappy.
And so I sold the biz, and moved back into my old role as writer, creative dude, and consultant extraordinaire. The “wheelhouse” of my talent and skill-set, where I’ve always made the most impact.
And, I was happy again. While working around 20 hours a week, just like the first decades of my career. A 20-hour workweek is just about perfect, and because I know all the productivity hacks allowable for humans, I get more done in that 20-hours than most folks do in the 60 hours they slave at.
So, I’m in my “bliss groove” again. Good writing requires lots of down time, so your brain can cogitate on the crap you’ve stuffed in there, cook it up in a fresh batch, and make it all accessible when you sit down to actually write. Reading lots of books on different subjects, including gruesome fiction and light articles on diverse (even dumb) subjects, is also part of a well-lived writer’s lifestyle. Plus engaging in the adventures, pleasures, misadventures and bumbling horrors of modern life.
In fact, without immersing yourself in the culture and the Zeitgeist, you quickly become stiff and boring as a writer.
But I don’t count the cool, fun stuff as “working”. I love the process of being a complete, well-rounded writer with his pulse on the culture. It’s what makes this the best damn gig on the planet (for introverts or wannabe introverts seeking influence, wealth and happiness).
In the 1990s, I both wrote most of the ads for which I’m now infamous (all the screamingly successful golf, self-defense, health, music and small-biz ads that changed the way entire industries approached marketing)…
… while ALSO taking off three-to-six months a year to go do something else. I was following Travis McGee’s advice (from the “you gotta read ’em” novels by John D. MacDonald) of “taking your retirement while you’re young, in pieces, and returning to work when you need to replenish the coffers”. For me, that meant indulging in exciting mid-life crises (I’ve had six so far, and loved every single one) like when I disappeared from the business world for half a year, formed a 3-piece rock band, and played all the biker bars in Northern Nevada. What a blast.
I also took time off to write some novels, and dip a toe in the world of writing fiction for a living. It was enormous fun, but the pay was dismal. Most of the working novelists I met made less in half a decade than I did for writing a couple of winning ads in a good market (and it only took me a few weeks to write those ads). I decided to keep fiction as a side hobby, and came back to my old clients to write a string of ads that doubled their bottom line.
And then, just after the turn of the century, I decided to get serious for a few years. And write a monthly newsletter (the notorious “Marketing Rebel Rant” that mailed for 6 years to the most influential marketers alive), while maintaining a client list that required me to be available the entire year. No more taking off massive chunks of time. I loved the whole process, which happened to coincide with the explosion of the Web as a viable marketing vehicle…
… and I hung out in a very insider network of movers-and-shakers that included Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan, Joe Polish, Dean Jackson, Tony Robbins, Jon Benson, Joe Sugarman, Ed Dale, and of course my best friend in the biz, Gary Halbert.
It was FUN. And thrilling, because we were inventing the marketing models that would become the STANDARDS for all online marketers for a generation. My first website, which I designed on a napkin, was a go-to template for many businesses for a long while. I recorded one of the first ever podcasts in the marketing section of iTunes (with help from Dean Jackson)… became one of the hottest speakers on the global seminar circuit (hosted by Armand Morin, Dan Kennedy, Rich Schefren, Kern and others)… and of course our Simple Writing System has pumped over a thousand entrepreneurs and copywriters through the process of creating killer ads on demand.
While some old-school marketers fought the Web and resisted new technology, I was an early adopter. I grabbed many of the first generation gizmo’s, created early video sales letters (before the term was even invented), hosted some of the first online webinars and membership sites, and in general surfed the new wave of modern possibilities right at the crest.
I’m not bragging. I’m just as amazed at the way things have turned out as anyone else. I happened to write “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” at the precise time a vast mob of newbie marketers were becoming online entrepreneurs… and it was the perfect fit for them.
But it also led almost directly to those 60-hour weeks that eventually started to fry my brain.
I’ve counseled biz owners against burning out a lot in my career as a consultant. It’s common, it’s horrific, it can ruin your life…
… and, it’s completely avoidable.
But you have to act FAST when you sniff the burning rubber coming off your brain.
For me, it meant backing away from the reins of a business I’d nurtured for a decade… and sliding back into the more comfortable position I knew so well, of being a writer-consultant. Working a fraction of the hours required of a manager.
To some folks, this somehow meant I’d “retired”.
Nope. Just moved back into my former career lifestyle.
Like I said — I suck at management. I’m not built to argue with lawyers, or proofread contracts, or get deep into the weeds of making the day-to-day details of running a biz work. I KNOW what needs to be done, and I can spell it out for you in precise steps.
But that doesn’t mean I’m the guy who should be doing it.
A big part of happiness is finding out where you fit. And then sliding your bad ass into that position, away from the drudgery and angst of doing stuff you’re NOT built to do.
And let’s set the damn record straight: I’m NOT retired.
I love this biz too much to leave. I’m traveling as much as I ever have (though being more picky about which gigs I travel for). I’m flying out to Florida next week, as I said, to speak in front of 500 folks who rightfully expect to have their cages rattled by me from the stage. I’m flying to Los Angeles both for our mastermind, AND to hang out with Jon Benson at another biz gathering (including James Schramko from Oz).
And we’ll be in Vegas in January for another mastermind, in Phoenix for secret tapings of a new show, I’ll continue co-hosting the rollicking (and still free) Psych Insights For Modern Marketers podcast with Kevin Rogers…
… and I still maintain a full-time desk in the Marketing Rebel Insider’s Club… where I personally answer questions from members, do monthly “Hot Seat” consultations (free, for members) alongside Stan Dahl, and generally act as the community’s resident copywriting expert.
Okay, I’m not putting the old rock band back together, though. It was fun, but I’m kinda done with the bar scene. And I get bored on cruises and tourist-trap trips. I like to travel with a purpose.
I’m built to handle the advanced, high-level workload of a top copywriter and business consultant. So that’s what I’m concentrating on these days. While flying out to speak at seminars, networking with my pals, and staying rooted on the pulse of the modern business environment.
It’s a wild time to be alive, and to be an active member of the hottest entrepreneurial movement the world has ever seen.
I ain’t retiring for a long, long time. Baring getting hit by the occasional city bus while jaywalking, I should say. Nothing’s guaranteed in life, is it.
If you, like so many of the best (and happiest) marketers and writers around, value the input, savvy, advice and experience of a guy like me…
… who’s been around the block a few times, and knows the game inside and out…
… then check out some of the stuff we’ve got for you all over this blog page. Including a deep, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-down-to-work consultation.
It’s only going to get more exciting out there in the big, bad biz world… with more opportunities to either thrive or get lost in the weeds than you can imagine. If you’re in biz, you need a resource like me watching your back.
Why not make 2016 (coming up fast) the best damn year of your life? Put your team together now, and see if including me and Stan and the rest of the gang here doesn’t make so much sense you can’t stand it.
P.S. The photo, by the way, is from another huge event this past year where I was a featured speaker. And got to hang with my buds (from left) Kevin Halbert (Gary’s son), A-List copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace, marketing legend Dan Kennedy, me, former CEO of Boardroom Brian Kurtz, and A-List copywriter (and my podcast partner) Kevin Rogers.
Quite the little braintrust right there…
“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
San Francisco, CA
“If you want it, here it is, come and get it…” (Badfinger)
Quick post today — I’m hosting my awesome Platinum Mastermind early tomorrow, and have a little prep work left to do.
However, I thought you might enjoy sampling the kind of posts I’m getting global recognition for… on Facebook. So I ripped a recent one from the site, and put it here for your delight and consumption.
Social media confuses most marketers — many refuse to even engage with Twitter or Facebook (or any of the myriad other options online to share silly secrets and post photos you’ll regret later). But I was an early adopter, and eagerly so — I had one of the very first marketing blogs (which you’re enjoying here), one of the first biz-oriented podcasts on iTunes (and if you haven’t listened to the latest free podcasts I’ve been hosting, go to the Psych Insights For Modern Marketers site now and indulge: www.pi4mm.com)…
… and I’ve been breaking every “rule” on Facebook ever since it hit the mainstream. I use FB to have fun, sometimes… but also to share insight, advice, lessons and some of the more obscure (and funny) war stories I’ve gathered in my 30 year career. (I currently have 5,000 “friends” — the limit — plus another couple of thousand “followers”… and I expect them all to show up at my wake and cause trouble. I’ve made them promise, in fact.)
However, here’s a nice little taste:Continue reading
“Just move on up now…” (Curtis Mayfield)
Quick post here to help you figure out when you should probably consider consulting with a respected, proven veteran marketing expert…
… and what your perfect consulting option is, once you’ve decided it’s time to kick your biz or career into high gear.
Step One: As a small business owner or entrepreneur (especially if you’ve been going at it alone, or mostly alone)… if you have any kind of success at all… there will come a time when you’re simply overwhelmed and need a little help. Or a lot of help.
For example: It may be time for you to move up a level in your marketing… and you know that having a veteran marketing expert comb over your new plans can shortcut your path to increased wealth, while jumping over the unseen pitfalls that ruin so many other biz owners trying to expand.  Or, you may have a problem that needs serious attention… like sales going into the toilet, or new competitors chewing you up, or sudden changes in the marketplace that crush your bottom line (like a Google slap, or adverse rule changes at Clickbank, or the obsolescence of your product, or technological left-turns that disrupt your sales process). Even worse, what was working before suddenly isn’t working anymore, and you don’t see a clear reason why.  Or, you’re just working harder and harder, but sales are stagnant. Time, perhaps, to bring in an objective, experienced marketing whiz who can help you restructure your biz plan… so you maximize results, and get your life back (by working less, not more.)  Or, you may want high-end professional advice on your current sales funnel… just to make sure you’re not hemorrhaging money somewhere, or murdering potential sales through marketing blunders you can’t even see.  Or, you may be ready to start a new business adventure, and just want to be positive you’ve got your ducks lined up and you aren’t forgetting something critical.  Or, you have copy that may or may not be working, which you know could jack up your bottom line if a professional copywriter helped you with a total make-over.
Step Two: The best reasons to seek professional help from a veteran dude like me always have one main goal: To fix problems, and goose your bottom line into obscene levels of newfound wealth.
When your situation is urgent, the cost of hiring a consultant who can provide solutions is almost always “cheap”, because you’re extracting yourself out of a dangerous reality that threatens your business and peace-of-mind.
And it’s a screaming bargain when that consultant can offer you simple fixes inside of a plan you can put into action immediately…Continue reading
“Train whistle blows, lost on its own track…” (Dwight Yoakum, “Long White Cadillac”)
I thought you’d want to see this.
I first posted it on Facebook, and it generated an avalanche of “likes” and comments… which always means I’ve hit a nerve. And since many of the nice folks on my main list are curmudgeons who refuse to participate in social media (“Facebook, bah, humbug!”)…
… I’m reprinting it here. So you don’t have to sully yourself by dropping by Facebook. (Bonus: The post below actually trashes large swaths of the Web.)
The cold, dark days of December are, traditionally, a breeding ground for both regret over mistakes in the past year…
… and (more happily) for bold new plans in the coming year.
So, in the spirit of helping you end the year on a positive note… while also teeing up 2014 as possibly your best new year ever…
… let’s see if this advice (which has transformed so many entrepreneurial adventures into something amazing) will have any effect on you. Maybe get a head-start on wading through the mounting piles of nonsense out there, and snuggling up closer to the reality-checks and truths that can help you attain your wildest goals and dreams.
Here’s the post:
Warning (and your brain may curdle if you ignore this): I’ve been paying close attention to human behavior for longer than many of my readers have been alive. And because I felt so clueless, even as a kid, I devoured every available source of “spying” on how everyone else managed to exist in such a strange world…
… which included reading advice columns (street-level psychology at work with Ann Landers and sis Abbey), monitoring adult conversations, and stalking older kids (who were navigating life just a few hormones ahead of me).
So I’ve been a one-man research center for decades. I still haunt multiple advice columns online, see what the trolls are up to in the comment sections of NYT opinion pages, and (here’s the important part) discuss human behavior with a wide selection of colleagues both online and in person.
The discussions are critical… because there is a FLOOD of bullshit cascading down on us from every direction in the culture. It’s impossible for one individual to keep track of the spin, urban myths, misinformation campaigns…
… and (especially) the really, really, really awful investigative reporting that passes for news organizations today.
My colleagues are biz owners and pro writers well-trained in applying high-level skepticism to incoming data, and following through on research when necessary. We represent every age group of functioning adults in the culture, from all over the world (including the US hinterlands, Canucks, Limeys and other uncivilized joints), specializing in all kinds of different markets, hobbies, lifestyles and professional goals.
So when — for example — the media gets looped into a meme on how millennials (the generation of kids just now emerging from college) are bringing their parents to job interviews, and are incapable of critical thought (because of helicopter parenting) and just generally not becoming adults at all…
… we can look behind the glib stories and anecdotes and see a deeper truth.
Such as how all of us, from every living generation, have oodles of friends and family who meet every single detail of the problems now being assigned to millennials. The lack of independence, the living at home until late 30s, the whining and narcissism and sense of entitlement…
… all of it. And when you get a broader view, from older and younger colleagues, you quickly see how DEEP the bullshit can get in a media firestorm.
I hunt down photos and resumes of the reporters, and sigh. They’re like, twelve (or 32 going on 12) — insulated, given vast unearned attention through posts and stories, and dishing out accusations based on minuscule life experience.
And yet the stories stick, and become “common wisdom”.
As a marketer, you need to immerse your bad self into the culture, and understand what your prospects know and — very critical — THINK they know. And what they suspect they don’t know, or feel paranoid about not knowing.
That means you’ve got to go deep, all the time, and have resources you trust to bounce incoming data and ideas off of.
Masterminds have always been my #1 tool for this. I’m in multiple free ones, have paid for membership in others…Continue reading
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
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
“One way or another, I’ll gitcha, I’ll gitcha, I’ll gitcha gitcha gitcha…” (Blondie)
Okay, quick post today… aimed at ruining your life by prying open the profit floodgates with a few simple rules even grizzled old veterans seldom learn.
We’ll discuss later how to deal with all the extra moolah (so you can salvage an excellent life once the realities of being richer sink in).
First, let’s make sure you understand these 3 basic (and mostly ignored or botched) rules from our Operation MoneySuck manual.
Ready? Okay, release the life-changing stuff:
Op$uck Rule #1: Get an assistant.
Hey, I totally understand the “go it alone” mindset of the average entrepreneur. I was a one-man-band for the first 5 years of my career — if you got a letter or phone call from my office (in my collapsing beach house in Hermosa), it was from me.
However, once I decided to start teaching and offering courses and coaching, I took to heart the Prime Operation MoneySuck Directive: “If you’re the dude responsible for bringing in the big bucks, then that’s your #1 job. And your #2 job, and #3 job, etc. Hire out or delegate everything else.”
I brought on a part-time assistant for 10 hours a week, who worked out of her house (so we communicated mostly by email, phone and only occasional visits). She was smart, had biz experience, and was thrilled to have a part-time gig with totally flexible hours, with a generous and savvy boss (me) so she could work from home and raise her kid.
When I realized those 10 hours were INSTANTLY gobbled up by random stuff like scheduling consultations, dealing with refunds and printers and non-essential client requests…
… it became obvious that I’d been STEALING 10 hours of energy/time/thinking/effort from my biz. Which I could have been force-feeding back into the money-making part of that same biz.
Total WTF moment.Continue reading
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, unless you’ve got a black hole handy.”
Nice, short post here today. In keeping with the theme “KISS.”
Veteran entrepreneurs recognize this, of course, as an acronym of “Keep It Simple, Stupid“… easily some of the best biz advice I ever received in my long career. I carefully printed this slogan out, by hand, on a big notecard and had it taped above my desk for years (though, my sign was even more direct and vicious: Keep It Simple, Shithead. I wanted to get my own attention.)
I made good use of slogans during the early days. “Business before pleasure” was also huge for me, since I’d squandered my youth as a party-hardy slacker… and simply re-directing my energy first to biz (and having evil fun afterward, if I still had any juice left) instantly changed my entire existence. I made a vow to myself — my first real vow that I took deadly seriously — to follow that self-administered advice without hesitation or complaint… and to never apologize for basing my career on a hackneyed phrase that few people ever thought twice about. And that’s when things started popping for me, success-wise.
That was a key realization: All those dog-eared rickety slogans, as mocked as they are, have earned their way into the culture…
… because they Continue reading
“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” (Travis Bickle, “Taxi Driver”)
Howdy. Sorry about being such a potty mouth right off the bat there… but that Taxi Driver quote is just too perfect for setting the stage.
Here’s what’s up: I’ve been involved in high-end, professional-level brainstorming and masterminding for, oh, around 30 years now. I think I’m starting to get a handle on it, too.
Okay, I’m joking. After spending half my career butting heads, arguing and mentally-wrasslin’ with legendary thinkers like Gary Halbert… with a LOT of money, reputation and consequences on the line…
… I actually DO know a little something about working over an idea, ripping away the bullshit, and uncovering the overlooked, ignored, and spot-on nuggets of truth and success-potential most people miss.
The process is very much like sausage-making: Not pretty, and not for the weak-kneed.
However, if you truly desire to run an idea, project or plan through the gauntlet of REAL brainstorming…
… it’s still the fastest way to load up your war-chest with tactics, strategies and solid creative mojo. So you can get moving on conquering the world (or your niche, whichever).
But here’s the kicker: Hardly any veteran marketers have a clue how to brainstorm effectively.
Folks just naturally suck at it. And recoil in horror when confronted with the real thing in action. (“No!“, they cry. “It just CAN’T be that brutal!“)
At least… Continue reading