Okay, I Lied…

I’m not gonna get to those questions, like I promised, in this post.

I just pulled a long working weekend — don’t ask, but even us lazy-as-cats writers get behind now and again — and I’m fried. Just the thought of trying to tackle a simple marketing question makes me near-homicidal.

Still, I have one coherent thought I want to share with you before I go see what sort of new dreams Mr. Id has to taunt me with tonight.

See, I was chatting with one of my friends who is a civil servant the other night… and it made me wonder: What is it, exactly, that allows someone to tell the “normal” world to shove it, and go become an entrepreneur?

I’d always assumed it was a combination of tolerance of risk, and a severe dislike of working for someone else.

But I may be wrong.

Lifer civil servants are on the other end of the spectrum, of course. At any stage of their career with the bureaucracy, they can tell you exactly how many days they have left before they can retire at near-full pay (and full benefits). They hate their jobs, working for the Man, just like everyone else… but that carrot of a pampered retirement keeps them shackled.

Most of the hard-core entrepreneurs I know would go postal after a week in a bureaucracy. It would be cruel Kafkaesque punishment knowing exactly what your future was, and ticking off the calendar one day at a time waiting for recess.

So, on the one hand, you have people who seemingly have zero tolerance of risk, and who gladly trade in their soul for a guaranteed retirement. And, on the other hand, you have people who seem to be addicted to risk, and who gladly soar without a safety net.

But, lately, I’ve noticed the entrepreneur ranks swelling with people who abhor risk. And I’ve seen rebels suddenly go meek at the offer of a steady job, and melt into a cubicle for the rest of their lives like they were settling into a hot tub.

What gives?

I think I’ve figured it out: The rules have changed.

While I wasn’t paying attention, someone slipped the world “what the hell” pills, and now it’s all topsy turvy.

This clarified itself in my head as I blew past an Errol Flynn western last night while channel surfing.

We’re re-experiencing the old pioneer spirit here.

And it’s being fueled by the economy.

Back during the nineteenth-century westward expansion of the U.S., the first people to hit the frontier were risk takers. But that didn’t last. War, and an increasingly vicious ecomony started forcing “better safe than sorry” types into the wilderness, too. They didn’t necessarily want to go. But west was where the opportunity was.

In many cases, it was the ONLY opportunity happening.

So the choice wasn’t really to risk or not to risk… but rather to take a shot at the unknown, or get crushed by the status quo. The notorious Donner Party (who snacked on each other after getting caught in a Sierra storm a few miles from here) were not hardy pioneer types.

They were the equivalent of Homer and Marge Simpson. With Ned Flanders as their guide. Forced into the new world by circumstances.

The economy is going gangbusters in certain areas, but going cold in others. And not in some cancel-each-other-out way, either — it’s more like a big storm that some ships are weathering just fine, while all sorts of smaller craft are getting sunk or beached.

And suddenly, like no other time since the Depression, the entrepreneurial ranks are becoming engorged with reluctant entrepreneurs.

I unconsciously began to notice this last year, when I found myself getting increasingly impatient with more and more people who came to me for advice. They asked for clear directions on what to do next, as entrepreneurs, and I told them.

Not brain surgery, as I always say. There are proven paths to making a venture work, and all you gotta do is provide the elbow grease. It’s really so friggin’ easy these days, many hardened rebel-types are just quitting, and getting day jobs. There’s no fun in being a rebel if it’s EASY. So they earn a regular wage, and go start painting or reading philosophy.

Leaving the new game to the nervous types, for whom mild risk is a shock to the system.

But many entrepreneur wannabe’s resist that first step. Like they’re frozen at the edge of the pool, terrified of jumping in… but needing to. Desperately needing to.

I can get a little pissy around timid people. I eat risk for breakfast, and learned long ago that it isn’t bad for you and has few unpleasant side effects. And the rewards are legion.

Finally, however, tonight, I’m beginning to understand what’s going on.

And you know what?

It’s okay to be scared.

Taking those first few steps on your own can be terrifying, if you’re not used to it.

But you still have to make the decision: Are you gonna do this, go out on your own? Or are you gonna turn around and go back the way you came?

There’s no shame in turning back. But you’ll screw up your insides just standing there, frozen, refusing to make the decision.

I used to think I had the answer: Just dabble in being an entrepreneur. It’s not hard. Especially now, when you can launch a website in ten minutes. I teach people all the time how to create a product from thin air, for free, in a long weekend. No big deal.

You just gotta do it. Don’t quit your day job. Just jump into the shallow end of the pool, and dog paddle around a little bit.

For many, even that mild decision is too much. They fear it will be like heroin — take one hit, and you wake up six years later in jail.

But it’s not like that at all.

This is an odd confluence of opportunity and information happening right now. The Web is there, cheap and easy and stocked with vast targeted markets waiting to be plundered. And the guru’s are out there, flogging their courses and inside scuttlebutt… much of it very, very good stuff. (Not all, but enough.)

Hey — you don’t like your chances of seeing that long-awaited retirement and pension, after slaving away for the Man for most of your life?

Well, then, fund your own damn retirement. If you found this blog, you must be wired into other entrepreneurial-helping sites. You know the potential is out there, and you know this is one of those rare times in history when wealth and fame are easily gotten…

… if you can stomach just a little bit of risk.

Again, carpe diem, dude.

You’re not alone, no matter how scared you are.

John Carlton

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  • Matt says:

    You said “I teach people all the time how to create a product from thin air, for free, in a long weekend”.

    Is that info people have to pay you for or could you explain that more?

  • Patti Green says:

    This is scary. You said “While I wasn’t paying attention, someone slipped the world “what the hell” pills, and now it’s all topsy turvy. ”

    I just blogged (about copywriting among other things) “What the he**, it’s my birthday.” This was before reading your blog, which I have listed in my lists on my blog.

    You are good….. scary … but good.

  • Timothy Warnock says:


    You think a lot of people have actually taken the “what the hell” pills…?

    Maybe… the lure of wealth and fame pull hard to suck in some of the audience and fence sitters into the mosh pit, but once they are there… I have the impression it is more like “what the hell have I done?!?”

    I’ve been an entrepreneur practically my whole life… is it scary? At times, hell yes! Especially when you become responsible for feeding more defenseless mouths than just your own. That’s part of the game. Being scared isn’t an issue – it’s a given.

    It’s all about how you react to the fear. It’s about what is really motivating you, because if people are becoming entrepreneurs to have an easier life – forget it!

    The easier life might come, but only AFTER the battle is fought, and it can get fierce.

    Red pill or blue pill dude?

    I think perhaps the number one requisite for an entrepreneur is the ability to never freeze, to thrive on improvisation, to embrace the unknown, the unpredictable, and ride it…

    Big wave is coming? Then paddle like a mad man towards it before it breaks all over you, and either catch the sucker, or go over it.

    Freeze and you’re going to get pounded, spun, and tumbled…

    I have several friends who make luke warm attempts at being entrepreneurs, and they are neither on the beach, nor beyond the breaks – they keep getting the Whirlpool treatment in the white water.

    They don’t seem to get it… that work doesn’t come on its own, like when they sat in the cubicle, or waited for the factory conveyor belt to keep bringing it their way…

    I’ve given them the Keys to get work, and they drop them… I have even gone out of my way to give them work leads, and they don’t follow up (because they don’t want to “be pushy”)

    I may be wrong John, but I think people either have it in their system or they don’t – think of everyone you know who is a solid entrepreneur, didn’t these qualities show up early in life?

    I have a young friend who just turned 25, he’s uneducated – but the guy is going to be a huge success – he’s a natural born entrepreneur – he NEVER freezes, is very street-saavy, and has the courage of a lion.

    The shallow end, as you suggest, is a good, intelligent way to find out if an individual will thrive, and it is getting crowded right now, but the deep end has its natural limits, and will never stop being scary – fear is the gatekeeper.

    Maybe this is why my favorite saying is:

    “Be more dangerous than danger itself”.

    It’s my personal passcard that saves me from what really terrifies me (much more than the unknown)… being confined under The Man.

    All the best,


  • ken calhoun says:

    Sharp writing. I’ve found most people who ponder the leap from the ‘man’ to starting small businesses are largely clueless when it comes to genuine salesmanship and entrepreneurial guts to “just sell the damn thing”.

    I used to work with businesses large and small. Making payroll is murder for these guys, especially small businesses. And taxes and ads, and val pack coupons and the rest.

    For info-preneurs, we’ve got it easy with little overhead and just our wits to live by – and our test results. And our grab it by the throat til it gives outlook on being persistent.

    I deal with it with stock traders all the time. Most are addicted to the thrill, like gambling. They don’t really expect to win. They hope, but are self defeating.

    Many entrepreneurs, the same way. I went to pick up greek food from my favorite small restaurant here. Told the owner he needs to put a daily special up, have limited-time offers on his store’s food specials (I used to help small businesses crank up their sales as a consultant, worldwide). He tells me he doesn’t want ‘too much business’ because he doesn’t have enough chairs in the place. Idiot.

    Many people just don’t want success. The fact that they’re clueless as to how to reach it, doesn’t help much either.

    Like Kennedy said, he learned after years, most don’t want to be taught how to fish, “just give em the fish” is what they really want.

    So the good news is, for those who want to take the risk and make it work, we have unlimited wealth and fame at our fingertips.

    The bad news is, it’s hard to relate to the legion of ordinary “marge and homers” out there, to whom success is not in their self-monologue.


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