Making Time For A Good Time

One of my personal crusades is to get entrepreneurs to lighten up a bit.

Most of the ones I meet are driven, motivated by the idea that they’ve either broken or are about to break the code on making money on their own terms… and they’re high on work.

And that’s great. My own career didn’t start until I made a simple vow: “Business before pleasure.” Until that point, I was confused about what kind of discipline was truly necessary to succeed at anything.

If what you’re doing seems really difficult, and isn’t any fun, then you’re probably going after the wrong goal. When you find out what you’re best suited for, even the sweat-and-blood work is fulfilling.

But you still have to temper your obsession with work… with a little recreation. All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy indeed.

I have a little mini-talk I sometimes give at seminars, when there’s time, or when it seems especially appropriate. I call it the “29th Auto Supply Store”: After one especially intense seminar down in Miami, I was relaxing with some friends. Somehow, one of the seminar attendees weaseled his way into a seat at the table.

He was the kind of guy you remember: About 100 pounds overweight, wearing ill-fitting clothes, with a wife who despised him and kids who were strangers. (I know this because he talked incessantly.)

He was also filthy rich. He had 28 auto supply stores, all successful.

Yet, as the rest of us sipped cool drinks at a sidewalk table… watching a topical evening settle upon the beach, with a warm wind rustling the tall palm trees, and a parade of gorgeous barely-dressed women strolling by on the boardwalk… all this guy could talk about was opening up his 29th auto supply store.

I just shut him out, but vowed to keep him in mind. As a lesson against the evil of being a workaholic.

My question is: What are you working FOR? Where is your reward in all this?

I teach people how to become freelance writers. I know all the secrets of getting good, getting connected, and getting paid.

But I also know the secrets of long-term survival. I’ve been at the top of the game for most of the last 20 years, and that’s rare. Almost every copywriter I know has burned out at some point in his career.

I’ll repeat that: Almost every copywriter I know has burned out at some point in his career.

The long, late hours and intense brain power needed to write brilliant copy takes a toll. I actually dropped out of the rat race for a couple of years in the early 1990s, and wrote novels and played in rock bands. I still kept a couple of clients, just to stay sharp… but for the most part, I was taking my retirement early. I would go on six month vacations. Take off for Europe on a moment’s notice.

It’s important to remember what life really is all about.

And it’s not work-work-work.

Anyway, even with my career-long interest in things outside of advertising, I occasionally get caught up in the nonsense. I’ve been working like a dog for the past three months, and barely noticed that summer had arrived.

In fact, I had almost forgotten that several of my oldest friends were coming into town this weekend for a little reunion.

I woke up in the middle of the night, panicked that I just did not have the time to do this fun thing. I’d have to weasel my way out of it, somehow. There just wasn’t time for it.

Today, calmer, I just called everyone and made sure they ARE coming. Screw the workload — at the very worst, I’ll have to pull a couple of late nights next week to make up the lost time.

Calmer, I see that the crush of my current projects are waaaaay overstated in my fevered brain. I’m just overly focused on work.

I’ve let my fun side get flabby.

Not good. It’s July, it’s gorgeous outside, and the long lingering evenings are what makes life worthwhile. Especially with friends.

I shudder to think I almost called it off. The workaholic demons are nasty little creatures who demand everything from you.

But they can be controlled.

Just remember why you’re working so hard. It’s for a better life. The money you’re making shouldn’t be a prison, but a conduit for more fun, more travel, more adventures.

And, at least for me, for more time with old friends.

Today, I am relieved to have remembered why I’m in this business.

And here’s my suggestion to you: Enjoy the sensual aspects of tonight’s long sunset. Even if you only spare fifteen minutes. Just stop fussing, relax and let the wonder soak in.

Life is great. And it’s part of your job to enjoy it.

John Carlton

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  • Caleb says:

    Great Post John!

    It’s really easy to get caught up in working all the time and not take the time to relax.

    “Just remember why you’re working so hard. It’s for a better life. The money you’re making shouldn’t be a prison, but a conduit for more fun, more travel, more adventures.”

    That’s a perfect statement right now. The problem I’m having now is that I haven’t made any real money, so I have none to enjoy, so I have to work harder! haha. But it’s true what you said, as that is the real reason we actually work so hard.

    And it’s important to keep that in mind!

  • ken calhoun says:

    Good points… one of my trading colleagues reminded me about that years ago, and it’s helped.. eg spending time w/family since it’s irreplaceable, in addition to our work….

    it’s great being around my 5yr old daughter at home, working here, her whole life, vs suit/tie/commute/corporate ball n chain bs.

    It’s challenging though, since there’s so much money to be made using the copywriting techniques, so many new niches to enter and make money it, it’s hard to resist getting the latest site/dvd/course/seminar/whatever out on the market …. empire building is fun..

    but like they say, nobody got to the end of their life and regretted not working more, they all say the same thing, “I wish I’d spent more time w/my family” .. so building mini-vacations into life is a great reward…

    the last 3-4 years, I always take my family away to a nice hotel for frequent weekend getaways, plus take everyone out for lunch at least once a week, for quality time away from writing copy/ creating sites..that’s a fun way to have a mini-vacation, just go somewhere local to a great hotel for a night or two…

    taking time to smell the roses, it’s balancing, and refreshes the spirit and the mind…


  • David says:

    Thanks, John. I needed to hear that.

    Story about the founder of Edie Bauer. May have been old Edie himself.

    Reporter, back in the 1960’s, was asking him about plans to expand.

    He said “Yup, we’ll be testing a new item in our next catalog.”

    Reporter says, “No, I mean get some raise some capital, open some outlets, go international, become the Sears Roebuck of the clothing catalog business.”

    “Son,” wise old Edie replies, “I eat three square meals a day. I can’t eat four.”

  • Dan Page says:

    Hi John,

    I couldn’t agree more with your post.

    This is one of the reasons I’ve worked from the home for the last twenty years. Complete flexibility to live the lifestyle I want, rather than waiting til’ some future time to enjoy happiness.

    But like everyone else, I still need to be reminded. Which is why your post is well timed. Entrepreneurial work is hectic, stressful and downright panic-ridden sometimes (at it’s worst).

    Just last week I was telling my wife that I can’t wait to get to the point where I can work part of the time and spend the rest of the time playing with my kids and building our wacky art gardens (which are starting to get some serious attention).

    She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and said…”Dan, that’s what you do NOW”.

    Oh yeah…

  • Hi John,

    a couple of years ago I met a guy at a seminar who owned a company that was restructuring hospitals.
    You know that kind of guy you picture in your mind when someone says: he has a stick up his ass?

    Well, that was him.

    At the seminar, this whole relaxation & stress theme was also part of the gig. And I had a conversation with him, here’s his statement, verbatim: “I’m not a workaholic, I just carry a lot of responsibility for my employees.” (I had to resist the urge to grin stupidly when he said that).

    Now, I very much admired him for what he had achieved in life and that he built a multi-million-Euro business. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think: ‘Gee, I don’t want to have that kind of life!’

    This summer I saw him again, and he was walking around with the calmness of a buddha, smile on his face. During our short conversation, he made me laugh three times because of funny little jokes he told. His whole attire completely changed. It was like you’d taken out a piece of butter from the freezer and let it melt in the sun. And I thought to myself: ‘Gee, this guy really figured something out now.’

    The point I want to make here is: It’s great to see that you can turn your life around if you make the decision. This guy was as much a workaholic as I can imagine. But in the course of a couple of years, he totally loosened up, and from what I heard out of the conversation his business is going stronger than ever before.

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