Holding Forth On The Fourth

Back when I was a working stiff — slaving away to make someone else rich — it was always a special treat when holidays like the Fourth fell on a Thursday or Tuesday. Cuz it meant a solid four-day vacation.

Ooooh, the hangovers.

This year, I’ll be working a bit throughout the weekend, as I often do when in town. Partly because I can — it’s one of the great perks of working for yourself, to be able to schedule things very loosely, and not have to punch a time clock.

And partly because I have to — after being on the road for most of the past two months, I’m a bit backed up. One of the not-so-great things about working for yourself is… you work for yourself.

I can’t come up with a good enough excuse to give myself the entire four-day holiday off.

Nevertheless, I AM gonna take off the Fourth. Quaff some brew, blow some shit up (if any of my friends were able to smuggle fireworks into the state), and eat bar-b-que til I can’t move.

And, as master of my own domain, I find I actually have to arrange for this day off in my head. When home, I tend to regard my office as a fun place to pop into. Check email, push a few projects ahead, return a phone call or two. It’s pleasureable, because it’s the engine of my lifestyle.

But I also know that I enjoy it MORE… when I close the office door and refuse to go in there for a few days at a time.

And I tend to forget that fact. It’s like enjoying ice cream… but snagging a dish every time you pass the fridge. At a certain point, you’re gonna ruin the pleasure.

So, I’m taking a page from my old days as a slave laborer… and taking the whole day off. It seems silly to have to consciously make the decision to do that, but that’s what I’ve found works the best: Make a firm business decision NOT to engage in business for a stretch of time.

Studies back this up, by the way. Ongoing university research on “happiness” finds that — after you’ve reached a level of “sustenance”, where all your basic needs are met — money doesn’t make you any happier. (That’s the storyline behind that new TV show “Windfall”, too.)

I have some issues with those conclusions… having been dead broke, just getting by, and then relatively well-off myself. (My main complaint being: It’s just more fun to find out that money doesn’t bring happiness on your own, and not have to take the word of some college prof.)

It’s not the money. It’s the self-perception, really, that screws people up — once you earn a certain amount, this becomes your “base line” for who you are. At least for most people.

So you get it into your head that you can never earn LESS than your baseline… or you’ve somehow failed. And, if your bottom line continues to increase, you somehow “win”.

For some people, this actually works. I know workaholics who are hooked on 16 hour days, and wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they had more free time.

But they’re the minority. For most of my close friends, money brings the sense that you must work harder to “maintain” the income. It’s wrong thinking… but it’s pervasive. Especially for entrepreneurs who come from being broke, and experience massive cash influx for the first time.

What the studies suggest is that working stiffs simply have more free time to engage in pleasureable activities. And do so, with great pleasure. It’s the stuff of all working-class sit-coms (from Jim Belushi’s to Drew Carey’s) — the job is drudgery, and you work for the weekend.

Owning your own biz makes the option of joining a regular bowling league, for example, pretty remote. As the owner, you must keep your “free” time available for emergencies.

The truly independent entrepreneurs (of which I know a few) have put their biz on auto-pilot, so they can take off six months and sail around the world, or golf for weeks at a time, or do whatever the hell they please. Knowing that nothing will happen that will require them to abort their free-time activities.

I’ve had that arrangement, at times, in the past. But I’m in transition again, juggling multiple projects and responsible for a bunch of stuff that I have decided is more important, right now, than having a boatload of free time.

That will change, as I get those projects moving in the right direction. The moment I realize I’ve created a “job” for myself with all these entrepreneurial activities, I’ll dismantle the entire operation and start over.

I’ve had a “job”. I don’t need to be reminded why I started working for myself in the first place.

While I reposition things, however, I’m willing to work a little harder than usual. Because I have goals, and the payoff is within sight.

But, along the way, I have to remember to sample free time with luxurious leisure — just kick back, empty my mind, and revel in the moment. Outside. With a beer in hand and exhausted sparklers around my feet.

Plus: This really is a special day. It’s unique to Americans. (Some day, if I have a few hours, I’ll have to tell you the story of the Fourth I spent in Mexico. It’s nearly as wild as the New Year’s Eve I spent in Ensenada a few years before that…)

I am not a gung-ho patriot, willing to forgive every trespass my country makes. The way I’ve learned to understand and love this place, my unwillingness to let the power elite get away with bullshit makes me a BETTER citizen than the yahoo’s who follow authority blindly.

I can point to the exact foundations of this amazing nation that make it the place everyone who is suffering wants to live in. We didn’t invent democracy, and our haphazard version of it sucks in many ways… but it’s things like the Bill of Rights (absolutely unique in the world)… the separation of powers (you can tell this is a good thing, because it pisses off the power brokers so much)… the freedom of and from religion, as we individually see fit… and the concept, relatively new in human history, that laws, and not men, will decide things.

All of this has added up to an environment where working-class stiff like me… and maybe you, too… can rise above our “station” in life whenever we choose to apply the energy. Other western nations, while enjoying many similar freedoms, haven’t seemed to grasp the elements of “free economic movement” that makes the US so powerful.

And crazy. One of our main strengths is our mix of ideas — there is nothing you can say that won’t be argued with, passionately, by someone else with a vastly different agenda. It’s hard to see this as a strength sometimes… but that’s what it is.

And people are always going to hate it that other people can think such different thoughts. Throughout history, the trend is alwasy toward tyranny — the will of the majority crushing the out-of-the-mainstream minorities.

Somehow, the Founding Fathers cobbled together a set of laws and rules that have mostly kept us on the right path. The joint has withstood a fairly steady onslaught of fascist, conformist and aggressively-stupid idealism, and that is why I consider the Fourth a sacred day.

Both the left wing and the right wing of this country have it wrong. And the large, slumbering middle is mostly clueless. This nation was created by rebellious types, and the true heroes of today remain those few who understand the vigilance necessary to keep the wing-nuts and the opiated masses from giving up the freedoms that make America tick.

We’re always going to have problems, and we’re always going to be at each other’s throats over politics. (As my mother used to say, it’s easy to see why politics affects folks the way it does — just figure out who gets what they want, and who gets screwed. There are no “perfect” laws, and never will be.)

But this holiday, I’m gonna overlook my anger at the idiots in power (and my disgust at the idiots out of power). We’re all in this together.

I don’t know about you, but I owe everything I am, and every free thought I think, to the wildly imperfect and amazing country I was raised in.

She has her faults, but she’s mine. And I’m hers. My love for her is intense, frustrated and undying.

We’re all just damned lucky to be here.

Enjoy your Fourth.

John Carlton

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  • Tom Tolman says:

    At times democracy is like a drunk man holding on while trying to ride a horse. Right now it seems to be the case more than ever. But what a ride! Have a safe 4th and I’ll look forward to your next blog.

  • John Thomas says:

    Thanks, John, for a great reminder of the need for balance between our personal and work lives and the necessity (and advantages) of open dissent that we have (to a large extent) still here in the US.

    People with perspective can be so few and far between (I was just reminded of that again by some commentors on Blair Warren’s blog within the past few days).

    We need a dose of that regularly.

    – John

  • John

    My home office is just like ice cream as a matter of fact…

    That being said, we as Americans do have a freedom that no other country can speak of…and on the 4th we get to celebrate that right.

    So John, have a GREAT 4th of July off…just make sure you don’t blow yourself up! There are still companies who need to sneak you in the back door…

    Joe Ratliff
    Professional Copywriter

  • Al Hannigan says:

    Beautifully put and a much needed statement of the true meaning of “Independance Day”. Probably one of the most important distinctions we as Americans hold is the right of ownership.

    Originally it meant the right to own property in an agricultural dependant land, but it still remains as the freedom that permits us to be here on the web, have a home of our own, start our own businesses and so much more.

    While the power mongers and greed seekers try to tax us on everything from our earnings to our pets, still the right to own is what allows us to rise to any level we have the ambition and desire to achieve.

    That alone is worth celebrating everyday, not just on the 4th.

    Now back to the grill and brew. Have a great day off!

  • Blair Robertson says:


    Just wanted to tell you that I think you are the Eric Clapton of copywriting. I always enjoy every word you write.

    Happy 4th of July!


  • caleb says:

    Once again, an awesome post. In the words of Immortal Technique:

    “I love the place I live,
    but I hate the people in charge,…”

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