Squandering Free Time

Every so often, I make the alarming self-discovery that I’m taking things for granted.

It’s common, it’s understandable, and it’s forgiveable. But it’s not the way I choose to live.

I sometimes ask clients, while digging for USP material, why they’re doing what they’re doing. Most of the time, they don’t have a good answer. Especially the younger ones, for whom life is still a whirlwind of incoming stimuli and the years ahead still seem endless and fruitful.

And for those clients who answer “make a ton of money”, I know we are not destined for a long relationship. Because, if there’s one solid thing I’ve learned in my career… it’s that money isn’t a worthwhile goal. At best, it’s a sideline benefit.

Money will solve problems that not having money creates — like paying the rent, keeping sharks at bay, indulging in toys and extragavance. Being broke sucks. But once you still have a few bucks in your pocket after taking care of all your needs, having even one more dollar ain’t gonna change anything for you on any meaningful level.

I don’t urge people to “follow your bliss”, either. That’s a nice concept, and I’m a big fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Cambell… but I think most people need to balance some real work in there. Too many folks get the idea that their “bliss” involves retiring to the coast and painting lighthouses and seagulls. What we need, as a society, is more positive energy in the culture — especially the business side.

Still, you need to enjoy what you do. One of the driving motivations for me, when I first went solo as a freelancer, was finally being in control of my own time. This is important: During the first years, that meant I would often work TWICE as long as I had in my former corporate jobs.

But I was working for myself. That was bliss.

And once I created a niche for myself in the industry… I was able to start taking off huge chunks of time.

Huge chunks. Months at a stretch.

And that was a kind of bliss that is impossible to describe until you’ve experienced it. It’s like having summer vacation again, only as an adult. You work a few hours, and go play a LOT of hours.

Or, heck, skip the work altogether, and just play.

My friends who still work for The Man are in awe of the free time I have. Absolute awe. I don’t gloat about it, or try to convert them into becoming entrepreneurs… but I don’t hide it, either.

Free time. When I talk to people about the joys of freelancing, it’s usually the free time part that makes their eyes get big. The money — that’s great, too. But it’s the promise of free time that makes people quiver with excitement.

And yet… often, free time ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Without structure, you can devolve into a couch potato, and become one of the slothful many.

One of the advanced lessons on being a successful entrepreneur is all about using your free time wisely. You won’t necessarily live longer when you have more free time. The clock is always ticking.

And at some point, you’ve got to sit down and ask yourself: What’s really important in my life?

Is it that new sailboat? Another jaunt across Europe? Slicing up virgin powder in a new ski area?

I like grabbing the gusto as much as anyone. But sometimes, life will remind you that this ride doesn’t go on forever. And, for too many of us, it can go sideways in a blink.

In the last couple of months, a large number of friends and family have encountered serious health problems. And not the usual stuff, like pneumonia or broken bones, either.

The serious stuff.

As far as I can tell, I’m fine. But I’ve been on the operating table before, feeling helpless as I’m prepped for slicing and dicing, and feeling vulnerable and exposed waiting for test results.

I know that dread that begins when you see, by the expression on your doc’s face, that you didn’t escape this time. That you now have something new and awful in your life that will consume most of your thoughts… and all of your free time.

It’s a hard way to learn the lesson… but sometimes lessons come in rough packages.

For me, the important discovery was my need to use my free time to connect — and re-connect — with people. Not toys, not trips, not any of the bullshit glories that the consumer culture foists on us as worthy goals.

People. How many times have you put off a visit, or cancelled an event with friends or family… under the belief that “you’ll catch ’em next time around”?

I can tell you from grisly experience: More times than you’ll be able to bear, there won’t BE a “next time.”

Sometimes, when you start making serious money, you feel awkward around your old buddies who can’t afford the luxuries you now take for granted. Or your stubborn family members, who refuse to adapt to the hip new ways of the world, start to seem quaint.

My advice: Just get over your bad self.

If there’s any awkwardness, use your new “get ‘er done” skills (the ones that allowed you to accumulate that uncomfortable wealth in the first place), and just fix the awkwardness. Don’t pretend it’s not there, and don’t be a dick — just find a comfortable zone to “be” with your loved ones in a way that is meaningful.

Some of your friends will drift away. That’s part of the ride. You aren’t required to love every relative unconditionally, either. That’s your perogative as a free man, to choose who you hang out with.

But there is simply no excuse for not using your free time to indulge in the greatest gift life offers: Other people. With all their frustrating habits, quirks and foibles.

Most of us wait until crisis hits to say “I love you”. For those seemingly long periods when everything’s fine, we neglect to connect with those sometimes-embarrassing emotions. We let the important stuff slide… because we can always catch up later.

Or so we like to believe.

I have some upcoming opportunities to hang with friends and family that will have absolutely nothing to do with my career or my life’s work. When I’m chugging along in full “work mode”, I tend to discount those opportunities… and give them lower priority than another seminar, or another project, or another whatever.

I’ve been slapped by life again, though… and I’ll be goddamned if I’m gonna let this lesson fade away this time.

I don’t care if my reputation slides a bit, or I take a hit in income, or even if all my success goes away. I really don’t care.

I’m giving priority, again, to some very special people who aren’t in my business world. Friends, family, a few folks I’ve kinda lost track of over the years.

I’ll still work, and work hard and with focus… but I’m gonna spend much more of my precious free time in a way that packs real meaning. I go through periods where I forget about the people who have made my life interesting and vibrant… and who supported me, thrilled me, and helped shape who I have become.

And I’m gonna hang out even when it’s uncomfortable.

Big tip: One of the shocking discoveries people make when they get sick… is that many folks they thought they were close to, suddenly disappear. It’s mostly because people just don’t know what to say. So they initially babble, and squirm around the elephant in the room. And their discomfort sends them into hiding and denial.

What I’ve discovered — the hard way — is this: Most of the time, you don’t need to say anything. Just being there speaks volumes. You don’t need to be profound, or entertaining, or anything special.

Just hang out a bit. Just share some of your healthy energy and your hard-won free time.

It doesn’t cost you anything. But it can mean a lot to the people who’ve missed you.

Just a little piece of advice from a geezer who’s been there… and who is going back.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

P.S. My friend and colleague, Sylvie Fortin, has started a blog that I believe is important… and maybe even critical for you to see right now. Don’t squirm, and don’t be nervous — this is a young woman full of life and energy who has been dealt a rotten hand… and with a courage I can only hope to aspire to, is sharing something amazing with all of us in this blog.

It’s one thing to donate money to worthy causes, and observe events like the current Breast Cancer Awareness Month… but it’s a step deeper into life and being awake to listen — really listen — to someone who is staring down the beast and walking that ill-lit, scary path you’ve not had to walk yet.

Check out www.breastcancervictory.com right now.

And then go call someone you owe a call to. You know who they are.

Make the call.

Just enter your name and primary email address below and we'll send you the new report right away.

"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Nigel J Britton says:


    You hit the nail right on the head!

    Too often we’re just consumed with this material world that we live in, and we forget that no matter what it’s people that count.

    I’ll away and make that call,

    Hail! Hail!


  • Matt Gallant says:


    I honestly believe you are THE WISEST MARKETING GURU
    in the biz…

    Your words of wisdom in your newsletter and on your blog
    always go WAY BEYOND marketing… And I for one, ENJOY
    THAT STUFF MORE than the “money stuff”…

    Keep it flowing my friend,

  • Marta K. Tollerup says:


    How right you are. I am so thankful for the family I have. My father lost his mother and years later his only brother in car accidents and before he was 20 his father to cancer. I was 6 years old when my uncle died. I learned what death was growing up on a farm. I knew I would never see him again. People you love can be gone in a second. I recognized early in my life, perhaps because I experienced loss so young, how precious my parents and siblings are. My brother and sister and I made a pact when we were home from college one summer, that we would start saying “I love you” to one another, our parents and grandparents and anyone else we cared about. And always when we said fare well to hug one another. I remember the first time I told my dad I loved him. I gave him a big hug too and he just chuckled a little and said I love you too. That started it all. Nearly 30 years later we are still at it. Make a pact with yourself to tell your loved ones how you feel out loud. You will never regret it.

  • Great point John, that we all should contemplate. Many of us are so busy running around like chickens with our heads cut off that we don’t take the time to savor
    our most important relationships.
    Paul McCartney wrote a song called “This One” that touched on the very subject you just embellished on. It says that there is no better time to say whatever you have to say to your loved ones than NOW. This solo tune of Paul’s sounds like a Beatle song.
    Unfortunately, I also have a friend suffering from cancer at far-to-young of an age.
    Thankfully, we have appreciated each other for 35+ years but your point is well taken when I think of my family and other friends.
    All the best to you and yours.

  • Gerry Byrnes says:

    Well said, John. I lost a brother over 30 years ago to cancer. He was 27 at the time and it was hard. Now I am sitting on my own time bomb. I am in remission after radiation treatment for prostate cancer, but every six months my PSA reading continues to climb slowly but inexorably, probably like Tiger Woods’ dad. I’m not a young guy so I’m as prepared as one can be. I’m just wanting to finish your course and the AWAI course in time to get some benefit from both, some legacy for the family.
    Gerry Byrnes

  • That really pisses me off.

    “Money will solve problems that not having money creates”

    I wish I said that. I know I will sometime in the future, haha.

    I’m coming out of a broke period, lost all my money.

    Hit the wall, through the wall. Wall falls over and hits you on the head.

    You simply get up and do it again. Lesson learned.

    Time is the most expensive asset we have and yet it’s free.

  • Seth Chong says:

    As gay as this would sound,

    I feel like kissing you like what
    the french man did to ‘Ricky’ in
    “Talladega Nights”.

    Ugh, that sounded bad.

    But I guess you understand what it means behind.

    Keep rockin, master.

  • Tim King says:

    I too have heard the saying, “Follow your bliss.” I prefer to say, “Pursue your passion,” those things that are truly important to you. Maybe retiring to the coast might be sweet, but only if you actually have a passion for the coast. I don’t. My passions are creativity, stories, and family.


  • Tom Tolman says:

    The last time I saw my younger brother was last Christmas at my sister’s house. He was 53, healthy and a wildly successful businessman. He died in a car accident on New Year’s eve and completely turned our tight knit, loving family upside down in a heartbeat, especially my parents. Your advice should be well heeded by all. Love the ones you are with-while you can-hug them and tell them so-it’s never too late. Peace. Tom Tolman

  • Karen says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog after the call with Rich Schefren tonight. Your blog thoughts are SO RIGHT ON!!! During the last 2 years, several close friends and family members have faced menacing illnesses that rocked us all off our feet and out of any remote comfort zone. But there is more. Three years ago I had the privilege of being a non-ghost writer for a pioneering cancer doctor in New York. Writing his book was the most challenging writing I have EVER done in my life… You and your readers would understand this! Trying to capture and weave together his “personal collage” of inspiration drawn from the world of athletics, jazz musicians and cancer patients, caretakers and colleagues. I took the doctor’s cryptic journal notes, and 200 pages of other notes from conversations with him, plus his chapter headings and 24 colored markers and spent the night in prayer at a nearby monastery, quietly trying to find the right voice to capture his unique “song” to the world. The results are quite different. Not prose. Not poetry. Easy to read. Can start anywhere in the book, yet there is a consistent theme and voice to it. Insightful. Inspiring. So What???? In light of how heartfelt and passionate the pain loss joy and realization of what is really important in life seemed to be to you, I wanted to let you know about this new book, only published last month. in writing it, I was moved to tears, laughter, joy! So many rich and deep things I learned from working with this doctor in writing the book, all of which I found myself referring to often during the last two years. Yet I have not been able to show anyone the book, or even share its title, until last month! The site is http://www.comesunday.net (The book is Come Sunday). This is not a sales pitch. I get no money for this site reference. It is just a beautiful book — ENJOY!! (I will be giving a copy to my friend’s parents who just lost their only son after his courageous battle that resulted in living two years longer than doctors expected and being able to enjoy his only daughter’s first two birthdays! Maybe Come Sunday, Living Life with Heart will be an inspiration or comfort to others — preview: http://www.ComeSunday.net Enjoy the journey!! -Karen

  • I just discovered this post and have you ever hit the nail on the head!

    Last week I was speaking to group of CPAs in Florida who on average work 2,500+ hours per year.

    None of them need any more money or new boats…but they still don’t understand that they could use some marketing to dump their crappy “D” clients and get more “A” clients who LOVE to pay well so these guys could take an extra 1,000 hours a year off their schedules.

    You’re right…when I’m on my death bed, the last thought I have won’t be…”I wish I had spent another 200 hours at the office last year!”

    Patrick McEvoy
    Rainmaker Gateway

  • >