The Guru Glut

My good friend Perry Marshall (the Google Adwords wizard) has been embroiled in an online ruckus with some bloggers and letter-writers about the current overload of “experts” now clogging the Internet and selling their “magic” systems.

Never one to back down, Perry is examining the charges and evidence head-on, and that’s a good thing.

Any self-annointed guru who can’t handle a little rough treatment — and a vigorous dissection of his offered materials — needs to leave the stage. Just put your hype down, and back away slowly.

Teaching is, and should be, hard. At the public level, I think it’s a friggin’ crime both that our teachers earn shitty wages… and that the job doesn’t command the respect necessary to lure truly bright and motivated people with an aptitude for sharing knowledge and skills.

I slogged my way through 16 years of school, and I met exactly one teacher who took her job seriously. She taught the course, vigorously… she engaged each and every student individually, and strove to motivate you using every trick possible (from flattery to bullying, from deep discussion to specific challenges)… and she honestly cared about you.

Meeting her represented my first encounter with “real” teaching, and it rattled my cage profoundly. This was in community college, where I got a two-year degree in slacking off and partying. This teacher took me aside and upbraided me for being a brooding, rudderless wannabe writer… and gave me something that no other adult had ever offered before: Specific, useable advice.

And I took it.

It was my first experience with having a goal to focus on… and following through on that task required discipline (which I had almost no history with) and changing my worldview from “what’s the point?” to “this is what I want.”

Mind you, it still took me another 12 years to finally get my act together… but that’s why I’m diving into this “guru glut” subject.

That teacher was my first “course correction” in life. I was definitely headed in the wrong direction, and she whacked me upside the head (metaphorically, though I don’t doubt she would have used physical force if necessary — she cared that much) and sent me careening off on another path altogether. A new path that eventually opened up all kinds of opporunitities and possibilities.

Looking back, she gave me two distinct gifts as a teacher: First, that specific course of action, which gave me hope and direction. And second, a sense that — with just a tiny bit of concerned advice — there were secrets of living well that I needed to learn.

Those secrets weren’t going to just fall into my lap. They were a privilege, and they had to be pursued and earned.

Life is rough. Pitfalls are everywhere, and modern society seeks to lull you into a life-long slumber. Most people are sleep-walking zombies, terrified of risk and willing to trade in the wonders of this amazing ride for a safe, warm couch to snooze on.

Teachers are not a luxury. They are vital to living a full life.

Yet the good ones are few and far between. It’s your main job, until you learn what you need to learn, to search them out.

And caveat emptor applies at all times. (“Let the buyer beware.”)

When I started my career as a freelance copywriter, there were ZERO teachers available. Count ’em, zero. I’d been fortunate to have a few bosses, while I was still working for The Man, who gave me tidbits of advice here and there… but there was no roadmap for freelancing.

No guru’s anywhere.

Joe Sugarman and Joe Karbo (look ’em up if those names are not familiar — very important guys in advertising) offered small seminars, but not on any regular basis. Strictly for insiders, and a startling small population of insiders at that.

I met, and started working for, Jay Abraham right around the time he was stepping forward to offer more structured teaching. Still, compared with what’s available today, it was fairly meager stuff.

Mind you, for an ambitious twerp like me — chomping at the bit to devour every shred of knowledge and every trace of skill I could find — it was a cornucopia of amazing learning opportunities.

I was VERY lucky to have encountered quality teachers early in my career.

By the time I started co-producing regular seminars with Gary Halbert, in the late ’80s, more and more people were realizing the need for teachers.

That didn’t mean the best and brightest stepped forward, of course.

Still, I was happy to see so many options suddenly become available.

Today, the Web is crammed to the rafters with wannabe guru’s. (The word “guru”, by the way, means “teacher”. In case you were wondering.)

Most of ’em are just opportunists, looking for easy ways to make a buck. For many, their plan seems to be this: Slap together a course or seminar, hype the bejesus out of it, get good at making joint ventures with people bearing large lists… and see what happens.

And yes, it’s frustrating for the guy looking to learn. Who do you believe? How do you separate the crafty hype from the serious opportunity?

Thus, we get flame wars on forums about the “death of the guru”, and angry rebellions among seminar junkies over the relentless pitching going on at many events.

And, we also get many wannabe guru’s jumping in front of that very parade, claiming to be the “anti-hype” teacher.


Again: Learning is tough. It’s a process… and it’s up to YOU, the seeker of truth, to do your job separating the crap from the gems. There is NEVER going to be a golden age where truth wins out completely, and it becomes easy to find your perfect teacher.

I found ONE teacher who actually taught me something as a young man coming out of the public school system. I could’ve easily lumped her in with all the others who’d wasted my time… but I’m damned lucky I allowed her to shake me up.

The “magic” in learning comes not from any secret way to master something without effort. That doesn’t exist.

No. The magic is all about finding a relationship with a teacher who not only aces the facts… but also cares enough to metaphorically smack you around until you “get” it.

The winners in life never stop learning, and never stop seeking the truth. They’ve learned to love the challenge of encountering something new, and mastering it. They don’t whine about how hard life is — they roll up their sleeves and dig in with gusto.

I’m GLAD there is a glut of guru’s out there. The charlatans are easy enough to spot, if you just pay attention. The good ones are known, too. They may not be the most popular, or the most savvy at getting attention.

But they’re the ones who get the job done, teaching you what you need to learn.

Bitching about having too many guru’s is like complaining about having too many choices at the local sandwich shop.

Just get over your bad self. As a student, you have a job to do, and part of it is finding out the right way for you to learn.

Having choices is a good thing.

And remember — the best teachers are not necessarily good at elbowing their way to the front of the crowd.

They do, however, have the most vocal fans.

Stay frosty…

John Carlton

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  • Hey John,

    What a great post.

    You know, I think one of my great fortunes in life is I had not one really good teacher (like yours at the community college) I can actually pinpoint three or four or maybe even five, between kindergarten and college graduation. In particular there was this one English professor who was widely regarded as THE best prof at the University of Nebraska, period. I took “English Authors before 1800” from him and *every* single class was mind-blowing. Like, dang, these old writers really knew how the world works.

    So here I am thoroughly enjoying an English class, thoroughly enjoying writing papers for this prof, meanwhile I’m fighting with every ounce of strength just to barely make it in an Electrical Engineering program, which was a bitch. I was wondering why I just didn’t take the easy route and be an English major.

    My gut kept telling me that would be a cop-out.

    One day this prof pulled me aside and said “Perry I’d like you to come to my office, I’d like to talk to you sometime” and so I stopped by one day. We had a LONG conversation. He barely knew me but he was picking up on all kinds of things I’d never seen before, just from reading my papers. He wanted to know why I was studying engineering if people were so much more interesting than things, and he saw that I understood people. I told him why – there were very definite reasons for slogging through engineering school, some abilities I just needed to develop.

    He said, “Your gift is you understand people AND things. That’s rare.”

    He said that I would do very well. (Making $7 an hour working in a warehouse and struggling to get B’s and C’s in my engineering classes, such a possibility seemed remote to me at best.) He said I might be very successful at technical sales (I’d never heard the term at age 20, before that day). But then he said… “But then again, maybe…. you might be the president of the company.”

    Can’t tell you what an affirming conversation that was. Its cumulative value over the last 18 years has been incalculable.

    Living in the guru world and all the competition for the buck it’s real easy to forget that when you’re in a position of influence you have great power to affect people in just that sort of way. You can really make a gigantic difference in someone’s life.

    And… thanks for being one of the more recent mentors. Your help has made its own significant contribution in the story of my life. Thanks.

    Take care,


  • John says:


    Thanks for the post. This is spot on. Questioning one’s belief system can produce only 2 outcomes. The first is making you realize what you hold as a belief is false and you can change it. The second is realize what you believe is true and gives you another pillar to support your beliefs.

    Any guru, teacher, or what ever you want to call them will cause you to one of the two conclusions. So bring on the teachers to shake us up


  • Alex says:

    I believe you said it best with these words…

    “The “magic” in learning comes not from any secret way to master something without effort. That doesn’t exist.”

    It’s about time someone have the gut to tell the truth – that anything you want in life never just falls into your lap. There is no created step-by-step system that will give people exactly what they want no matter how great the packaging and sales pitches are.

    Everything exists because someone took up the challenge to create it or improve upon it…unfortunately it seems most people prefer wondering around searching for the quick, easy, effortless way to build a great life.

    As a teacher myself, it is sad that some (not all – some are truly genuine) gurus play on this human flaw to get there greedy hands on some people’s money while not offering anything of real value and substance to help them change their lives for the better.

    Teaching to me encompasses sharing 2 types of knowledge to help people improve the quality of their lives…

    1. Knowledge that comes from books, other people, other teachers etc…or head knowledge

    2. Knowledge that comes from personal experience and the school of hard knocks.

    Too many times it seems that some of the so called gurus today possess very little of either forms of knowledge but are simply just good marketeers.

    Thanks for taking the time John to remind us teachers what the lost art of real teaching is truly about.

  • John, another solid post. Although I have been learning copywriting for coming up on a year now, I still consider myself a newbie.

    After months of receiving tons of guru-mail, I turned on the spam filters and decided to get to work.

    I have been conducting my own immersion in the world of Schwab, Caples, Hopkins, Halbert (RIP) and others.

    At the end of the day, like any other skill, it takes work and practice.

    Sometimes you need to simply turn on your own inner-teacher and get going.

    Thanks for keeping us on track!


  • Friday Night Links | Copyblogger says:

    […] Those Who Teach (Well) Rule […]

  • Shane says:

    John, I see after reading your post why Brian Clark linked to you. You write with passion, and your voice comes through well in what you write.

    Consider your site bookmarked.


  • Chris Wondra says:


    Great post.

    As a student I can point to 0, count them 0, teachers that have made a difference in my life.

    Half way through college I started thinking, “Hell, I can do a better job than this!” So I changed my major from Journalism to English Ed, and the state granted me the privilage to teach (in the public schools). I didn’t start teaching in the public schools right away but that’s a different story.

    John, this is a great article because it talks about how important (and rare) good/passionate/knowledgeable, teachers are.

    Now, as a teacher, I’d like to offer the flip side to your premise.

    Good students are just as rare.

    Good students are hungry because they too have a passion, yet sometimes that passion takes years to awaken. I liked how you alluded to this in your post.

    Teachers today are truely hungry for students that want to learn. The mediocre are frustrated by this search. The good ones are patient, but when they sense potential, they pounce on it with every tool they have.

    The bitch about it is that sometimes it takes 12 years before what you say starts to sink in!

    Great teaching is like throwing seeds to the wind. You just keep tossing it out there hoping some will one day take root.


  • […] John Carlton writes in his blog: I found ONE teacher who actually taught me something as a young man coming out of the public school … […]

  • Joel says:

    I believe that both John and Chris have good points here. I think that somewhere in our past — as students or as teachers — someone has let us down. Maybe it wasn’t in a huge thing, but they performed adequately when we expected them to overperform.

    Are there unmotivated teachers? Sure there are. I wish they would get out of the teaching profession entirely. The same with unmotivated students. But when you get rid of the worst one, there will be another to take their place.

    The inverse is true as well.

    I had a student move away this year who was great. When he left, another young man took his place as a great student. He had been average, but the void was left, and he stepped up. His motivation came as a sense of duty. Before he didn’t have to perform as well, but when the need arose, he was there to fill it.

    The challenge is to find those teachers and students who are motivated for no other reason than simply because they love what they do.

    Therein, we find true greatness!

  • mina says:

    John, I just found your site informative. The type of education we have these days, compare to the old school, is commercialized. Finding one good education through experience and education from a mentor is just one good fortune, enough to sustain our learning process for a lifetime.I say kudos to your teacher who created one of the best changes in your life. Many among us are still looking forward to meet such guru and believe me (and am sure you’d agree with what’s happening in our society these days) that not everybody is lucky to find one. Well, thank you for this post for it reached a wide array of bloggers like me.

  • […] alterted me, and the other subscribers to his materials, to a blog by marketer John Carlton ( which dealt with the methods we use to learn so it interested me both as a learner and as a […]

  • John:

    Got the link to your post from Perry’s email newsletter. Your post here is spot on. People have a responsibility to pick their “gurus” properly. I never cease to be amazed that people throw down thousands of dollars on the latest, greatest get rich quick program without truly evaluating the motive of the person behind it.

    I have long seen this phenomenon in the Internet marketing niche, but I hadn’t really starting paying attention to it in my own industry (real estate) until very recently. It wasn’t until I threw my own hat into the mentoring arena that I even started to become aware of a lot of the “gurus” out there. I continue to come across new people that I’ve never heard of before and am blown away by the audacity of their offerings and their smugness at the very thought of their teachings being put under public scrutiny.


  • KiP says:

    Been spinning my wheels about stepping out as the latest teacher/guru, well you cleared up my confusion. Doesn’t matter if you have the greatest/best/newest. First be sure you have the skills in place and ready to draw from.

    Getting there, soon. But I want to be that one, the teacher you remember.


  • jim peake says:

    Hi John:

    We agree with you, this is exactly why we set up a site to manage the “gurus” and provide feedback in a ranking type engine. If we get too much negative feedback we just will delete them. Kind of like a consumer reports or an Amazon top 500. Hey, we can all learn form each other, but as time is the ultimate commodity and money is something we want to invest wisely we want to make sure that the people looking for the guru’s are finding the right guru. give me a call or drop me an e-mail and we’ll do a podcast if you like. — jim

  • Hi John!

    You’ve a special way of hitting the
    nail on the head.

    I’ve just finished making a post
    on a forum when I was directed to this
    insightful piece by Perry Marshall.

    Thank you for taking us down the memory
    lane to discover how you were transformed
    from a raw diamond to the one that is
    shinning ever so brilliantly now.

    Dr. Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase

  • […] -The Guru Glut: John Carlton rants aboutTeachers, Guides, Wise Men and Sherpas: […]

  • Brian Keith Voiles says:

    Killer comments John (like I’m surprised). You are just amazing with words — and I can’t thank you enough for your stunning example in my life. I hold you in awe.


  • Good post here man, this is what I call “expert fever.” Someone makes a few bucks working for themselves and they’re suddenly a marketing and business building expert. Kind of funny

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