What Does A Good Life Look Like?

Monday, 8:46pm
Reno, NV
Shake, rattle ‘n roll… ‘n roll… n’ roll… n’ roll…


Not sure if you’ve been following the micro-news or not… but our little town here nestled against the Sierra Nevada has been Earthquake Central for the last week or so.

That’s right. Reno made the national newscasts by shaking its butt.

Actually, a flurry of heart-pounding smallish quakes has been unsettling the joint since February… but things got really interesting this past week: On average, we’re experiencing over a hundred shaking events a day (!), with the largest so far nudging 5.0 (knock you off your feet level).

The experts assure us a volcano isn’t about to emerge from under Fourth Street and shower us with lava or anything like that.

Still, the whole city is holding its collective breath, waiting for the punchline to arrive.

Now, I’m from California, and we’re so blaise about seismic activity, we named our minor-league baseball team after earthquakes. (Literally, the Cucamonga Quakes, single A.) I slept through most of the big ones while growing up — my bed would bounce across the floor, and everything from the walls and bookcases would doink off my head, yet I refused to leave slumberland. (Probably helped that I grew up less than one hundred feet from active train tracks, where the Southern Pacific freights would rattle the house several times a day.)

So I’m not particularly nervous. Been sleeping fine, even when the big jolts arrive in the wee hours. I’ll get up, calm the dogs down, check for flaming lava in the hallway, and fall back into a deep snooze before the first aftershock arrives.

Of course, everyone who didn’t grow up in California is freaking out. Michele’s downright jumpy — her hometown of Chicago was, she insists, firmly nailed down like a city is supposed to be. Damn it. She is actually offended by my smug refusal to sit up all night waiting for the next tremblor.

And hey, being jumpy is fine. As long as you channel that energy into being prepared. We’ve been chatty with neighbors we haven’t noticed since last summer (when everyone spent the evening sipping wine in the middle of the cul de sac, watching the nearby hills burn and taking bets on whose house would go up like a matchhead first if the wind changed). Trading info and phone numbers and secret emergency plans.

And also trading fears.

It’s gotten me thinking about what life is really all about, again.

You know — once the danger passes, how are you gonna change things so you enjoy this corporeal ride with a little more gusto?

Gary Halbert and I used to gleefully have a very similar conversation, over and over, whenever the mood struck: We asked ourselves, what does a good life look like?

It’s a subject worthy of repeated exploration.

If you need help getting started, consider those inane celebrity interview modules in magazines… where somebody pitches them 20 fast questions like “What is your perfect day?” and “What do you see yourself doing five years from now?”

They ask these questions as if, of course everyone has an instant answer handy. I mean, who doesn’t constantly obsess on what a perfect day would be?

Try it on your friends, and on yourself. You’ll find that, in reality, very few people have even considered the concept of looking ahead like that. (I’m betting the celebs have their PR handlers do most of the answering in those articles, anyway.)

Many folks are just plain superstitious about imagining the future, like they’ll jinx any chance they may have of attaining a good life down the road…

… when — once you understand how goal-setting works — that kind of avoidance is actually a damn good way to guarantee you’ll never get close to a perfect anything.

A good life seldom just happens to you.

You gotta envision it… go after it… and attain it.

You want it… you take it… and you pay the price.

Here’s a tip you may not discover immediately, that will help you understand why it’s so hard at first to see your future very clearly: Your desires, and thus your “perfect” goals, will change dramatically over time.

If you have your old high school yearbook, go read what your pals wrote about the impending future. If life just kinda “happened” to any of them in the cruel adult world, there wasn’t much in the way of startling surprises. Or adventures.

It’s very much worth thinking about what a good life looks like.

The rules Halbert and I came up for our incessant chats on this topic were simple: We had to be painfully and excruciatingly honest.

Sometimes, this meant our talk degenerated into locker room fantasies. That was allowed. We both had bloated biological imperatives.

Mostly, though, we talked of finding not a moment in time where bliss was attained… but rather an ongoing series of opportunities for exploration and sampling.

In other words… we suspected that the Perfect Life would be too full of surprises, too unpredictable, and too intertwined with edgy adventure to allow a quick, pat, consistent answer.

So our vision changed, constantly. Curiously, neither of us gave a shit about material possessions. Or power.

In the end, the Introvert usually triumphed within us. A good life had its lovely carnal pleasures, sure… but central to complete fulfillment was a pursuit of intellectual goals and long greedy spells acquiring knowledge and (as silly as it sounds) wisdom.

(I’ve recently heard how Gene Simmons, the bass player from KISS, describes his perfect day… and I gotta admit, he has a point about not getting too philosophical about shit. Fortunately, I’ve had a few extended spells of hedonistic excess to enjoy… and while I do not regret a single hour, I will admit that it gets boring after a while. Especially for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time deep inside their head.)

(Still, you go, Gene. Party ev-er-y day…)

Now, here’s the kicker: You cannot just possess wisdom. To set up a life where you have the LUXURY of pursuing such lofty crap… you need lots of freedom.

I realized something a very long time ago: Many entrepreneurs really do get into biz for the money, and all the things money can buy. The freedom they enjoy is the freedom from want, and the giddy gorging at the teat of modern pleasures.

However, there are just as many others for whom money is just a way to buy different kinds of freedom: Never having others choose for you, never needing to shoulder responsibilities you don’t freely seek, never wondering when “life” will begin… because you’re highly aware you’re deep into it, every day.

As you explore your own notions of a good life, judge harshly against your intuition and your gut. Make sure no one else is influencing your dream, unless you welcome the influence. (My first lists of goals — while I was struggling with the concept of being able to actually “want” something and go after it — were heavy with rewards I didn’t actually want… like boats, or a big mansion, or fame. I had to extract myself from the quicksand-like influence of other people’s desires, before I could find where my heart truly lay. It’s a process. I had a long way to go, but each attempt at refining and reshaping my peculiar goals paid off hugely.)

Is freedom important to you? It’s not, for everyone. Like Dylan said, you gotta serve somebody. A higher purpose, a god, an addiction, a family model, something. If you choose something hard-to-define, like a “higher purpose”, then your everlasting homework assignment is to explain to yourself HOW you will serve that purpose.

You can’t just say you’re after it, either. When you’re engaging life on all cylinders, you get busy, not philosophical.

You go after it.

In Gary’s case — and this still influences me today — he had a peculiar inability to settle down and enjoy any reward he’d attained. For him, the happiness of succeeding meant only that another chapter in his life had ended… and he had to hunker down to find that next challenge, that next hill to climb, that next dragon to vanquish.

That’s an exhausting way to live, but it’s also invigorating when you do it right.

And, because you have the freedom to choose your goals and directions… and the freedom (in your mind and your bank account) to pursue them with balls-to-the-wall fervor… you can change direction any time your gut tells you it’s time.

Consider, as you mull your own perfect day and good life, if the destination or the journey is more important to you.

For me, it’s always been about the ride.

Sometimes, I get too complacent about success, and make the horrible mistake of thinking “I’ve done it, by Jove!” When, according to my private scorecard, I haven’t done jack shit yet in life.

I’ve been telling people lately to think about their life story as a movie. Because that’s easy to digest. For me — and maybe for you, too — the better analogy is a big long novel.

When chapters end, new ones begin immediately. The tale has no clear final act, because life isn’t a static frozen moment, but a continual jaunt through ever-changing scenery.

Still, it’s good to think (and to talk about, with good friends) what your good life looks like.

I’m always fascinated by other people’s ideas on this, too.

Comments are welcome. If you’re just beginning to consider your own journey, all the better — here’s a forum for your thoughts.

I am constantly blown away by how smart, how involved, and how alive the commenters in this blog are. It’s a rush, I gotta tell ya, to know so many people of quality and insight are out there.

Love to hear from you.

My good life is taking me over to San Francisco this weekend, of course — out of the Sierra Bed O’ Earthquakes, into the quivering bosom of The Mother Of All Fault Lines in the Bay Area.

If we survive, I’ve got a big damn fresh list of “good life” things to indulge in over the summer.

What a ride we’re on…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. If you’re still bummed about missing out on this upcoming copywriting workshop… and who in their right mind isn’t bummed about missing it?… remember that we’ve still got several coaching programs in place, all heavily loaded with personal attention from me.

Check out www.carltoncoaching.com, while you’re contemplating your future.

Might be a great fit there, you know.

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  • Clark Agnew says:

    Spot on!

    I’m on the downhill side (that place that you can no longer double your age and expect to be around) when I was young I was after the stuff. When I got it, my dreams had come true…so I thought…because I soon lost it. That’s when I realized the thrill was in the chase. The challenge of how good can I force myself to become at something to win. Being half/assed is easy, just show up. The thrill is always right in there where all the fear about yourself is hiding. The stuff is just the proof…”You Did It”

    We’ve never met, but I like people that don’t conform.
    I think you might be our leader.

    Till next time

  • Matt H says:

    Inspiring post John…

    I’ve long thought about “the good life” and I’m noticing more and more that the adventure neverends…

    Three weeks ago I sat down and took a long hard look at where I was and where, if a genie came out of a bottle, I would LIKE to be.

    And surprisingly, I came up with “movies”… I want to bring movies to life, whether in front of the camera, behind the camera, and especially behind the desk pulling everything together.

    It felt right, it had me pumped up, and I went for it.

    A week later I find myself in the final scene (as an extra) of an upcoming feature film (She’s Out Of My League)

    And this next weekend, I’ll be in another few shots for a movie being filmed in downtown Pittsburgh. Yeah, Pittsburgh (How anti-movie can you get?)

    It’s constantly amazing what happens when you give your brain a clear mental picture of what you want and start taking ANY steps to go and get it.

    To much more proof and adventure,
    Matt H

  • For me the good life is truly w/in myself; it’s how I think. But I’m as yet still dependent on the perceptions of others. In other words I have to go w/out myself, b/c it’s the perceptions of others that do or don’t import dollars into my account. B/c no matter how Ayn Rand one is about self, $0 means that value is not being added elsewhere.

    Additionally, I’ve found that by having a favorite word, and a word I hate, that that has given me more clarity when pursuing happiness (the good life is this, and anything but that). And the more the words resonate w/in me, I see that the good life is always this, and never that.

    Thanks for the blog post John…

    We Must Remove Hence,

  • Sharon B. says:

    Hi John–
    Good post–I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this lately.
    I’ve had my 5-year goals down on paper for a while. Now I am working on the steps I need to take to get there. My biggest goal is to enjoy complete financial independence by age 45–then I will have the freedom to work out of choice instead of need. Too many of my years have been focused on survival as a goal—now I am ready for bigger dreams and a better life.
    It will be an exciting journey this year–my regular business has been hit hard by the recession, and I need to create out-of-the-box ways to generate income there. I am also in the process of starting a second business—with fewer clients in the first one, there is a more urgent need to get this one up and running as well. It is an unsettling time, but I am also looking forward to the challenge of crafting I life that contains all the things I love to do. In that respect, I am very fortunate–I don’t usually get the chance to remake my life so thoroughly.
    I enjoyed “You–The Movie” also. The potential in that idea is really mind-blowing. 🙂

  • Laura says:

    John, as usual, you hit it right on the head!

    I lived in CA and moved back up to MN because I missed the SNOW, which we had this weekend and I am ready to start missing it again! I am in the process of developing several websites and ezines and have joined in the chase on this journey called LIFE. I can’t go back now, and in a way that is both sad, frightening and exhilirating all at the same time. I’M LOVING IT!

    Kind of like livin’ on a fault line…

    Stay safe in CA, and hang on tight! LOL! 🙂

  • Ralph says:

    Thanks John, another inspiring post.

    You see…. I grew up in a small suburban town in New England where Dad went to work in the local factory or construction site and mom spent her day raising us kids and cleaning house.

    Kinda “Leave it to Beaver”.

    Anyway; I never thought beyond that when I was going through High School,Simply graduate,get a J.O.B.,get married and have 2.5 kids. Simple.

    Repeat the process just like mom and dad.

    No one ever “Taught” anything different. I never had an interest in material possessions or power either.

    A “Yuppie” was something you read about in the newspaper.

    Well…as you can imagine with all the trade agreement *Crap* and all the rest of the economic disasters our government has created all those J.O.B.s and security has gone to Mexico or China.

    It’s inspiration and guidance from guys like You and Schefron and Joyner that has opened my eyes to a new way of “THINKING”.

    The good life IS about the freedom to choose.

    I just hope that at my age I have enough of those “Summers” left

    Like it or not John…You’ve become my designated MENTOR.

    Look forward to your next post.

    P.S. Keep your Head down!!

  • Ken Calhoun says:

    Great writing as always, John – I liked your point about having the freedom to pursue knowledge and wisdom, that certainly struck home. My idea of a great time is reading a book or watching something that helps me learn more …

    And having the entrepreneur’s lifestyle that allows the pursuit of knowledge is and always will remain a core driving principle… always being a sponge to learn more, in this vast world of facts and insights, is a wonderful journey.

    To the trip,


  • Naomi says:

    Great post – John

    For me (26 years old, 6 months and counting as an entrepreneur) the good life is having freedom, variety and meeting cool people.

    When I was a kid, I always reckoned 26 years old was really OLD and I’d have my life totally sorted by then. (That’s far from the case.)

    What I have found, though is that the best times are when I’m totally involved in doing something I love – whether it’s surfing, reading, talking with friends or designing something.

    And then there’s those mornings when I wake up totally stoked about life for no good reason. That’s the Best kind of being stoked. And my goal is to make room for more of those moments. How? By practising the art of living life in the present.


  • Terrier says:

    Hey, very interesting post.

    My written English is not so good so I write in German:

    “Lieber den Spatz in der Hand, als die Taube auf dem Dach.”

    Yours sincerely

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