The Moment Your Life Changed Forever

Thursday, 9:35pm
Reno, NV
“Are you a good witch… or a bad witch?” Glenda, The Good Witch of North Oz


As always with selling stuff…

… there comes a moment when the concept of “opportunity” must be broached.

Now, never mind the pitch. That’s something for another post.

However… it occurs to me that, as human beings, one of our primary relationships…

… is with opportunity.

How’s your relationship going?

There are good opportunities, and bad ones. They almost never reveal their true nature until long after they’ve passed, though, so you never quite know what you’re dealing with when you need to deal with it.

Thus, you are left with relying on your instincts.

And your instincts about opportunity will absolutely suck, unless you’ve been busy exercising them.

You do this by recognizing opportunity when it knocks… and reacting to the choices in front of you.

As you gain experience, you will note (and you really should be taking lots of notes along the way, so you can study your results) that you’ve jumped on a few bad opportunities, which either didn’t pan out as expected, or led you someplace you didn’t want to be.

And there will be good opportunities you passed up for excellent (excellent!) reasons… which later turn out to exactly what you really did want after all.

And vice versa. And versa vice.

If you want to fine-tune your instincts to razor sharp perfection, you’ll first need to know what silly, unnecessary blunders to avoid. First step is getting my free report by joining my list here.

The first rule, of course, is to learn to recognize opportunity.

It will almost NEVEr announce itself, while arriving with shocking irregularity and without any warning whatsoever.

The only way to prepare for it… is to engage it, in as many forms as possible, and hone your chops in dealing with it.

Everyone has an uncountable number of opportunities that present themselves each and every day. You know you’re dealing with a zombie when they tell you their lives are opportunity-starved. It simply isn’t true. (More painfully, if you sit back at this point and have to mentally squint to remember the last opportunity that tapped you on the shoulder… well, you done been zombified. Time to sit back more often, and reflect on what’s going on around you.)


  • Tomorrow morning, you have an opportunity to wake up an hour earlier, and start writing that novel that’s been burning up inside you for years.
  • Or start exercising before you get to work, slough off some of that unwanted beef.
  • Or spend the hour googling job offerings in Paris, while getting your resume in order.

What’s stopping you? Nothing.

Those opportunities, and a bazillion more, hover just outside your grasp… available, ready to cooperate, plump with promise.

If you were but to grasp for them.

Or, you could wake up early — say, just before dawn — dress in black, drive downtown with a bunch of tools, and break into the bank. Or murder your business rival. Or set a building on fire.

You laugh?

Here in Reno, just in the past year or so, all of those opportunties occured to certain people, who gleefully jumped on them. (Among them were a multi-millionaire, a lady with multiple suitors, and a college student.) (Sounds like a Gilligan’s Island reunion, doesn’t it?)

There are good opportunities… and bad opportunities.

Now, most folks have a weak (at best) relationship with opportunity. They quickly lose sight of the role of “choice” in every action they take. Caught up in the panic, or the enthusiasm, or their own sense of inevitability (“I didn’t have a choice” is a common refrain), they abandon critical thought… and do some truly stupid shit.

Again — how’s your relationship with opportunity?

Copywriters KNOW they’re supposed to mention opportunity in every sales pitch they create.

But most of the time, it’s a desultory wave as they roar by the subject on the way to the close.

Yet, if you study salesmanship… you’ll see that even if the word itself is never mentioned… the concept of opportunity plays a huge role in the best and most effective pitches.

But hey — let’s forget about potential opportunities for right now. Never mind thinking about what might or could happen tomorrow.

Think, instead, about what has already happened in your life.

How has opportunity shaped who you are… and you aren’t today?

Pick any period of your life. There aren’t really any hard categories here. I often look back on my own life as being cataloged depending on which city I was living in at the time. But then, I’ve moved around a lot.

For you, a period may be nothing more than the standard “ages” — childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc. All the way to geezerhood.

What matters is that you remember, and consider, how your relationship with opportunity sent you off in one or another direction. You jumped on some, avoided others. Mangled many, smoothly surfed a precious few.

Like Sinatra, we all have regrets. Some more than others.

It’s relative, of course. I have vast numbers of regrets… but as a percentage of regret-versus-“glad I did it”, I’m way ahead.

And that’s because I had an opportunity, late in my teens, to sort of wake up and “see” how my choices were affecting my life’s direction.

The details of this are rather grisly: I was a passenger in an off-road jeep that rolled near the top of a very steep mountainside. Because I wasn’t strapped in, I was thrown clear — sort of, anyway. The jeep actually rolled over me, and the roll bar hit my head with enough force to shatter my glasses… but not crush my head. The driver was buckled in, and after rolling the length of three football fields down into a gulley, was minutes from dying when we finally reached him.

It was my first brush with death — both my own, and the passing of a friend.

The shock wore off right about when school started, a few weeks later. It was my senior year of high school, and I was slated to be a student body officer, and a low-ranking member of the football team. These “jobs” had seemed inevitable, because I had never considered the idea that I had chosen a path that included them.

I was a zombie. I felt like life was something that happened TO you. I honestly felt I had been assigned a role to play. Nothing had ever been stated outright — there was no overt pressure from anyone.

But simply considering — for the first time as a teenager — what I wanted to do, rather than what I believed was “expected” of me, changed my life forever.

I mean… I had been inches away from death just weeks before. Life suddenly took on new angles, as if the lights had been turned on suddenly.

I didn’t feel good drifting anymore. I wanted a say in how it played out.

I quit the team. Like a good wannabe athlete, I hadn’t allowed “quit” into my vocabulary before. I thought the stress of struggling to attain status among jocks was something I was supposed to want to do.

And I had no idea what the consequences of just quitting would be. I’d never known anyone who’d quit a team before. (Cut, sure… but never quit of their own free will.)

Yet, instead of lightning bolts from the sky, I felt this enormous relief wash over me.

I felt… there’s no other way to describe it… free. Free to make a choice, and live with the consequences.

Giddy with newfound power, I then blew off my “duties” as a student body officer. Hey — it was 1969, and there were more… pleasant… opportunities presenting themselves, if you know what I mean.

I had ended my junior year, just months prior, as one of the “nice” kids in school. Full of respect for authority, good grades, a solid citizen.

And then, three months into my senior year, I was publishing an underground newspaper that ridiculed and challenged school rules.

I got expelled for refusing to cut my hair… got jettisoned from the short list for homecoming king (and earned the wrath of the socially-blessed set) by not playing by the “rules” when I hooked up with one of the cheerleader-types… and (best of all) nearly got into a fist fight with one of the athletic department mucky-mucks.

The coach had hate in his eyes. He saw my rebellion as a personal affront. It got ugly, too. I was that-close to getting permanently expelled. (Which would have meant instantly being gobbled up by the draft board, and hustled over to Viet Nam.)

The disasterous date with the cheerleader should have been humiliating, under “normal” circumstances. Instead, somehow, I weathered it just fine.

There were too many other opportunities popping up, all over the place, to care about a public dissing, no matter how hot she was.

There were, in fact, hotter ones on the horizon. (Non-social types, too.)


Sorry for the lapse into personal stuff.

My point is that when you look back on your life, there will be moments that were like crossroads — you either went one way, or the other.

And the rest of your life floated on the consequences.

I regret much of the open rebellion I manifested during the two or three years it took for me to work out what was making me so pissed off at authority. (And regret can be a good thing, too — I long ago worked hard to re-earn the respect and love of the people who got caught in the whirlwind of my “Rebel Without A Cause” period. I had the opportunity to punt on the “face up to the damage” stuff, and decided instead to suck it up and make amends. That decision, too, shaped me greatly.)

But I do not regret for a second jumping on what I saw as my first opportunity to live life on my terms.

I was pathetically bad at it, at first. I broke hearts, I insulted people who were only doing their jobs, I taunted danger. I flamed out, spectacularly.

Looking back, it’s what I had to do to get on the path that eventually led me here.

And, as I said, in the final tally, I enjoyed many more “good” adventures and experiences than I did “bad” ones. I was like a bull in the china shop of life, but eventually I started to appreciate the artisty of good china.

I had many friends, however, who were appalled at my willingness to dive into every adventure that presented itself. Only much later did I realize that their relationship with opportunity was fearful and stubbornly rooted in the status quo.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of those guys are still friends. They don’t have a lot of stories to share about wrestling life into submission… but they’re good people.

The road less traveled is less traveled because it’s a hard trek.

If everyone jumped on every opportunity that peeked over their shoulder, the world would be total chaos. Somebody’s gotta drive the bus.

We all have a love/hate thing going with opportunity.

But the reason it resonates so powerfully in a good sales pitch… is that most people have never come to grips with their personal relationship with it.

I get to hang out with many of the top entrepreneur marketers online.

And if you listen to their stories carefully, you’ll notice that their success started with a single, simple opportunity taken.

  • It might have been a book.
  • Or a decision to attend a seminar.
  • Or — no kidding — it might have been a simple decision to get up an hour earlier, and create their own opportunity by devoting some time to learning the ropes of self-employment.

Of course, the reason I know so many of these guys… is that I started teaching writing skills, and wrote “Kick Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel“, which fell into their hands at some point.

And I wrote that damn book by relying on my very polished relationship with opportunity to help me out. I was at a period in my career where I craved new challenges.

However, I also had an opportunity to go hang out in Holland for a long stretch at the same time.

Back when I had a haphazard acquaintance with opportunity, I would have been torn over those options — slave over writing a book on copywriting and marketing… or go soak up another culture, deeply? How the hell do you decide?

But I felt comfy with opportunity, after a lifetime of looking for it, entangling with it, and studying it.

And it was easy to choose between those options.


Holland is still there, as is the rest of the world and all its wonders. And writing that book has allowed me to see much more of the world, than I would have without it.

Look back on your own life.

Spend a little time cataloging the moments that changed things forever for you. Not just the biggies, like divorce and getting drafted and earning your first bundle.

Much more critical are the opportunities that almost slipped by, and maybe went unnoticed even when you took advantage of them.

The little decisions. To do this, and not that anymore. To say yes, or no, with wildly diverging paths leading from each utterance.

Sometimes opportunity knocks.

And sometimes you roust it from the ether yourself, and create opportunity where none existed before.

We all have a relationship with opportunity. Good, bad or indifferent.

How’s yours?

Love to hear about one of the defining moments in your life.

Hearing how other people embrace, shun or just deal with opportunity is always a learning experience. The horror stories are often just as instructive as the happy endings.

The comment section is waiting for y’all…

Stay frosty,


P.S. One of the best ways to improve your relationship with opportunity is to constantly be adding to your “Bag ‘O Tricks.” Especially when it comes to learning to craft an irresistible sales message. And you’ll find the motherlode of resources to help right over here.

Now THAT is an opportunity…

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

  • Jay says:

    My best friend and I started an Internet security company in 2004, when we were 17. We got a $250,000 buyout offer during a Key West vacation and turned it down. Not only did we turn it down, we emphatically turned it down. As huge a payoff is that would’ve been (and still would be, let’s be honest), we really, truly believed we were destined to make millions. We saw ourselves as Internet warriors and the idea of pulling the plug on our dream didn’t even register for either of us.

    Anyway, long story short: our investors forced us to use irresponsible Russian coders who soon ran off with our code. By the time we regrouped the market was pretty much fully capitalized. We blew our chance and ultimately sold to another company for less money.

    Do I regret it? Honestly, no. Most people in this world would leave their jobs for an extra $10k/yr. The fact that I walked away from $250,000 as a teenager tells me that I fucking loved what I did. It set the tone for what I expect to be a life of working on things I feel passionately about.

    Anyway, great post!

    John Carlton replies:

    Great story, Jay. Few people understand that money isn’t the real reward in any endeavor. And, in fact, knowing you can walk away from it is as empowering as knowing you can make it.

    Thanks for the note.


  • Roy Furr says:


    The last few years of my life has been the story of snatching up (or forcefully creating) one opportunity after another.

    It started shortly after deciding I wanted to be an advertising copywriter. I’d just graduated with a psych degree a year earlier, and was in a dead-end customer service phone job. I didn’t have the standard “qualifications” to be a copywriter, much less to run a marketing department. I didn’t care. I saw the position I wanted, wrote a killer cover letter that un-apologetically told how I was the best candidate for the job (despite the gaping hole in my resume) and that they should hire me.

    They did.

    While at that job, I honed my chops in writing online and offline copy — becoming the local AdWords guru, implementing multi-step marketing systems, and getting my first (incredibly profitable) forays into direct mail.

    Then I started working on the side, with a “opportunity you can’t refuse” emailed letter. The letter was unsolicited — but got a call within about 1 hour with a “go ahead” on doing the project.

    I offered a “beat the control” for a testing and tracking guru, wrote my first major freelance project, and learned all about split testing and multivariate (Taguchi) testing. Including the “mind-set” rocket fuel you never find in software manuals or in setup guides — the “good stuff” that really blows your results through the roof.

    Since then we’ve continued work together, including selling and managing a small coaching club, along with some other projects. It’s been great… plus, the opportunities that original relationship have led to have been golden!

    Leveraging the expertise (and contact) I picked up from that first project, I wrote The Taguchi Testing Handbook with Bob Bly ( Bob called it one of the best ebooks he’s ever had written for him — and now I, like you, have an ebook under my belt and no fear of doing another (or a full-fledged book) when the time is right.

    (Oh yeah, an opportunity I took in college was to self-publish a book of poetry while I was competing in poetry “slams.” An absolute commercial failure — as expected from most poetry publishing — but I also now have no fear of the self-publishing process.)

    Around the same time as I was writing the Taguchi ebook I jumped on another simple opportunity to design a catalog cover for a contest through AWAI. My design and copy stood head and shoulders above the pack, and will be tested soon in the mail. (Check “catalog cover” off the list of projects to get familiar with.)

    And that project led to at least one more project, and likely several more — not just catalog copy but full online (and offline, if it tests out nicely) sales letters.

    While I’ve been enjoying the security of a full-time job and the excitement of all these freelance jobs on the side, taking advantage of opportunities has led to me being so busy that soon I’ll leap off into the great ether of full-time freelance.

    Of course I know I’m ready for that opportunity too.

    Roy Furr

  • It’s easy to kill yourself over which opportunity to grab. “God does not give us the ability to make the right decision. He does, however, give us the ability to make a decision, then make it right.” Andy Andrews, The Travelers Gift.
    Sometimes even the opportunities that we grab will be even better for us if we fully commit ourselves to them instead of waiting for them to prove themselves to us.

  • Lara says:

    Wow John, wow.

    I always love your posts but this is one of my favorites – definite classic in my heart. You’ve spelled out opportunity in a way that applies to all of us in everyday life. You are right – opportunity is always around us in many, many forms.

    I agree with John Hollingsworth and his quote above. I believe we always have a choice and after we make that choice, it’s up to us to make the best of our decision (instead of saying “Oh I wish I had gone the other route.”)

    I’ve had a few pivotal opportunities in my life – I moved across the country to my dream city (where I live quite happily today), chucked a “steady” paycheck to dive headlong into direct marketing copywriting. And this past summer I chose to follow another dream of mine – teaching.

    For certain there are plenty of opportunities I’ve missed in the past but I embrace more experiences as my awareness and my confidence grows.

    I’ve learned that it takes a bigger person to live life on their own terms and I am learning to do that day by day. It makes life enriching, thrilling and incredibly fulfilling!

    Thank you John for eloquently expressing what I feel and what I think many of your fellow readers feel as well.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    I was sitting on a bench at a car wash in North Hollywood when opportunity approached me in the form of Gladys Kravitz from “Bewitched.”

    No shit.

    Her name was Sandra Gould and she was the only angel I encountered in the city named for them.

    I must’ve looked miserable, or lonely (I was both) because she walked sat down right next to me and said, “Uh, what a beautiful day. I just got back from Chicago and it was so cold and rainy.”

    I was shocked for a second. Not because Gladys Kravitz was chatting me up about the weather – (I didn’t recognize until she told me why I should) but because ANYONE was talking to me.

    Los Angeles is paradise for the haves, and hell on earth for the have nots. There’s really no in-between. Everyone is on their way up, on spiraling downward. Whichever case, it becomes a full-time job to hide the insecurity that rages inside them, and put on an air of belonging that most never truly feel.

    Nobody talks to anybody in L.A. … Unless they think you can help them get up, or end their downfall – then they’ll lick your boots clean. Otherwise you’re invisible.

    Existing in this culture of fakes was only half responsible for my misery. Having no work, no money and no prospects filled the void well, however – and had me in a constant trance of confusion about what to do next.

    I had gotten a taste of what I was sure would be the dream… A writing gig on a television sitcom. But, what I saw there turned my stomach and convinced me I had no idea what I really wanted my life to look like.

    Enter Sandra Gould sitting next to me on a car wash bench in the late morning sun suddenly asking, “So what do you do?”

    I had no good answer and no need to provide a standard “I’m between projects right now” BS scenario. This was the first conversation with a stranger I was enjoying in almost 2 years… I spilled everything.

    “I moved out here with the promise of a staff-writing job on a sitcom, but it didn’t pan. The show sucked, it’s cancelled. I hated everyone I met associated with the show. And I’m trying to figure out if I should stay here looking for an opportunity – or just go back on the road doing stand-up.”

    She flattered me by giving me her agent’s card, and her home phone number. “Let me know if I can do anything to help.”

    But, she knew she couldn’t. I wasn’t doing anything to help myself… a sure sign you’re not in the right place. So, instead she told me story.

    “My husband was a big television executive for a long time. His name was Larry Berns, you probably haven’t heard of him at your age. But, he used to have a saying that he shared with people trying to make a life decision.

    He’d say, ‘Sometimes, in order to find what you do want, you’ve got to start with what you know don’t want – and go from there.'”

    Then she kissed me on the cheek and drove off.

    Less than 2 weeks later I packed my car, filled the gas tank, and pointed it east. I had no destination… no plan… and no doubts.

    That was my greatest opportunity to quit something. And taking it has made all the difference.

    John Carlton replies:

    Amazing tale, Kevin. I once had the opp to “try out” for a sitcom job, and I never even followed up on the first contact. I chatted with a guy who’d done it, and the lack of creativity, the lack of a life, and the fact that in LA writers were jokes (regarded as “hired help” by the moguls and winners) immediately killed any desire to work in the Industry.

    If you’re ever at an event I’m at, make sure you corner me so we can trade more horror stories…


  • Jay says:

    I must say, it’s refreshing to hear from other people who had the balls to follow their intuition. Sometimes I feel like everyone I know is waiting for “someday.” As in, “someday”, life will REALLY start. All of this stuff I actually fill every single day of my life with right now is just leading up to the main event. I don’t know if I’m describing it well enough but I think everyone here knows what I mean.

    Alec McKenzie’s book “The Time Trap” talks about the author’s many consultations with how business owners spend their time. He said many of them excuse their poor habits by saying “this isn’t a normal day.” His reply to them: if you wait for a “normal day”, you’ll be dead. How you spent your time today, IS how you spend your time.

    I think the same can be said of people who wait for “someday.” How you are living now IS the way you live. If you want to change it, the time is now – not “someday.”

  • Paul says:

    Hello John,

    As always you are able to cut right to the heart of a topic. We are surrounded by opportunities and choices every day of our lives. The choices we make in relation to these determine the course of our lives. The choices I have made with mine have not made me a rich man, but I do not regret the life I have led and the majority of choices I have made to direct the course of my life. I am now in the process of trying to increase my income through the internet and am slowly making headway in that direction. While money has never been a prime driving force for me or my wife and we have been able to do alot of things we enjoy, I would like to be able to retire from the everyday workforce and do some of the things we have talked about doing over the years and not had the time or extra money for. Great post as always. Be Cool!

  • Yoav says:

    It took me 6 years of Army service to finally get it.

    I was always a good boy. Top of my class at school and a decorated soldier. Everybody knew I was going to make Mega-Bucks as a corporate IT manager…

    Everybody except me. The Last 6 months of service were living hell. I had nightmares about showing up late to my Algebra finals and staring at the test without a clue. I woke up sweating. Every damn night.

    When I finally broke loose of the army. I Immediately became freelancer (which terrified my family and friends).

    I was making less than a third than my programmer and Techie buddies. I was working twice as hard. And begging for work from people that just a year before I wouldn’t give the time of day to.

    On top of that, I started losing friends. I couldn’t afford the same vacations or to blow a 100 bucks on dinner.

    But worse than that – they didn’t understand why I was rejecting the corporate life-style. They believed I thought I was better than them. And as much as I tried I couldn’t get them to understand the idea of going corporate made me sick.

    Inch by Inch I built a software services business and after 3 years we were 20 strong and growing. But the evil feeling persisted (grant you at a lower volume than during my army service)…

    You see, I was in slavery business. which included but was not limited to … always chasing the next project, dreading the day that one of my workers would announce she’s pregnant or that he is going to “find himself” in India, and pleading with apathetic CPAs to get paid for projects that were completed many months ago.

    And so I cashed in and started a software-product company. That was 3 years ago. And while the road has been tough(and expansive) I finally found my Bliss.

    I got to create an excellent product that really makes a difference in my customers lives. I got the chance to learn and practice marketing (which I love) and the evil feeling that others control my life has finally subsided.

    I am not a millionaire yet. But I live (mostly) by my own rules.

    The sum up this absurdly long story about my struggle with opportunity –

    If you want not to feel ‘trapped’ you must embrace opportunity. But be fully aware that life is stronger than you, and if you get out of your hideout and chase opportunity, life will punch you in the face – Hard. Just take it like a man and know that in the end getting punched in the face every once in a while is MUCH BETTER than living in hiding

    Peace 🙂

    John Carlton replies:

    Hey Yoav — good story. I always keep in mind, though, that most folks crave the safety of a “real job”, and I don’t trash ’em for it or try to convince them to change.

    It’s still sad that old “friends” drop away whe you can’t afford to hang with them anymore. The true friends won’t care, though. It’s a complex world…


  • I’d call this comment “Confessions of an Opportunity Addict”… Learning to make the best use of opportunities for me is not to take the bull by the horns, but to then also ride it. I love the initial stages of diving into it, getting it started – but then I run out of breath, interest fades, new sparkling things catch my attention and I jump on those, leaving my little opportunity attempt dying like an unwatered plant.
    After having done that a couple of years, I now see some friends who are “for real”. They’re really good at what their doing. They dedicated all their time to learning one thing, and mastered it. And I have broad but shallow insight into many things.
    Once I got aware of that, I kind of “got structured”, creating (and forcing myself into) a routine so that certain amounts of time are reserved for my copywriting training, where it’s nothing but. And then also I have an “opportunity hour” in my schedule where I can just jump anyway my lose mind pleases (any attempt to totally cut that off was futile…). This way, I stay on track, and progress faster.

  • Alyice says:

    I loved the “confessions” from yourself and the readers! It is quite refreshing to read honesty for a change.

    There have been many “moments” that have changed the course of my life over the past several years. I even had a rebellious moment–but nothing like yours. I’ve had regrets, too. Being a sensitive-type, those regrets can be quite haunting, until one day I realized, like you, that each path I took (good or bad) made me who I am today and gave me the family I now have.

    I was once approached by a television station to interview for a new show they were airing. They found me via a search online. (The power of Internet marketing!) It was completely out of the blue. It was also very flattering. The problem was that at that point in time, I wasn’t ready for that big of a lifestyle change. And so I politely declined.

    When my friends and family found out, they were flabber-gasted. They would have hopped on that plane the first chance they got. They would have interviewed, they would have moved, they would have sacrificed because they saw big bucks ahead. They wouldn’t let me live it down for months. But I knew in my heart of hearts it was the right decision for me and I have never regretted it.

    For you see, I don’t want to make millions and I don’t really care about being in the limelight. I do, however, care about being flexible when it comes to raising my kids, about being here for all their little and big moments, for enjoying the ride.

    And for awhile there, I lost my path and I was miserable. I tried pushing and pushing and being something I didn’t want to be and I was so miserable my health suffered. Now, I feel refreshed and invigorated–I’ve found balance again. I’ve discovered how to do what I do and still be that “mom at home”.

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