The Dark Power Of Passion

Monday, 10:09 pm
Reno, NV
Living well is the best revenge.” George Herbert (1593-1633)


Okay, already.

Time to reveal the answer to last week’s burning question: “What do you think is the single most powerful motivation driving many entrepreneurs to outrageous success?”

First, though…

… allow me to humbly praise everyone who took a shot at the answer.

At last count, there were over sixty responses.

Some were great… some were wild-ass stabs that missed by a mile… and some were just plain weird.

Again: There is no real “wrong” answer. If you had a driving motivation — or anything else goosing you in the right direction — vastly different than what I’m about to reveal…

… then great. It proves the adage that there are many ways to skin a cat.


… during my decades in the front-line trenches of the marketing world…

… I haven’t seen a great variety in the methods used to really make it big.

Mind you, I hear all kinds of interesting ideas about how it’s done… from good-hearted folks who haven’t done it yet.

They really, really, really want their worldview to be true, too.

They want success to happen because you’re a good person, with a mission to accomplish.

Sadly, this isn’t the way things often work.

The most dangerous time of any entrepreneur’s career…

… is in the very first months. When the pressure is on, the risks are great, and there isn’t much of a cheerleading section rooting you on.

During the early stages, it’s super-easy to stop and quit. No one will blame you. Nice try, dude — you did your best.

Now, welcome back to Slacker City. And let’s forget all about those nasty dreams of independence and wealth…

No. You need a particularly potent brew of juice in your system to power through the unrelenting obstacles sent by the universe to crush all rookie business owners.

There were some GREAT answers in the comments. Don’t get me wrong.

But most of them were about how you continue your success, AFTER you’ve attained it. And how you enjoy and enlarge on the opportunities offered by a proven entrepreneurial adventure.

Once you break free of the initial onslaught of trouble, horror and monstrous soul-killing problems…

… and you get some real traction…

… then you can shake yourself like a dog emerging from the swamp…

… breathe deep and fill your lungs with the rarified air of freedom and wealth and fame…

… and start focusing on your next subset of goals. Like saving the world, or helping others do what you did, or creating new opportunity for your brethern still slaving under the lash of The Man.

However, you gotta GET out of that swamp, first.

Most don’t.

The independence attracted me, and was a factor in deciding to say “Screw it, I’m gonna give it a try.”

But I didn’t believe I could actually have true independence… until it became a reality. I had to pinch myself, constantly, when it looked like I was gonna pull it off. I knew it could be taken away again, without notice.

What fired me up every morning, especially when things backslid and looked bleak…

… was a very passionate juice coursing through my veins.

DaveC was close, with his post in the comments.

But GregJ nailed it early. He wrote “Someone told them they couldn’t do it or it won’t work and it pissed them off.”

I don’t know if Greg knew this from experience, or was guessing, or had been reading my stuff for awhile and remembered me broaching this very subject before.

Doesn’t matter.

All the positive answers were good. I mean that. I’m a positive guy, and all my goals are positive. I have no enemies that I know of, either in life or in business. I wish harm to no one.


… in the fevered early days of my race to independence…

… with risks and dangers everywhere (I had zero savings, no safety net, no Plan B)…

… I needed STRONG mojo.

I needed… (blare of trumpets)…

Negative motivation.

Let me tell you — there’s a LOT of strength and fortitude to be harnessed for your cojones in being royally pissed off.

For me, it was the first copywriter I ever met. Eileen. I remember every detail of her vividly… and I think of her often.

Especially when cashing big checks.

All long-time readers know this story. I was a lowly, starving paste-up artist in a Silicon Valley art department… and I’d never realized that someone was getting paid to write all those words I was aligning on my camera-ready art boards.

The lifestyle fascinated me. To be able to rake in fat bucks just… writing? Are you kidding me?

So I asked Eileen how you get to be a copywriter.

“It’s too hard,” she hissed. “You’ll never figure it out.”

This was not a nice woman.

A hot ember burst into full flame deep inside of me at that very moment. You’re telling me… no? You’re judging me? You’re withholding information because you feel freaking superior to me?

I was almost thirty at the time. And I’d never felt that kind of passion before. In fact, I thought internal heat that intense only happened in the sack, from the ancient biological urge to merge.

This was new.

It was a startling emotional response. It energized me in a strange, new way. Like Spidey being bitten by the radioactive spider.

And I stole her copy of “Tested Advertising Methods” (by John Caples)… and read enough before she stole it back to realize I COULD become a copywriter.

Whether I WOULD or not was yet to be determined.

I had nothing but a glimpse of what “might be”.

Now, I was strangely contenet with being a slacker at that time. No ambition. No dreams. No plans.

Just bouncing on the surface of life like so much jetsom and flotsam.

And I’ll testify right here and now: I might have continued to slack off…

… if Eileen (that gorgeous bitch) hadn’t off-handedly challenged my self-worth.

The casualness of her put-down was extra fuel for the fire.

The heat roiling inside me was tinged with humiliation, and the realization that — wow — she might be right.

And I’d never know… unless I got my act together and went after it.

It took another two years for me to cobble together a thin “bag of tricks”, and hone my skills to a point where I felt — okay — I’m diving in.

I never said “I’ll show you.” I never spoke to Eileen or saw her again.

Didn’t need to.

It’s easy to argue with people about your “worth” and your plans.

But it’s empty yapping.

The big revelation I had that day… was I needed to get my ass in gear.

Not with words.

With action.

Again: Money didn’t motivate me. Never has. (I’ve turned down more money in my career — by refusing to take jobs that didn’t interest me, or by protecting my outrageous need for massive quantities of free time — than I’ve actually earned.)

The concept of participating in business, and yet being independent intrigued me… but I had no personal experience to help me visualize what, exactly, independence would feel like.

It wasn’t enough of a driving force to help me get up after being knocked down… and get immediately back in the game.

For me… and for many others I know… it’s a sort of “snapping point”.

One second before, you were your old, slacker self.

And one second after the spark… you’re someone else.

Juiced with a fever that won’t be doused until you prove your detractors wrong.

Remember — I never saw Eileen again. My passionate drive was internalized.

I don’t care if she knows what happened to me or not. I don’t care.

Heck — I’d hug her, if I ever met her again.

Look — I can’t tattle on my colleagues. You’ll have to take my word that I know about many of their deep, dark motivations.

I can tell you my old pal Gary Halbert had his “snapping” moment. His family took great pleasure in every failure he encountered in his attempts to break the code on creating wealth.

He failed a LOT, too.

It got him down. But it never finished him off.

Because he enjoyed the broiling motivation that can only come from being told “you can’t do it.”

Not everyone reacts this way.

Most slump, when faced with failure or challenges to their dreams, and shuffle off in defeat.

There’s no shame in that. The life of an entrepreneur is often mean and brutish and short… and it’s not for everyone.

However, for some… there very much IS shame in letting others define you.

And it burns hot.

It’s great to want to help others, and make the world a better place. But you gotta get to a point where you have the power and money to DO that, before you realize those dreams.

Bill Gates, I’m willing to bet, wasn’t giving billions to needy causes before he had multiple more billions in his pocket. Starting out, he probably gave a bit to charity, and mostly as a tax deduction. (Not doubting Bill’s generosity, nor his committment to help out. Just saying he couldn’t DO it until he became successful.)

And the US swim team may or may not have beaten France in the relay during the Olympics without the extra juice of France’s insult beforehand.

But the US team had that quote from the French team captain (“We came here to smash the Americans”) on their lockers. They weren’t expected to win.

They did.

Go ahead.

Tell me I can’t do something.

I dare you.

Love to hear your further comments and ruminating on this subject…

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. In case you haven’t heard…

… my biz partner Stan and I are going to Chicago later this month…

… and we’ve decided to go a day early, so we can offer a one-time, one-day Hot Seat super-intensive workshop.

A Hot Seat is where we corner you, and dive deeply into every problem you have in business. And fix them.

It’s a transformative process, and for a horde of entrepreneurs, small business owners, and online marketers… a customized Hot Seat with me was the trigger for putting their success on overdrive.

Details: September 25, all day long, in downtown Chicago. We’ll give you the hotel info when you sign up… IF you score a seat.

There’s only room for 5 attendees. Hot Seats are incredibly intense and thorough, and we cannot do more than 5 in a day. So that’s the limit.

We’ve already emailed our list about this. When we held a one-day Hot Seat event in New York city in July, it sold out like that.

So if this is something you even think might appeal to you… go to this link for more details:

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

  • Telling someone they can’t/might not be able to do something is a very powerful motivator…as any copywriter who’s ever told his potential customers that they might not be ‘up to’ the challenge of attending his latest seminar will testify!

  • Peter Bestel says:

    Here’s me thinking that this desire I’ve got to ‘prove’ to people (I don’t know who those people are btw) that I can succeed, was a childish, immature, pointless motivator!

    I was waiting to grow up!

    You mean to say that I’m doomed to success?


  • […] you’re right Jason. I’m not going to attempt to summarise John, so here’s the link to his answer: John Carlton?s Big Damn Blog Blog Archive The Dark Power Of Passion Peter __________________ Taking a relaxed approach to life, business and all things that matter […]

  • Jake Meah says:

    Why do I feel comfort knowing others have struggled like I have?

    When you fail at a project, it’s hard not to ask yourself why… I’m just glad I have my brother to geer me on when I’m feeling all frustrated.

    But the truth is… for me, it would be more pain full to quit, than try and fail, and fail… and fail.

  • I love that, you broke it down really clearly. To get over that hill first, you need something other than the motivation to give back and contribute.
    I remember those humiliating moments vividly. The feeling of unfair defeat, the arrogant stupidity… I really despised them.
    Now, I’m much more relaxed about it. No more hate. But I still want to prove them wrong.

    And the universal appeal of this is reflected in so many great stories… (remember Karate Kid? He gets bullied and humiliated… and that experience later fuels him to put up with all of Mr. Miyagi’s shit and become the uber-Karate student).

  • Captain Jack says:

    People telling me I can’t do a certain thing boils my blood more then anything. It always adds fuel to the fire.

    In business, sports or life… there is nothing worse then the naysayers and dream stealers.

    They are a thoughtful bunch, who are “just doing you a favor” when they tell you, “you can’t do this” or “it’s too hard” — so why even try?

    You know, it’s for your own good.


  • Cheryl says:

    Ah yes, we’re back to the “I’ll show you, you son of a bitch.”

    We all remember the exact moment, don’t we?

  • Captain Jack says:

    Great point on Karate Kid, Copywriting Kid! I am reminded of the football movie “Rudy” nobody gave him a chance to make the team! It’s the classic underdog story.

  • Ken Calhoun says:

    Great writing, John. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts.

    What’s difficult, on the path up the mountainside, is when former co-workers (or family, or clients) in the brick-and-mortar world passive-aggressively tell you good luck, but you know they really don’t believe you’ll “make it”. Much more insidious stuff.

    They say “I hope you make it” but the unspoken is “and I know you won’t but I’ll say good luck just because I should”. They say good luck tentatively, but you know they think you won’t really make it.

    What’s nuts is, when you *do* finally “make it” and have the seven-figure lifestyle, they want absolutely NOTHING to do with you. Go figure. Sour grapes. They can’t relate, they distance and think you’re in some different land, breathing rarified air. They’re mad because you didn’t fail. Screw em.

    Which I guess is ok. Like Brian Tracy says, your ‘reference group’, the people you spend time with, has an enormous impact on your likelihood of success. Or to paraphrase Earl Nightingale, “just look around at how you’re living, and that reflects the level of your contribution, your service that you’re delivering to others”.

    So it becomes important to hang out with the right people, who can genuinely help. Which is a short list.


  • Kyle says:

    ^ Ken, that was a great comment.

  • Jason says:

    “What’s difficult, on the path up the mountainside, is when former co-workers (or family, or clients) in the brick-and-mortar world passive-aggressively tell you good luck, but you know they really don’t believe you’ll “make it”. Much more insidious stuff.

    They say “I hope you make it” but the unspoken is “and I know you won’t but I’ll say good luck just because I should”. They say good luck tentatively, but you know they think you won’t really make it.

    What’s nuts is, when you *do* finally “make it” and have the seven-figure lifestyle, they want absolutely NOTHING to do with you. Go figure. Sour grapes. They can’t relate, they distance and think you’re in some different land, breathing rarified air. They’re mad because you didn’t fail. Screw em.”

    How true, Ken.

  • Ron Reed says:

    I was 17 yrs. old at the time.

    Attending high school.

    Always late. Always behind. Always a slacker with a capital ‘S’.

    Suspended numerous times for various shenanigans.

    I thought I was a big shot. Rock star.

    Never studied. Hated homework. Never paid attention in class.


    I aced all the tests. Blew the scores thru the roof.

    Teachers couldn’t figure it out. Accused me of cheating.

    Then it happened…

    One day, I was sitting in class when the teacher called my name.

    I said: “huh?”

    ((Wasn’t paying attention.))

    “You heard me…”, he shouted back.

    I said: “huh?”

    “Stand up.” … he hissed.

    So, I stood up. Looked him straight in the eye.

    “You will NEVER be able to hold a job. You will NEVER get anywhere in life. You will FAIL at everything you try, Mr. Reed.”

    A teacher… an adviser… a mentor… a counselor… said THAT!?


    In front of all my peers? In front of the entire class?

    You bastard!

    He royally pissed me off to no end. I was red hot, burning, blue steeled jaws of hell.


    Last year, as a rookie in real estate I closed more than 30 transactions.

    Named “Rookie of the Year” locally and nationally.

    Awarded one of the Top 50 ‘Realtors on the Rise’ for up-and-coming elite Realtors in the nation.

    In THIS real estate market? Yes, 2008.

    I’m 27. Free. Independent. Successful.

    In the same breath I’d like to say ‘fuck you’ and ‘thank you’ to that teacher for what he did, but I won’t. I don’t care.

    Frankly, fuck him.


    John, you just gave away my secret.

    Amen, brother!

  • Phoebe says:

    I heard something similar recently: It’s easier to move away from pain than toward pleasure. And I personally know what a great motivator pain can be, whether it’s the pain of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results or the pain of being told you’re not good enough, that you’ll never make it.

    Thanks for confirming my path, Mr. Hotshot copywriter. 😉

  • Wow, I can’t believe that was the actual answer.

    I read the post before and initially thought “freedom” (I didn’t really think about it that long).

    However, after reading this post, I realized that you are absolutely 1000000% correct.

    The reason I am where I am today is because literally almost every person I know kind of made jokes about me making a full-time income online (as a copywriter/Internet marketer)…and like you, it pissed me off!

    Wanting to prove them wrong was more important than the money, the freedom, or anything else.

    Just to be able to say HA, LOOK AT ME NOW! was all the motivation I needed. That’s kind of sad, but true for probably the majority of people 🙂

    Jeremy Reeves

  • Dave Doolin says:

    I never even heard of “John Carlton” or “Gary Halbert” last September when this post was written.

    But I’ll tell you one thing what pisses me off royal: feeling like I’m “unemployable” at age 48. Makes me work even harder at my own success.

    Last night I met a new person sharing some of my same frustration: her friends and family pester her to get a “real” job, despite the fact she is covering the nut with residual income with a collection of blogs.

    I don’t know that my last relationship went south over a rapid set of very small business failures this spring. I’m sure it didn’t help. Halbert’s advice to “fail faster” is incredibly important. But nobody gets it. They just complain about their jobs and what dicks their bosses are.

    Real success is going to feel very curious. I’m wondering who’s going to crawl out of the woodwork all friendly then?

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