The Big Lie

Monday, 10:45am
Sydney, Australia


Special guest-star post today… by my old buddy David Garfinkel (“Garf” to those us lucky enough to be close friends).

Garf has been my First Choice as “wingman” for the last half-dozen seminars I’ve given (including the Copywriting Sweatshops, the Hot Seat Marketing Makeovers, and particularly the Simple Writing System main event).

So, while I’m traipsing around Australia, scrambling to meet my seminar obligations while driving on the wrong side of the road in 3 major cities…

… I’ve asked Garf to write a guest post for y’all.

Without further ado… here ’tis:

Want To Know The Dark Secrets Behind Monster Success?

It’s Not Pretty.

By David Garfinkel

The Big Lie.

People say it different ways.

It usually starts out: “It must be nice to… “

And then they finish it with…

“… be born into a rich family.”

“… have such a natural talent.”

“… have genes that make you look like a god (goddess).”

And so on.

Well, part of it is true.

Some people are damned lucky. They don’t face the same struggles regular people do.

But an ugly and dangerous assumption lies underneath all of this.

You see the assumption played out in movies. In schoolrooms. In glossy magazine articles.

You hear it in the rumbling, grumbling soundtrack of your own subconscious mind. Hey, the powers that be have spent enough money, time, and effort spreading this Big Lie into the mass consciousness, everywhere you turn. Of course it’s going to be embedded in your deepest thoughts.

The assumption goes like this:

If you’re lucky enough to __________, your future success is pretty much assured.

But if you’re not, tough luck, Charlie.

(Fill in the blank with: “be born rich,” “have natural talent,” “be unusually well endowed,” etc.)

Oh, sure. People read the rags to riches stories. They memorize Think and Grow Rich. They spend thousands on coaching and seminars.

But deep down inside, many people still believe it won’t make any difference. Because the cultural myths have their unconscious minds in a choke-hold.

The funny thing is, I have seen both sides of this. I grew up very middle class, not rich, not poor, but surrounded by some of the most privileged people on the planet. Right outside Washington, DC. Huge, dripping wads of comfortable, quiet old money, just a few neighborhoods away.

And yeah, the people born with silver spoons who stuck with the program — went to the right schools, took the right jobs, joined the right clubs, moved back into the right neighborhoods — continued with their nicely furnished lives.

But there was a catch. They were cogs in a machine of great uniformity. Human animals in a herd. Marching to a very unforgiving drummer.

The Japanese have a saying: “The nail that sticks out, gets pounded down.” And that saying is as true in land-of-opportunity America as it is in the land of the Rising Sun.

Because even for the very privileged, once you decide to go for your own version of monster success, all the perks are gone. Membership has its price, and you never know how high that price was until you decide to play by different rules.

I didn’t really start to discover this hidden set of fences and pastures until after I left my corporate job as San Francisco Bureau Chief for McGraw-Hill World News in 1985. Thus began the ride of my life, and it has taken me 24 years to start to see clearly what The Big Lie is all about.

Fact is, where you were born or what you were born with has a lot to do with perks and little or nothing to do with world-class performance.

And world class performance is what monster success is all about.

My life has taken me to a place where I’ve decided:

Being really, really good at doing what’s most important to you is where fulfillment comes from.

At least in the business part of your life.

Still, world class achievement does not necessarily equal happiness. I’ve recently read two up-close-and-personal books about people who admit to large swaths of misery in their lives.

One, Warren Buffett, who jockeys between being the richest and second richest guy in the world.

The other, legendary British publishing magnate, poet and libertine Felix Dennis. In his book, he rails over and over that monster success will not make you happy.

But misery of the rich and famous aside, both of these men still prove the point about what makes a world-class performer. Neither was born into great privilege. Both found a formula and followed it and became top performers, out of the herd, up to the alpha position, whether they wanted it or not.

I suspect they were not going for alpha status. I think what happened was: They heard the call to express themselves fully, and they answered the call.

In any event: What’s the formula for monster success?

For the answer, let’s take a side trip to another century. Two other centuries, actually.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. They made a movie about him. Using his middle name (Amadeus). Maybe you saw it last century, in 1984, when it first came out.

The gist of the movie was: That Boy Was A Genius!

Take a look:

“Mozart is the ultimate example of the divine-spark theory of greatness.

“Composing music at age five, giving public performances at age eight, going on to produce hundreds of works, some of which are widely regarded as ethereally great and treasures of Western culture, all in the brief time before his death at age 35. If that isn’t talent, on a mammoth scale, then nothing is.”

Those are the words of my brother in curmudgeonliness, Geoff Colvin, whose book Talent is Overrated is the inspiration for much of what I’m writing here.

Colvin goes on to tear the popular assumption apart:

Mozart’s father Leopold, a famous composer and performer himself, enrolled his son into a home school boot camp of performing and composing at age three.

Leopold was deeply interested in how to teach music to children, and had published a book on the subject the 18th-century year Wolfgang was born (1756).

Wolfgang’s early compositions were often “corrected” (read: rewritten) by Dad before they saw the light of day — and many of them were not original anyway.

Mozart’s first “masterpiece,” Piano Concerto No. 9, was composed when he was 21.

Colvin concludes: “That’s certainly an early age, but we must remember that by then Wolfgang had been through eighteen years of extremely hard, expert training. [I added the italics].

“This is worth pausing to consider. Any divine spark that Mozart may have possessed did not enable him to produce world-class work quickly or easily, which is something we often suppose a divine spark will do.”

Colvin also looks at the world’s greatest investor. Warren Buffett loves to say he was “born to allocate capital,” financial short-hand for, “I was given the divine spark that told me exactly the best investments to make.”

Uh… not exactly, says Colvin. Buffett bought his first stock, Cities Service preferred (Citgo today), at age 11. But he didn’t really start to shine as an investor until 15 or 20 years later.

Oh, one other thing. Dad was a stockbroker. So there mighta been just a little home schooling on the subject.

And a few years after getting his Master’s at Columbia in New York, he went to work for investment legend Benjamin Graham on Wall Street. But not right away.

First, Graham had turned Buffett down to work for free on several occasions.

And this in the light of Buffett being the only student ever to receive an A+ from Graham in his investment class at Columbia.

Are we starting to see a pattern here?

A few years ago, Bonnie St. John was a client of mine. One of two Olympic medal winners who have hired me.

Bonnie won the silver and two bronzes in downhill skiing at Innsbruck, Austria, in 1984.

She started skiing with some interesting challenges. She grew up where there was no snow (San Diego).

African-American people like her weren’t especially welcome on the slopes (especially in those days).

And… wait for it… she only has one leg.

(Yep. That means one-legged skiing. She won her medals at the Paralympics.)

Bonnie’s mom wasn’t a skier, but she was a teacher — a high school principal, in fact.

And Bonnie was so intent on skiing that she somehow got herself into a very white prep school in Vermont which, in addition to great academics, had world-class ski coaches on the faculty.


Is monster success more a matter of hard work and study under great coaches and teachers — and less a matter of talent and accidents of birth?

It’s starting to look that way, more and more, according to research, and according to what I have observed about the top performers I have met and worked with.

But what about The Secret?

Isn’t it true that all you have to do is visualize something, including great achievement, and it’s yours?

Read this:

“You must begin to do what you can where you are, and you must do ALL that you can do where you are.

“You can advance only by being larger than your present place. And, no man is larger than his present place who leaves undone any of the work pertaining to that place. [I added the italics.]

“The world is advanced only by those who more than fill their present places.”

Damn! Sounds like you’re going to have to do the work after all.

But wait! What do those words have to do with The Secret?

Well, quite a bit, actually:

Those words in quotes are from the first paragraph of Chapter 12 of The Science of Getting Rich, by Wallace D. Wattles.

Rhonda Byrne said The Science of Getting Rich was her inspiration. Byrne wrote the book and produced the movie The Secret. She told Oprah Winfrey on her show:

“Something inside of me had me turn the pages one by one, and I can still remember my tears hitting the pages as I was reading it. It gave me a glimpse of The Secret. It was like a flame inside of my heart. And with every day since, it’s just become a raging fire of wanting to share all of this with the world.”

See for yourself:

Memo to Rhonda:

Gotta be careful with those tears and all that fire when you’re reading. You could miss a very important paragraph.

So. What does this all mean?

You’ve got to decide for yourself. Me, now I don’t feel so bad when I think back at all the people who called me “workaholic.”

And personally, I’ve never had a problem seeking out the best teachers, coaches, books, seminars.

I do know my natural talent and early success took me only far enough to get in trouble. Just before I started to live the ideas I’m ranting about in this post, I learned about creating success in your imagination, so it could manifest effortlessly on the physical plane.

But fortunately, somehow, when I learned how to visualize I never drank the Kool Aid. I never completely believed great things could be accomplished without doing any work.

What about you?



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

  • […] Just read a fantastic guest post by Sir David Garfinkle on John Carlton’s blog. […]

  • […] traipsing around Australia, scrambling to meet my seminar obligations while driving on the wrong sidRead more… […]

  • Considering the lack of comments here, except for the few trackbacks, it seems that not many people are really that interested in learning the truth. They prefer yet another sip of the good Big Lie than admitting they have to make extra efforts.

    The problem is that success is not a matter of how much effort. The quality of such effort is key: “more a matter of hard work and study under great coaches and teachers”.


    Whenever someone starts off with “it must be nice…” you know they are just making excuses for their own inadequacies. After all if one person could do it so could others. So if you aren’t getting what you want there must be something preventing you from getting it and it couldn’t possibly be your own INACTION, right?

    I wholeheartedly agree the key to any result is action and decisive action is even better. You’re better off taking the wrong action than doing nothing because it’s far easier to correct action than it is to move into action from inaction.

    You also state “And personally, I’ve never had a problem seeking out the best teachers, coaches, books, seminars.” When you combine teachers, coaches, books, and seminars with action you have a real opportunity to succeed. Especially because you can’t see your own mistakes, it’s human nature to be blind to your own faults and errors. And that’s where coaching is the bridge that closes the gap between today and the future you desire.

    Right now I’m in the Simple Writing System Mentoring Program. It’s the coaching/mentoring that makes all the difference. I never could have had the aha moments I’ve had just watching the DVD’s and reading the text BECAUSE I couldn’t see where I was going wrong. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

    • Thanks for your comment, Coach.
      There’s a real problem out there with people so blindly depending on “the wisdom within” that they set themselves up for such a long and tortured path to success… when, with a few proven real-world shortcuts, they wouldn’t have to.
      You’re doing the right thing by enrolling in Simple Writing System. Anyplace you can learn from people with experience who are good, patient, consistent and uncompromising teachers and mentors, you’re bound to increase your level of success.

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    EXCELLENT post, David.

    I have not been shy about my admiration for your writing and this is one more great example.

    You’ve exposed many great truths here. No free rides I’m aware of – not worthy ones anyway.

    Your piece made me think of Earl Nightingale as a depression-era child. The world appeared to be crumbling all around him, but he noticed SOME people were still doing quite well. They would drive out of gated estates in fancy cars right past all the suffering.

    He was fascinated to know how this could be. So, he asked every adult he knew: How is it that some people have wealth when so many are suffering.

    No one knew the answer.

    Now, that’s a sad reality for many children. Sometimes I’ll see a child looking tattered and worn – his parents up to no good. And you just know there is no one telling this kid there’s a better way.

    It’s a sad cycle. At what point do you stop feeling bad and start blaming them for not knowing any better? At 18? Younger if they commit an “adult crime”?

    And that could have been Earl’s fate, too. But he wasn’t content with the non-answers he received from throughout the hobo village. So he entered the Long Beach public library and started looking for answers there.

    “All these books,” he thought. “One must have the answer.”

    And he didn’t stop reading until he found the answers he was looking for.

    The point is not WHERE he found the answers. All the books are well known. The point is that he didn’t stop WORKING until he got what he had what he was after.

    In fact, he continued that work throughout his life, spreading the wisdom he discovered on his popular radio shows, and in books and lectures.

    This is a great lesson you shared here, David. One we all need to hear and be reminded of often.


    • Kevin, thanks for that.

      I admire your writing — and your gumption, and sense of humor, too!

      Earl of course broke into the limelight with “The Strangest Secret” in 1956 — the first spoken-word record to sell a million and earn Gold Record status.

      He seemed to thrive on what is called “deliberate practice” himself. At age 19 he enlisted in the Marines… was on a boat at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed it… and had been a Marine instructor at Camp Lejuene, in North Carolina, before that.

      I think he credits “the strangest secret” with coming from the Bible. It certainly does: what you think about, you become (or attract, or manifest, or earn, or move towards).

      Of course, as another famous voice, Paul Harvey, would add, “the rest of the story” is that lots of learning, correction, improvement, and longstanding hard work is involved, too.

      It’s not just one or the other. It’s both.

      But without the work, it’s… well… just silly!

      Thanks for your feedback, Kevin.

  • This is such a long post, but hey I manage to finished it, it just caught me in and suck me in, on how monster success is just so different from the mindset of every human. In my country Singapore, most network marketer always think success is an event, but to me success is not an event but a journey.
    Look: They never seen the real thing call “Millionaire or Billionaire” what they see is “5 figure income’ which obviously make them think “hey I’m rich”
    And before they finish their success journey, they make an event calling themselves I’m successful, teaching their down-line the same mindset they have.

  • Kevin Halloran says:

    Bravo Sir David!

    You speak the truth, and whether we choose to admit it (to ourselves, or others) we all know it rings true… As soon as we acknowledge it, we can become even better than we were just a moment ago. Thank you.

  • Colli says:

    Awesome post David

    Success is not the problem rather some people have a problem with success. People think they have a problem in life when in fact they are the problem.

    People make others’ the problem and then there are arguments about it and that argument strengthens that imprisonment. Those arguments are nothing but to prove everything is outside them. Ego love this.

    Success is not a problem, life is the way it is, the economy is the way it is, people’s projection is what creates the problem with having their success. As an example: in my work with performers/ athletes – in this case a golfer who I have taken on the course. He keeps hitting the ball and it goes all over the place. He checks to see if the club is defective. I take the club to see if it defective. Hit the ball and discover there is no defect. So, I say “let’s deal with your problem with the swing”.

    What I have discovered for myself and my clients is pretending is a problem Projecting a false sense of well-being. Habit of pretending, habit of avoiding not having a mind that can look at itself rightly(albeit those who sit and wait for the phone or door bell to ring AFTER hours of hrs, days maybe weeks of visualizing:(

    The world is the way it is and we can have a problem with it or we can deal with the problem -our problem.

    The real problem for most people is to bring the best out of them … to bring all of them out. The world may have a problem with this but we do not have to make it our problem.Then we suffer because the best is not available to us.

    We go on to avoid the problem by blaming the world but the world is the way it is and does not care.

    Lovers, friends, employers should bring the best out. When people bring the best out they are “ACCOUNTABLE” and most do not want to be “ACCOUNTABLE.” They become exposed and know they cannot hide. They can no longer live in Maya. An artist who hides his art in the closet can no longer pretend to be Picasso. The veil is lifted.

    Faith without work is dead.

    Thanks again …
    In richness

    • Colli, thanks.

      It’s always good to find successful clients who are willing to take responsibility for themselves and do the work, and take the mentoring, to get to that place.

      I bet you would really enjoy Geoff Colvin’s book “Talent is Overrated.” Well researched and very practical. Interesting, too.

      • Colli says:

        thanks for the suggestion … was wondering of all the programs John offers which would be the best for a “newbie’ who is currently putting a web site together. so much information being sent to me via so many different so called and perceived gurus – in a little overwhelm right now.
        thanks again

        in richness

        • Colli says:

          Hi Anth

          Thanks for the connecting with me. I do believe John is again offering “Simple Writing System” but not sure if this is the same as you got to experience – will check it out. Really need some direction because there is so much information coming at me fast and furiously.
          Every one of the different programs has “THE answers and “BIG” buck guarantee -yeh right:( I am a newbie but not a stuppie:)
          I used to be a flight attendant and I know what it takes to lift a fully loaded Air Bus off the runway.
          I will do more research into this – thanks for your caringness to contact me.

          In richness

        • Anth Q says:

          Hi Coli,

          If you’re looking for a great course I’d follow up of David’s post and get something where you get to learn from focused practise with great teachers. I signed up for John’s “Simple Writing System” mentorship programme on which David is one of the tutors and I can only say it’s awesome – hey it’s not easy continually seeing where you were going wrong and how to improve but working with such talented guides is just the best investment.

          Looking back I’m amzed how much these guys and gals have put into helping each of us – a real priviledge to work with them.

          I’m not sure if John will relaunch this mentorship but if he does, “I’d take his hand off”

          All the best,


        • Colli,

          I’m getting in a little late to this party, but, I would agree with Anthony. Get into the next round of Simple Writing System. I don’t know for sure if it will be repeated yet but I would recommend it highly.

          Ask to be in my class! 😀

  • Jeanie Rose says:

    Refreshing, encouraging, challenging!
    …the sort of legacy I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren.
    …the work ethic that solves problems with brilliant creativity, that renders productivity to be exhilarating.
    …the type of mindset that builds a great nation.

    Thank you, David.
    You’re one good man!

  • Hi David,

    Another Simple Writing System student here.

    Had the good fortune to meet & chat with you at Kevin Hogan’s Infuence event in Vegas back in March.
    I really appreciated your time & your presentation on transparency & accountability.

    Your post really hits home for me because I grew up straddling the line between poverty & low income & no matter how hard I work to continue to achieve success in every area of my life, so many people want to dismiss it as “yeah, but you’re successful cuz you’re so talented.”

    The hard part is not hearing it from strangers but from friends & family who seem to forget that I didn’t start off life as a published writer, a top rated radio personality or a recording engineer on a Grammy nominated album. They conveniently forget how I invested long hours of studying, implementing, failing, re-setting targets & then studying, implenting & failing all over again until I found what worked and what didn’t work for the professions I chose to pursue.

    While my friends were out partying all night, I’d be back at my room practicing my butt off until 4am & then going to work on only 3-4 hours of sleep a night—for YEARS.

    Equally disappointing is the people who ask how you did it & when you tell them, they refuse to believe it involved those long hours of study, work, effort, & putting your hard earned money into programs to learn from the best so that you could study & work your butt off implementing those programs.

    I’ve long since lost track of how many people have told me “Oh, I bought that program too but it didn’t do anything for me.” When I ask them for more details it becomes abundantly clear that they never made a serious attempt to complete the program.

    They want some magical answer & it’s both troubling & frightening to me how many people really still cling to the superstition that it’s all talent & luck. Sure sometimes there’s lucky breaks–but you have to be prepared to utilize those or they wind up being nothing more than wasted opportunities that disappear just as quickly as they arrived. They never get it–that being prepared sets the stage for “luck” to land in your lap.

    These are also the same people who get resentful when you don’t drop everything you’re doing to help coach them. They don’t realize that all the coaching in the world will be useless to them until they become “coachable” and start taking determined action each & every day.

    I wish there were an effective way to get through to people who think that way cuz it would help ease a lot of their suffering through life but as the old saying goes: You can’t help someone who’s unwilling to help himself.

    Thanks again for bringing this topic to light.


    Michael D. Walker

    • Hi Michael,

      Yes, I remember you and enjoyed our talks in that meeting room at the Luxor!

      I think it’s inevitable that whenever you break out of your “group,” people are going to think and say anything but “you paid your dues, you set a goal, you met the goal, congratulations.”


      It’s not because they’re stingy with praise (although it may be). But when they say “you’re talented” or whatever rather than acknowledge what you actually did to get where you are, it’s their own lack of willingness to pay the price themselves AND their lack of willingness to confront that fact.

      Human nature.

      And sure, it’s uncomfortable.

      I don’t think this is limited to people coming from poor or modest backgrounds. Anyone who leaves the “herd” they originated from faces at best being misunderstood and at worst being severely criticized, even harmed, for not marching to the same drumbeat.

      In some ways, that may be the highest price of all for success. Not the superficial adulation of others, but the deep resentment and effective shunning.

  • SriHari HS says:

    As always, you writing is practical, to the point and at the same time quite captivating.
    Most people (including me) look for short cuts in the form of a software or a product but always end up realizing, after losing quite a bit of time and money, that is not the case.
    I also realized that while short cuts exist, none of them will take you directly into the dreamland. But in fact they will act like helpful guide who will show where to take a detour and where to not walk in the bush. Mentors are the best form of short cut there is and blessed are those who realize this.

  • Lisa says:

    Great post. I agree with the hard work theory. However, I would point out that there are many that work feverishly hard and never achieve more than mediocrity.

    I think there are many myths that exist in our heads, whether from conditioning or trauma, that create a thermostat effect for success/wealth/health – you name it.

    This is where The Secret shines. It’s the visualizing that helps you override that mental set point, so all that hard work can actually pay off. How you think is very much a part of it. By itself, any of these ingredients isn’t going to work so well.

    I think this is why many people fall far short of their goals. They either get frustrated by failures (which are an essential part of working toward any goal) and quit. Or they come up against the ceiling of their mental set point. Since they don’t realize it is an unconscious belief within themselves and therefore automatic, they resort to blaming circumstances and situations and the kind of thinking you describe so well in your post.

    Thank you for a thought provoking entry.

    Lisa (also SWS student)

    • Lisa,

      Yes, that’s a great point. Hard work alone won’t do it. You have to grow as you go. Personally, I got a lot more out of Wattles’ book “The Science of Getting Rich” than I did “The Secret,” because he discusses thinking in a certain way and doing things in a certain way as well as just working hard.

      And yep, it’s when you start to take responsibility for what happens in your life that the magic occurs. Your whole world shifts as a result.

      Glad to hear from you, Lisa!

  • Rebecca says:

    Great post.

    In addition to the time and effort, you have to be willing to work through the aspects you need to know but “just don’t get” until they’re second nature. You may have to shift gears and go back and work through your sticking points until you grasp it.

    But by doing it on your own, you may continue to make the same mistakes that hold you back from your vision of success.

    So if you wise up, you’ll find a mentor who can speed you along because a true mentor sees your big picture…the where you are now and where you’re heading on your current path. The right mentor can easily recognize what’s holding you back and know whether you need to push through it or detour around and move on.

    If you’re willing to put aside what you know and listen (plus put in the essential effort), that’s when you stop spinning your wheels and head down your road to success. Otherwise you’ll remain a hard-working hamster in a habitrail enjoying moderate success but never quite reaching your desired destination.

  • Perfect, Rebecca.

    You got it!

  • Gary Bloomer says:

    Dear David, Dear John,

    “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” So said Mr. Edison, and it dove tails beautifully with what you’re saying.

    Ten years, people.

    That’s how long it takes to become good at something. Perhaps even become
    an expert at something. That’s how long it takes to earn your stripes. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent book Outliers talks about this issue in some depth. It’s worth reading because it’s a great reinforcement of what you’re saying.

    When it comes the the Big Lie, the truth is that, although most people want success, money, and recognition, they’re not ready to embrace it.


    Because they’re not ready for the full reality that comes with being unplugged from their candy-coated, TV sit-com, cable news show, Monday night football, all-you-can-eat, cheap-gas-world of super-sized convenience and ease—and work for it.

    Again, why?

    Because their current life is too easy and because their dreamed life is too hard to grasp. The effort involved makes their desire to change—too—goddamn—hard.

    Dreams are one thing, but the grim truth is that, for many millions of people, it’s easier to sit, dream, veg and turn the wheel of their BMW (Bitch, Moan, and Whine) than it is to get up and act.

    In 1999 I arrived in the US from England. I had dreams of “making it” as a writer in traditional, brand-based advertising. I spent eight years learning and sharpening my writing.

    Then two years ago, I saw the light. That most of the brand-based model underpins the Big Lie. Not all of it. But most.

    That was a tough, bitter pill to swallow. Why had I “wasted” all that time? But then, when I least expected it, I saw something else. Opportunity. Possibility.

    I could have “accepted reality” and just quit. But I didn’t.

    Instead, I took several determined steps back. I grabbed the things I’d need the most. And I took a flying leap into the world of direct response marketing.

    Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t landed yet. But the breeze feels good against my shaved head and I’m having a great time.

    Every lesson I’ve learned. Every tip and technique I’ve picked up. Every copy tool I’ve grasped, read, written with, and implemented. They’re all helping.

    Pushing. Propelling me onward.

    Had I NOT spent the last few years working like this, had I just sat on my backside and dreamed and driven that same old BMW, I wouldn’t be writing this now, and I wouldn’t have gone from zero to 100th place in the Top 100 MarketingProfs Experts in the last month alone.

    Sure, I’m aaaaallllllll, the way down at the bottom of the list. But that’s me. I did that.
    I earned that recognition. It’s mine. And I intend to build on it. A year ago I wouldn’t have been tooting my own horn like this. But sometimes, there are things you have to do.

    And as simplistic as this might sound, them as works, eats.

    Sometimes, you just have to get up off the sofa, roll up your sleeves, invest some effort, sweat, toil, and commitment, and get in to it. In fact, that’s the only way to do it.

    But here’s the trick.

    While the rest of the world does its best to dilute your efforts with the waters of mediocrity on the left, you’ve got to be putting in more concentrated effort on the right.

    The blandification of one’s own effort by others is a miserable gift to receive. The trick is, to give it back with more … and with less.

    More work. Less lollygagging
    More commitment. Less surrender.
    More courage. Less fear.
    More vision. Less myopia.
    More will. Less won’t.
    More can. Less can’t.
    More dreaming. Fewer nightmares.
    More “Let’s …”.

    It sounds easy. It isn’t. But that’s one of the other tricks: making it look easy.
    No. It isn’t easy. In fact. It’s damn hard work. But that’s the spirit that built the United States. The will to push on, to endure, to endeavour; the courage to break free and work for something more because it’s a worthy goal.

    Sometimes, you just have to stand up and take responsibility. The country’s in the economic state it’s in because way too many people did precisely the opposite.

    Being angry isn’t enough. Wanting change isn’t enough. To break through, to grow, you’ve got to focus on a higher goal.

    A few years ago, I read a story about two stone masons in medieval Europe.

    A wealthy merchant happened upon them in a dusty square as workers hammered and scurried to construct the towering walls of the city’s cathedral.

    The merchant asked the first mason what he was doing.

    Red faced and bent double, the first mason, an older man, looked up and said “Sir!, Isn’t it obvious! I’m trying to break this stone! Now, if you don’t mind, I have work to do!”

    Thus dismissed, the merchant turned his attention to the second mason, a younger man who was standing, gazing up at the stone work. The merchant asked the second mason the same question.

    With his tools hanging loosely in his hands, the younger mason turned to the merchant and said “Sir, I’m told my dying breath may not see these walls complete, for the work will take a hundred years or more. You ask what I’m doing? Sir, I’m part of a team building this cathedral.”

    So there’s a question for the readers of this blog. Are you trying to break just one stone? Or are you building a cathedral?

    Thanks for reading.

    Gary Bloomer
    Wilmington, DE, USA

  • Ben Gay III says:

    Sir David –
    Extremely well thought-out, young man! And well-written, of course!

    As you may recall, Earl Nightingale and I worked together for several years and were good friends until the day he passed. “The boat” on which he was serving on December 7, 1941 was The Arizona; his story of personal survival being almost unbelievable!

    And “The Strangest Secret”? Not to discount all of his other studies, Earl told me he found that in a single sentence in the book of another old friend of mine, Dr. Napoleon Hill (aka “Nappy”). The book was “Think and Grow Rich.” The sentence was “You become what you think about.”

    Oddly enough (we argued about this for many years), Earl found the rest of Dr. Hill’s book “simplistic.” But then, Earl was a lot smarter than I am!

  • Ben,
    That’s hilarious – Earl’s take on “Think and Grow Rich!”

    I was thinking about you and your association with Earl when I was responding to Kevin’s comment about Earl.

    Thanks for your warm comments, Ben. If anyone knows and has lived (and has reaped the rewards) of the message of my post, it’s most certainly you!

    (To everyone else: Ben is the publisher of one of the most controversial and hard-core books on sales ever written, “The Closers” — and author of the sequel, “The Closers II.” If you don’t have ’em — GET ’em!)

  • Kyle says:

    David – outstanding post. (I especially enjoyed it since it was content driven and not affiliate or pitch driven!)

    Up above you mentioned in one of the comments that “Hard work alone won’t do it.”

    Dan Kennedy has a phrase that goes along with it (you’ve probably heard) that says essentially:

    “Hard work in general won’t get you anything. Working hard on smart things will.”

    Anyway, as I said above absolutely awesome blog David. Picked up 4 big ideas from it and 6 writer-downers for my nugget notebook. I was not a subscriber to your blog minutes ago, but the content you just delivered won me over.
    Pce. -Kyle

  • Kyle, thanks for the kind words.

    To be clear, I agree with Dan Kennedy but I don’t think he goes far enough in that quote (although with his Maxwell Maltz franchise it’s clear he believes more than he’s saying in that particular instance).

    My conclusion is : You’ve got to do more than work hard on smart things. You’ve got to have a vision of yourself where you want to be, and where you’re going. What you think about and how you think about it are both vitally important.

    Combine that with hard work, and add input from wise teachers and mentors, and you have the formula for Monster Success.

  • Lisa Manyon says:

    It’s no surprise that this is a timely, poignant missive. Funny I was just talking to a friend a few days ago about drinking the Kool Aid. I’ll pass, too.

    Well done! And time for me to get some work done.

    Write on!


  • David,

    What a wonderful post. Lots of great nuggets.

    Whenever I hear someone saying they are going to imagine their way into being skillful without training (either through studying or coaching), I always seem to get strange, vivid images of Don Quixote getting his skull bashed in. In my opinion DQ is the epitome of VISON and ACTION without knowledge or training. He certainly could be the poster boy for The Secret as presented by the Kool Aid crowd.

    Thanks again for a great post David.


    • The Great Dr. Sulo,

      You have a way with words like no other. 🙂

      Thanks for the comments and that disturbing yet instructive image.

      Are you old enough to remember this TV ad jingle?

      “Kool Aid, Kool Aid, Tastes Great!
      Wish I had some — can’t wait!” …

      • David wrote:
        >Are you old enough to remember this TV >ad jingle?

        >“Kool Aid, Kool Aid, Tastes Great!
        >Wish I had some — can’t wait!” …

        I don’t think so.

        I grew up with the big pitcher of Kool Aid busting through fences and walls to the delight of tiny sugar fiends.

        OH YEAH!

  • Jim Wyck says:

    I thought I signed up for the Fast-Simple-Easy-NoWork-NoSweat-Guaranteed Billionaire Next Week Course…. what kind of karazy blog is this?

    Are you saying it takes time, work, and expert guidance?

    I’m leaving this blog in a Huff and heading right back to my beloved Secret Video, where I belong.

    My visualizations of Sweet Easy Street are going to start showering gold dust on my any day now… I can feel it … really I can….


  • Jim,

    What can I say?

    Let’s do a ‘speriment.

    You try it your way, and I will try it mine.

    Let’s compare notes down the road… :-/

  • Mike Brooks says:

    Great post. I wish I could have you talk to friends and family who tell me I work too much.

    About a year ago I went to a seminar given by one of the experts from the secret movie. He told me that there was a lot of editing that took place among those experts.

    The makers of the movie wanted to make it look like all you need to do is sit in the middle of your living room, ask for lots of money and wait for it to shower down as if by magic. They left out the single most important part of the recipe: Get off your ass and take ACTION.

    One of my favorite quotes comes from Dan Kennedy who was talking about his friend Tim Ferris’ book ‘The 4 hour Work Week’. He told the crowd he is great friends and has loads of respect for Tim. But he felt a better title for a book would be ‘Rich People Work’.

    Ok, enough ranting for me. Back to work…

  • Mike,

    I’m glad to hear that so much was edited out of “The Secret.”

    Here’s something concise and easy to remember from “The Science of Getting Rich,” which, of course, was the tear-stained, fire-brewed book Rhonda Byrne used as the basis for “The Secret”:

    It’s the mental work, the visualization, that _creates_ the riches.

    It’s the action that you take, the work that you do, that allows you to _receive_ the riches.

    As for your friends and family and their not getting it — well, I wish I could be more encouraging. I think their disdain is the tax the universe levies on you _before_ you hit it big.

    Then after you’ve made it, their sense of entitlement to share your hard-earned gains… well, that’s the tax the universe levies on you _after_ you’ve hit it big.

    No one told you how much fun this was going to be, did they? 🙂


  • Hey David,

    I read “Talent is Overrated” too! It really changed my thinking (or should I say reversed back to my previous mindset) that mastery is all about training hard on my skills. Thanks for standing up for the TRUTH!

  • Greg says:


    I’m not a writer, but I enjoy reading your posts. I agree with your point. I recently solved a PC problem that really took some drill-down deep trouble shooting. Those that witnessed my two days of eating while working and researching and trial and error were fascinated. When I solved the problem and the system booted and ran better than before, it was perceived as a small miracle. The witnesses were not aware that I started learning trouble-shooting in 1976, and computers in 1980. They had no idea of the mistakes and failures it took to lead up to sucessfully diagnosing and repairing that system. People have no idea that I practiced music from age 7 to receive applause at age 54. People have no idea how many bad photos I took to get published.

    I once purchased a copywriting course that promised all sorts of success, wonderful lifestyle, and a terrific income for life. When I received the course, completed the course, and attempted to use only the knowledge learned in that course, I failed so miserably that I had little choice but to return to what I knew best and had worked on for several thousand hours. Copywriters, writers in general, do wonderful work in creating visions in the mind, but like most things, copywriting can be a tool used to lure in suckers with promises of riches and success, much like The Secret. It takes integrity to use a hard-earned gift for good. Your article is one of integrity and truth. Keep up the good work.

  • Thanks, Greg.

    I won’t stand up here for my fellow copywriters who make empty promises. I also won’t put up with people doing that when I am personally involved in one way or another and have an opportunity to say something about it.

    Greg, you know the truth about mastery. The world doesn’t want to hear it, of course. At least most of the world. There are those who commented in this blog who appreciate what it takes to get good at something and succeed.

    By the way, if you ever decided to become a copywriter, you could do it. Your writing is good and clear and well thought through. It will take you longer and more work than the promoters of the course that disappointed you said it would. But you know what it took to learn to fix PCs, to troubleshoot problems, to play music well, and to take photos that can get published.

    Writing copy that sells, with integrity, takes about the same path. That may not be a path you want to go down… I understand that. But if it is, I can tell you, after having taught writing to adults for 22 years and taught copywriting exclusively for the last 10 of those years, you have more than the basic raw materials of a really good copywriter.

  • Jeff says:

    What a powerful and timely message. My business is an asset that I’m building for my downline…my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Does that mean I have to go to sleep a few hours later and get up a few hours earlier to make sure I’m a business builder not a hobbyist…absolutely! Is it worth the blood, sweat and tears…the time, energy and money? No doubt.
    For those people who are glued to their couches but imagine that visualizing winning the lottery is their ticket to freedom are missing the point.
    It’s not about what you get in life. Material things can be taken away in seconds. It’s really about who you become through the actions we take and the experiences we create for ourselves. Taking consistent and concentrated action is our stimulus for growth.

  • Thanks, Jeff.

    You know, my friend Kevin Rogers, an excellent copywriter in his own right and a trusted associate of John’s, sent me a private note yesterday about a very revealing video on Geoff Colvin’s site.

    It’s four minutes long and WELL worth watching:

    The video gives some very clear indications as to what you (not just you, Jeff — anyone!) should put extra effort into, in order to become a world-class performer.

    Obviously hard work alone won’t do it. But hard work on the right things will and does… and this video goes a long way (in a short time) towards explaining what those “right things” are.

  • Anth Q says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for another real dose of exciting reality, it’s just the strangest thing that we seem to blind ourselves from recognising that everyone who is really successful seems to be willing or even eager practise the basics and seek out and hang out with people who have already succeeded.

    After all we can only make up our ideas of what is possible from our inputs, and feedback – input and feedback from people who’ve been there and are willing to share is priceless…

    Thanks for taking the time to put this down is words.


    PS: Thanks for the recommendation on Aristotle for Screenwriters – awesome timeless knowledge :o)

  • Anthony,

    You’re welcome and thanks for the kind words you said about my teaching to Colli, above. 🙂

    It’s funny, it’s a combination of inner game and outer skills developed carefully, strategically, patiently and repetitively, over time. That’s what makes the difference!

  • […] …“The Big Lie”. Categories : Copywriting, Success Tips […]

  • chetan says:

    It was like dusting the mirror after months and surprised at how I look. Handsome! 😉

  • Kosta says:

    Thanks for the EXCELLENT post!
    I needed this!

  • Heh! I agree. had a classmate in my youth who said his dad was better off coz he had cash to begin with. Still the same after all these years.

    Aside from that, love the cheeky rants!

  • David,
    Great post. I’ll start with the the premise that you mentioned to me in our offline conversation…

    “That some people are entitled to, or destined for, greatness, by virtue
    of this, that or the other thing (fortunate birth, practice of an esoteric
    ritual, etc.) — rather than, there is a predictable, documented, reproducible/
    replicable series of actions and application of concepts that leads to greatness.”

    Your point about the need to take massive action is spot on and, as you point out, all too often overlooked in the quest for the short cut.

    However, action alone is not enough. As I read through the article and the comments, I’m reminded almost inevitably of the “Ultimate Success Formula” namely…

    1. Decide what you want
    2. Take massive action
    3. Observe if what you’re doing is working
    4. Take corrective action until you reach your goal

    The vision, in other words, is necessary but it’s only the first step. You make this point yourself in various places but I think it’s bears repeating. Points 2,3 and 4 are exactly what’s going on when you follow the path of proven success and get feedback and advice from the right mentors (like you, for example!).

    On a more esoteric point, I’d suggest the nature of our reality is that success comes from a combination of factors, at it’s simplest a duality of factors that may appear opposites. Vision and action…logic and emotion…yin and yang etc.

    OK…I’m getting w-a-a-a-y too off beam here!

    Great post. Thanks again!

    Copywriter Kevin Francis

  • David Reynolds says:

    Dear Sir,
    I’ve never succeeded based on my limited talent. What success I’ve achieved has been the result of busting my ass, or out-working the SOB next to me. In the newspaper field, it meant out-hustling, out-working and out-producing the content of people on much larger staffs. One hundred words from a competitor would be met by 500 words from me. One photo might be compared to a page in full color.
    The expression, “hard work is its own reward” was written by someone who never had to compete for anything. These days it’s about busting your ass for whatever you can get.
    >>Dave Reynolds

  • Interesting current news item related to this topic. Footballer (that’s “Soccer Player” for North Americans!) Cristiano Ronaldo has just been transferred to Real Madrid for a record fee of 80 million pounds (around US$130 million at current rates). The guy is regarded as football genius and highly talented, of course.

    Delve a little into his background and you find these interesting points…

    “He never had any hobbies, was never interested in television, he just played football six hours a day, dreaming of being a footballer,” recalled his sister Elma yesterday.


    “He had better control, struck the ball better, better dribbling than anybody else – and he had the will and desire.”

    (Full article at

    Plus, at a young age he joined Manchester United where he had coaching and guidance from the best in the business.

    Copywriter Kevin Francis

  • Mike Brown says:

    I work in the Town of Palm Beach, Florida for a non-profit that supports and depends on the residents. It’s one of the richest communities on the planet. On what we call “billionaires row” in the large estate section of town, we did an analysis of the residents and less than 5% came from inherited wealth – old money. It includes the inventors of Netscape, hair care products, and smart real estate deals. All have a common habit: hard work.

    • Interesting, Mike.

      So there aren’t a lot of billionaires who got it by visualizing success and waiting for gold ducats to drop in their laps, huh? 🙂

      Thanks for the report.


  • […] David Garfinkel calls this the big lie. […]

  • Tai Slim says:

    I like the guest post by Garf. It is the best read for me this week. Hey John invite him once more to write here on your blog as most of the reader like to re-associate with him.

    Thank you.

  • Josh says:

    Just finished “Talent is Overrated” a couple weeks ago and then stumbled onto this post, so the timing is excellent. Great post that should be included in every college intro course, or better yet, as an exit course before receiving their diploma.
    The paradigm of ‘deliberate practice’ makes so much sense, but is overlooked by everyone and is replaced by the ‘magic pill’ syndrome our society is victim to now.
    Thanks for being outspoken about this foundation of success and for not buying into the enabling pattern promoting ‘imagineering’ that so many others have jumped on to profit from.
    My best,

  • Marte Cliff says:

    I really think that all the visualizing and focusing taught in the Secret is supposed to make you take action in that direction. It sets you up emotionally to believe that you can do it. Then, the more you want something, the more your mind goes to work figuring out ways to get it.
    Most people who stay stuck in failure really believe that they have no other choice.

    I believe in the Law of Attraction, and I find it unfortunate that so many saw the Secret and thought it meant you didn’t have to do anything except sit in an easy chair and think. If you pay attention to any of the folks from that movie, you’ll find out that is not the message they intended to convey.

  • Earnst says:

    Of course you guys are successful , you’ve had all the breaks. Anyone could be successful if they had gobs of money to shell out for all the “best teachers, coaches, books, and seminars” like you have.

  • Marc Rodill says:

    My favorite line in your excellent post reads:

    “I do know my natural talent and early success took me only far enough to get in trouble.”

    Oh, hit a chord. It’s so true. I am in much trouble drowning yet still fighting. Old post, new read, good timing.

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