“Make no mistake… this is an exercise in radical self-reliance…” (Burning Man survival guide)
No, I’m not at Burning Man this year.
Just couldn’t pull it off, because of random acts of viciousness and distraction ladled upon my poor vulnerable head by the universe.
Visited last year. Might go next year, too.
I’ll see this Burn, though, through the sky-cam there in the smoldering Black Rock desert, if I see it at all.
However, just thinking about that amazingly unique event generated a familiar thought about survival.
I call it “The Hard Knocks Lesson Of Three’s“.
It applies to stuff like attending an event like Burning Man… which is a week-long freak show in the middle of the playa, way the hell in the middle of the northern Nevada desert.
Nothing you’ve ever done in your life, to this point, can totally prepare you for the experience.
One day before the event, the desert is a wasteland, free of humans. One day into the event, it’s suddenly a Mad Max-styled city of 40,000 partiers who stay up all night torching stuff and dancing themselves into madness to blaring trance music (which goes 24 hours a day out there).
Lots of art, and street theater, and comraderie, and general naughtiness ensue, at levels you simply are not prepared for.
Experienced Burners report it’s a very raw, pure form of fun. But daunting fun, at first.
You gotta bring every drop of your own water and food (or barter for it from others — no money is allowed inside Black Rock City)…
… and you’re on your own dealing with the sand storms, the brain-melting heat, the absolute lack of basic resources, and all the other details of maintaining good-animal health in the middle of Hell.
Trust me, it’s something that has to be seen to be believed. People arrive from every corner of the globe, eager to get the party started again.
Burners take the self-reliance code to heart. They truck in everything they need, and truck it back out again when the show’s over. No trace is left of the massive city, or the party.
This once-a-year bacchanalia has been going on since the 1980s, with little or no mayhem or tragedy.
Self-reliant partiers. It’s a concept.
The lesson, however, applies to all sorts of new experiences. Like starting a new job. Or putting together a market launch of a new product. Or engaging in a new course or mentoring program.
Here’s what I’ve found:
1. The first time you do anything new, your senses are kind of overwhelmed. You may not even realize if you’re having a good time, or a worthwhile experience, until after you’re done and you can look back on it.
This first time is essential to the process.
Just get it done. Do the best you can, and expect nothing and everything, while allowing the experience to wind out as it will.
2. You will either have a good experience, or a bad one.
It doesn’t matter which (unless you’re a pussy and the bad experience sours you on going further into the process forever).
If it’s good, you have a benchmark for what a “good” experience is about. And you may want to attemtp to repeat it the next time out. Or top it.
If it’s a bummer, you have a benchmark for what a “bad” experience is about. And you will want to take steps to avoid it next time.
3. After you’ve had two rounds, you have accumulated a little storehouse of insight, knowledge and hands-on experience. It could be all good, all bad, or a mix.
But it’s the third time out where you can now call yourself “experienced”.
You have context, now, to judge and adjust and feel at home with the process.
I’ve lived in many different cities in my time. Had many different jobs, started many different relationships, gone on many different adventures.
And all these different experiences started out overwhelming… and got dramatically easier to maneuver through on the third time around.
I even used it as a way to build up familiarity in strange towns. The third day in a row you go to the same cafe for lunch, sit in the same place, and order the same thing… you’ll get noticed. You’re no longer an invisible face in the crowd.
You are now seen in context.
(When I first moved to Virginia City, I stopped by the Bucket O’ Blood saloon once a day on my daily walks around town for a beer. On the third visit, the bartender leans over and whispers “Are you a local? Damn, I’ve been charging you ‘tourist’ prices for that beer. This one’s on me.”)
In even the scariest new job, the third day gives you solid hints to what your daily routine will become. Getting there on time, knowing the rules, figuring out who the assholes are and who the cool kids are.
It’s a process of collecting and consciously analyzing incoming data.
At Burning Man, the dramatic self-reliance required can be shocking the first time out.
By the third year’s journey, you can probably call yourself a veteran Burner. Sure, there will always be unexpected stuff. But while alarming, the new tweaks to the experience will fit into the greater perspective you have from having been there before.
Just knowing this rule can take a lot of heat off your stress levels.
As a rookie, you’re a liability to the people around you. You’re encountering everything for the first time, and you have no context for how you’re going to react.
The next time, you’ll do better.
And by the third go-round, your comfort level with the very stuff that may have alarmed you before will be astounding.
It may occasionally take more than three attempts to “get” any given situation or experience down pat.
You certainly will not be an “expert” at it yet.
But you will have some history, good or bad, and that allows you a little internal reference library of experience to draw on.
During those stretches in my life where I was constantly experiencing upheaval, radical change and emotional turmoil, keeping this simple rule of 3’s in mind helped a lot.
I never put pressure on myself to excel right out of the blocks. I took it slow, kept copious notes, and built upon every minor success while correcting the mistakes.
People fear change and new things. It’s in our DNA.
The key to beating fear is to acknowledge it, and engage in the experience anyway. Know that you’re probably not going to ace it this first time out… but what you learn will give you a foundation to becoming more confident and comfortable each successive time.
I’ve been a rookie, a lot. I welcome most opportunities to try new things.
And I’m a grizzled veteran of nearly everything I’ve experienced and liked (or needed to like, to further my goals).
I’m also a pro at dealing with a lot of the bad shit that can come crashing down on you. Been there, done that.
It’s a process.
Just a little advice to help you navigate the dusty road.
P.S. I’ve been burning up Twitter lately.
If you want in on the fun, you gotta follow me, though:
Do not be fooled by poseurs. Stick with the real thing…
"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."
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Excellent, EXCELLENT observation, John!
You can apply it to SO many things. Especially things like starting a new blog – by the third post you start to get a feel for the direction this thing is going to go and whether it’s what you thought it would be.
Or a new ebook – by page 3, you start to realize if you’re good to go or it’s back to the drawing board.
Keeping this Rule of 3 in mind going does help take the pressure off of starting something – anything – new.
I also remember learning to swim, as a small kid. I was terrified, yet thrilled to get into deeper water. The fear amped up, and threatened to drown out the thrill and…
… and then the instructor threw me in anyway.
I swallowed a lot of chlorine-laced water, got drug out, shook myself like a wet dog…
… and dove back in.
By the third time (after another bout of coughing and panic) I was dog paddling like a terrier.
Face your fear. The bitch almost always backs down when her first two swipes don’t take you out.
Another childhood example would be playing sports. For me, it was high school football.
That first day of two-a-days after the summer was brutal and scary. The second was brutal and not-so-scary. By the third day, you were getting a feel for everything and suddenly playing with confidence.
The Rule of 3s – I’ll definitely remember it!
It’s taken me 40 years to forget “Hell Week” for high school football — 3-a-day workouts that left us bleeding, exhausted and broken in very tender places.
But you’re right. The sheer terror of the first one vanished by the third.
Until they made us defensive backs go one-on-one with the linemen for “kill him!” drills…
Hi John, Regards from St. Tropez, I remember talking about burning man in Dubai, It is on the agenda for me for next year also. Great post, very interesting observations.
Thanks as always
Hey, Ernesto — What’s a Mexican national, in exile in Amsterdam, hosting seminars in Dubai, doing in St. Tropez?
How many passports have you burned through?
Good to hear from you, as always…
You’ve been there, You’ve done that
And you’ve got the T-shirt. (and then some)
I think you made a very important point that really needs to be driven home into the minds of budding entrepreneurs. There are quite a few people who pressure themselves (or others place on them) to get a big success and really excel…right out of the gate.
And then when it becomes obvious that its not possible (for them yet..) they give up or they throw the towel in and say “it doesn’t work”
Even though they had a small sliver of success. (which can start a huge avalanche of Fungolas). I once was like that. Then awhile later I realized it got me no where (don’t sweep facts under the rug), and changed gear.
Now I’m happy.
Keeping this rule of 3 in mind is very powerful. Like the first commenter said – these 3 rules can take the pressure off of learning new stuff. And starting and experiencing new stuff.
I watched a Science Show with Michio Kaku where they run some experiments basically saying these same things. With all the scientific stuff behind it.
Our first lazy summer was long because it was new to us. New experiences can actually slow down our perception of time. But when routine sets in…it runs by very fast. But we can remember these new experiences as “Oasis’s” of time.
As for self-reliant Party-Goers….
+++DOES NOT COMPUTE+++
+++NO ENTRY EXISTS+++
Thanks for sharing John,
Surfing, I only tried once.
Marketing events, I met you at my second one in San Diego for Mass control and was way more comfortable than I was for the Marketers Cruise, my first event. Looking forward to the third one now especially after reading this post.
Simple rule of three. I like it. Can I buy you a beer?
PS: I’m going to google Burning Man Black Rock desert.
You can always spot the newbies at seminars — they’re walking around like deer in headlights during the first day.
The difference between the first time and the third is a novel-length story of psychological insight. What at first seems daunting, quickly becomes routine with repetition.
Just go to http://www.burningman.com.
When you know from experience that the flip side of the daunting fear is raw excitement and total “I did it” amazement…
it’s that knowledge – plus a healthy doze of childish anticipation – that helps getting things done the very first time 🙂
I love that feeling 🙂
I love it, too, Sergey.
Most inexperienced adventurers interpret that feeling as a warning, or even an unpleasant sense of being out of your element.
The trick is to realize you’re just in the middle of an adjustment process, for your brain, your body, your senses, everything.
And, yes, it’s actually enjoyable.
Ace post – like you, I ‘ve got a fair number of t-shirts in various shapes, sizes and states of repair, and the Rule of Three really does apply to just about everything we do…
My analogy is with running: marathon # 1 was a very scary step into the unknown; # 2 was still a lot of hard work and guesswork, but manageable; # 3 was all about consolidation with only a dash of trepidation and no fear. Interestingly, # 4 felt not unlike # 1, but that’s because it involved 13 miles of uphill, finishing in the shadow of the Eiger! It was a new experience but one underpinned by the three that went before; I would not have dared attempt it without them.
Thanks for your usual razor-sharp, succinct and witty analysis!
Damn, sounds like Burning Man is a fun gig. Never heard good nor bad of it but it sure sounds like an adventure to remember. The rule of threes sure would apply.
[…] Life Lessons From Burning Man… […]
Great stuff! I’m sure your readers are keen to this effect when trying to get welcomed into a forum. By the third post everyone will know if you are the real deal(contributing with great content) or not(trying to send them to some lame squeeze page with bad copy…….at least swipe some better copy, geez). I’m slower than most folks but I can tell by the second try and for sure by the third if this “thing” is going to work or not. And now I am able to drop it and stop it, not continue to beat it until I realize it is dead after months of work(like I said I’m slower than most….at least before).
Try this rule of three but do the biggest thing I learned is try by doing it!
Do what you do and make a difference
Great points John!
I know when I try something… I tend to overwhelm my self by looking at…”Holy shit look at all the stuff I have to do”. I’ve learned to look at doing things in small chunks insted of looking at a whole huge piture.
Love the blog John
Very inspiring, John.
Reminds me of…
First night solo on the graveyard shift as a bellman of the 100 year old Don CeSar Beach Resort.
Amid the madness of late check-ins cranky from long flights… rich douchebags in rental cars clogging the narrow entrance and wondering off with the keys… and a phone that rang constantly with special requests for ingestibles not on the room service menu…
…300 newspapers arrive in 4 varieties for individual request doorstep delivery.
(Not to mention I was dressed like Gopher from “The Love Boat” and sweating like Paris Hilton in a Spelling Bee.)
I was sure life would go on for all affected if I were to simply ditch the uniform and walk out for good.
My mother always told me to listen to my instincts. And right now they were saying, “Screw this. They can have their seven bucks an hour plus tips.”
But, a deeper instinct said, “Take the challenge, asshole. It ain’t life or death.”
Somehow… by morning, all the right papers got delivered to the right doors. The guests were sleeping comfortably, and the drive was free of cars.
I even had time to sneak coffee and oatmeal from the kitchen and watch the morning sun cast a brilliant rosy hue onto the majestic old hotel.
By the third night, that drive was my domain, guests waited patiently for their luggage and those papers were my bitch.
Walking out would have been a crushing defeat. Leading to who knows what kind of slumped posture to carry through life.
Third times are a gift, indeed.
Excellent post, El Capitan.
Gopher from the Love Boat?
I know who you’re talking about, but you’ve just reminded me how much more adventurous my life was back in the 70s, when I didn’t watch TV (except for a few Saturday Night Live’s). I had to find other ways to amuse myself, which got me into tremendously exciting trouble.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like today without the plasma screen HD addiction.
Great story, Kiven.
Funny how the most seemingly-insignificant experiences stay with you, just because you used them to demonstrate discipline and courage.
It’s always nice when someone even older than me passes along life advice to the “kids”.
Do you think we ought to tell them the real trick to being successful? (If not – delete the rest of this post and you can sell the answer in your next course.) You have to survive long enough to get experienced while not quitting like a crybaby when something goes wrong.
Like you, I end up giving a lot of advice that comes from experience. When people ask me how I got so smart, the first response that always comes to mind is… “I’m not smart. I’ve just lived long enough to make most of the mistakes and I’m just smart enough not to remember most of them so I don’t make them twice.”
@Shawn, well said.
I look at it as a process. Between where you are now and where you want to be is a dynamic process to arrive there.
It;s like cooking. One may have the best recipe in the world for certain dishes, but if one does not even try to cook it, you’ll never taste it. It’s just a picture in the recipe.
You may not cook it right the 1st time, but eventually if you just do enough, you may even make it better than what’s on the recipe.
But this post did get me inspired on threading on something that I am reluctant to work on for some time now. So I’m going to starting ‘cooking’.
Spot on Shawn. Its funny how people consider someone else “Smart”… when in reality they just had more experience at the subject than they do.
Or maybe that is the definition of smart – who knows.
Your comment also reminded me of this cartoon I once saw. It said
“They won’t make the same mistakes again. Instead – they’ll make brand new ones!”
…..always learning aren’t we…
Hi Shawn. Yeah, live long enough and, as a grizzled pro, you can easily top everyone else’s stories in the room.
Of course, you and I surround ourselves with movers and shakers and doers, who have made engaging with life a habit long ago.
Most folks, however, especially in this country, say “no, thanks” to opportunity, and build themselves tiny worlds that are largely protected from the harsher and scarier realities of life.
I’ve met a lot of older dudes who haven’t got much to say about anything. They’ve had precious few real adventures, and haven’t concocted stories about them… and so there are no lessons, nothing learned, no insight.
What I love about this guru gig is getting to hang out with so many high-octane-burning people who aggressively go after the Feast of Life with gusto and nerve.
Also: What’s good about this kind of advice, is that we aren’t telling newbies WHAT to expect. Just how to process what happens.
Veterans who insist on bullying you with their “here’s how it is” experience are boring.
I’d rather share the good stories, and hear about what I may have missed.
For too many, life is a burden. That’s just a dumb way to live, an insult to your ancestors who struggled and died to create this amazing civilization we take for granted.
I intend to keep chewing over-sized mouthfuls of experience until that plug gets pulled…
BTW: What happened to you in San Diego? I thought we were gonna trade stories at the bar for a while…
In my experience, the paralyzing fear of change is far more inhibiting than the actual experience of change.
Picking up that heavy foot and moving it ahead the first step is, by far, the most difficult part.
Far too many people underestimate their ability to navigate the (presently) unknown. And, in the process, they are personally responsible for keeping their own lives in check.
When your brain resists, let your feet lead the adventure. Your brain has to come along, no matter how stubbornly it tries to hide.
That burning man thing; i think the average guy is lost and he doesn’t even know about it. About the rule of 3, i am not so sure about it – though I’ll try it and see if it works. What i have come to know is that unless something is very urgent, it is better to take your time to be good with the first attempt. I am not talking about being a pro – of course not. Just do as much as you can while you are doing the first thing and you won’t need to be running around in circles.
Hi Nesta. Each person approaches their first time with anything differently.
The “ready, fire, aim” approach can be dangerous if you’re, say, sky diving. So yeah, you want to prepare.
But you’ve still got to engage. When I was haunting the elite creative writing workshops, I quickly discerned that the vast majority of people there (who had paid big bucks to attend) really didn’t want to “be” a writer. They wanted to have already written something, so they could enjoy what they perceived as the respect and confidence that “real” writers earn.
Problem was, none of these people enjoyed the annoying “writing” part… and even after decades of “trying”, they still had not finished their first novel.
This is bullshit.
John D. MacDonald — one of the most prolific writers in our country’s history (author of all the Travis McGee novels that Halbert loved so much) — heard that an author didn’t get good until he’d written 10 novels.
So MacDonald wrote 10 novels in his first year as a writer. Just blew through ’em, learning the craft and the trade. They all sucked, more or less, but he got better each time, and soon became rich and famous.
Spending decades on your first novel will NOT make it a better novel. In my experience, it just dooms you to never moving beyond a very nasty “stuck” place with your writing.
Sky diving, yeah, take your time.
Most of the other stuff… learn to know when you’re just using delay tactics to avoid life.
Thanks for the comment, Nesta. Not picking on you, just using your note as a launching pad for more thoughts.
Makes a lot of sense. I see.
I can relate to Christopher about the fear factor. I’ve heard it referred to as “analysis paralysis” and it is one of the things that I’ve had to work to overcome.
I think that your advice to just jump in and get the experience is valid. I think that most of us learn best by experiencing. I have a programming background. When I need to learn a new language or API, reading up on it first is great, but I don’t really grasp it until I jump in and start coding.
Nesta’s comment about taking your time is valid provided it doesn’t lead to the paralysis that I so often experience.
I don’t know what it is about this article but I loved it! Perhaps it is just the authentic truth that pours out of your head onto the screen. Thanks…you rock!
Great post John. I like your self-reflection and observation here.
I can certainly agree with pretty much all you say. Can’t say I have been involved in a more extreme sounding Burning experience, but have certainly felt the process, from going from rookie to experienced. I’m, like so many others, currently playing this wrestling game with internet marketing. My god was I a rookie (and did I spend like a rookie…), and my god did I get “burnt”. Right now I think I’m in phase 2 or between 2 and 3, but often that can only be established “afterwards”, whenever that actually is 🙂 (made my first million for some, 1k for others)
One thing that helps me, with most experiences (I moved country 3 times for example) is to, like you say, not have any real expecations, and let things just be, let them play out, and observe your experiences. This can get all “Power of Now-like”, but still, it kinda works for me.
Wont ramble further, thanks for the insights. I now know more than before I need to continue to learn more, and have fun going through the phases.
Best business advice I ever got was from Perry Marshall – don’t build any marketing stuff, just go out and try to sell the darned thing 10 times.
I took it literally and did it. Three was probably all it took, but after 10 I knew what I was doing. Most people’s attempts at ‘getting ready’ are just ways of delaying what they fear, without ever really testing whether those fears are real or imaginary.
Grow some nads…
Great life advice John, thanks.
You know that Perry got that advice from me, right?
And I nicked it from the great Gary Halbert — once, when I was having trouble writing an ad because I was trying to get fancy with the pitch, he said “Just sell the damn thing, John.”
It’s been a central tenet of what I teach for 20 years now.
Perry, a great friend, also realized the brilliance of it as soon as he heard it. (And, to be fair, I’ve learned tons from Perry myself.)
Just keeping the attributions clear.
Well Dude, you’ve trumped me on the “coolness scale”. Burning Man is now the stuff of legends. Who knows? We ALL may be living this way by 2034.
I had a standing invite to Burning Man back in the 90’s when I found out one of my best bud’s sisters had morphed into an insider head Burning Man organizer. Yipes! I never went…
Since I quit recreationial liquid and powder usage almost 23 years ago, Burning Man seemed out of context for me as the Ultimate Post-Woodstock
21st Century Dionysian event.
Almost been-there and done-that in small doses—without the sun-stroke and wind-burns.
After being a working musician for 40 years (and playing numerous outlaw biker parties) I’ve learned 3 basic survival skills:
1. Have fun, play/work hard… but stay sober.
2. Make sure I get paid.
3. Get out alive (with my sanity, equipment and ride intact)
I imagine some of this can translate into marketing survival skills ( especially “the getting paid” part.
Hey, JC, wear your Hazmat suit and enjoy the next Burning Man… and bring your Tiki god.
Party on, John! Great post…
I walked the LA Marathon 2006 and my goal was to do fourteen miles and I did. LA 2009 I decided I was going for the end, the night before I could not sleep, literally, I was wired up with anticipation. I set out to walk this marathon without one minute of sleep and completed it. I had fun made mistakes and plan to make new ones. I look forward to completing LA marathon 2010 so I can begin to call myself an expert.
What’s better? The blog post or these comments.
Hard for me to say. And, as a token of gratitude I’ll leave you all with a great line from “3 Kings”.
They decided to go after the gold after finding the map in some iraq’s butt. The rookie’s are scared. Clooney’s character say’s
“You don’t get courage and then go do the thing. You do the thing and then you get the courage”
Being a rookie is where it’s at!
Speaking as an armchair psychiatrist, I definitely believe it to be a mid-life crisis. The act of putting ones self at risk to prove nothing (at least nothing positive).
Sort of like a Rodney KIng complex, the end is never pretty.
Give the CHP the finger. Run till the Dodge Omni disintegrates. Get out and try to kick some ass.
Great plan. At least Rodney got a settlement and a place in history.
One red sports car. Low miles. Fat guys look great in it.
The nurse has arrived with my Propofol treatment.
Good night all.
I’m really freaking sad NOT to be doing “The Burn” this year… I’m DEFINITELY there next year (God willing). Hope to see you there John…
First burn for me… had to leave this morning, but enjoyed no traffic driving conditions all the way back to East Bay!
Even having spent well over 500 nights outdoors, including a four month stint in “Southwest Asia” AKA The Middle East AKA Kuwait, Burning Man was still a little over the top.
But I’m going back next year as part of bigger, better organized group.
And there trance blasting from somewhere pretty much 24 hours. Strangely, I did not hear any Dead at all. Not a single lick. *That* was the most surprising thing of all.
My take on the whole thing is that Burning Man is what happens at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy when there’s nothing else to do. We don’t seem to do much of anything else in USA anymore except collect bank fees, make fast food, and build giant outdoor art which we then proceed to burn down.
John, you are indisputably a Maestro. Your keen observations and insights, as well the ability to convey them in such creative and interesting ways, adds value to the lives of those who are fortunate enough to partake of them. As always, thanks again for sharing . . . it’s appreciated.
Missed you out on the playa this year. This was my 4th burn. The last 2 burns I brought a ‘virgin burner’ and it’s exactly as you say… they are quite overwhelmed.
One of the key points I think you left out was the importance of an experienced guide. In my case, it was having a camp of experienced burners. For my virgin burner friends, it was having me both during the prep stage, the burn itself, and the come back to “default world” stage as a guide.
The life lesson is about having an experienced mentor. As you were my mentor when I first learned copywriting. Having you review my copy in my first year as a rookie writer was invaluable and has had a lasting influence on my own radical self reliance as a copywriter.
I would love to swap stories with you at the next burn. I’ll be at Love Potion Camp. You can find us in the Playa Info directory. And if you would like to camp with us, we have a chill dome, bar, common kitchen and even hot water shower.
You even manage to turn burning fires in a desert into a life-lesson.
I love it man. Great stuff.
“Do not be fooled by poseurs. Stick with the real thing…”
That is written in my journal of quotes.
This article has changed my view on life. It is so simple but yet so powerfull. We tend to complicate life, life is just a journey. The solution to overwhelm is to use the power of 3’s.
[…] I found this article on John Carlton’s blog, Life Lessons from Burning Man. The idea is that you have this “rule of 3″ whereby you get better as you progress. You […]
[…] I found this article on John Carlton’s blog, Life Lessons from Burning Man. The idea is that you have this “rule of 3″ whereby you get better as you progress. You […]