The Lost Art Of Rumination

Wednesday, 12:36pm
Reno, NV
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watchin’ the tide roll away…” (Otis Redding)


Mark, a lifelong pal of mine, lived with a girlfriend many years ago who taught us both a very devastating lesson.

At the time, Mark and I were hard-core slackers — lamely cruising through our late twenties, we took jobs without ambition to pay the rent and keep the fridge stocked with beer, and were pretty much maintaining the same lifestyles we’d had in college.

Care-free losers, if you need a label.

Susie, on the other hand, was roiling with ambition. Had a good job, with a plan to either rise quickly in that biz or seek better positions elsewhere. Her friends talked about the future a lot, and openly competed with each other over acquisitions like new cars, new clothes, expensive wine and all the grown-up Yuppie shit that sent shivers down my spine.

Cuz I was still going to clubs to see bands (and who can blame me, since it was that primo era when the Pretenders, the Police, Elvis Costello, the Jam, and Talking Heads were on their first west-coast tours)… still driving a 10-year-old decrepit Datsun truck… still dressing like I’d been shopping drunk at the Goodwill store… and still loathing the idea of “growing up”.

I knew something was wrong, of course. I was just floating on the surface of life, at the mercy of other people’s ambitions and without any goals or dreams or sense of purpose.

And I absorbed a lot of harsh criticism, both from others and from myself, for not doing anything constructive with my life.

However, looking back, I see things very differently now.

Yes, I was a slacker. But, while I was admittedly not doing a single goddamned thing to prepare myself for living out the American “dream” (house, career, family, etc)…

… I was, nevertheless, honing a particular strange skill that has served me extremely well over the ensuing years.

I was becoming an expert at ruminating. Pondering shit. Noodling over difficult thoughts.

I wasn’t smarter than the evil Yuppies around me. Far from it.

And, eventually, I too would learn to lust after material things that made my heart happy.

Just not the same things those smug elitists lusted after.

Because what I craved most of all… was time.

Time to read more books, listen to more music, indulge in more pleasure…

… and time to stare at the wall and go deep inside my own head. Ruminating on shit.

Silly me.

Here’s the cruel lesson Susie delivered: One evening, she admitted she despised me…

… because I helped Mark feel like he wasn’t alone with his own wall-staring.

And it was high time that he moved beyond that “thinking crap”, and got busy building a life worthy of her Yupped-out aspirations.

I was stunned. Not because she wanted to morph my pal into her own Ken doll — that goal of hers had been obvious for a long time.

No. I was stunned… because I truly believed that thinking deeply about things… even random things like how Power Pop had sprung from the ashes of punk rock, and how it all connected seamlessly back to mid-60s garage bands and the Beatnik philosophies that survived the hippie holocaust and…

Okay, you get the idea. I also thought a lot about “what’s it all mean” mind-expansion stuff, and where American literature was headed and how the endless Cold War was affecting local politics, and all the blossoming parallels between the post-WWI nihilistic Da-Da movement and the impending technology revolution (that would not be televised) and on and on.

So, yeah, I was a lazy, good-for-nothing slacker, restlessly pillaging the edges of the culture and irritating the Yuppies…

… but really? “Thinking” was now a bad thing?

It was with Susie. She was whip-smart, and full of energy and life-force…

… but for her (and her ilk), the definition of “success” had nothing to do with having more “time” to spend staring at walls, ruminating.

I’d just assumed that was everybody’s wild-ass dream.

And it scared the shit out of me to abruptly realize that most of the folks around me considered it a profound waste of time. And even highly distasteful, cuz it ruined the vibe when they wanted to discuss wine or stock market tips or country club memberships.

Yep. I was the shallow one.

How dare I suggest that living life using only the outer edges of your cerebral cortex was a hollow way to exist.

Older, maybe wiser, certainly more experienced now…

… I still get royally pissed-off remembering how much Susie’s “set me straight” lecture harshed my mellow for the next few years.

Of course, I also have to thank her, from the bottom of my heart, for shaking me up like that.

Because I struggled with that potential lesson for a very long time. Was ruminating on stuff really a waste for anyone wanting to get ahead? Was it really better to just get jiggy with the accepted lifestyle and Zeitgeist of the time… which, heading into the Go-Go Eighties, was quickly evolving into Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” ethos.

I liked staring at the wall (or at the waves, or the clouds, or a blank piece of paper), disappearing into my head and… ruminating on things.

And being able to do more of it seemed an excellent element of a “successful” life. You know, maybe like what Aristotle (or was it Socrates) said about “the examined life.”

Today, I’m more convinced than ever that it is THE main reason to succeed.

I never saw Susie again (she soon left Mark for a hedge fund manager), but I did eventually became a hard-core capitalist-oriented entrepreneur, got my shit together, and started being aggressively proactive about setting and achieving goals. A true American rags-to-riches tale, and I’m proud of it.

But I never had the notion that simply “being” successful was part of a successful life.

In my view, you don’t need money to be successful. Money just solves the problems that not having money creates… so having “enough” money, in this culture, can help you stay clear of the time-consuming bullshit of scrambling to keep a roof over your head and food in your gut.

Massive wealth has the capacity to really screw you up. Of course, it’s more fun to discover that on your own, rather than taking anyone else’s word for it…

… but it’s still true.

The reason for this is kinda mystical, but easy to fathom: If you aren’t clear on WHY you want to get rich…

… then, once you get there, you’re gonna be one lost little puppy.

It’s like mobilizing your life to move somewhere you think will make you happy. You can do it, and you can wind up in a gorgeous penthouse in the best part of town… but if your next thought is “now what?”, then you may be left wondering what it all means. With no answer forthcoming.

The reason I connected so easily with early mentors like Gary Halbert was because we shared a fundamental desire: We loved to work hard, and we loved to be rewarded for that hard work with piles of moolah…

… however, the REAL reward was always the sheer luxury of “buying time”. Using money to hire assistants, job-out the grunt work, grease palms, skip lines and generally shortcut our way around the time-sucking parts of life.

Not so we’d have more time to work. No way.

So we’d have more time to indulge in the one thing a busy, harried life refuses to allow: Rumination.

There are tons of books and coaching programs and seminars available that claim to make planning out your life easy. They’ll help you with the “here’s what I want to do“, and “here’s how I can get that done” processes…

… but every single one I’ve seen is woefully deficient in helping you understand “WHY I want to do that in the first place.”

The “why’s” of life are mostly ignored. It’s taken for granted that big houses, fancy sports cars, better looking spouses, bigger/better/nicer/more expensive everything is of COURSE the preferred goal.

And maybe that’s true for you.

I will tell you it is NOT true for the majority of friends and colleagues I’m closest to. I’m closest to them because we are simpatico about what really matters in life.

And you don’t automatically figure out what matters, for you…

… unless you spend some serious time thinking about it. Pondering. Brooding. Daydreaming. Cogitating.


Staring at the wall and diving into the cerebral gray matter.

Halbert was a great ruminator. I knew I’d found a lasting friend when we first took a long drive together, and after talking for a while, we both just got quiet and thought about things. Total silence in the car, as I drove us around Los Angeles and up the coast a bit.

And when we started talking again, it was rife with substance.

One of my pet peeves is meeting people who lived through something exciting…

… and don’t have a good story to tell about it.

They’ll grin and say “you had to be there“, because it was all so experiential and amazing and kinesthetic.

And I say “Bullshit“. I lived through similar adventures, and I can burn your ears with detailed stories about it… stories that have a point, that are interesting and thought-provoking and give the listener an almost visceral sense of what it was like.

But you can’t build these kinds of stories without thinking about it first. Without sitting back, going over the facts and emotions and unknown pieces, and finding the theme and plot and punch line. It doesn’t happen automatically, just because you were “there”.

Sitting back in a comfy chair — well-fed, content, undisturbed and undistracted — and letting your mind wander and explore and organize your thoughts, experiences and dreams…

… is, for me, a wondrous thing.

For the most part, our ancestors had few such pleasures, always needing to tend the fire, hunt for food, repair essentials, repel danger, and stay alert and focused for as long as possible before dropping into an exhausted slumber.

Success can buy you the time, free of want or disruption.

Don’t have anything to ruminate about?

Dude, you’re living through the most awesome times humans have ever encountered. There are endless options for adventure and fulfillment and legacy…

… and really freakin’ easy ways to attain whatever you desire, once you get your shit together.

You can set, plan for, and attain goals that your ancestors couldn’t even conceive of.

You can get what you want.

The thing is…

… WHY do you want it?

Refusing to consider this is a recipe for disaster. Wealth, fame and acquisitions can kill you just as quickly as saber-tooth tigers, Viking raids and a rumble for the crown.

Getting something doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do with it when you have it.

This all takes rumination.

Think about it.

Stay frosty,



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  • I love this post John – thinking is becoming a lost art in these days of constant doing.

    I also love the way you pointed out the Elephant in the corner with the big “?” painted on its side. Why Indeed.

    Without it you are sunk as soon as the disappointments and roadblocks start heading your way.

    You know what else? the Why can change over time but you still need it. Never stop Ruminating – the world needs it. have a great day Cate

    • John Carlton says:

      The trick is: If you’re on your way to getting a goal, and you’re getting anxious… you may unconsciously be sensing you really don’t want it after all. Like the runaway bride…

  • Dana Houser says:

    Great post John. I remember when I was sucked into Amway and sold on ‘the dream’. But it was all about the stuff. The big house, boat, car, etc. I was in my early 20’s then so it was really appealing. But when it got hard, and it did, that shit didn’t matter.

    Since then I’ve realized it really is all about time. Sure, there’s some toys I’d like to acquire and a timber home in the mountains is mighty appealing to me, but TIME to spend with my wife, kids and friends means more to me than any material item ever could. Memories are built with people, not stuff. To me, success is about creating a better world for myself and those in it… especially the ones I have to provide for. This post made me ruminate and I appreciate that.

    As for Mark, he should count his blessings that Susie left him. I almost felt sorry for the hedgefund dude, but they were probably good for each other. I’d put money on it that they’ve split by now because it’s hard to build a relationship when you’re more focused on material goods and yourself than you are on the relationship. But I could be wrong.

    • John Carlton says:

      I agree, Dana — I’m outraged at marketers who sell nothing BUT a dream, because they leave people out in the cold when the dust settles. Dreams are important, but to be made real they must be made manifest — taken from the vague to the very real, and TRIED OUT first. I’ve known several wannabe sailors who discovered they get sea-sick AFTER they bought the sailboat. There are many things in life to love, but not haphazardly…

  • Whitney says:

    I have a theory that extroverts don’t like to think. We can’t really hold it against them when they’re superficial because they live on the outside (in the outside world), whereas introverts live on the inside (in our own heads).

    It’s just a theory, but I’ve seen so many people deny ever being insecure or other basic human emotions, that I figure they can’t all be ignorant. It must be a symptom of something else. And that something else might be extroversion.

    • John Carlton says:

      Shhh… us introverts are out-numbered about 20-to-1, so you gotta keep these truths under your hat…

    • Ray says:

      From an Introvert:

      How deep a thinker are you truly if your solution fully reflects your original tendencies?

      Consider: Extroverted people live in the world of action, live in the world of “let’s see what happens, let’s see what sticks, let’s see what the reality is.” Because they can not or do not think deeply, they must live in that world, as you said.

      Introverted folks live in the world of thoughts and ideas, live in the world of what’s possible, what’s logical, and what should be. It is often hard for introverts to reconcile what they see is true with what they feel should be true based on logic or their deeply explored emotions.

      Halbert said: Motion beats meditation.

      The reason is because motion can get you results. Meditation/analysis/thought can only refine your actions, your tactics or your strategy. Thought itself can never produce results.

      Introverts lose because they use thought as a substitute for action. They try to use logic as a foolproof method to test ideas or to “see what will happen” or “what I will need to do.” Since they can think so well, they can use that instead of getting beaten up in the real world, right?

      Sorry, doesn’t work. ALL plans (family vacations, business plans, the course of a life) turn immediately to shit once you start putting it into action.

      So now you think and mull, so you can take better action.

      Deep thinkers (who aren’t always introverts, but tend to be) have the advantage if they can put their high level thoughts into action. But the simplicity of extroverted life allows them the advantage of being action-oriented.

      If the task if to dig a 100 foot hole, the ‘extrovert’ picks up a shovel and starts digging. The introvert stops to think, which might result in an invention that gets the job done in 10% of the time. Or, you might wind up with 5 plans for a hole, but not hole.

      Notice the inherent disadvantage: If the thinker can’t find a better plan than the shovel, he’s BEHIND.

      Then, if the thinker DOES think of a better plan, he needs to implement it correctly. If he isn’t able to execute well here, now he’s WAY BEHIND.

      So, maybe it would have been better to just get started?

      The answer is collaboration. Action oriented people with better ideas are dangerous. Thinkers help refine what the doers do, thus getting things done more efficiently and effectively. That is good for everyone.

      But for that to work, both sides need to respect and appreciate what the other side brings to the table.

      So how’d we get on this topic? Eww.. right.

  • Steve Amos says:

    Thinking is hard work and not rewarding on its own for most people. They don’t want to understand, just do something to keep from having to think.

    Think your point is dead on. If you don’t know why you do something, someone can influence you to stop before you have done the preparation to be excellent.

    This is why successful people meditate and pray. It breaks the gerbil wheel to nowhere.

    Also think time is a better measure of wealth, along with raising a great family.

    Thinking about it…

    • John Carlton says:

      “Breaks the gerbil wheel”. Great term, Steve.

      Just a side note: We’re not picking on non-thinkers here, just nudging ’em. Well, okay, maybe a little intellectual bullying. And mockery. All in good fun, though!

  • Piotr Sienkiewicz says:

    Hi John,

    I think, John, that most people are forgeting in life-race about the very last piece at the end of this process. And, in my opinion, it is the purpose (why).

    We need to know why we want to achieve through the whole process all goals but, the main key is the purpose because only this is going to fulfill our little hearts, ambitions and desires.

    We need to know “why” we are going through all these ups and downs through the whole process of success.

    I totally agree with you that success is the process. It is not overnight magical thing which can happen but, only this where we found drive to put our ass, get obsessed by it and make things happening to get something done.

    I found in my life extra observation which I want to share. It is that people are afraid of making mistakes to achieve something. And it is, in my opinion why they don`t set up goals.

    Another thing is that 99% of our success is coming from making mistakes. And only just 1% what comes from making mistakes is what really works and get our ass on top of the mountain which is achieved goal.

    So, why we are afraid of making mistakes?

    Well, since we are kids, in school are trying to drag us down and wrinkle our brain with the word failure.

    All teachers just love to say, “You failed!”

    And, unfortunatelly, it is what set up the mind-set of all folks out there who would like to get something better in life but, they are afraid of failure.

    For me failure doesn`t exist. And let me expain why…

    You see, in my opinion we all human beings should live along the law of NATURE. And in nature is not such a thing as failure. It is only made up by people, which is stupid because it limits movement of people…

    Anyway, I need to finish this because I started flowing here. It is because your post is damn interesting!

    Thank you. (I will be back here again)

  • G says:

    Corker of a read Carlton!!

  • Imran says:

    Great post as usual.
    Just like pain from a punch to the gut tells you your in a bad situation a person ( friend or foe ) can do the same by their observation of your lifestyle. The problem is not everybody gets the blessing of being defeated so that they can rise again. I think many people are roaming the streets surrounded by too many people that like them so they are never going to get true constructive feedback. I guess in short all I’m saying is people need to ( myself included) stop taking their artwork to their mom and start getting some real criticism.
    Anyone disagree?

    • John Carlton says:

      You saw Curley’s guest post a month or so ago here, didn’t you? He talked precisely about taking your artwork to his Mom vs real criticism… It’s in the archives, either last month or the month before…

  • john lloyd says:

    Excellent post as always John, Ruminating is my favorite pastime. My wife often turns to me in mid rumination saying who are you talking to now, or were is your head at right now. She tells it all from the expressions on my face.

    Its how I plan my future and enjoy my past.

    Take care John

  • Mark Meador says:

    Thanks for the reminder, John. Brought to mind what Jobs said about “connecting the dots.”

    Without rumination there ain’t gonna be any dots to connect ’cause you’re never gonna wander off Susie’s PATH.

  • Rob says:

    KISS me John!

    Finally, I feel like someone gets me. I’ll try and paraphrase this post when my girlfriend yells at me for skipping work to go surfing (lots of time to get lost in your head waiting between sets).

    Probably cause her eyes to roll though.

    I bought into the whole college, job, house thing and remember saying to myself, “Well, what the hell do I do now” at 24.

    Thank god I discovered copywriting or I’d still be spending every night at the bar dulling the pain.

    Thanks John!

    • John Carlton says:

      It should be noted that daydreaming is seen as a problem from both genders — though, it has seemed to be a theme among my male friends to consistently hook up with women who try to change them. Women dreamers seem to find more tolerant mates. All anecdotal, of course.

      And I ain’t gonna kiss you. But good luck with your gf…

  • Hannah says:

    I love this post!!! Thank you for summing up what’s basically been in my head for the past few months . . . this urge to quit my job just so I can have time to do what I really want to do!

    (Which is write books)

    And actually I have quit my job and I am going freelance copywriting to bring in the bigger money so I can fund my dream.

    But it’s also time to walk down to my local beach, time to sit in my garden in the sun, time to daydream, time to read a paperback in the middle of the day and not feel guilty.

    Sheesh, some of my fave all time memories are lieing on my bed, watching the curtains drift in the breeze and listening to the distant noises on the street.

    The thing is there’s so much societal pressure to use up every minute of our day working! I’m only just realising that working smart is a much better option than working hard and more importantly, it’s ok to do that.

    There’s a lot of mindset limitations to shrug off from my parent’s generation about working hard but I think I’m getting there.

    So cheers! I’m off for a wander . . .

    • John Carlton says:

      You hit on the key, Hannah — combining “working hard” with dedicated spells of staring at the wall. This squashes the suspicion of others that you’re goofing off, and crushes your own guilt (if you unfortunately believe that ruminating is “wasting time”).

      When I decided to get my act together (at the ripe old age of 32), my first task was to work really, really hard. And to carve out lots of time to daydream. The combo is unbeatable…

  • Kevin says:

    Rest assured, John, you’re not the only one who does this anymore. I developed this habit years ago. I often go wandering off into my own head for long stretches. My wife and I lived 5 hours apart when we started dating. I loved making the trip because it was just me, my thoughts and the road. I’d pop in some Brian Tracy or listen to some late night AM radio, and just think. I often have my nose in a book, even when there are others around. I’m not trying to be rude, I just couldn’t imagine life without this sense of intellectual curiosity. I know that some others look at me and think I’m weird for being this way, but it makes me sad that they’d never dream of doing such a thing. Thinking and pondering and “ruminating” as you put it, is completely foreign to them. Most people, I think, go through life like a horse with blinders on, never stopping to look at or just take in the world around them. It’s terrible.

  • I have to admit something John, I’ve added a new word to my vocabulary…rumination.

    Love it.

    And yes, I have stories to tell…but what I liked most about this post is the “having substance” in your conversation with Gary.

    I think in the bigger picture, we need to get more “substance” involved in our conversations with each other.

    Now, how about that book John? 🙂

    Say 2012?

  • Mark L says:

    Hey John,
    Suze was right about a lot of stuff and probably the smartest woman I ever got tangled up with. Yup, she thought our quest for experience and rumination (dwelling on Carl Jung and our obsession with the edgy music of the era) was pure nonsense.
    She also got really pissed off at the cat, had it put down at the vet and brought it home in a bag for me to bury. I had just woke up and was slightly…ruminating.
    Maybe that was like the horse’s head scene in the “Godfather”. A dire warning to join the Yuppies or you will be terminated.
    Come on, it was important that Tristan Tzara did the first Dada performances at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich circa 1916.
    Good stuff to ruminate on…don’t cha think JC?
    Mark the Mad Ruminator

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, I’m not kidding when I say that woman scared me. Wonder what she’s up to now?

      By the way, folks: Mark and I still blather on and on like 9th graders about rock and roll trivia when we have our frequent phone chats. And we don’t feel a bit guilty about it…

  • Kevin Wood says:

    Many years ago I lived on the Oregon Coast. I was a chimney sweep who worked only as little as possible. My house was on Hwy 101 across the road from the ocean. I had a stream in the backyard and national forest behind me. I coached a local softball team. My mortgage was $200 a month.

    Then, one day, my live in girlfriend said she wanted more.

    “There’s more?” I wondered. I couldn’t imagine what it could be.

    But I gave it a shot. I became a manufacturer’s representative, moved to Colorado and made more money while driving around the Rocky Mountains, stopping to take great hikes with my dog and doing a lot of ruminating. And best of all, I broke up with my girlfriend.

    So, there was more. How about that.

  • mike weiss says:


    If you are sincere and this is not just some sales pitch, boy do I have some stories to tell.

    When I was younger, it used to be called day-dreaming. And I was really deep into it.

    Day dreaming was my escape from the clueless and thoughtless.

    Years later, it just gets richer and more elaborate. Maybe elaborate is not the perfect word, but like a great piece of music, the notes just mesh better and better.

    More later huh?

  • I loved this part, John.

    “Sitting back in a comfy chair — well-fed, content, undisturbed and undistracted — and letting your mind wander and explore and organize your thoughts, experiences and dreams…”

    I am guilty of doing that. Especially in the morning. And Saturdays.

    Sometimes, it results in writing a complete blog post on the edges of the Chicago Tribune.

  • Barb says:

    I’m still working on the putting a roof over head and food in stomach part. 🙁

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Barb. I really tried not to be flippant in this post, cuz I know that a lot of folks still struggle with getting it all together.

      Keep in mind, as you go after your goals, that for every entrepreneur I know who “made it big”, their favorite part of the ride was the climb up… solving the problems and creating the foundation for what sooner or later became their success.

      This post is about smoothing out the process of that climb. Good luck…

  • Kay says:

    John – thank you for this inspiring post. A lot of the good stuff seems to happen in the silence – the pauses between sounds, speech and activity.
    My best writing always happens after some time spent in rumination, and sometimes time spent in just “being,” with not much thought at all.
    Thanks for allowing us to see even more of you as a human being, introvert, ruminator and all around fan of interesting music and interesting times… now that’s building a relationship!

  • It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

    It was first reported by Plato in his Apology regarding Socrates’ trial for undermining state religion and corrupting young people.

    Always loved that quote. Used to spit it back to the Nuns when I’d get caught staring out the window wondering wonderful thoughts.

    Then I’d get whacked across the knuckles (still have scars) with a ruler by those mean, old, tightly-habited nuns at St. Madeleine’s over Pomona way.

    That said, another winning post by one of Marketing’s favorite philosophers.

    Now quit inventorying the lint in your belly button and go write a great ad.


    • John Carlton says:

      I have never looked at my belly button, actually. Walls, trees, waves, horizons, yes…

      The other lesson, which I’ve written about in prior posts, is that this kind of mind-wandering also “automatically” allows my brain to self-write great headlines. I stock up on the facts, then either take a walk, a nap, a long hot mind-numbing shower, or daydream… and, on cue, after an hour or so the headlines come burbling up…

      A lot of writers, including David Ogilvy, used this same tactic…

  • Miki says:

    As usual, great post John!

    I think the general misconception is that we’re supposed to want “the big house, nice car, and bank account full of endless zeros”. Those are all really nice, but what happens when you’ve reached that and still aren’t “happy”?

    Luckily you made it a lot more simpler by pointing out not just what we want and/or are in search of, but what we all need… (We, meaning ME!)

    Thanks for reminding me of what I am truly in search of…

  • John N. says:

    Many years ago I did a manifesting exercise in writing down aspects and qualities I desired in a relationship. At roughly the same time I wrote down that I desired to earn, or was it make, $100K plus over the course of the next year. Never mind I had never been married or been in a relationship longer than a couple years. And never mind I had never earned more than $25K in a year. Funny thing about ruminating, pondering and then writing down ones thoughts as desires and goals. They have a habit of showing up and only to the point one is clear about them. Within three months of revising and finishing these ruminations on paper, two things occurred. One my mother passed and I inherited well over $100K. Three weeks later I was standing in a line to register for a Thanksgiving Day 5K run. I noticed the woman in front of me. Nice head of hair, then she turned around, wow! We ended up talking for close to an hour, exchanged phone numbers and the rest was history… almost. She had a list too and we matched about 60 to 70%, but I had a lot of “growing” to do. And from the outset, I felt I was playing catch-up. Pressured to grow, to figure myself out and evolve more to be a better partner. So much like the $100K, I was ill equipped for the relationship. I see now thanks to your posting that I did not have a big enough why. That my why was not very clear and based on what I perceived everyone else was doing. Today that $100K plus is gone and the lady and I are friends. I did discover something I love out of this process and that is the career I am in now. However, as fulfilling as it is there is a desire to do more and have more adventures, to grow and evolve more. Why? As thinking beings, is it our natures to constantly keep challenging ourselves to think deeper thoughts, to live our lives with more meaning and passion? I think so…. Thanks for your post and inspiration JC.

  • Colin Power says:

    Hi John

    the stories that go round in my head are what make me…

    What I have craved all my life is what I call ‘Guilt Free Time’ the moments that you give to yourself to gaze and think.

    Enjoyed your post…’Guilt free’

    Now off to set up another new Podiatry practice…

    …thanks for the Time.


    • John Carlton says:

      Don’t get me started on “guilt”. I hate guilt, and purged it from my system decades ago. Remorse, yes — you do something wrong, you clean up your mess, you make amends if you can, and you take definite steps to correct your shortcomings and do better next time.

      You don’t “vow” to do better next time. You take action, learn, change and grow so that you DO better next time.

      Remorse is a pit-stop on the road of life, where you fix what’s wrong and then charge forward again. Guilt is setting up permanent camp on that road, and never progressing again. Guilt sucks, and is non-productive. (It’s also an excuse people use — it’s somehow “okay” to be a schmuck, as long as you punish yourself with guilt later. That’s bullshit. Clean up your act, and start living a life that doesn’t entail guilt…)

      Sorry. I just go off on guilt — it’s the most destructive thing in our emotional make-up, and it totally doesn’t need to even be there. I’ve never felt guilty about daydreaming… I’ve felt odd, and an outsider, but never guilty…

      And that’s a good place to be.

    • Clarke Echols says:


      Just triggered a thought. How often do people waste hour after hour watching mindless garbage on Cable/Satellite TV (that they *pay* for (suckers!)), then have the temerity to say
      we’re wasting time sitting and contemplating.

      And thinking doesn’t even cost money.

      But it can make you a bunch when you use it.


  • Aviva says:

    Hi John,
    Been ruminating about your ruminating, my ruminating, which I call daydreaming, and ruminating in general. I was shocked one evening in a bar when I was sharing my ruminating with the guy on the stool next to me who probably was a hedge fund manager. He said, “Do you always have to go so deep with things? Can’t a cigar just be a cigar?” I then realized that a one-size-fits-all way of being may be kind of dull and boring to some. Maybe I have to have a repertoire of ways to be.Maybe everyone doesn’t want to think for themselves. Maybe a bar isn’t the best place to be ruminating. So, maybe success allows one to indulge in their ruminating with like minded ruminators in places that are conducive to ruminating. Maybe a blog like this! But then there would be no Susie’s to snap us out of our stupor and tell us that dinner was ready.

  • Rich says:

    John that was so awesome to read and I so agree with you…even though I was a little lad when pretenders first strolled through the west coast on their tour. Wow The Pretenders,,,,didn’t the original guitarist and bass player (both killer musicians) commit suicide within a day of each other? I think so.

    Anyway, your post on rumination is a beautiful thing and I love to do just that….think and be absorbed in think!!

    And of course the WHY.. why do we want to attain such material things….?

    • John Carlton says:

      Naw, it was two drug overdoses, not suicides. A year apart, but it devastated Chrissie Hynde because it didn’t have to happen — band hangers-on and groupies supplied dope to bands to gain access, and it’s the scourge of rock. She survived, and with Chambers her drummer have kept the band alive for 40 years…

  • Dave Bross says:

    Ruminants Rule

    but then…

    Service IS what they do to cows.


    Always watch your back for “improvements”

    He/She who laughs last…..

  • Wayne Harrel says:

    Actually it’s all about getting our shit together and start doing, what everyone else is not. I mean not in “that” way. You have to stand out with what you’re delivering, service, product or even in job. This is what worked for me.

  • Graham says:

    Wow! Great post. Just what I needed to see right now. I have been working really hard this week and today just felt the need to kick back and stare at the sea outside my office window. Read a bit, watched a dvd and had lunch and a chat with some deep thinkers like me. I love the bit about thinking deeply so you have something of substance to share and an answer to the big question – why?

  • Bernie says:


    I loved this post. especially when you talk about guilt and remorse. I’m pushing myself ahead to be a kickass online marketer. Thank you.

  • Christine says:


    I absolutely love this post!! And you’re right! The reason that others (who have had similar wonderful experiences) can’t put those experiences into words is they haven’t taken the time to deeply contemplate the point, the premise, the insights, the synchronicities, the deeper context and content, to be able to share them with others in any useful way. I want more of these posts!

  • MIke Anderedson says:

    I was lucky enough to discover this poem when I was 18:

    “He thought it was Eden
    But it was the world.
    And so, until it was too late,
    Ignored the lucid glass
    That sealed the windows hard.
    Even forgot to pronounce the WORD.

    But at the end,
    When the thunder roared at him
    With one terrible and final chord,
    He knew at last that he had not been spared.
    Ran screaming from the mirror – and was mad.”

    Constance Urdang

    • John Carlton says:

      Interesting to have so much poetry commented on here… Poets have a place in society beyond just sounding nice — they deliver emotional-charged advice, too, by warnings and illustration…

  • Tom Morris says:

    This is a terrific post. I’m just wondering how far into ruminating I’ve been and where I’m going from here. I was never a Yuppie, but more of a Hippie sympathizer. I lived on the fringe of the 60’s world, was studying at the university and just making ends meet so that I could continue to study. I was there for my parents not myself and my grades reflected that. The people I know are just interested in the everyday events that surround them and few have the time or inclination to ask why they do what they do. I found I do what I do to make money so that I don’t have to worry about it and can more peacefully take care of my wants and needs. Your post is special and I appreciate it. I’m not sure where I’m going now, but I am up in years. Take care.

  • tim says:

    Hey John,

    As I read your words, I see myself, a hardcore slacker with no goals, no ambition, no-thing…(Im 21) but you got me thinking…that I should do something of my life and start to grow, achieve the goals I write down couple month ago, and bring cash in my pocket…why? Just to get out of this miserable lifestyle (and buy new clothes btw), that’s my “why”….take care.

  • Pauline says:

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.
    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.
    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.
    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.
    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.
    William Henry Davies

    Love your work John. X

  • Jeremy says:

    What do I want? Is this not the eternal question? Why do we marry, why do we take a job or choose a career. Self esteem? Help!

    • John Carlton says:

      There are multiple posts in the archives here about this very topic, Jeremy. I know the post titles aren’t a lot of help (too clever), but the categories “living life well”, “life lessons” and some others should point you in the right direction. I know I’ve written about self-esteem this year, in fact.

      Anybody know of any particular post in the archives on self-esteem they liked?

  • HB says:


    Awesome post. I think you’ll love this short clip of Steve Jobs:

    Now there was a ruminator who changed the world. Think Different.

  • rob says:

    Dear JC

    My reason or yern for the road of success is to buy back my time, and for my freedom.

    Freedom to explore entreprenural desires and plans

    Ive made need to action, freedom to live on my terms and not have some lame arse boss to tell me when to come to work when to take a break when to do this and when to do that.

    In this current age of economic uncertianty why risk working for anyone but yourself…

    …if you fail you only fail because you where stupid about not knowing something however if you work for the ‘man’ you could get fired at anytime for NO reason….

    I desire my freedom to take my children away on a vacation not have to owrry abotu the tab time to do stuff with them NOW before the world corrupts them (little)…

    Freedom to invest in real estate, invest in other biz operations, develop my board games, other ideas I have made plans for…

    Freedom is the biggest prize because that is when you get to call ALL the shots and no-one but you is responsible

    My freedom and the responsibility that goes with it is what I crave for being told what to do to me is NOT smart….

    Thank you for the mental and emotional ‘jolt’ I look forward to and I wish you and your family all the best for the holiday season…

    I look forward to reading more of your blogs in the new year…

    Warmly (secretly your biggest fan)


    P.S. Thank you for helping knock out all the b.s. that was crammed into me over the years I know can see clearly and appreciate the words and pearls of wisdom to those who dont….well they can just suffer!

  • Sherold says:

    Hi John – I’m new around here, and I love the way you think. I spend a lot of time thinking and looking back to connect dots and then see the patterns. I’m at the place now in my life of following a call to serve (after a tragic death in my family). I love the why question and like to ask not only why but what do I want to feel. I think it’s not the thing we want but the feeling we will have when we get the thing. I like the way I feel when I hang with people who think about things. These days I love deep conversations. So I will look forward to your posts in my email box. Thanks for this and happy holidays.

  • Josh says:

    I have, regrettably, been “too busy” to stay up to date with many of your latest posts. I’m glad I stopped for a minute to catch this one and be reminded that I do in fact enjoy a little rumination, and that it indeed is a ‘why’ for me.

    Thanks for this one John.

  • […] The Lost Art Of Rumination […]

  • Christy says:

    Hi John, glad to know you through your post and heard about you from Frank Kern.

    Like to know you more and work with you! Care to check me out …


  • Jim Punkre says:

    I’ve always belived that part of every kid’s higher education (either after high school or college) ought to a stint seeing the world, be it traveling around Europe … volunteering in the Peace Corps … treking in Asia … adventures like that. That’s the richest education: Seeing how the rest of the world lives and what “real” life is about outside the US. What a luxury — and yet so essential for getting one’s bearings before venturing off on a career with meaning. I didn’t that approch. Instead, I jumped right onto the professional ladder in a career I had no passion for, or training in. I did OK in copywriting, but came to hate it over my 40+ years. I always promised myself to take that “year off” so I could discover what I really wanted to do with my life and where my true passion was. But there was always the next project or seductive opportunity. A few years ago, I just couldn’t hack it anymore (the clients, the deadlines, the carefully-crafted, manipulative prose, etc.) and I just quit. I took my savings and put it into a business I believed in. Now, I’m back to writing copy again — but its for ideals I believe in. Best of all, I get to do more than that. More of my time is spent creating useful new products and services … turning my heart’s mission into a successful business … working daily with stimulating, idealistic young co-workers (I really hated how solitary copywriting was)… and using the limited time I have left to make this world a better place for folks who’ve been gamed and exploited by the “system”. Thinking back, this is really what I wanted to do since childhood. I was just too brainwashed (conditioned) to belive I could jump right in. Instead, I thought I needed money, clout, and experience before I could make a difference. I put my idealism on hold until I “made” it. I think a lot of us do this, but by the time we’ve made it we’ve either forgotten our passion, don’t have the energy, or don’t know when to say “enough”. So I guess I saved my ruminating days for the end, instead of your way. (Besides, I’m not sure the 20-something me could have figured out this career path or personal missionthatwould have been this satisfying.) Destiny’s funny that way: Any road seems to get you there. I’m reminded of the Jackson Browne lyric: “Just do the steps that you’ve been shown, but everyone you’ve ever know, until the dance becomes your very own” Thanks, John.

    • John Carlton says:

      Jim! Great to see you here. Folks, Jim is one of the top copywriters to have ever stroked a keyboard, an “A” Lister with monster controls for Rodale and the largest mailers in the universe. I may have even met you, Jim, when you were just going deep into your final “maybe I’ll take a year off” mode, back in the 90s. I hope your heart’s mission is thriving. Thanks for the note…

      … and you may wanna check out the post I wrote on Nov 1, called “Mid-Life Crisis #5”. You’ll get a kick out of it…

      • jim says:

        Thanks for the kind words, John. I think the last time we saw each other was at Gary B’s retirement weekend in NYC. That was also the last time I saw Gary H. Looking forward to reading about your midlife crisis/opportunity. I enjoy the blog. Best of luck!

  • Thomas Fouts says:

    As the late great John Lennon (who was shot 31 years ago today) once said, “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

    The more I read your “stuff” the more comfortable I feel.

  • Doug says:

    John, Love Ya Love Your Work (like you haven’t heard that) But if no more than just this mizzly few are gonna respond I’m PISSED!

    One of you best and enjoyable writes to say the very least and what I say Don’t mean squat but loved it. Thanks John, Doug.

  • Abrundige says:

    Ruminating is an art? Shut the front door! All this time…I’m an artist!! Go figure,now to contemplate a means of making my expertise lucrative. Excuse me,I’m going to have to ruminate on this sudden enlightment a while. I’ll get back to you,my number one mentor. It’s just a little over whelming.Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Yeah,yeah I know bah humbug(what’s a humbug?),never mind enjoy inspite of
    yourself. Blessings,prayers and best wishes for continued prosperity and success.Talk at you soon. =>Stay Frosty!

  • alan little says:

    Yep, figure out the why and the how takes care of itself. Half a lifetime, a whole lotta ruminating and a few 2×4’s for me to finally grok that..

  • John Arnold says:

    Two quick thoughts–my wife and I have multiples of what we had starting out–quality of life any better..uuh…only in as much as it provides opportunities to do things we value like travel, but we did things we valued before, just different things. In short, stuff for the raw sake of stuff doesn’t necessarily equate to better quality of life, but you have ruminate to know what matters to you. Second thought–A ‘successful’ musician friend was hitting into what he considered success and began stripping some of it away. I love his summation of why, “I’ve become a human-doing and forgotten how to be a human-being. ” He was hitting that place you were trying to express of “Okay now I’ve made. Now what.”
    Meaning only comes when our activity flows from our highest values. Activity without ruminating until we grasp those values just results in just being very busy.

    Thanks John for your post. Well said…then again you are a copywriter, I would hope it would be so. *grin*

  • Stephen Bray says:

    The first two Mrs Brays were called Susie, (really no joke), and they both wanted to change me. I even attempted to so up to a point but then eventually hit a glass ceiling.

    A couple of extra marital Susies later I came to the conclusion that attempting to lead someone else’s idea of what my life should be was a bad idea, even when that vision included cars and shiny things, (for them).

    That’s when I went back to my home-town to ruminate. I was 39 years old, £39 overdrawn at the bank, homeless, jobless but, I discovered not lacking in resources.

    Indeed just going back to filling the fridge with beer, doing some factory work before moving up to slightly better things was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. There’s a divine tension between financing the next meal and rumination that can lead to true self-knowledge.

    I wasn’t there, but I like to think that what you enjoyed with Gary Halbert was what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’. Some call this the psychology of optimal experience, rather like playing jazz.

    You will never experience it when living with a Susie. Today it is like an old friend. Sometime elusive, but generally around somewhere in the background.

    Much love,


  • Sweeney says:

    “but I did eventually became a hard-core capitalist-oriented entrepreneur, got my shit together, and started being aggressively proactive about setting and achieving goals. A true American rags-to-riches tale, and I’m proud of it.”

    What was your tipping point? I’m about to be 22.. and I feel like I’ve been trying to get my shit together for a while.. I’m almost there..

    – Sweeney

    PS simpatico, great word.

    • John Carlton says:

      I was 32, Sweeney, when I had my great epiphany about starting my “ride” into the biz world in earnest. It took me a LONG time to work out my slacker tendencies. I do not regret either being a slacker (cuz it was fun, and I was a DAMN good slacker, making it work), or going full-hog into the biz world. I still retain all my friends from both worlds, still dabble in every hobby I’ve ever had. Just got back from Portland (quick vacation), the slacker capital, and loved hanging out there.

      What I’m trying to say is… don’t sweat it at 22. I know how urgent life feels at that age — you’re really looking for a train to hitch your wagon to, really ready to live deep and hard and with purpose. But sometimes you need to wait, and get some more raw living in first. There’s plenty of time to get into biz. Unless you’re sure you’re ready to go pro now… in which case, get started. I’ve got dozens of posts in the archives addressing what I call “the next step” in your life — whatever that next step should be, considering the path you choose to take.

      Explore the archives a bit. I give out plenty of references to other people and books and stuff to check out, too, so you may get some solid clues or ideas.

      Good luck to you. And I wish you a long, adventurous life.

  • Geoff Dodd says:

    Aww, heck John that was an awesomely-Superb piece of pre-meditation if ever I’ve witnessed one! Thank you three thousand times. I feel doggedly real already and into the next project faster! You’ve deserved a bit more rumination time.

  • Suzanne says:

    Hi All,

    You know I am about as extroverted as they come and yet I spend much time ruminating, writing and experiencing life. I would have to agree that the main question to be answered is “why?”to do whatever we are doing. It is a fact that most people are living unconscious lives living the same day over and over without much thought as to why it is that they are doing so. I like the finer things in life as much as the next person, however, I would have to say that owning my own time is the most important thing that i have in this life for with it I can do whatever it is that I wish with whomever, whenever, however, because I want to. Thanks John for bringing this most important question to the forefront because it is my guess that most folks think that things are where it is at until they realize how short a period of time those things mattered once they owned them.

  • dANNY8bALL says:

    Hey Johnny,

    “How come they call it FREE TIME if it’s not free? You have to “Buy” it? MAN….

    Oh, wait. I’m not doing anything right now, am I?

    Best get back to my Ruminatin’…while I can still afford it!

    • John Carlton says:


      But I never considered it “free time”. To me, all my time is “my time”… and I’m aware when I’ve chosen (or, still, at my age, occasionally tricked or trapped into) spending it working on something boring or outside my heart’s desire. You can’t live a “perfect” life, especially if “growing” means diving into new projects and learning new ropes. But you do want to arrange things so the majority of your life is spent in happy pursuits…

  • Karen says:

    GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT post, John.

    Another good reason to be successful: it gives you more time to read and find out what great minds from the past (and present) have ruminated about. Seems to me that a lot of people let television do their “thinking” for them. Hard to explain the value of rumination to anyone who’s used to life problems being resolved in 30 minutes to 2 hours.

    Thanks John. You’re the best.

  • Steve says:

    Thanks for this John-Yep, lot’s O’ similarities in my own life experience. Hey, ruminating is a blast!(blessed?)

    I hope to have You as MY mentor some day. I think we’re from the same bag of doughnuts.

    Thanks for helping to keep humanity alive in us.

  • Bob Baran says:

    Buying time…

    For years I’ve tried to tell people that “time” was the greatest trophy. I always used my passion to create the where-with-all to have more time to follow my passions.

    I got to do music, art, write and the best years of my life are still ahead of me – the most exciting adventure – because I was able to take the time (I bought and paid for) to “get” what “been there done that” really meant…

    That “pondering” means you don’t have to repeat the same emotional landscape a thousand times – maybe only a hundred.

  • Cezary says:

    Love the quote from Otis Redding.

    Absolutely stunning. Literally. High amp resonance with Yours Truely. Water splashing against the support beams, time floating by. I’m there. I’m gone. I float away so easily, it’s getting back that requires hard work.

    But … what follows brutally ruins a promising start.

    I despise defending the slacking itself and Yupping even more.

    She was whip-smart, and full of energy and life-force…

    At first, sounds like what I see in the mirror every day. I can strongly relate to just the ambition – as long as goals caress one’s life with a wave of uplifting meanings to ponder on. Not a mad competition for financial stability and “happiness”, which results in neither. Good stuff going the wrong direction. Success to me means more life. More life requires more time.

    I’m 2/3 through the post and nothing positive here for me or “about me”…

    So, instead of the usual Damn Good Insight, there is this whine/complain/justify/excuses rant. I triple-checked the address bar for “”. Normally, content like that – and I nuke the whole browser from orbit. “It’s the only way to be sure”. My anti-negative-attitude firewall kicking in?

    And why the term “ruminating” over and over again? The meanings hardly reflect the importance of the subject. Or is it just me? No better alternatives? Made up words even? Besides, it sounds like “room mating”.

    Ok, since the site doesn’t look hacked, what can my favorite marketing guru really have in store? He deserves a chance…

    … however, the REAL reward was always the sheer luxury of “buying time”

    Great. One of my main drivers. For me, time is life. Now you’re back to feeling like a close friend again!

    Though, only briefly, before lecturing about the “why”, without telling us “why”.

    Next, you mention how ponder-time impacts stories, while giving only a “you should have been there” hint about the long drive around L.A. …

    … depriving readers of possibly a fabulous blog post in of itself.

    You go on. About how great it is when financial stability makes you free from worry. Effect on me? Like the Pope preaching to an altruistic saint. Boredom at best.

    Then, you start being John Carlton again:

    Dude, you’re living through the most awesome times humans have ever encountered. There are endless options for adventure and fulfillment and legacy…

    Spot on! Nice to know there is someone like me. I cherish my life. Wouldn’t swap with anyone. Ever. So I get that. I feel understood again.

    This see-saw of good post, bad post should end good at least, so John, please don’t wrap up with some lame patronizing lecture…

    … no, please … no, not like this … NOOOOOOOO! (cries)

    Will the real John Cartlon please stand up?

    Unsatisfied, I dived for the comments …

    Dude, I’m sincere even when I pitch…

    I hate guilt, and purged it from my system decades ago.

    I’ve never felt guilty about daydreaming… I’ve felt odd, and an outsider, but never guilty…

    Now you’re talking! If it wasn’t for the gems here and there, I’d be checking my internet connection for practical jokes…

    Being honest, John, I don’t know if I’m missing something big or your readers are going overboard with politeness. I presume it’s the former.

    Immerse me next time. Make me crave the “wave-watching” like I always do. I can’t imagine a great life without it. For years I believed it helps succeed in life and business. Give me examples or hints how to make this happen sooner instead.

    Or just impress me with the mentioned “lost art” skills by painting the insights on the canvas of my imagination.



    P.S. I enjoyed the discussions – I’d comment if I hadn’t “blogged” this much already.

    • Geoff Dodd says:

      Cezary – how old are you? I’m 62. Have you thought about John’s learning curve? The Pain.. the agony and the ecstasy..? Oh the word for me was meditation. I didn’t like ‘rumination’ either, because it conjures up freisan cows chewing N.Z. grass.. ~inhale~

      • Cezary says:

        Cezary – how old are you? I’m 62.

        Good question. I look 16, think post-crisis 50 and burn energy like in my 20’s …

        … I’m 30. “Only” or “already”, depending on context.

        Have you thought about John’s learning curve? The Pain.. the agony and the ecstasy..?

        Either I have unnaturally biased definitions for those, or I should be digging through the blog archive. Any suggestions? I have the impression his posts rarely disclose shocking past life details.

        The “triad” you mentioned has kept me “company” for years. I’m still climbing the steep walls of life. With no clue how far the tipping point is.

        The rant “suggests” facing life challenges isn’t worth the struggle. Or I’m missing something frustratingly basic, since I say “me too – check!” to almost everything John says.
        I’d really appreciate inspiringly great insight right now instead. Was probably a tad bit disappointed and overreacted. Silly me.

        Maybe I’m “ruminating” wrong …

        Oh the word for me was meditation.

        I thought so too, but to me meditation seems “technically” different.

        Meditation kills stress. But it’s also very pleasingly speeds up time. I can’t afford that right now. Probably why I’m envying John. Just a little…

        I didn’t like ‘rumination’ either, because it conjures up freisan cows chewing N.Z. grass..


        Maybe that *was* the point – getting over the unpleasant aspects by dwelling on them endlessly helps getting in terms with life and succeeding?

        • John Carlton says:

          You know what, Cezary? You need, more than anyone else who’s commented here, to work through some serious layers of bullshit occluding your ability to see or think clearly. I’m not here to “entertain” you — I deliver advice and I share the lessons that meant something to me. If it resonates, great — I’m writing this blog to give a little “pay-back” to the career that saved my life. No one helped me when I was climbing my way out of slacker-city to the big leagues of biz…

          … and I swore (back in my early 30s) that IF I ever “made it”, I would be hyper-generous in sharing what I learned on the trip. So, I share.

          But I’ll be damned if I’ll do the hard work of re-explaining anything to you. My posts — and my writing in general — is clear, concise storytelling. Not meant to entertain, but to deliver the POINT of the story. I can’t be any fucking clearer than I am here. If you don’t “get it”, and you suspect you’re “missing something”…

          … chances are, you are. But you’re wrong to ask for further clarification, from me or from anyone else.

          That is YOUR job. Figure it out. If it takes you 5 weeks, or 5 years, then so be it. (The lesson in this post stewed inside me for years. I’ve never written about it or shared it before. And it happened to me over 30 years ago. For example.)

          I don’t know if you grew up spoiled, or if you’ve somehow gotten the idea that others should do the hard thinking for you… but rumination will serve you well here.

          There are no lessons in easy answers. Nearly everything of value I’ve learned in my life came from hard knocks, and tough love lessons.

          Go watch TV if you wanna be entertained. Come back here when you’re ready to freakin’ learn something…

          • Cezary says:

            I sincerely appreciate replying with detail to my public “screw up”. At no charge.

            To me, it means you’re unbelievably generous with your time and care. People you know must feel gifted having a friend in you.

            Allow me to tidy up the misunderstanding. To make up for pissing you off for no reason, as it turned out.

            The truth is shocking and enlightening: I made the exact opposite impression of myself. I’m still piecing together how and why. Though, feedback was crucial in realizing this.

            You need, more than anyone else who’s commented here, to work through some serious layers of bullshit occluding your ability to see or think clearly.

            Agreed. I spent years trying to out-think this big-ass black-hole blind spot. Your story only increased the agony (I wouldn’t publicly admit). Very familiar content, resulting success totally foreign. Couldn’t connect the two. Even after reading through at least 15 times before commenting.

            Yes, my bizarre life has made obvious simple truths *that* elusive.

            Contrary to how it looks, I reacted sensitively to your reflections. To the point I didn’t care about being mercilessly crucified or humiliated by your readers for my ignorance. Trading all that just to get a tiny clue.

            And unexpectedly I did. Many thanks.

            I’m not here to “entertain” you

            The “entertainment” wasn’t on my behalf, but to help sell others on the concept. Conclusion? I need to learn some selfishness to replace altruistic “transparency”. And gain some of the honesty I admire you for.

            Your posts are valuable *and* fun. I do my best to learn *both* for other people’s betterment and to revise my own flawed thinking. So I also ruminate on, analyze and restructure every funny or clever thing you say – to be well equipped for “smile enhancing” when supporting those who need it most. Advice and lessons work better that way.

            I get entertainment by accident, if at all, or from giving it. If slacking off is a life skill, I’m the either the worst at it, or the most efficient.

            Drop-dead boring lessons work fine on crazy minds like mine, because I know how impacting a tiny bit of advice can be. As for the troubled souls I often meet, I don’t want to send them off saying, “well, if you think about it for 40 years, you will work it out and become successful. It still hasn’t worked for me because I’m only on year 15”.

            I carry on your advice. I’m not the only end consumer. This article was the wrench that wrecked havoc on my machine’s core. I couldn’t make it “work” here.

            I’m writing this blog to give a little “pay-back” to the career that saved my life.

            I’m reading it to do the same. And to succeed myself, because that helps the former.

            … and I swore (back in my early 30s) that IF I ever “made it”, I would be hyper-generous in sharing what I learned on the trip.

            You kept your promise. Especially with the “hyper” part. And you have been especially thoughtful.

            But I’ll be damned if I’ll do the hard work of re-explaining anything to you.

            That would be unthinkable, because it takes incredible inhuman patience and monstrous amounts of time and is usually completely unrewarding (how do I know?).

            You could have just given a “you’re a moron” reply, but your time would be much better spent ignoring me and sharing more
            stories, anyway.

            My problem: seeing personal responsibility where you see damnation. I willingly sacrifice hours to explain beneficial stuff in 50 different ways until it sinks in. A no-brainer reaction, unfortunately.

            But you’re wrong to ask for further clarification, from me or from anyone else.

            I see that now.

            Selflessness helped me “justify” crossing that line. Especially since I wouldn’t let the smallest clue go unrewarded.

            With only my own interests in mind, the comment wouldn’t have made enough sense to write. I’d instead be chewing for weeks on trying to get your lesson. A luxury I sadly can’t afford right now, no matter how eager I am.

            If it wasn’t disrespectful, I’d offer to pay you consulting fees for the time saving feedback.

            The lesson in this post stewed inside me for years. I’ve never written about it or shared it before. And it happened to me over 30 years ago. For example.

            Thanks for sharing that. While heavily focused on “getting the lesson”, I completely disregarded what the story meant to you personally. Big mistake. Unforgivable for someone like me.

            I don’t know if you grew up spoiled, or if you’ve somehow gotten the idea that others should do the hard thinking for you… but rumination will serve you well here.

            To tell the truth, it’s the extreme opposite of all three. Rumination is too sloppy to solve urgent challenges. “Doing” shows flaws faster. And even the most subtle feedback is priceless. Without it, it’s too easy to get locked inside one’s own thinking box.

            Long term “why’s” need breathing space.

            There are no lessons in easy answers. Nearly everything of value I’ve learned in my life came from hard knocks, and tough love lessons.

            If one answer can save a person years of struggling, we are all better off. Hard lessons are fine, as long as they don’t age people too much and too soon. No lesson in the world should cost 20 years of pain, especially nowadays. No matter how “deserving” the victim. And just clarifying a problem works wonders without giving it too much away.

            Go watch TV if you wanna be entertained. Come back here when you’re ready to freakin’ learn something…

            I get the urge to say that myself, but I instantly bite my tongue and shift my attitude. Never to let it show. The stick is more effective with the carrot. And people beat themselves up enough, anyway.

            I spend most of my time and money learning. I’m an idiot, so I have to put in more work.

            Besides the point, but just to share something myself:

            I haven’t been watching TV for 15 years. Can’t stand the drivel.

            Last 3 months, I spent less than 2 hours on movies.

            Last 3 years, less than 280 hours. If 90% of a movie isn’t life educating, it’s a waste of time. Yes, I budget every hour of my precious life since 2007. I can relive any day within that range.

            So, if someone gives me 5 minutes of their undivided attention, I honor it like a godsend.

            I learn only from the best. Same with copywriting. Only one blog from the best guru I can find.

            I do go ape-shit crazy when I spend time and feel like I haven’t learned a thing. What I originally wanted to convey is that “I don’t like the fact that I don’t like this article – I assume something is fundamentally wrong with me”. This means incredible respect for your wisdom. Which I failed to point out.

            I apologize for being misleading and I promise to keep my frustration intact in the future.

          • John Carlton says:

            Well, okay then.

            The points I delivered to you here are meant for many people — the majority of folks out there refuse to think deeply, want others to do the hard work for them, etc…. and should appreciate any lesson, no matter how it’s delivered or to whom, knocking down their best excuses.

            Try to shorten your posts. You’re rambling, and obsessing on details of your personality, which is not good ruminating. Kill your ego, and kill the guilt and complex BS that swirls in your mind — if you have to mediate before ruminating, do so. Aim for a clear mind.

            That’s advice that a lot of people can use, btw. Especially the “kill your ego” part. If anyone needs a shrink, get thee hither immediately. Talk therapy is excellent — I’ve used it, proactively, my entire career.

            Might be time for another “kill your ego” post…

  • Patrick says:

    Hey John,

    You said, “…and all the blossoming parallels between the post-WWI nihilistic Da-Da movement and the impending technology revolution (that would not be televised) and on and on.”

    There’s a very simple, scientific (social science) reason for why one movement during a certain period in history can be eerily similar to another movement during another period in history.

    If you’re not familiar with the book entitled “The 4th Turning” by William Strauss and Neil Howe, I can’t recommend it enough.

    It asserts that a large part of what transpires throughout history has to do with the 4 distinct generational personalities (prophet, artist, hero, and nomad) and how they are uniquely positioned during given moments in time.

    It’s a simple argument that makes too much sense to ignore, and really explains a heck of a lot about how the story of our society unfolds.

    Patrick Williamson

    P.S. I’ve been studying what makes communication really tick and how to apply it to my business. I’ve discovered recently that, in my opinion, there is a “unified field theory” of all compelling communication.

    The secret sauce to make all communication compelling (along with basing it on proven templates, first and foremost) is the “sales bullet/Jeopardy” factor. In Jeopardy, you are given the compelling answer/info. first, and then you must guess what the question is.

    A sales bullet does the same thing – it purposefully leaves out certain info. in order to frame something in a compelling way. Info. that will be covered later on in the communication sequence when the person has actually built up a craving for it.

    It is easy to take this principle and use it in every sentence of communication – every sentence finally leading to the big reveal of the “what” or the “feature”, and then go from there.

    What do you think?

    P.P.S. Halbert sounded like a real character. I would have loved to have met him.

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks! I’m gonna check out that book reco, Patrick.

      I’m now at the age where I’m able to see how our “sped up” civilization is repeating itself sooner and sooner, like we’re swirling around a drain and down the vortex. I don’t even need to read about history anymore (though I do), because I see the unlearned lessons of my youth being repeated in politics, society, education, war, everything.

      It’s weird. And one of the very few benefits of growing older — the wisdom just starts mounting in piles, and as long as you keep prodding and thinking and refusing to allow The Man to do your thinking for you, you see the parallels that only come from having experienced things and then having the time to sort it out.

      We truly are a silly, self-destructive, yet oddly divine race of beings…

  • The importance of WHY – so utterly true. For one who’s been there, done that … Just the other day I touched on the same topic myself using the simplistic example of a taking a vacation: decide your WHY ahead of time – how you will feel at the end of it. If you “wait and see” until the end of the holiday – many things can happen, to prevent you from feeling elated. If they can, they will. But if you’re WHY from the beginning is to feel elated, most of those bad things won’t even happen, or if they do, they won’t matter. It’s magic, I know. Better yet, you find out for yourself.

    It’s easy to find people who make decisions they almost instantly regret. Instead of deciding a WHY they believe in – they decide based on what’s most convenient right now and then repent later. Not smart.

  • mark says:

    Being a 70’s and 80’s slacker seemed to work well for me, even though I had shit.Either
    my parents,friends or women would ask, “whattaya doin Mark”? I’m thinking people!

    I used to have a stop sign sized carpet that said “Think Zone”. Actually, my mom bought it for me when I was 14 believe it or not.
    Maybe she was a Ruminator.

    Now that I think about it. Thanks John.

    Mark Grove in Cold Bugger Ass Canada

    • John Carlton says:

      It’s HARD to stop and think when every fiber in your body wants to explode and eat the world alive. Youth is great — I thoroughly enjoyed mine, but I’m also happy being calmer (at least a bit) now. The flood of hormones has smoothed out, and I feel more in “control” of things… so it’s easy for me to talk about ruminating so casually. I know it’s hard for younger folks to do this… but you NEED to, anyway. Fight it, get pissed about it, but do it anyway. That’s the general rule for success…

  • Jon Mills says:

    As usual i love your posts John. It really is about the WHY as at the end of life when the curtain closes, it won’t matter what we did. No one is going to give a rats ass what we did, it will be forgotten as does everyones legacy. What matters is WHY we did it.

  • Another great article, John.

    The point you make about being able to tell stories in which the audience didn’t “have to be there” to get it was dead on accurate.

    By the way, here’s another video I think everyone will like. Simon Sinek explains why our “whys” matter so much, from a biological perspective:​simon_​sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_​action.html

  • Ian Rich says:

    As always, great post.

    Most people these days will do ANYTHING to avoid really thinking about things. The worst offender is the TV: the appliance that does the thinking for you (how convenient). Of course, there are a myriad of other things that contribute to the contemporary lack of thinking: cell phones, text messages, commercials, pop-ups, Twitter…

    Speaking of Twitter, am I the only person that thinks Twitter is inane? Yes I use it (reluctantly) but… a part of me still doesn’t “get” it.

    Unfortunately, there are still plenty of “Susies” around today. People generally fall into one of two categories: they are in the matrix, or not. Usually the ones in the matrix don’t do a lot of ruminating (why should they when they can watch the drivel in their Twitter feed?)

    I find a great time to think about things is just before falling asleep and just after waking up (provided you wake up naturally and not with an alarm clock – the alarm tends to knock the creative thoughts out of your head).

    I’m off to chew the cud…

  • Geoff Dodd says:

    John ~ in this ‘civilized’ society, some poor buggers are classed as ‘autistic’ or simple ‘schizophrenic’ because they are, most likely habitual ruminators.. The medical people and their associated pharmas are probably the last ones who should be assigned to the job of sorting them and moderating their ruminations. Just a thort. Any reaction? ~ Geoff

  • ken ca|houn says:

    Interesting column, good points. One of the best parts about writing copy, in fact my favorite part, is the ‘rumination’, thinking free-style about “the story” before ever putting pen to paper.

    Rumination procesS: I like to lay in bed surrounded by 5 large down pillows and comforter, and just think silently to myself about what makes sense in the headline, the bullets, the appeal, the turn, the closer, when I write copy. I use a mont blanc pen and legal pad and always write my initial copy draft longhand, far away from the pc.

    …and of course my wife thinks I’m being lazy, spending time in a huge bed surrounded by down pillows in the middle of the day — I try and explain to her how “I’m thinking”, and show her my notes after spending 30-45 minutes in silent copy rumination… my best-pulling controls are always those in which I’ve spent a lot of downtime in bed thinking about the pitch, long before typing stuff up on the computer.

    Your points well taken about smoothing out the path to success, taking time to reflect and unconsciously connecting the dots, to produce successful copy.


  • neil says:

    Susie is the wonderful grandmother of inspiration, which you have passed on to me. Whatever was you motivation to write this at this particular time may have save my life from years of unhappiness.

    I’m surrounded by people who turn the door knob strictly to the right to get in or out. I on the other hand want to lift the knob up, down, to the right or left just to see if it’s better to me.

    Now some of the people that I know are rich but not happy and they don’t understand why. Somehow I’ve been caught up in this tangle and it’s misery until now.

    I thank you for bringing me back!

    Everything is art to me one blade of grass is something to marvel at…

    I’m a terrible writer naturally but I use to make things work when expressed things with deep thoughts. Any how I can go on for hours but thanks again for showing me my grey matter matters!

  • As I was reading your post, John, I cannot help but ask myself how my life has been in the past years. Yes, I can totally relate with it. I used to be a good-for-nothing loser too who keeps on throwing out time and money. But now I have come to realize the essence of success and that time flies fast. Thank you for sharing this inspiring article with us. 🙂

  • Patrick says:

    The thing about Susie is she really gets rumination, eventually!!

    She doesn’t come outright and say it (it’s disguised), but pretty soon she has a fixation about it. Her conversations to her girlfriends go like this…

    “I wish I didn’t have to work anymore”

    “I hate work and I hate my job”

    “Guess what, he says I don’t have to work any more” and she’s the envy of all her girlfriends.

    On the other hand…

    God help the other half, if he decides to get off the tread-wheel and stop working like a maniac for “the man” to do a little ruminating too.

  • Venus Brown says:

    A smattering of random thoughts about rumination.

    I used to work for a guy who, when he said “Let me think about it,” really meant it and would go away and think about it for a few days and come back with an answer. I loved that about him.

    Some folks just don’t like to think. Personally I call them “lazy thinkers.” I know that’s judgmental of me, so we’ll just let this one go.

    Sometimes solutions come to me when I’m in a “mindless” state — just cleaning out the closet or sitting at my desk making wire jewelry. It seems when I’m busy at simple tasks my mind gets to soar at will.

    It’s a state of mind. Rumination resulting in creativity. And I think everyone has a place like that. Some folks just know how to go there at will.

    It’s important to have some free time to ruminate. Most of us keep ourselves so darn busy we have absolutely no idea what might happen if we let our guards down and just wait to see what bubbles to the surface.

    Happy ruminating one and all!

  • I agree your article I often go wandering off into my own head for long’re living through the great times humans have ever encountered.So i think memories are built with people.

  • Ryan O'Meara says:

    It makes me feel so much better that when I tell people the reason I have my feet on the desk with laptop turned off, I am in fact doing more substantive work than if I was ploughing through an excel spreadsheet of next month’s forecast. Ideas are formed in the brain and the brain requires the time and peace to perform to its full potential.

  • Rumination. It’s funny, but that word has an almost negative connotation in our society today (e.g., the way psychologists use it to associate with depression).

    I agree with what you are saying about having the time to just sit around and think, and read. And also how almost everyone else just doesn’t seem to give damn about–or thinks it is a waste of time (i.e., “You’re not being productive!”). As if productivity is a human being’s sole purpose in this life!

    It’s funny though: I wonder how much of ALL of this merely comes down to personality type (Meyers-Briggs Introvert/Extrovert stuff), and just what people are naturally DRAWN to…the world of ideas or the world of things/stuff, etc.

  • For those who are slacking off I am not blaming you but please think of your family. If you have a wife and a son i am sure that they will not be happy . I hope you will realize that all of us have a purpose. Please search for it.

  • My vote will be for Stephen Colbert in the next election. I don’t care if he is not a candidate but my vote goes to him. The world will probably think that I am crazy but in reality the world has been crazy for centuries.

  • custom items says:

    Hi John! your picture in this post looks like a poster for a movie. It stars you and explains everything about your ruminations. I think it will be a hit. It is time for you to produce a documentary.

  • Been contemplating the importance of not reading those 100 comments above my own. Prefer to use my time to appreciate the message you presented in the stead.

    We could have been twins John. My family and friends always considered me to be a “late bloomer.” I’m still blooming…

    Having had it all and lost it, I’ve asked myself why did I lose it all and find it difficult to regain.

    Myself said, “because you did not appreciate it.”

    I have to believe my self on that, it only makes good sense.

    Now I am truly ready to get this Mo thing over with so I’ll have more time to sit and face the wall with the big ZERO on it.

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