Congratulations… Now, Stop Being A Wuss.

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Monday, 7:55pm
Reno, NV
But it’s all right… in fact it’s a gas…” (The Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash“)


It’s time for another orgy of graduation rites across the land…

… and, in honor of it all, I am re-posting my now globally-notorious big damn rant on the subject. This was one of the more popular posts I’ve ever written, so it deserves an annual rediscovery.

So, without further ado… here’s the annual redux of that post:


Nobody’s ever asked me to give the commencement speech for a graduating class.

That’s probably a good thing. I’m pretty pissed off at the education system these days, and I might cause a small riot with the rant I’d surely deliver.

See, I have a university “education”. A BA in psychology. (The BA stands for, I believe, “bullshit amassed”.) I earned it several decades ago…

… and while I had a good time in college (height of the sex revolution, you know, with a soundtrack that is now called “classic rock”), made some lifelong friends, and got a good look at higher learning from the inside…

… that degree provided zilch preparation for the real world. Didn’t beef me up for any job, didn’t give me insight to how things worked, didn’t do squat for me as an adult.

I waltzed off-campus and straight into the teeth of the worst recession since the Great Depression (offering us Nixon’s wage-freeze, record unemployment, an oil embargo, and near-total economic turmoil)…

… so, hey, I should have a little empathy for today’s grads, right?


While today’s graduates are facing similar grim economic times, there’s been a significant change in the concept behind a college education. Somehow, over the years, a bizarre mantra has taken hold in kids minds:

“Get a degree, and it’s a ticket to the Good Life.”

A job is expected to be offered to you before the ink is dry on your diploma.

And it really, really matters WHICH school you get that diploma from.

You know what I say?

Bullshit. Okay, maybe if you go to Yale or Harvard, you can make the connections on Wall Street and in Washington to get your game on. Maybe. (More likely, those connections are already available, if you’re gonna get ’em, through family bloodlines… and the Ivy’s are just playing up their famous track records in a classic sleight-of-hand.)

Put aside the advancement opportunities offered to spawn of the oligarchy, though… and the realities of life-outside-of-academia do not jive at all with the propaganda doled out by the university systems.

Many of the richest guys I know are drop-outs. Some are HIGH SCHOOL drop-outs. The few friends who did go to the kind of school whose name causes eyebrows to rise…

… are ALL working far outside their major. To the point that nothing they learned has proven to be even remotely useful to their adult life. (Unless they stumble upon another over-educated dweeb at a cocktail party and get into a bare-knuckle Trivial Pursuit marathon.)

Too many people get all confused and bewildered about “education” as opposed to “going to college”.

It’s not the same thing, folks.

Some of the most clueless individuals I’ve ever met have impressive diplomas… while nearly all of the most savvy (and wealthy) individuals I know done got educated all on their lonesomes.

I learned more about history, business and psychology in 2 weeks of serious pre-Web library surfing (with a speed reading course under my belt) than I did in 4 years of college.

And I learned more about life in 3 months of hanging out with street-wise salesmen than I did from ANY source, anywhere, up to that time.

By all means, go to college if that’s part of your Master Plan to having a great life. You’ll meet interesting people, and it’s a Rite Of Passage for many Americans these days.

But don’t do it blindly. Just cuz The Man says it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

Do some critical thinking before you jump in.

And if you really want that degree in Russian literature, or women’s studies, or political science, or whatever… then fine. Go get ’em. Grrr.

Just KNOW that you can probably educate your own damn self on those subjects… and even get a deeper understanding of it all… by reading every book written about it, and interviewing a few experts. And if you can get private mentoring from someone, even better.

This can all take place during evenings and weekends, over the course of a few months, while you hold down a day job. Even if you buy the books, instead of hitting up libraries, you’ll have spent less on this specialized education than you’d pay for a single semester in “real” school.

And, unless you’re the laziest screw-up ever, you’ll actually learn MORE in those few months of intense immersion… than you would with a full-on degree.

You know how I can make this bold claim with a straight face?

Because this is what I’ve been doing as a freelancer for decades. Every time I wrote for a new market, I spent weeks immersing myself in it… learning everything I could about it from the inside-out. And this process often made me more of an expert than the client himself.

And I did it over and over and over again.

It was just part of the job.  All top freelancers do this.

Once you lose your fear of self-education…

… you can finally let it sink in that WE LIVE IN THE FREAKIN’ INFORMATION AGE. The joint is crammed to bursting with books, ebooks, videos, websites, courses…

… the whole world is CRAZY well-stocked. There are teachers and coaches and mentors available if you need supervision. (I’ve partaken of this opportunity frequently over my life.) Boards and fan-zines and forums and membership sites abound (for bitching and moaning, as well as for networking with peers).

It’s a cornucopia of knowledge, experience and adventure out there.

Yes, there are blind alleys and pitfalls and wrong turns…

… but once you’re committed to learning something, these are just brief excursions off the main drag… and you can use even your failures as advanced learning tools as you gain expert status. (In fact, it’s really required that you screw up at least a little bit. Otherwise, you never get perspective.)

And best of all…

… you can engage with life as you go. And skip the jarring nonsense of the Ivory Tower bubble.

(One caveat to self-education: You must, early on, read up on how debates are actually taught. Or join a debate club.

I’m serious. Best thing I’ve ever done. As you sample debating, you should demand that you get to defend the OPPOSITE viewpoint that you currently hold for any subject. This forces you to look beyond your petty biases, and open your mind to other points of view.

This is a HUGE advantage to have in your toolkit throughout life. Everyone else will be hobbled with un-examined party-line nonsense and indoctrinated crap they can’t even begin to defend when challenged…

… while you — with your rare ability to walk in anyone’s shoes, and to feel the pain or glory of alien thought patterns — will forever more see beyond the sound bites and cliches. And be able to eloquently explain anything, to anyone.

You will actually begin to sense vestiges of “truth” in the wreckage of our modern culture.

I don’t have to tell you how that might apply to marketing, do I?)

Most people will not go this route of self-examination and immersion-learning, of course. The concept of taking control of your own education seems kinda threatening and foreign to the majority out there.

We spend the first years of our lives sitting quietly in classrooms, being brainwashed to believe we don’t know shit (and that Teacher knows everything). That’s excellent training for hitting a groove in college and post-grad pursuits…

… but it’s piss-poor preparation for Life In The Concrete Jungle.

Again, nothing wrong about going with the status quo. No shame.

Just don’t expect to learn much about the way the world works. You’re learning how academia works. Different animal.

Wanna hear my short speech on how to prepare yourself for life? (I’ve edited this from a recent post I wrote for the Simple Writing System coaching program.  Lots of great stuff keeps coming out of that gig…)


Here’s my mini-rant: If I ran the world, everyone would get at least a taste of being an entrepreneur, during their formative years.

It will taste bitter to most people. And that’s fine. No harm, no foul. You found out it’s not for you, and you can move on to getting that job with The Man.

But for some… it will be sweet nectar. A thrill like nothing else they’ve ever experienced before.

Being an entrepreneur takes balls.

But you don’t have to “be” a ballsy kind of person.

You just have to understand how to implement your goals… which requires a little savvy about getting stuff done in the face of opposition and obstacles. Which is the definition of “ballsy”. Most folks who are successful at achieving goals were not born with the necessary attitude.

They learned the skill of living life with guts, just like they learned every other important skill associated with the gig.

I OFTEN intervene even with long-time professionals (like freelance writers, or veteran biz owners) who are screwing up their efforts to be successful.

My main advice: “Stop being a wuss. Everyone is scared. The successful ones acknowledge that fear, put it aside, and just get busy taking care of business.”

It really is that simple.

Life beyond childhood is for grown-ups. If you’re scared, you can take a regular job somewhere, and stay far away from the risks and realities of being your own boss.

On the other hand… if you’ve got entrepreneur’s blood in your veins… and you really DO want to be your own boss…

… then allow the reality of doing so to wash over you, and embrace it.

Everyone is unsure of themselves out there. There are no guarantees in life for anything… and getting into biz is among the riskiest things of all to do.

A tiny percentage of skydivers will die each year while jumping… but a vast chunk of rookie business owners will fail.

This is why you pursue the skills of salesmanship. Learning how to create a wicked-good sales message, how to close a deal, and how to bond with a target market is the PRIMARY weapon you want walking into ANY business environment.

Will you still fail? Maybe.

But you will NOT fail because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. If knowing how to persuade and influence can make your business sizzle, then learning salesmanship means you’re armed to the teeth. Like everything else in life, having the right tools for the job at hand is the best way to put the odds in your favor.

MOST people are not meant to be their own boss. The world needs followers, too.

Here’s what I tell students in the Simple Writing System, for example, when doubts about their future bubble up: “Just by diving into a coaching program like this — or immersing yourself into any kind of intense entrepreneurial program — you have shown that there is something different burning inside you. No one held a gun to your head and forced you to come here to learn these skills. You decided to join all on your own.

“Even if you’re not yet sure why you’ve joined us here… you need to understand that MOST people would never even consider doing anything like this.

“Independence freaks most people out. The thought of standing up and taking responsibility for the birth and success of a business is terrifying… and most will refuse to even entertain the thought.

“This is, by the way, why you should always enter the entrepreneurial world WITHOUT relying on your current crop of friends for support.

“They will not applaud your efforts. They think you’re batshit crazy for daring to even consider being your own boss. They will (consciously or unconsciously) sabotage your progress if they can, and rejoice in your failures… because if you DO succeed, that kills their main excuse for not succeeding themselves. Most folks believe success is all about luck and magic. When you dig in and actually do the work necessary to succeed, you piss all over their world view that The Little Guy Can’t Win.

“If you’ve made friends or started a network of fellow travelers here in the SWS, great. Most entrepreneurs have to operate alone (until they find places like this, where they can find help, advice and coaching). That loneliness just intensifies the fear and sense of risk.

But I’ll tell you the truth: As scary as being independent is…

“… once you’ve tasted it, you’ll be hooked.”

Most entrepreneurs who enjoy even a little success instantly become “unemployable”. After thinking for yourself, after taking responsibility for your success or failure, after engaging the world fully aware and experiencing the thrill of living large…

… you’re worthless to a boss. He can’t use anyone who thinks for themselves.

Are you wracked with doubt?

That voice you hear — the one knocking you down, digging a knife into your gut and highlighting your worst fears — is JUST A VOICE.

In psychoanalytic talk, it’s your “Super Ego”… the scolding parent’s voice, the doubter of your abilities, the whiny little bastard bent on keeping you down.

And it can easily be sent packing.

Most people allow others to write the script for their lives. Rules and bad advice and grim experiences dating back to childhood somehow become “the way it is”…

… and regardless of any proof otherwise, they will obey that voice until they die.

And yet, all you have to do…

… is acknowledge the voice (“Yes, I hear you, you little shit“), realize it’s not your friend… and lock it in a dungeon deep in your brain, where you can’t hear it anymore.

I speak from experience on this subject. I was ruled by The Voice Of Doom for the first half of my life. I didn’t even try to take responsibility for my success, because The Voice told me it was hopeless. That I was hopeless. That Fate had nothing but failure in store for me.

Then, I realized that The Voice was actually full of it. I proved it, slowly at first, by setting a goal outside The Voice’s warnings… and then achieving it. And then doing it again.

It’s like superstition. I used to be the most superstitious guy you’ve ever met. Literally, my life was dominated by superstitions.

Then, one day, I just decided to see how real those superstitions were. So I violated every single one of them. On purpose. If I had previously thought some action was “bad luck”, I would do it, blatantly, just to see what kind of bad luck occurred.

And, of course, no bad luck ever appeared.

The human brain is crammed with nonsense like this. Superstitions, bad rules, dumb beliefs, unfounded fears and ridiculous feelings of guilt and shame.

Especially guilt and shame.

You know what a fully functioning adult does? They don’t approach life believing it should be a certain way, or wish that life was a certain way.

No. They engage with life the way it really is. You make your own luck. Rules sometimes make good sense, but deserve to be broken when they’re clearly stupid. Belief systems often have nothing to do with reality. (You can “believe” you’re gonna win the lottery with all your heart and soul… and it won’t change reality one tiny bit.)

Fear is a natural part of our defense system… and it can get out of hand in modern times.

So you need to dig in and get to know your fears.  Some are fine — don’t walk down that dark alley if you’re not prepared to deal with the things that happen in dark alleys.

Others are counter-productive — you had a bad experience once when you were 12, and so what? Get over it, put on your Big Boy or Big Girl Pants, and re-engage with life.

And shame? Guilt and shame are useless. On the road of life, feeling guilty about something is like setting up camp and refusing to move or progress any further.

Instead, try “remorse” — recognize when you’ve done something wrong, clean up the mess, fix what you’ve broken as best you can, and make amends to people you’ve hurt.

And don’t “vow” to do better next time.

Instead, actually DO something to change your behavior or habits. Promises are bullshit. Action is the only way to move through life in a positive way.

Don’t promise to do better. Just do better. This will probably involve learning something new — a new skill, a new way of dealing with life, a new set of behaviors.

Doing this will set you apart from the majority of other people out there, too.

The modern Renaissance Man or Woman is something awesome to behold. While the rest of the world increasingly sinks into a snoozing Zombie-state — indoctrinated, fooled, manipulated and played– you have the option of becoming MORE aware, more awake, more alert and ready to live life with gusto.

However, no one is going to force you to do this.

If you want to join the Feast of Life, you have to step up and earn your seat at the table. You will not be invited in. You will not stumble in by accident, or stroke of luck.

Nope. You must take responsibility for your own life… figure out what you want… and then go get it.

It’s a daunting task for most folks… too daunting to even contemplate.

For the few who know it’s what they want, however… it’s all just a matter of movement and action.

Yes, it can be scary. Life is terrifying, at times.

It’s also only worth living, for many people, when you go after it with all your heart.

There are no replays on this game. No second tickets for the ride.

You’re allowed to sleep through all of it. Most folks do.

If that’s not good enough for you any more, then welcome to the rarefied air of the entrepreneur world.

It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary, and there’s no safety net below you.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And that’s the commencement speech I’d give.

Put you to sleep, didn’t it.

Okay, my work is done here.

What would YOU tell new grads? Lay it out in the comments, below…

Stay frosty,

John “The Prof” Carlton

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  • Steve Roller says:

    Sharing this with my 16-year old son. He already has a three-tiered plan in place: Ivy League, entrepreneur at the same time, and individual learning through self-selected books (with heavy direction from me, of course.)

    Well said, as usual, John.

    • John Carlton says:

      I LOVE hearing about this kind of sharing-plan, Steve. My prime motivation for writing these posts is to help, not annoy. If I’d had even one person in my life who had told me the truth early on, I could have shaved DECADES off the clueless years, and gotten into being successful and happy much sooner…

      Thanks for the note.

    • Ken Ca|houn says:

      Great idea, Steve — I’m going to share this with my daughter and do the same; agree w/John. During the 4 years of college she’ll be attending, it won’t be like what I did, I’ll have her do a lot of additional self-study (starting with John’s courses, plus other marketing/biz books), plus entrepreneur biz activities, for best of both worlds. Outstanding post, John – all college-bound or in-college students, grads, parents should read this. It’s the truth, what you write, as always.


  • Mark says:

    The Rant should be required reading for every high school student. All the more so these days with the pile of debt most kids rack up for a worthless frameable.

    Great insights as always, John!

    • John Carlton says:

      Man, that debt thing is really pissing me off. I came out of the old California university system (UC Davis) completely debt-free. Of course, tuition was just $211 a semester in the 70s, and because we were hippies and didn’t care about fashion, or cars, or eating out… and we didn’t need much to get a party going, either… my monthly nut was under $100. One side job, just above minimum wage, handled most of it.

      Today’s students are getting REAMED by banks and colleges. If no other message gets out, it would be good for kids to realize that (a) no, you do NOT have to go straight to college from high school, and in fact, in most cases you should get life experience FIRST… and (b) it really, really, REALLY doesn’t matter WHERE you get a degree from. If you need a degree at all. My recommendation: 3 years getting a general degree, where you sample ALL the disciplines (science, art, drama, literature, etc) for the entire time. There’s no need to specialize unless you’re pre-med…

      • Mark says:

        You was livin’ the highlife, John.

        I was just a poor boy from the other side of the tracks — San Jose State @ $97/semester.

        Thing is, that tuition pretty much allowed us to treat college as our “life experience” phase. (And CA in the 70s offered plenty of that!)

        Nowadays kids are looking at a six-figure investment and the ROI for the most part doesn’t work.

        You said it, best to figure stuff out first — working, traveling, dabbling — and then seek out whatever training is necessary to hit one’s goals.

        • Well, my 20 year old daughter is in her second year of university here in Western Australia. Even though she’s lived in Australia for 14 years, she has to pay as she goes and not leave it when she graduates and gets a job.

          I told her right from the start, that this was the best way for her to do it if she wanted to go the uni. And so she works during the week and pays her fees every semester.

          I also think this way she’ll get more out of it as it’s costing her a fortune.

          Excellent post John.

        • John Carlton says:

          I had good pals who attended SJ State. And SLO, and SD State, and Chico, and so on. I suppose there are books around explaining what happened to the California educational system (starting with the 70s-era propositions that gutted the way the system was paid for, and moving through the current phase of colleges becoming money-making institutions rather than vehicles for education)… and it’s a shame. But it is what it is.

          What a young person needs to deal with is education, growing up, fending for oneself, mastering the games of adulthood, and negotiating the pitfalls of modern life armed only with the BS from school and a smattering of bad advice from Hollywood.

          And yet, there are so many of us grizzled old fuckers wandering around with life experience up the whazoo… to be mined for advice and insight… that it’s just a shame the “system” can’t get a better grip on really helping kids prepare for a better life.

          Maybe the dissatisfaction of the debt loads and the lack of actual preparation via college is hitting a tipping point…

  • Anton Volney says:


    Even though there are at least thirty years between you and me, I feel like we are kindred spirits. I feel scammed by university. I think that I am now fighting in the trenches as a freelance copywriter and my degree is a dead weight attached to my ankle: I have no useful knowledge from it and it has cost me a fortune.

    To make matters even worse, Amazon exists. If I were to do it again, I would skip the degree and spend two thousand bucks on a carefully selected business/marketing reading list––it’s what I’m doing right now anyway!

    When I consider all of the enormous shifts in the business world, I cannot possibly imagine why other folks would spend their lives working for The Man. Even on my darkest days––and times HAVE gotten pretty dark––I have never regretted my decision to try to make it on my own.

    I want you to know that there are some young guys and gals out there who haven’t drunk the Koolaid.


    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for the note, Anton. Entrepreneurism isn’t for everyone — and that’s the way it should be. There are “roles” for everyone to play in a well-running culture. What I’d like to see is some early-life training for that minority of folks who will likely be working for themselves eventually (either because, like me, they have a problem with authority and are gonna get fired from every “normal” job they go after… or because they’re full of ideas and energy that will thrive in the “no rules” world of entrepreneurs).

      I need to repeat that I enjoyed my education… or, at least the parts of going to university that didn’t involve sitting in classrooms being bored (or scared, during tests I hadn’t studied for). There is a place for gathering people together to examine life, to test boundaries, to rub shoulders with brainiacs and party monsters, to expand the mind. It shouldn’t, however, be a place that puts you in massive debt and doesn’t actually prepare you for the real world of capitalism.

      Here’s something I just thought of: Most entrepreneurs are NOT introverts, though they’re portrayed that way in media… and because of the nature of working for yourself (which alienates your friends, who are scared for you and of you) often isolates you from “normal” folks.

      Thus, if any college just opened a department with a few real retired entrepreneurs who taught real-world stuff, the English Lit and pre-med student could sample a class or two, and see how it “fit”.

      At any rate, what we’re doing now ain’t working. And entrepreneurs have to first invent their own education process (or be lucky enough to latch onto a coaching or mentoring program that works), often WHILE starting a biz. A little support from the rest of the culture would be nice…

  • Benny Valenzuela says:

    It saddens me that so many people my age are still trapped in the “go to school, get a job, work 9-5 until you die” mentality. I used to have that same mindset just under two years ago, and I was fortunate enough to break free of it.

    Any responsible, knowledgeable parent would ensure their children read this.

    • John Carlton says:

      Pass it along, if you dare. Phrase it as “here’s some half-crazed bozo entrepreneur guy I’ve been reading… you’ll get a kick out of it”, rather than “you gotta read this, or you’ll suffer forever”. Maybe that’ll work…

  • Sukhvinder Dhillon says:

    We are totally “clueless” during our initial years, add to that the social pressure to follow the “tested” route to success (or is it disaster). Problem is, people who advice us during those difficult initial years are themselves incompetent and their advice, perplexing. Conventional education route proves highly ineffective and inadequate in preparing for today’s world. Thanks once again.

  • David Allison says:

    Thanks John, not only for my 14 year old whose mother is hell bent on ushering him into only the “best college,” but also for myself. Your rant reinforces my newly found belief. I am a root canal specialist (only the painless kind) but I don’t really work for myself. I have a well respected but pain-in-the-ass JOB. I work for those that refer to me. Over the past few years a new world has come alive in “real” entrepreneurship. Your advice is perfectly appropriate and should be required reading for kids of all ages!
    I will be reading your “commencement” address at least weekly,

    • John Carlton says:

      Just promise me you won’t start an inner-family war over this. My main problem with college is the cluelessness of the folks in charge — the teachers who’ve never been out into the real world, the board concerned with image, the whole Hollywood-pushed notion that something magical happens there to change your life. In truth, part of the reason our culture is so screwed up is the utter lack of common meeting areas — college now serves as a bridge between childhood and adulthood, and it’s just not doing the job. High school, with ashtrays is what we used to call it (cuz we could smoke in class). (Yeah, disgusting.)

      Good luck. If you just give your kid a glimpse of alternative lifestyle and biz choices, it may “take”. Or, he may have to take the easier road for now — there’s no shame in going to college, it’s just often a choice that sets you back and corrals the energy you could be using elsewhere. Being knowledgeable and educated is a good thing. But you don’t need college to do that — it’s a life-long pursuit.

      Anyway, thanks for the note. And, again, good luck.

  • Mike says:

    For every point in life the proper way to deal with your circumstances is to look at it and say – it is what it is, what now…

    Only by taking responsibility for ourselves (and what we breed) can we move forward.

  • Ted says:

    Ya know……

    Reading your blog posts is like when I am sitting having a chat with one of my business owner buddies. No bullshit…just tell it like it is……nearly impossible to find disagreement in anything each other says…just a lot of head nodding, smiles, yeps and right on man’s…

    I am thoroughly convinced that anyone with the desire to do so in this day and age (at least here in the states) can immerse himself in studying any subject matter and learn the equivalent or better of a bachelor’s degree education in less than a year………without ever setting foot in a college……and yes I have a college degree

    The information is there and readily available everywhere to anyone who wants it……the ambition is what is lacking……

    My advice to college grads – (preaching from the podium during graduation ceremony)…


    Forget all the bullshit they just told you about how much money you are going to make……you aren’t earning jack squat unless you go out there and get it……all that degree proves is that you are capable of learning……now go get your foot in the door somewhere and start learning what you really need to know……which you will soon realize……isn’t anything they taught you in the last 4 years…

    • John Carlton says:

      Nice. Just remember how resistant you were at that age to receiving advice. It’s tough to fight against a cultural juggernaut of “go to college/get a job” thinking.

      Biz owners are the lifeblood of the civilization, but get little respect. We ain’t gonna get much further as a culture if we keep elevating celebrity above real-world achievement, and pray for a PowerBall win to save us…

  • John says:

    Hi John,
    Your post is “dead-on” !!!
    I’ve been an “independent” for over 50 years….had a small used car business before I had a drivers license, started a multi-million dollar computer business in my 30’s, and built luxury condo buildings in my 40’s. Now retired, and in retrospect, wouldn’t change a hell of a lot except maybe finish high school. For all the wannabe entrepreneurs out there….DEVELOP A PLAN (preferably a simple outline of what, where, how, and when you want to accomplish) will suffice. Next, FOCUS…..and follow through on the aspects of your plan. It’s fun and exciting to see it all come together. For the doubters in my circle, my motto was; “If I had to do it all over, I’d do it all over you”.

  • Abdellah Dakkoune says:

    In fact , it is true in school we never learn how to be in real life and it is completely waste of money theses days , purely business . I have my two daughters and son in private schools and I am pretty sure even after their high school diploma they will not find a Job .

  • Dave Simon says:

    John – I too have a BA in Psychology earned several decades ago. But I think you are wrong when you say that it didn’t prepare you for anything. Joe Polish said at a recent seminar that marketing is applied psychology. I couldn’t agree more. As marketers and great copywriters, we are constantly striving to better understand our target audience and developing ‘triggers’ to the buying response in that audience. Applied psychology indeed!

    • John Carlton says:

      Dave, Joe’s a good pal of mine. He didn’t go to college… yet he’s one of the most educated guys you’ll meet. College doesn’t have a lock on teaching psychology or any other discipline — in fact, the actual psychology that Joe’s referring to is “street psychology” — the kind that old-school salesmen learn and live on.

      I have been a “student” of psychology my entire life, and will continue until I’m stopped. But everything worthwhile I’ve read, or learned, or examined… came from outside a classroom. Nothing I learned in getting my BA is useable today. None of it. Yet, after college I dived into studying psych with a passion, and used what I learned in real-life in my career.

      It took me nearly a decade AFTER I graduated to figure out that (a) I was a poor fit in corporate culture (fired from every job I tried) and (b) needed to look into entrepreneurial pursuits. It would have been nice for someone in college to have at least given me a clue about what life had in store — but none of my profs HAD any real-life experience outside of academia.

      Again — I’m not dead-set against a university education. If that’s what you want, go get it. But pay for it, and have a clue what you’re gonna DO with it first. Don’t use college as a delay mechanism for “starting” your life.

      And the study of human behavior never ends, especially as a biz owner…

  • Scott Saint Onge says:

    College is operation money suck. Parents and their brain washed off-spring think the way to the golden key is spend $120,000.00 on a worthless piece paper, and for what, a $10.00 hour job after the 4 year adventure is done. The best education there is being in business for yourself. It teaches sales, marketing, business negotiation, people skills, money management, etc. You can’t get that out a four year degree. So instead of sending your kid off to the 4 year money mill, get them thinking about being in business for themselves, help them develop a business plan, and put it in action. Make it a family adventure. Show them a way out instead of a hand out. Then everyone wins in the end…. Cheers from the school of hard knocks.

  • MA says:


    Are you a scholar on the philosophy of education? Where did you train?

  • Stan Scott says:

    Thanks John. I’m sending this on to my clueless son who’s like both of us and to my daughter who’s an entrepreneur within a corporate structure.

    I also attended college in the late 60s and 70s. Undergrad was paid for with part time jobs and was cheap (CSU system).

    Graduate school at USC was paid for by a company with a tuition and books reimbursement program and I came out debt free. As soon as I possessed the MBA, my boss considered me a threat to his position and I was fired. LOL!

    What I “learned” in school was useless in the real world of work. However, the alumni connections have paid off. I’ve been given leads and referrals from them worth what school would have cost.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, I still have a group of good, solid friends from college I hang with regularly. When you’re on a large campus with mobs of your peers, all horny and anxious and looking for trouble/fun/whatever, you bond quickly. It’s definitely a “stage” of life, when you’re privileged to go through it in ways that allow for lots of interaction and shared lunacy. I didn’t meet any rich folks, though — my roomie in the dorm was the heir to a San Francisco fortune, but he wanted nothing to do with me (especially after I told him I was from around LA, and asked if he was from “Frisco”… you don’t call it “Frisco”, man…). While I got by on a used bicycle, he tootled around in his brand spankin’ new BMW, and we clearly had nothing in common. But he also spent every weekend away, so I enjoyed having the room to myself (and my girlfriend from the floor above us).

      Oh, man, you got me remembering some good stuff here… but I ain’t sharing…

      One thought, though: I think young people do thrive when put into large groups like that. No matter how weird you are, there’s either someone weirder or someone who likes you being weird… and because intelligence is valued over (or at least equal to) brawn, and wit over cluelessness, and potential over current “value” in that environment… more folks have an opportunity to shine. It’s just a shame that college has a lock on this kind of arrangement. I’ve seen similar bonding and fun happen in a week’s time during writing workshops, though… so I believe we’re on to something by gathering together and expanding minds…

  • Bernie says:

    Man, I wish I had this type of advice when I was 18. No, I did not go to college at age 18…I joined the military. Of course, being an enlisted man in the military is looked down upon. Even in the military. Later in life, I did manage to piece together 120+ credit hours and get a BS degree. BS summed it all up perfectly. Based on my hard learned experience, I have come to several conclusions about college in general. The first is that the majority of college degrees are useless. The college degrees that are useful usually take a lot more math and science ability that most students possess. The second is that college is an industry.

    Did you know that the founder of the University of Phoenix, John Sperling, is a billionaire? It’s true. I wonder how many of his University of Phoenix graduates are billionaires? Or, to coin an old Wall Street slogan, “where are the customer’s yachts?”

    My advice for the class of 2013 and all previous classes is simple: Lead, Follow, or get the hell out of the way.

  • Pete says:

    Hi John, I also wrote a little ditty for kids leaving school {:-)

    Here it is:


    Ello Darlin,
    Ello love,
    Super – Od’s me name.
    Makin loads-a-money,
    an workin ard’s me game.

    When I was at school,
    I made meself a promise.
    I was gonna be rich some day,
    I knew me brain was addled,
    but it didn’t matter anyway.

    I ad a will of iron,
    that no-one could grind down.
    When I left school and went to work,
    I really went to town.

    When every one ad finished
    I would stay back late.
    Making sure that next day
    we’d cop a better rate.

    I knew that time was on me side
    and if I used it right,
    I would be rewarded
    with the ‘gold’ and all it’s might.

    I’ve grafted ard every day
    to earn the extra quids.
    I’ve provided very well
    for me wife and me kids.

    Me flash cars, flash house,
    Golf and swimming pools,
    are now me reward
    for ignoring all the fools.

    Still, I’ve got me knockers,
    who think that I’m a waster.
    They think I live off ill-gotten-gain.
    But there’s at least a thousand men out there
    who’ve witnessed me strength,
    me will of iron ……… And me pain.

    So let me tell you darlin’s
    who are leaving school just now.
    Time is on your side,
    use it like I’ve shown you ow.
    Work ard, no matter ow it urts
    and you will be rewarded.

    Don’t take out credit,
    save your pounds.
    Picture your ouse in it’s ramblin grounds.
    Picture your pool in the sun.
    Your race orse run.
    Your flash car turnin the eds.
    Pretty soon me darlin’s
    you’ll be rollin in money beds.

    Waste your time like all the rest,
    and ‘the rest’ is who you’ll be.
    Stand out from the crowd
    an be your own ‘self’.
    ‘Yourself’ is who they’ll all see.

    Be tough, determined,
    and as honest as you can.
    Don’t fall for the ‘Scams’ of the ‘political man’.
    Focus your mind and visualise.
    It’s all there for YOU,
    except the stars in the skies.

    Cheers – Pete {:-)

  • Dave says:

    John you are so right. I was initially disappointed when my son said “Dad I don’t want to go to university”. Now I look back and know it was for the best. He is now a fully qualified heating engineer looking to set up his own business.And he has no debt, won’t use credit cards and puts all his savings into buying silver, the real physical stuff. He won’t tell me where he hides it though.If he had gone to university over here in the UK he would have had to borrow up to £20000 to see him through.

    Looking forward to your next rant
    Dave Persich

  • Sophie says:

    I skipped university because no one suggested it for me. Maybe they thought I was too stupid. They were right. For years I had a complex about it, not anymore. Freelancing isn’t for everyone. Taking risk and responsibility is scary. In the same way as standing on the top of a mountain with two planks strapped to your feet is scary. University (or college as you American folks call it), does not seem to have prepared anyone i have worked with for the twists, turns and black ice that makes the run such a thrill. Two planks, no formal education and a sense of adventure is enough to get the gutsy out onto the snow. There is some awesome stuff at our fingertips. With a few days focus anyone can become an expert. As JC rightly says, expertise is everywhere you look. With a bit of speed reading and a lot of coffee you can read an know more than most people in just a few hours. I am lucky to have a mentor, and a group of others who also control their own education, and together we are cutting the fastest route through the trees, and we all support each other. Sometimes we hold hands while we look over the next cliff, other times we push someone over, laugh our goddamn socks off and then watch them as they bounce and scream with the thrill. Work for someone else? not a chance. Who’s got the wax to get these puppies really sliding? I Want MORE SNOW. NOW…. And coffee, lots of coffee

  • Switchted says:

    Hi, my name is Ljubica (ok, call me Switched:)
    Heard about you on Perry Marshall’s site. Those three sales letters. I find what you’re teaching very useful and like reading your posts here.

    About education: arts, philosophy, social sciences, yes, more or less it’s a waste of time and energy. Count me among the victims. However, I’m not so sure about medicine, engineering, chemistry and other stuff that include a lot of lab and field work. I believe the students there acquire more practical and actionable knowledge. What’s even more important: these things require more structured learning not so easy to get by self-education. Speaking of which I am a firm believer when it comes to marketing and online business in general. Thank you!

  • Sue says:

    Great article! Although I’ve got many years of education under my belt, I still feel that the best education I ever got was from my father, one of those street-wise salesmen who had more insight than any professor I ever had. It’s how I ended up in my own business.

  • Fantastic article, John! Couldn’t agree more with your points.

    Have any of you guys come across

    There’s a lot of this self-education stuff, and Uncollege are all about how you can get a better education outside a college or university.

  • […] more help on copywriting from John Carlton, […]

  • Steve says:

    Hello John,

    Found your blog through Shramko’s podcast interview, where you discussed Kindle publishing. Awesome stuff!

    And I love “The Rant”. Sage advice. It sort of reminded me of an epic blog post I once read by Johnny Truant (sp?), titled something like “The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying F**k About You.” Same core message…just go out there and do something, be someone, and live. Don’t let fear control you, ’cause times a’ tickin’.

    Just one small critique, though. A pro freelance writer like you should know the difference between “jive” and “jibe”. 😉 But no worries…that word seems to get everyone confused.

  • Alan Canton says:

    Your premise that formal education is a waste of time makes you one of the growing number of educational Luddites.

    I give you one credit. At least you were able to be accepted to a good institution and you were able to graduate from its rigorous program of study. Most of those who rant and rave that college is a waste of time are those who would either never get in… or would never get out.

    I went to college (U. of Virginia ’69’ for a BA and then to William and Mary ’74’ for an MA.) I am thankful for my liberal arts education. I was exposed to the mysteries of psychology, the diversity of sociology, the idiosyncrasies of government, the vicissitudes of economics, the appreciation of architecture, the grandeur geology, the joy of literature, the sorrow of opera, the inspiration of classical music, and the beauty of art, poetry, literature, and drama.

    You advocate that young people spend a year sitting in the library reading business literature… so that they can lean how to write mindless long-form sales letters selling things that people probably don’t really need, and probably can’t really afford? You would have all of our young people become “Stepford” drones, giving a priori credence to an observation that Woody Allen once made: “There are worse things then death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”

    So, one should only learn the facts and figures, the hypothesis and syllogisms, the calculus and curves that will make them money? You want to bring back the New Soviet Man?

    You are telling our children to think out of the box, but by insisting to them that formal education is a waste of their time and money, you have imprisoned them in the box of provincial, xenophobic, ignorance. Is that you want… a nation of Sarah Palins?

    So education that does not directly convert into monetary wealth is a waste of time and resources? That is what you are preaching to young people today. Are these the young people who are going to find a cure for hepatitis, who are going to be leaders in government, business, and community? I don’t think so. How your precept that dumbing-down our society is going to improve it and uplift is reasoning beyond my understanding.

    You want us to become a nation of people who never read Shakespeare, who have no appreciation of Rembrandt, who have never heard the glory of a symphony orchestra, who have never been totally immersed in a great (or even trash) novel, who have no idea why the sky is blue, or the earth is round, or that there is life beyond our universe and higher interests and values beyond just making money?

    If I were a young person today, I’d beg, borrow, or steal to attend the very best college I could… and then I’d get my money’s worth by loading up my schedule taking classes in every discipline… so as to come out in four years as an educated person with an eclectic knowledge base and the skills to interact with people from all walks of life… not to sell to them… but to enjoy my life with them!

    I purport that no education is a waste and a good education is worth what it cost.

    For those who take John’s advice and cloister themselves in a quiet room for two years reading sales and marketing books with the expectation that this is a prescription for a happy and fulfilling life, I will leave them with the words of my father. He said “Alan, I’m sending you to college for one reason. So that when we meet in later life, I have more to say to you than ‘I want fries with that.'”

    • John Carlton says:

      Didn’t actually read the post, didja, Alan.

      Here’s what I wrote (about 3 screen-pages in) “By all means, go to college if that’s part of your Master Plan to having a great life. You’ll meet interesting people, and it’s a Rite Of Passage for many Americans these days.

      But don’t do it blindly. Just cuz The Man says it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

      Do some critical thinking before you jump in.

      And if you really want that degree in Russian literature, or women’s studies, or political science, or whatever… then fine. Go get ‘em. Grrr.”

      And, just below that, I explain an alternative time-tested way to load up on Shakespeare and any other subject you care to dive into (which has NOTHING to do with shutting yourself up with a dusty pile of books, as you imply). It’s the way most folks got educated throughout history, strictly DIY. And I never read Shakespeare’s plays in college, by the way — but I began a mild love affair with them afterward, when I got into researching storytelling. On my own. Found a theater dude who actually directed plays, and got a good hands-on mini-education in how the theater actually works, from behind the stage.

      And my first official stop when I got to Amsterdam (on a first-class ticket bought with my real-world-education-stoked income) was the Van Gogh museum, and then the Rijksmuseum to see me some Rembrandt. Never took an art class in the university.

      Oh, and Palin went to college, too. For whatever that’s worth, but you brought it up.

      Look, Alan, I don’t know who or what you’re really mad at. But a deep rage in your life was awakened by a voluntarily-clicked-on blog post (which, again, you clearly didn’t read)… which is kinda alarming, to start. Then, you went off on the longest rant I’ve seen in the comments section in a long time… clearly missing the point of what I was talking about.

      I’m gonna go out on a limb here, though… and guess that you’re a smart dude, who aced academia, and then got cold-cocked by the realities of living in a capitalist society. You may have been left behind, financially, I dunno. Or felt coerced into finding a “job” where your erudite bad self wasn’t rewarded or appreciated.

      And, if I’m right, then what you SHOULD have taken away from this blog post (this free, unassigned blog post bristling with caveats and exit strategies) is that my main beef is with idealism. It’s sewn into the meta-text.

      I love education. I’m a teacher myself (though I decided to create my teaching platform from scratch, rather than crawl back into the cloistered arrogance of academia). I have, in fact, taught single sessions by invitation at the University of Missouri school of journalism (graduate level) and Exeter. (Via Skype. All those eager students staring back at me while I went off on how to become a “real” writer after they graduated… and an entrepreneur if they chose.)

      To me, teaching is about getting results… and for young folks, the best possible results would be a life-long thirst for knowledge, adventure, and a starter-set of skills (which will be honed over a period of years) to excel in whatever part of the universe you decide to focus on.

      I’ve been learning my entire life — there’s not an end-point where I’ll ever announce “Okay, that was fun, but I’m all educated up now”. And I did it through books, sure. And mentors. And experience, and adventures, and by chewing up the scenery in every “naturally occurring classroom” the universe provides.

      And I urge my readers to do the same.

      The key word there is “readers”. You gotta actually read the fuckin’ post, Alan, before going off on a philosophical bender that only announces to the world “Nope, didn’t read the thing, but I gots OPINIONS!”

      The writers and biz owners I hang out with are the sharpest, most fascinating folks I’ve ever met (and I count dozens of dedicated artists, musicians and non-business writers among my friends). These biz-oriented folks are world travelers, they’re experienced from real-life adventures, and they long, long ago looked at their youthful idealism… decided it was bullshit… and then went after making their mark on the world devouring all the resources and tools available to them. Some sell widgets. Others transform lives.

      And they ALL get paid for their labors, and paid well. Not because they went to some Ivy League brain grinder. But because they learned how to move through the world in a proactive, productive way. No trace of anger, or resentment, or absurd attempts at elitism.

      So, basically, thanks for the comment, and good luck to ya.

  • Alan Canton says:

    I’m honored that you took the time to respond to my posting. You are a highly acclaimed luminary on the net as well in many literary circles. I respect your knowledge and achievements.

    I was saddened that you chose to use a blistering personal attack in order to refute my objections to your “read in a room” paradigm. I thought it was not a dignified approach to take, especially from someone held in such high esteem as yourself. I guess that with fame and adoration, a bit of arrogance creeps in.

    I won’t continue the debate. I won’t convince you, nor will you convince me. We will just have to agree to disagree.

    However, I would like to set the record straight if I respectfully may. You wrote:

    “.. But a deep rage in your life was awakened ”

    “…you’re a smart dude, who aced academia, and then got cold-cocked by the realities of living in a capitalist society. You may have been left behind, financially, I dunno. Or felt coerced into finding a “job” where your erudite bad self wasn’t rewarded or appreciated.”

    Instead of a long-form, sales monologue defending my life, as you did yours… I’ll just post some verifiable links and you and your readers can decide if there is a “a deep rage in [my] life,” and if I was “cold-cocked” as you so forcefully asserted.

    I own a small and at onetime very successful book publishing company We made a lot of money until Al Gore invented the internet and killed off non-fiction publishing. We are in the process of ramping it up again, this time to publish some low-cost e-books.

    I wrote and own JAYA123 which is a software service for small biz… mostly small publishers… which has been out there for eight years… and is rather profitable.

    I’m known for writing a publishing industry convention “diary” each year… which has given me my fifteen minutes of fame… these are the last four years of them:


    When my first, current, and very expensive wife (of 32 years last week) became ill about eight years ago and I could not travel as a hired-gun programmer-consultant mostly in the insurance industry, I started a local agency which I still own and operate, although Obamacare has killed off the ability to make a living selling health coverage… and people would rather have root canal than talk about life insurance!

    I am the co-owner of a growing web-design company called which has a special emphasis on sites for authors and publishers.

    I’m sorry that you characterized me in the manner that you did. I don’t think I deserved such derision, but John you are whom you are… and I’m surely not the first person to have told you that.

    May I suggest that we simply part as respected adversaries and leave it at that.

    Thank you for the use of the hall.

    • John Carlton says:

      You called me a Luddite, Alan, and accused me of wanting to turn the nation into a bunch of clueless rubes, while condescendingly giving me “credit” for having gone to a university. I responded because your post was so insulting it cried out for engagement, if only to respond to your more obvious mis-characterizations of what I wrote. And I stand by my claim that you never read the entire post.

      Good for you that you’ve got such a wide-ranging resume. I’m sorry the evil liberals have conspired to ruin so many of the businesses you’ve started. I still suspect that underlying “rage” I wrote about is the motivation behind your initial response.

      And I’m particularly sorry to hear about your wife’s illness. I hope she’s better. No amount of disagreement over philosophical nonsense matters when our loved ones hurt.

      You sound, overall, like a decent guy. But something set you off, and you acted out by writing (and then defending) a rant about how awful I was for suggesting an alternative educational path for people. My choice was to remove your post, because you flat out twisted what I wrote into something alien and misleading, or respond. And guess what? It’s my blog.

      Not sure what you mean by saying “you are whom you are” (nice archaic use of “whom”), but yes, Alan, you are the first person to say that to me. I’m a competitive, super-aggressive marketing consultant who has made a few folks cry during a Hot Seat… but I do what I do out of pure love. Love for the ways capitalism freed me from a life of simmering resentment, love for the skills I’ve developed over decades that amazingly can help others, love for the process of breaking down resistance and building up fresh plans to succeed in life.

      If I have any reputation at all (and I do) it’s as the guy who will tell you the truth even if you hate to hear it. I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, and I lose tons of readers because I won’t compromise on my ability to think critically, confront idiocy, and mercilessly use the English language to my own ends. (English teachers faint when they see what I do with grammar and slang.)

      I don’t have any special insight to “truth”, either. What I have is a long career of shedding bullshit, detecting nonsense, and confronting the monsters of fear (especially stuff like “common sense”, assumptions, dumb belief systems, and reliance on myths when you’re trying to build a biz). What’s left when you do this is a version of reality that can be called “truth”… and since in biz our “truths” are tied heavily to actual results, there’s not much room for debate. What works, works. What doesn’t work can’t be intellectually excused as “woulda worked, if only…” if you want real success.

      So, sorry if I hurt your feelings. Don’t walk up and punch the tiger if you aren’t prepared to deal with his response. And there’s no whining in business.

      I’m leaving your links in your post, even though I generally do not allow links in the comments. I’m sure there are some nuggets in there, especially in this brave new world of publishing chaos.

      Again, I’m sending good vibes to you in hopes that your wife is better. I’m also hoping you do some self-reflection here, and realize you were wrong to mischaracterize what I wrote, and perhaps examine that roiling resentment you’re not letting go of.

      And with that last bit of grammar-mugging, I’m done with this thread.

      If any of you reading this are interested in focusing some of this energy, reality-checking, and focus on your business, check out the Platinum Mastermind I host every year:

  • Andrew says:

    Wow! @ Alan Canton. Talk about arrogant?! I sense someone shilling his business here. How many more links you want to post about yourself?

  • Kevin Long says:

    Hey John

    Just reading your latest book, ‘Getting your shit together’, and loving it, I’ve also just got through ‘Kick Ass’ amazing, By changing a few lines of text in my sales page has made a big difference to my sales, so a big Thank You for that.

    Keep up the great work, and stay true.


  • Don Wallace says:

    I’d like to add a “character witness” observation to this thread and I have no personal or business connection with anyone who has commented in this thread. About 25 years ago or so (1993? yeah) I picked up the book “Computermoney: Making Serious Dollars (80,000+ In High-Tech Consulting)” by Alan Canton. This book *alone* – seriously, this was a LONG time before even Compuserve or AOL allowed professionals to trade notes – started me on an independent worklife journey that still continues. Mr Canton’s book was addressing itself to extremely hard working IT professionals who were being, uh, screwed by headhunters and big business. I just want to say that Alan has given a great service to a particular niche of professionals in the US and perhaps the world by publishing that book right before the enormous boom in IT services that lasted through Y2K. So the image he has obtained in this thread is due to exactly the same kind of bluntness that also makes Mr Carlton’s opinions so valuable. I value contrary opinions in any discussion – can’t we discuss without shredding each other’s character? (reee!) College is useful because, for a niche of attendees, it teaches them to think and reason critically. But I side more with John Carlton’s views in this thread. In general. Some folks need more structure in order to grow and prosper than others. And, college is validation for particular career roles. In summary, you’re both right and you both provide a valuable service. Not a kum-ba-yah moment, but truth.

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