“I love, I love, I love my calendar girl…” (icky pop song from last century)
Every December, I like to root through my Facebook posts for the ones that triggered high readership (or pissed people off) and got a slew of responses.
I had a good time in social media this year, I will not lie to you. It was a raucous blast interacting with the 5,000 “friends” and 3,900 followers to my Facebook page. (I’ve quit Twitter, mostly — the longer posts available on FB fit my style better… and, anyway, Twitter mostly sucks.)
I hope you’re one of the folks I get to hear from and interact with on social media. You whacky person, you. If not, follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/john.carlton. And keep this blog bookmarked.
Below, I’ve assembled a nice little “taste” of what I like to post over on Zuckerberg’s world. (The photo up top, by the way, is from a post earlier this month — my favorite kitchen magnet. Got something like 115 likes and 16 shares. Figure one “like” equals about 40-100 eyeballs — cuz most folks are too lazy to hit the “like” button no matter how enlightened or entertained they are by the post. The fun stuff generates as much or more response than the serious stuff… as it should. Social media gets a bum rap as a source of bad news and harsh anger… but that’s only if you stay entangled with mean people. Just stop doing that.)
Anyway, here’s some samples of recent posts:
First, some actual advice for writers and entrepreneurs:
Chicken, Head-Cut-Off Departmental Memo #437: Sometimes, I like the way deadlines scrunch-up time and make life vivid. Each hour becomes critical, and the looming specifics of delivering promised goods or climbing onto a plane or just making a final-final decision gives you a bright focus like little else in your day.
It’s worthwhile, too, to try to capture that vividness, understand how it’s viscerally created through hormone dumps and brain burps, and how you might generate it at will later (minus the deadline or freak out).
In the higher levels of biz, when you do it right, a kind of active Zen calm settles in no matter what chaos is swirling around you. Experience, tested skills and a solid philosophy of doing the right thing the best way you’re capable (at all times) fuels your power.
You may still get your butt stomped, things may go sideways, and the universe is guaranteed to never make it too easy for you… and that’s okay. That’s what brings us back to the office every morning, the challenges and the mysteries of real life.
… it’d also be nice if the universe stopped piling up shit like it’s trash day during a garbage truck strike, and gave me a breather once in a while.
Is that too much to ask?
The main concerns of an entrepreneur eventually become:
Main Concern #1: How does all the hard work fit into a lifestyle you enjoy having? Nobody minds slaving away in the early stages of a biz adventure, cuz it’s fun. And nobody wants to get locked into forced labor indefinitely, with no end in sight. That old “work-life balance” thing can be a pesky bugger.
Main Concern #2: Are you maximizing the easier ways to bring in money through multiple streams (so your cash register is pounding away even when you’re asleep, on vacation, or missing in action)? Most entrepreneurs and freelancers leave massive piles of moolah on the table, never realizing the potential windfall just itching to fall into their laps.
Main Concern #3: When do you decide to chuck the original model, and grow? To complicate the hell out of everything, bringing in new staff or putting yourself in debt to investors, just because you think that’s how “growth” happens, is silly.
When you’re ready to play in the Big Kids sandbox, you need a better game plan, higher quality skills, more powerful network connections, and a much, much deeper bag of tricks if you intend to thrive.
You don’t get this stuff from a book.
You tap into the experience and savvy of mentors and experts and colleagues willing to share.
That’s where masterminds come in. One-stop resource for all the idea vetting, implementation strategies, and high-end reality checks you need to goose your mojo (and bring in the Major Bucks).
If you’ve never looked into the mastermind I’ve hosted for 7 years now, you’re just being your own biggest impediment to growth.
I can’t force you to see what’s up. But I can remind you of the time (and wonderful lifestyle) you’re squandering by delaying this simplest of hard-core growth tactics.
Silly rabbit. (Check out the mastermind here.)
Writer’s Hack #47: Most folks have two vocabularies — the one they understand when they read or listen to others…
… and the functional one they use when communicating.
The first one is, on average, that of a very bright high school freshman.
The second is, on average, equal to a foul-mouthed fifth grader with a comic book fetish.
To become a more influential writer, simply converge your two vocabularies into one… so the words available to you when communicating expand outside your usual half-assed choices.
Yes, it requires effort. If it was easy, then everyone would be a damn good writer.
What’s So Funny?
One of the main decision points in my career has always been who to trust and hang with, and who to avoid. Early on, as a rising “A List” copywriter working in the financial newsletter market (where all the money is), I had resigned myself to getting gigs where I had to muffle my sense of humor.
I just smiled and grinned, and felt like a spy in the midst of the enemy at times.
Then I met Gary Halbert, and realized there was a whole other part of the biz world, where I could let my freak flag fly. I turned my back on a fortune in the financial field, and gleefully jumped into the entrepreneurial swamp, where I found many clients, colleagues and weirdos who loved a raucous good time (with belly laughs that left you breathless) as much as I did.
And I made my fortune there. And dabbled in the more conservative markets (including the financial fields) every so often, just to remind myself how much fun it can be to call your own shots in a career. (Yes, I retained my old chops.)
The bright dividing line, for me, has always been what folks find funny. A staggering percentage of biz denizens have zero sense of humor, and I avoid them like the plague. Some like puns, which is worse. (What’s worse than the plague? Hang out with a punner for a while, and you’ll know.) Some confuse the act of laughing while being offensive as “humor”, but they’re really just bullies being passive-aggressive with social cues.
Not all funny folks are trustworthy. However, I’ve found that most trustworthy folks are funny, or at least appreciate real humor. I think it has something to do with accepting the tragic-comedic absurdity of reality, and I know from gruesome personal experience that laughing through my tears has helped me live a long and prosperous life. Laughter can dissolve stress like nothing else.
There’s no crime in not having a solid, well-developed sense of humor. More than half the population is thusly disabled.
However, you need to know where you are in this measurement. Halbert and I had many hangers-on who never got the jokes, who cringed at stuff that had us doubled over laughing, and who in general were the folks we tried to usher away from the room so we could get down to biz.
The humor-under-achievers were never a good fit in our world. Those who realized it drifted away to more staid markets, and were happy. Those who refused to self-identify as humorless bastards were angry, confused and resentful when faced with funny shit. Bad fit.
Nothing profound here. But something you need to consider as you move through your life. I’ve found humor mis-matches to be the primary friction in most biz, family, and life-style situations. And it’s rarely addressed.
From my perch — after a long life of observation, experimentation, and deep experience — the world is terrifying, hilarious, brutal and wonderful, all at the same time. And then you die.
Without laughter, it would be a slow, humiliating slog to the grave. With laugher, it’s a joyous (if scary) long, strange trip well worth the ride.
Thinkin’ about you, Gary. Your huge laugh still resonates in the ether…
Department Of “Sez Who?”, Memo #33: For years, I was told by experts that nearly everything I do on stage at seminars is wrong. These were accomplished masters of the craft, who earned big bucks grooming and training people to be killer presenters, and I believe them when they said they could turn a neophyte stutterer into a bigger-than-life celebrity who dominates every room they enter.
It’s not for me, though. Fuck being a calculated control-freak over my “image”. I don’t own a suit or a tie (okay, except for two Jerry Garcia ties from 20 years ago) (is thin still in?), I have no pyrotechnic gimmicks, I often engage with the audience in unscripted conversation, and my PPTs are gruesome examples of a creative mind gone berserk.
Plus — egad! — I haul my beat-up backpack with me (a no-no for the experts) and work off of a small explosion of notes.
And yet, I routinely have been one of the top rated (and top selling) speakers at most of the events I’ve been to. Not always. But to crowds that have even a minimal expectation of what to expect, I tend to do well.
The secret: I just honestly like people, and am not impressed or intimidated by anyone else on the planet. I go onstage with the intent of kicking some butt, forcing some folks to face their fears (and hopefully change their self-ruining BS)…
… and, most importantly, having a good time. I’m an introvert’s introvert, yes — but when I’ve got to drag my ass onto a stage, I commit to doing the best I can up there. If I reach just one person in the audience, I’ve had a good day.
I’ve had a stupendously-successful career for over 3 decades. I’m now intent on fulfilling a promise I made to myself as a scared, clueless rookie: “If I pull this freelance thing off, I will help others do it, too, minus all the grief, blunders and excruciating lesson-learning I have to endure.”
I could never pretend to be the guy to show others how to present from stage, though. I’m too eclectic, too idiosyncratic, too much of a knee-jerk rebel. (I mean, 95% of the other speakers I’ve known are HORRIFIED that I often engage with an audience, free-form and off the script. Heresy!) (I think they’re just afraid of what might happen.)
However, I am a good example of the “exception to the rule” thing. And I urge you to explore that notion in your own life, as often as possible.
Control-freak experts are relentlessly trying to manipulate you. Sometimes, they have a point. But sometimes, it’s all just glossy bullshit. The most successful folks I know are all total individuals, and the LAST thing they care about is what others think of them.
And yet, somehow, they end up as highly likable, morally sound, top-shelf people. Who deliver some of the best, and most unique, presentations you’ve ever witnessed.
More than one way to skin a cat, I guess, is the message. Go your own way…
There was some productivity advice:
I like to trick myself into working. Been doing it for decades, and you’d think I would catch on to my evil tactics at some point.
Faced with a daunting task, I promise myself I’m just gonna peek at it. Read just one page, one email, one video, whatever… and write down a small notecard’s worth of ideas.
Works every time. My lazy-ass brain says “Sure, why not, if you insist“, and then opens the door of my internal “work room”… and once inside, we’re off to the races. Just focusing on one small thing fires up the entire engine, and once started, it likes to work.
I am so gullible to my own tricks.
It’s embarrassing, really…
And, there was a little “straight from experience” life advice:
Department of Spiritual Measurements: Happiness based on what you have can be taken from you. It’s shallow and begs the universe to fuck with your bad ass.
Happiness based on who you are cannot easily be wrecked. You’re not invulnerable to trauma, but neither are you trapped in a constant accounting cycle.
We all get just one ticket in life, and the ride is breathtakingly short. It’s good to enjoy it, not so good to gloat over possessions.
Jeez Louise, the stuff you start to realize after a few times around the block is just relentlessly humbling…
Department of Weird Ruminations, #34: At some point in your life — unless you get squashed by a bus or some other sudden disruption of your wiring cancels your ticket — you’re gonna be faced with a moment where the stark question “what’s it all mean?” slams you in the gut.
There’s a lot of pre-packaged answers out there, and if those comfort you, great. Rock on.
For deeper thinkers, though, it’s a more thorny issue. And most folks avoid considering it as long as possible.
The thing is, there’s no clever around it, once you breach the topic. What, indeed, has your life been about? What has motivated you, what battles did you choose, where have you made a difference…
… and, most critically, was any of it worth the struggle?
Some say “do what you love” is the way to go. For others, duty calls. For far too many, the acquisition of toys and wealth rules.
But the worst state of all is to have never questioned your existence. Who are you, really, and what the hell have you been doing with this amazing gift of life in modern times?
We can only answer for ourselves, when it comes to crunch time.
Heavy, yes. But it’s also one of the simmering unconscious bugaboos that feeds the vague fears behind missing out on a truly good life.
Be bold. Ask the big questions. Even on a busy Monday, with so much going on…
The town I grew up in (Cucamonga, a block off Route 66) is now largely gone, buried under developments and the refusal of west coast newcomers to respect old shit.
But I still “see” the original joint when I drive around. The ghostly images of long-gone hamburger stands, orchards, outlier roadhouses and ballparks shimmer in my peripheral vision, vanished yet still vital in my mind.
There is no decent way to pass along the wonder of your youthful adventures except in stories.
So make ’em good. Your wild ass yarns may not be better than anyone else’s, but they’re still important. I love hearing old folks reveal the stark truth of life in a time completely alien to me. And I hope I’m entertaining the young folks willing to tolerate my rollicking tales.
Otherwise, all those moments will be lost… like tears in rain. (Yeah, that’s a Blade Runner quote…)
“Seems To Me” Department of Conflicted Opinion, Item No. 336b: Seems to me the Big Problem we face, as a consequence of our success in colonizing this tiny planet, is not the myriad details of dealing with “whose ox is getting gored”…
… but rather the meta-battle of innate human stupidity versus rational critical thinking.
And the problem is, the truly stupid all think they’re pretty smart.
Irrational dumbfuckedness is like a relentless tide, oblivious to everything but the need to breed and feed (and keep “our” ox from getting gored, while gleefully goring everyone else’s).
How I long for the tranquility of the unplugged mind, free of clear thought and unconcerned with consequence or fealty to promises. Must be nice, never imagining you’re actually a bug up the ass of the universe…
And, a question for you (in the theme of finding out more about my readers):
We have a “reading room” in the house. Five bookshelves along one wall crammed with tomes and a few chunks of offbeat ceramic art (plus some Art Deco toys and an ancient stereo). And a small rain forest-worth of plants.
I have a favorite couch with good light where I can read with the dog curled up next to me. I like the look and company of the books — some of them have been hauled all over the west coast in boxes since I was a kid. Even when I was poor and living out of my car, I always had books nearby.
Younger writers I know have no piles of books, nor stacks of records, cassettes and CDs. This is a simple and logical generational shift into digital storage. I can’t really tell you why I keep books I read decades ago and likely will never open again. They’re trophies, I suppose. Reminders of the guy I used to be. Benchmarks of a long life heavily influenced by published works.
Or maybe they’re talismans against the curse of anti-intellectualism I’ve fought against so long.
Do you like books, as a physical manifestation of knowledge and culture?
Or do you prefer a more sparse living arrangement, uncluttered by dusty pages?
There’s no right answer, of course. Just curious…
There was some timely stuff, too:
Department of “I Don’t Even Freaking Care Anymore”, memo #33: So I caved and bought a new iPhone…
… AND connected to the cloud. That big, mystery-laden, scary-ass cloud up there somewhere.
I hate having to trust shit I can’t see. No actual clouds in the sky today. Sunny. Faint glinting of distant satellites and space-alien aircraft, but that’s it. A few drones buzzing here and there.
Where ARE you, oh great and powerful Cloud?
So, anyway… I’m talking to my 3rd #Apple rep (because, of course, set up = calling Apple reps sooner or later)… and she casually mentions that she’s looking at my iCloud stuff along with me.
Key phrase: “Along with me”.
Low level Apple employee traipsing around in my goodies.
And I just gave up. That’s it, I fucking surrender.
Privacy, gone in this world. I have given up resisting and just welcomed The Man into my life. I am connected to The Grid now, six ways from Sunday, and I imagine It’s watching me this very minute from the camera on my iMac — cuz I removed the Post-It note formerly covering the lens.
That was the OLD me, the paranoid guy trying to lay low and stay under the radar. Ha! Poor fool. Much better to give up and give in, and just connect. Connect! Be at One with The Grid! Hallelujah! Tin foil hat, gone! It’s so liberating! I’m free! Free, do you hear me?!?
I. Give. Up.
Hold on, there’s someone at the door…
This is fun: Tidy little test on whether you’re a narcissist or not. (Most actual narcissists will not appreciate being outed, by the way.)
Go ahead and guess my score. (I’ll bet you’re wrong.)
I’ve hung out with plenty of narcissists in my time. Also sociopaths and really fucking dumb people who believe they are smart (the Dunning-Kruger effect).
In fact, the more you get behind the scenes in biz (into the closed meetings, the green rooms, the big offices) the more variety of crazy/evil you encounter.
Back when I worked the worst jobs in the world — in restaurant kitchens, construction, commercial fishing, corporate advertising — I noticed most of the folks causing trouble fit into just a few personality categories: Really dumb and seeking more power or money, and really smart and seeking more power or money. But the truly evil ones got outed pretty quickly, probably because there was so little room to maneuver (and everyone knew a malingerer or an asshole when they saw one).
In the back rooms of biz, though, there’s a LOT of room to maneuver… and the folks who sell their soul to the devil can stay camouflaged for years (sometimes forever).
One of the most painful discoveries I made, while growing up, was what made someone a “real” friend. It seems simple now, but for a long time it was confusing. Many people will be your “friend” as long as they can use you and your resources. They’re charming, fun to hang out with… but once you need something, or once you dry up as a resource, they’re gone.
Real friends are hard to come by. They may be a bit crazy, have messy lives, and exhibit pure undiluted stupidity at times… but you can count on them. And they make your life better, in large and small ways.
I have pals who are beyond whacky (including being mirror-addicted narcissists), and I never expect them to act out of character — which saves our friendship. I know what to expect, I don’t try to change them, and we do what we do well together. Sometimes it’s just work stuff, other times it’s just friend stuff, occasionally it’s both (like my long-time best pal and biz partner Stan Dahl, one of the smartest and most unique people I’ve ever met).
If you severely judge everyone around you, and refuse to tolerate non-average behavior or personalities, you’re gonna be a very, very lonely dude or dudette. Take stock of your current crop of pals, colleagues and clients. I’ll bet they’re a mob of weirdos, slackers, goofballs and cray-cray’s. Just like most of the world…
Here’s that test (discovered by my very, very whacky pal Chris Haddad):
I love learning new stuff, always have. And, I get bored easily, which meant I was always jostling against The Man’s plan to funnel me into a regular job and lifestyle.
However, I also hate being a putz, hurting other people and mucking up anything I’m responsible for.
This created a perfect little storm for my career. While young and bumbling about looking for fresh adventure, I made just about every mistake possible — in social situations, at work, managing money, dealing with problems, I botched it all up. Often spectacularly.
At first, I felt ashamed that I was somehow “inadequate” for living amongst my fellow humans. Then, I had an epiphany: We ALL screw up, often. But it’s how we HANDLE the consequences that puts us on different paths.
So I packaged up my shame and buried it. Useless. I replaced it with actionable remorse — when I did something wrong, I did my best to clean it up or fix it (or replace it, at my cost)… and, more critically, I then examined WHY I bollocked it up, figured out where I was lacking skill, info or experience…
… and then proceeded to fill in those gaps. And then climb back into the ring to practice doing it right.
It’s the only way I’ve been able to learn any of the good lessons in life. Reading about them helped me understand where I lacked skills or info… but the lessons never really “took” until I used them in real life.
The result has been a life filled with gloriously awful misadventures, followed by fabulously great adventures… plus a ton of solid friends (who’ve had to forgive me at times), biz success, and even a bit of real wisdom.
The books I write all feature personal stories, because that’s how I figured out how to get stuff done. A lot of folks bristle at this biographical style of teaching, which is fine. Everyone brings their own strange views of “how things ought to be done” to the game.
But my main question for anyone claiming to have expertise in anything (especially the tough biz and personal behavior questions that define a well-lived life) is simply:
“Have you actually gone through this situation yourself?”
Most, it turns out, have not. They “learned” their self-proclaimed expertise without having to sully their hands in the dirty details of real life. And maybe that’s enough for them, that their innate genius allows them special powers to grok how stuff gets done minus the experience of actually doing it.
I’m skeptical. Reading a thousand books on how to hit a baseball won’t match your learning curve of standing in a batter’s box one time, while someone throws fastballs high and tight as you try to hit them.
And the visceral thrill of receiving your first dollar from a transaction you negotiated yourself offers deep-tissue revelations you’ll never get from completing an MBA.
That’s my experience, anyway.
And that’s why I position the lessons I share within personal stories. I’m not TELLING you what to do — rather, I’m sharing what I learned by screwing up, learning my lesson, filling in the gaps, and then going back in to do it right the next time.
It’s the most ancient, and still most effective way to hand off a real piece of advice that has teeth. Take it or leave it, it’s advice that worked.
You can see how it’s done in any of my books, which of course you already own.
Wait — you don’t own them? Are you insane?
Okay, fine. I’ve put the links to two of them in the first comments below. The others you can find at the blog (john-carlton dot com). [Editor’s Note: You’re already on the blog. Just click on the icons in the far right column to find out more about anything I offer.]
Meanwhile, I’m off to more blundering about in the world, where I’m pretty sure I’ll learn something new today…
I like worn, well-used stuff. My favorite guitar is fifty years old (she wears it well). My San Francisco Giants cap is thrashed from all those pre-World Series years when I’d toss it in disgust. But I wear it proudly now, the tatters a tribute to true fandom.
New clothes bug me. If you can’t be faithful to a coat that’s served you well, what can you be faithful to?
This archaeophilia has been a huge advantage as a writer. Them fads come and go, and every new hotshot writer believes he invented copywriting yesterday…
… but the tried-and-true humbly saunters on, nailing the tough jobs and keeping the wheels of civilization greased.
Respect is earned, moment by moment, and truth often looks a bit ratty. This is still one of the primary lessons to grok in this chaotic universe…
Consider your life as an ongoing novel or movie. This particular chapter may be slow, but plot points you put into play now will trigger fresh adventure soon.
There are good folks who’ve been dealt a worse hand than you, who would trade up to your situation in a heartbeat. You owe it to them to chew up some scenery and murder all whining…
Back in my twenties (before you were born), I could party until they threw us out of the pub at gunpoint, grab a few hours of snooze time, and be at the job the next morning shaved, showered, shirt tucked and hair combed, ready for my 8-hour slog at whatever grind I was employed at.
That’s not a skill. That’s just an abundance of hormones, energy, and wasted youth.
For a recent 10-year period, I was flying off somewhere almost every month to speak on the circuit. Dubai, Sydney, NYC, Cleveland, didn’t matter — I could pack with my eyes closed, in an hour, get all documents printed and sorted while brushing my teeth, and cram enough gear, snacks and clothes into a single carry-on to last me a week. Then finish up the PPT on the plane between naps. No problem.
That’s a skill.
What folks get wrong about Free Speech in this country is that just cuz it’s free, it don’t mean it’s true.
You hear a guy say something on the radio or the teevee or the Interwebs that is so outrageous, for sure he wouldn’t be “allowed” to get away with it if it weren’t the gosh-darned truth. And he gets away with it, so ha!… You believe you’ve been let in on a solid piece of info.
And all your deluded friends who think they’re so smart can’t handle it. All of which gives you a warm feeling, despite the awfulness of the subject.
Welcome to the Great American Befuddlement Over Truth. It’s the painful part of the freedom to speak and think without gummit interference — not everyone comes equipped with the necessary critical thinking to discern the bullshit from truth.
A healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way. If your smart friends disagree with you, maybe your resources getting away with all that outrageous stuff aren’t the beacon of truth you think they are.
How much have road trips played a role in your life? Solo, with a pal or a small mob, you pack up the car and take off to parts unknown, wind whistling through the open window, history and life itself rushing by outside.
In high school, getting my driver’s license was like securing a pass to a bustling new world of adventure, terror and delight. My buddy Art and I would just hop into his ’56 Buick and drive for hours, seeking some scenery to chew up. Later, Tim and I drove across the south in a battered Pinto, all the way from Cape Canaveral to SF for a wild half summer.
I’ve driven up and down the west coast so many times it feels like my old neighborhood.
Maybe growing up a block from Route 66 instilled the love of the road in me. Just having that endless path to somewhere else was a relentless temptation to take off.
Every autumn, I itch for another road trip. I can’t handle the hours at the wheel like I used to, and it’s not quite the same when you’re never out of reach of a radio station (I cannot explain to the uninitiated the bliss of finally dialing in a distant DJ after a stretch of musing on the ambient noise of cruising)…
… but the essence of the road trip is, I think, part of our modern DNA.
On the road again, indeed…
And finally… a taste of the rants we like to share on my FB page:
Let’s get straight on this: I love people, and am humbly grateful for everything.
That said, would you fuckers please stop driving like brain-dead zombies while around me?
Thanks. ‘Preciate it.
And that’s it for this edition.
Love to hear your thoughts in the comments section (where I hang out a lot).
Happy holidays to you and yours, and…